San Diego

nullThe city of San Diego and the greater San Diego County are home to beautiful beaches, popular attractions, hiking trails and many more adventures.

Many people come to the city to enjoy SeaWorld’s exhibits and shows or the world-famous San Diego Zoo, but there is much more to explore around town. 

You can spend days visiting the museums at Balboa Park, take a sunset dinner cruise in the harbor or climb aboard an Aircraft Carrier. 

nullOr if you prefer, you can visit the Cabrillo National Monument, hike through Torrey Pines State Park or go on the Sunset Cliffs trail for stunning views of the ocean.

And if you have more time you can drive away from the city to enjoy San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido or Lego Land in Carlsbad.

Plan your visit to San Diego at the official website here.  

A brief history

nullEven though some native American tribes lived in the area for thousands of years, San Diego has the distinction of being the first area of California to be discovered by Europeans. 

Since first discovery by Juan Cabrillo in 1542, the area changed hands several times. First, it was a Spanish territory. Then it was claimed by Mexico after Mexican independence from Spain. Finally, it became a US territory in 1848 after the American Victory in the Mexican–American War. 

The city started to flourish when the US Navy became interested in its great natural harbor and its location.

Interesting Facts: The top employer in the city is the United States Navy.

Read more about San Diego’s history at Wikipedia.  

Where to stay

nullYour decision on where to stay depends on many factors like what are you planning to do, your budget and your arrival time. 

If you are planning to mainly explore downtown, then you should consider one of the hotels right in the Gaslamp Quarter or downtown waterfront. Some of the best choices are the Marriott at Gaslamp, Hilton Bayfront and Grand Hyatt. For a budget hotel in or close to downtown, you can try Porto Vista, Wyndham Bayside, or Westin. 

If your main goal is to visit SeaWorld, then try the Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa, Hyatt Regency Masson Bay or the Bahia Resort. For budget choices, try places like Holiday Inn Express, Wyndham Garden or Travel Lodge SeaWorld.

nullI recently stayed at the Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa for two nights and loved every minute of my stay. The resort is right on the bay and has everything you need for fun and relaxation. The 2-queen-beds room was very comfortable with a great view overlooking a garden and the beach. Right on premises, you will find a nice heated pool, several Jacuzzis and watersports activities. At night you can enjoy SeaWorld’s fireworks show from your balcony or from the waterfront. See the full review here.  

Interesting Facts: The City of San Diego was rated the fifth-best place to live in the United States in by MONEY Magazine in 2006.

Another great choice is the Grand Hyatt at San Diego Bay. It is very conveniently located next to Seaport Village, the Headquarters, USS Midway and the Gaslamp Quarter. You can just walk to those popular destinations. The rooms have comfortable beds with great views of the harbor and downtown. See the full review here.  

nullDuring on my last visit, I stayed at Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn. The location is a little isolated from main attractions, but it a beautiful place for a staycation. If you stay here, you should plan on spending most of your time at the hotel and surrounding area. It is very easy to do so because the hotel offers many entertainment choices and amenities. A large swimming pool, highly rated restaurants, an outdoor theater and free bike rentals to name a few. See the full review here (coming soon).

And of course, you can camp while in San Diego. The Koa campground is very nice with tent and RV sites along with 1 and 2 bedroom cabins. The campground has clean bathrooms, hot showers and a lot of activities. Read more about KOA campground here.  

Things to do in San Diego

There is plenty to explore without leaving town. You can take a stroll in the Gaslamp Quarter with plenty of shops and restaurants, rent a bike and ride along the bayfront, visit SeaWorld, go on a cruise or spend a day at Balboa Park.  

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

Gaslamp Quarter

nullOne of the best ways to get to know a city is just to get out and walk around. And one of the best walks in San Diego is in the Gaslamp Quarter.

This is an area of about 16 city blocks with a major shopping mall anchoring one corner. 

You can start your walk at the Westfield Horton Plaza mall. The mall itself is a destination for shoppers and gawkers alike due to its unique architecture. 

Right outside the mall, there is a small park with a nice fountain and statues for the San Diego founding fathers.

The quarter streets are named by letters and numbers. You can explore any of the streets, but the main thoroughfare is 5th avenue. This street is the longest stretch and has the most shops, restaurants and nightclubs. 

Interesting Facts: Did you know that San Diego was home to everyone’s favorite wacky children’s author, Ted Geisel – more frequently referred to as Dr. Seuss?

The quarter is especially beautiful at night when all the Gaslamps are let and the streets are bustling with people and the music is blaring from the nightclubs.

Tip: The best way to enjoy San Diego attractions is by getting a go-city card. Build your own here.

If you plan to dine at the quarter, try La Puerta Mexican restaurant, Greystone the Steak House or Meze Greek Fusion. 

La Puerta is famous for their street tacos. They also have a great surf & tur burrito. Happy hour is very busy and loud but you can expect good prices. 

At Greystone, you can’t go wrong with any of the meats. Try the New York Steak or Filet Mignon. If you are hungry, try the short ribs tacos for starters. The place is a little pricey, but if you go during happy hour, you will get to try different cuts at reduced prices.

nullMy favorite is Meze Greek Fusion on sixth street. This restaurant offers authentic Greek cuisine with a California flair. Meze means small plates, but the menu offers full meals for every appetite. For starters, you must try the Lentil Soup, Baba Ghanosh, Dolma or Fiery Fetta Dip. For the main meal try the Lamb Chops or traditional Greek favorites like Falafel or Gyro plates. And finally, don’t skip the Baklava for dessert.

For Japanese cuisine lovers, stop at Ramaki on the edge of the Gaslamp Quarter where you can get some great Raman, Poke and Sushi. 

For a dessert or a snack, you must try Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop. Their ice-cream flavors on waffle cones are to die for. Once you are done with your dessert, you can go shopping for a collection of chocolates for your family and friends – or indulge yourself. 

If you keep walking down 5th avenue you will reach the waterfront where you will find the Convention Center, some of San Diego’s iconic hotels, Seaport Village and USS Midway Aircraft Carrier. 

Seaport Village

nullSeaport village is about a 20-minute walk from the Gaslamp Quarter. Close enough to include it the same walk. 

The village resembles an old harbor side town with its unique shops and casual dining places. You can also enjoy fine dining at 4 waterfront restaurants. 

Seaport also hosts some unique events like Surfin Santa Arrival and Busker Festival. Many restaurants book live music events. My favorite is the Bit of Greece at the Greek Islands Café.

One caution! The village is a tourist trap. Shop at your own risk. 

Interesting Facts: San Diego has the most ideal climate with temperatures averaging 70 all year long

In spite of that warning, you can still have lots of fun. Browse through the shops. Try a few things like flying a kite or face painting. Enjoy the street performers.

The Headquarters are right across the street from Seaport Village. It is a new plaza with more boutique shops and dining options. You can find known places like the Cheese Cake Factory, Starbucks or Sunglass Hut. Or discover new places like Gelato Paradiso, Geppetto’s Toys, Lori L. Fine Art Gallery. 

USS Midway Aircraft Carrier

nullA few steps away from the Gaslamp Quarter, Seaport Village or the Cruise terminal, you will find this must-see attraction – a real Aircraft carrier!

The USS Midway was the longest-serving Navy aircraft carrier – active from 1945 to 1992. After its long military service, it is now berthed in San Diego harbor and open to the public since 2004.  

Before you even get on this magnificent ship, you will be amazed by its size and design. As you approach its berth, you will be wondering how this behemoth could float – let alone carry crew and airplanes. 

nullAfter you get your tickets ($20 adult), you will climb some steep stairs to reach the hanger deck. This is where the aircraft were stored and maintained before launching. The deck was huge with many types of fighters on display. 

The hanger deck also has a row of flight simulators. There are 2 types to choose from Air Combat and Flight avionics. It is a neat way to pretend you are on a mission launched from the carrier.

The admission price includes a free audio tour. If you decide to use it, you will get 2-minute audio clips about various marked locations throughout the ship. You don’t really need the audio. There are a lot of volunteers at the important spots with a lot of valuable information. Many of the volunteers are retired navy sailors. 

From the hanger deck, you can go up to the flight deck where the planes launch or land. More planes and helicopters were on display. You can inside some of them and explore. 

nullFrom the flight deck, you also have a great view of San Diego and the Bay. On the port (left) side, you can see a nice statue of the famous sailor kissing a nurse at the end of WWII. 

If you go down from hanger deck you will come across the galley where food is prepared, the mess deck – where the enlisted eat, the laundry, sickbay, the brig and a fire station. 

Tip: If you are claustrophobic you may want to avoid the lower decks. It is very cramped and stuffy in places. 

If you have more time, you can watch videos about the carrier, try your hand with knot-tying, climb on some bunks, get inside cockpits, go to jail or take one of the guided tours. See more adventures here.

Balboa Park

nullThis is a sprawling 1200-acre park full of open spaces, gardens, hiking trails and lots of museums. The park is also home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo. 

In 1915, the parklands were used to host the San Diego Panama-Pacific International Exposition which celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal and lasted for 2 years. Later many of the park's buildings were recommissioned as museums.  

You can spend a day just walking around and exploring the history and architecture, picnicking in the green zones, riding a mini train, going on a carousel or visiting the International Village. 

But you will need several days to experience the variety of museums. The park has an amazing collection of museums like "Air and Space", "Science Center", "Natural History" and "Museum of Art".

Read the full review here.

Downtown Historic Trolley Tour

nullOne of the best ways to explore the city of San Diego is by taking the historic old town trolley. You can jump on and off the trolley at any of the 10 stops throughout the day.

Interesting Facts: The first drive-in restaurant in the United States was opened in San Diego by the man who later founded Jack in the Box in 1951.

Along the way, the driver will share with you interesting San Diego history and tips about places to see and things to do.

You can start your tour at any of the 10 stops along the route, but Tthe main starting point is at Old Town San Diego. 

Some of the other important stops are the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, Gaslamp Quarter, Coronado Island and Balboa Park. 

Read the full review here.

Waterfront Park

nullTwelve acres of land were set aside for this beautiful waterfront park. The park offers picnic areas, clean bathrooms and a small water park where kids can get wet and have a blast. 

When the kids get tired of water play they can have more fun the modern playground.

If you did not bring your own picnic, they have a small cafe where you can get some snacks and drinks. 

The park is right across from the Embarcadero and behind the County Center building in Little Italy.

The water park opens from 11 am to 7 pm while the main park has longer hours.

After the park, the whole family can walk to Little Italy at India street, do some shopping or dine at one of the restaurants.

Cabrillo National Monument

nullAt the tip of Point Loma Peninsula, the monument commemorates the explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who was the first to set foot on the west coast of North America. 

This park has a museum, movie theater, tide-pool exploration and a stunning view of San Diego harbor and downtown skyline from a high vantage point. 

If you are interested in the tide-pools, make sure to check the low tide schedule. See official website for more details

Also at the highest point of the park, you will find the Point Loma Lighthouse. It was closed down in 1891 because it was always shrouded in fog due to its height. A newer one was built at a lower elevation.

The park is also close to the "Maritime Museum of San Diego", so you can make a side trip to visit the museum.

SeaWorld 

nullSea World is the only park in which you can get up close and personal with sea creatures and get an education while having fun. You can meet Shamu the killer whale, watch the Dolphins play their tricks, visit the sharks in their natural habitat, go to the North Pole on an icy safari and peek at the Penguins – and you get all that fun for a bargain.

San Diego Go Card

Shows that you shouldn’t miss are Orca Encounter; Sea Lions Live; Dolphin Days; A trip to Wild Arctic; Shark encounter. For thrill seekers, try one of the rides: Journey To Atlantis; Manta; Shipwreck Rapids and Wild Arctic (the ride).

Read the full SeaWorld review here.

Outside of Town

nullOn the outskirts of the city of San Diego or further inland, you can find many more attractions and adventures. Visit the beaches at La Jolla, go to Lego Land and the flower fields in Carlsbad or go on a Safari in Escondido. 

For even more activities, go mine for gold, hike, camp or picnic in the mountains at Julian.

Interesting Facts: San Diego County is home to the most missions in the country. Take the mission trail to visit Mission San Diego de Alcala, Mission San Luis Rey, Mission San Antonio de Pala and Mission Santa Ysabel. 

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is located in San Diego County close to the city of Escondido. It spans 1800 acres of land and is stocked with 2600 animals from 300 species. It is also home to thousands of plant species – some of it in a protected preserve. 

The main attraction is a vast open area with free-ranging animals that vary from the fierce lions to the tame Giraffes. The only way to enjoy this vast flora and fauna is to join a Safari. More the on Safari options later.

Read the full SD Zoo Safari Park article here

La Jolla – Beaches and Hiking

nullLa Jolla is a little town on the outskirts of San Diego with nice beaches, hotels, golf courses, a state park and the famous University of California, San Diego. 

No one knows for sure where the name originated, but some say it means the place with holes – referring to the many caves and coves on the shoreline. Others say it means the Jewel. In either case is a jewel on the beach and it is full of caves and coves – making it a very interesting place to visit and explore.

Tip: Alcohol is not permitted on any of San Diego beaches. So leave your beer behined.

So spend some time at La Jolla Shores beach or go snorkeling at La Jolla Cove. If you prefer you can go hiking at Torrey Pines State Preserve or even learn how to Glide at the Glider Port.

Read the full review here.

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Balboa Park

nullThe city of San Diego and the greater San Diego county are home to beautiful beaches, popular attractions, hiking trails and many more adventures.

Many people come to the city to enjoy SeaWorld’s exhibits and shows or the world-famous San Diego Zoo, but there is much more to explore around town. 

You can spend days visiting the museums at Balboa Park, take a sunset dinner cruise in the harbor or climb aboard an Aircraft Carrier. 

Read the full San Diego review here.

nullBalboa Park is a sprawling 1200-acre park full of open spaces, gardens, hiking trails and lots of museums. The park is also home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo. 

In 1915, the parklands were used to host the San Diego Panama-Pacific International Exposition which celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal and lasted for 2 years. Later many of the park's buildings were recommissioned as museums.  

Interesting Facts: Kate Sessions is known locally as “the mother of Balboa Park”. She designed a lot of the park's landscaping and spent years planting trees.

You can spend a day just walking around and exploring the history and architecture, picnicking in the green zones, riding a mini train, going on a carousel or visiting the International Village. But you will need several days to experience the variety of museums. The park has an amazing collection of museums like "Air and Space", "Science Center", "Natural History" and "Museum of Art".

nullTo see the full list, go to the official website here.

Each museum requires a full review by itself to describe all its wonders, but I will be covering a few of them in this review.

For the young children, several play areas are placed throughout the park. Some are near the museums. The best one is “Pepper Grove Playground” which is a large play area with picnic tables – right next to the Science Center.

Tip: Tuesdays are free admission days to all museums at the park, but only for San Diego residents.

The park is also home to the Spreckels Organ Pavilion – the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ. This unique organ contains 4,725 pipes ranging in length from the size of a pencil to 32 feet.

Tip: A free organ concert is performed every Sunday at 2 PM. The plaza is also host to special summer events. You can find an event calendar here.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

nullAs you approach this museum, you are greeted by the sight of 2 stealth bomber – a good sign of things to come. If you love planes, helicopters and spaceships, then you must see this place. The curators managed to put together a large collection of aerospace memorabilia and lots of aviation history in one place.

You can start your journey through the history of aviation by viewing the Wright Brothers replicas of the Wright brothers 1901 and 1902 gliders and learning about their wind tunnel experiments. 

Interesting Facts: Charles Lindbergh made history when he flew from San Diego to New York and then non-stop to Paris on the Spirit of St. Louis in 1927.

Then you can witness the advancement of both military and commercial aviation through the decades. Some planes on exhibits are the Memphis Bell, Stealth fighters, the Predator drone, the Spirit of St Luis, the Blue Angels.

Tip: The best way to enjoy San Diego attractions is by getting a Go City Card. You pay one price and get all the attractions you want. Go San Diego Card

For a little interactive fun, you can get into the cockpit of a helicopter and try the weird Cyclic Stick control. The cyclic control changes the pitch of the rotors. 

For space buffs, the museum shows replicas of Gemini, Mercury and Apollo along with space suits and photo collections.

Tip: as you walk through the exhibits, look up! A lot of aviation’s history is floating above your head. 

nullWhen you have your fill of gawking at planes and spacecraft, you can try to fly one for yourself. Flight simulators rides are available for an additional fee. You can choose between single and multi-rider sims with various mission types. 

During my visit, the Da Vinci exhibit was on display. You have to pay a little extra to get into this area, but it is worth every penny. 

Da Vinci was the ultimate innovator. He explored and worked on so many concepts decades ahead of his time. Many of his inventions were so revolutionary, it was not possible to bring them to fruition during his lifetime.

Browse around to view Da Vinci’s gliders, tank, robot, helicopters, design drawings and of course his famous paintings like the Mona Lisa. 

My only regret about this place is that it 95% air and 5% space. It would have been much more engaging if it covered more of the Space Age.

On the way out don’t forget to visit the fountain area at the center of the museum. While relaxing and enjoying the water fountains, you can gaze up at the hanging military planes. 

Reuben H Fleet Science Center

nullI was always fascinated by science and technology. So it was only natural for me to visit this science museum. 

The center has around 12 permanent exhibits and rotating visiting exhibits.  Some of the permanent ones are “So Watt!”, “Look! Touch! Listen!”, "Origins in Space", "San Diego's Water" and “Tinkering Studio”.

Lots to see, so go to the center’s website here and plan your visit.

At the “So Watt!” energy exhibit, you get to investigate where our power comes from. A nice interactive solar power display shows how light is converted into electricity which then drives a floating ping pong ball.

Did you want to know where your water in San Diego comes from? The “San Diego's Water” display shows water sources and how it is delivered to your tap. 

nullYong minds can explore their senses through the “Look! Touch! Listen!” experiments dotting the whole museum floors. In one experiment, one person whispers into a hyperbolic saucer while another listens to the amplified sound reaching across the room to the other end. 

In another side of the museum, inquisitive minds can try to generate electricity with Jacob’s Ladder or make a ball levitate. 

The “Origins of Space” exhibit currently shows the latest NASA images of deep space. 

At the “Tinkering Studio”, ignite your inner Da Vinci and work with others on projects covering STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics).

During my latest visit, the guest exhibit was “Science Fiction, Science Future” – a great way to connect my childhood fantasies with current and future advances. 

I truly believe that if you can dream it, you can make it happen. Many of the fantasies spawned by science fiction writers became realities - airplanes, space flights to the moon and solar energy to name a few.

nullIn this exhibit you can try to move an object with your mind, read your DNA, interact with a robot or play a holographic game. You can also explore the ideas of Teleportation, Wormholes and Cyborgs.

Finally, a science museum is not complete without an IMAX theater or a planetarium. This one has both. 

The center’s Heikoff Giant Dome Theater is an ideal venue to project the latest IMAX films and digital celestial shows. Some of the amazing shows projected on this dome: Under the Sea, Island of Lemurs and Aircraft Carrier. For the latest show schedule go here

Tip: Both the Science center and the Natural History museums are on the main pedestrian promenade (El Prado street). In between the two popular museums, there is a nice water fountain – a good place for pictures. If you take a pedestrian bridge in front of the Natural History museum you will end up at a beautiful cactus and rose garden with many photo opportunities.

San Diego Natural History Museum

nullNatural history is the history of our planet and its inhabitants. It is always interesting and informative to learn how the earth formed and how the various plant and animal species evolved.

This museum has 5 floors of permanent and visiting exhibits with 8.2 million artifacts – a lot to see an experience. 

My favorite exhibits are:

Whales - Giants of the Deep: this is a visiting exhibit from New Zealand that lets you get close to the giant whales and learn about their biology. You can also examine fossils of whale ancestors or listen to whale songs. If you dare you can crawl through a giant replica of a whale’s heart. 

nullFossil Mysteries: This is a permanent exhibit that showcases 75 million years of Dinosaurs and Mastodons that used to live in the area. As you enter from the first floor, you will come face to face with a giant T-Rex and a flying Pterodactyl. 

In one area of the exhibit, a photographic and fossil evidence exhibit tells the story of the dinosaur extinction.   

Did you know that San Diego is one of the 35 most biodiverse regions in the world? I didn’t know that. I learned it at the Coast to Cactus exhibit in this museum. Using multimedia exhibits, hands-on experiments and live animals you get to experience the richness of life in the area.

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

The fourth level has a photographic gallery with award-winning photos of nature and animals. It is also home to a future library.

Tip: When you take the stair to the upper levels, notice the panoramic view from the stairwell. Looking down, you will see a giant fig tree. This tree was planted 100 years ago (1915) but likes like it is much older.

Finally, don’t miss the giant movie screen at the museum. Admission is included in the ticket and it shows 2D and 3D nature features. You can catch a 3D movie about whales or about the coral reefs. Get the latest showtimes at the museum’s website here.

San Diego Museum of Man

nullThe museum’s building itself is a magnificent piece of architecture. It shows a lot of detail on the façade and an intriguing mix of styles joining Baroque, Churrigueresque, and Rococo to present a unique Spanish colonial style. 

Once you are done admiring the architecture, step inside and admire the collection of artifacts representing early native American cultures. 

The museum showcases ancient American civilization such as Maya, Hopi and Kumeyaay with a special exhibit about Ancient Egypt.

nullThe “Footsteps Through Time” exhibit takes the visitor through millions of years of human evolution. Go through the Time Tunnel to experience the 200 most significant human inventions. 

At the “Maya: Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth” exhibit, experience the ancient Mayan civilization through its large monuments and archaeological discoveries.

Interesting Facts: Contrary to common belief, the Mayans are not extinct. Their descendants still live in central and Latin America. Learn about some of the ancient traditions that may have survived today at this museum. 

nullThe Pharos and ancient Egypt civilization fascinated generation of people across the world. The wealth of monuments and artifacts they left behind is a treasure for archeologists and students who are still trying to understand this culture.

So become an archaeologist for an hour and go through the hieroglyphs, tablets and mummies and learn about the history. The museum has a large collection of original mummies and artifacts. 

For the kids, there is an area set aside for Egypt themed kid-friendly activities. 

The San Diego Museum of Art

nullArt lovers must spend some time here. The museum has a large collection of artworks spanning millennia. Some sculptures date back to 5000 BC all the way up to the contemporary period. 

You can experience this collection by geographic location. 

Start with the Asian collection of paintings, ceramics, and metalwork. Learn about the beliefs and traditions of each culture through their art. Most fascinating are the Indian statues and the Persian Islamic calligraphy. 

nullMoving into Europe you will come across masterpieces by Carlo Crivelli, Giorgione, Monet, Degas, Renoir and Van Gogh – to name a few.

At the Arts of Africa, The Pacific, and the Native Americas, you will experience Hawaiian pendants, native American woven baskets and a diverse collection of African art.

One of my favorite collection is the Quilts and Colors exhibit. This is a touring exhibit from the Boston Fine Arts Museum that shows the brilliant and vibrant designs that go into each hand-crafted quilts.

To see a full list of collections and to plan your visit, go to the museum’s website here.

The Prado Restaurant

nullThis award-winning restaurant sits close to the Art Museum and the visitor center at Balboa Park. It offers both indoors and outdoors seating, but you should really try the patio. It is in a garden setting with water fountains and overlooking green areas of the park.

The food is expensive but very high quality. You really can’t go wrong with their large selection of salads, sandwiches and burgers. I really enjoyed my Grilled 8oz Kobe Cheeseburger which came with seasoned fries.  

Important Information

Park Map

You can find a useful color map of the park here. The map shows the museums, carousel, zoo, iconic buildings, and restaurants. It does not show the hiking trails.

Parking

Parking can be very difficult, especially on weekends and holidays. You will probably end up parking at Inspiration Point parking lot (on the east side of Park Blvd., between Presidents Way and the Balboa Park Activity Center).

Parking is always free and you can ride a free tram from the lots to any of the main destinations. 

Tours

Many tours start from the visitor center which is located at the Hospitality Building on El Prado street (Close to the Museum of Art). 

Some tours are free and offered by various organizations at the park. You can also purchase a one-hour audio tour from the visitor center.

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

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Carlsbad and the Flower Fields

Carlsbad Flower FieldsHome to Legoland, the flower fields, a waterpark, an Aquarium and beautiful beaches, this sleepy little beach town is becoming a major tourist attraction in Southern California.

Carlsbad sits between Oceanside and San Diego with a long stretch of beaches, several creeks and lagoons, making it a perfect spot for a weekend getaway or a rest stop on a long journey.  

Most families with children flock to Carlsbad to spend a day or two at Legoland. The theme park is filled with rides and experiences based on the popular Lego toy brand. And if a park full of thrills is not enough, you can go next door to the new Water Park and Sealife Aquarium.  

When you have your fill of theme parks, head to the flower field for an amazing walk among the colorful flowers or head to the beach for a nice stroll along Pacific Coast Highway or a dip in the ocean.

Legoland Theme Parks

The original Legoland park is geared towards younger children, but there are several Legoland California - Carlsbadattractions with the whole family in mind. 

One of the must-see attractions is a replica of “Washington DC” with a presidential motorcade. The theme changes depending on the sitting president and current events.

For kids of all ages, head to the LEGO LIFE ZONE to build and share your Lego creations. Parents can cool off in the air-conditioned rooms and charge their devices while watching their kids. 

Legoland water park has many innovative rides like “Build a Raft River” - where you first design and build your raft and then float down the river – as well as the traditional wet fun for all ages.

The Flower Fields

Carlsbad Flower FieldsThe “Carlsbad Flower Fields” is a seasonal attraction, but a must see for everyone. About 50 acres are set aside to grow a variety of colors of the “Tecolote Giant Ranunculus” (also known as the Persian Buttercup). 

The flowers usually bloom from mid-March to mid-April. Call ahead to check if the flowers are in bloom because it varies depending on weather conditions every year. In 2018, the bloom continued until early May.

Tip: If you just want to admire the flower fields without paying the entrance fee, go to Armada drive which runs along the top of the fields. This is only good for a high-level view, but a good intro to the fields. 

During the peak bloom, you can enjoy rows upon rows of flowers on a sloping hill. You can Carlsbad Flower Fieldswalk around among the flowers and take pictures or you can ride the tractor-pulled wagons that takes you around the fields. The wagon goes around the fields and makes frequent stops to enjoy the view and take photos.

Close to the main entrance you can stroll through an Artist Garden, go through a maze, relax and watch the kids frolic in Santa’s Playground or go panning for gold. Several concession stands serve coffee, snacks, kettle corn and frozen lemonade. 

On the way out, you can stop at an Armstrong shop to pick up some potted plants or cut flowers – or anything else you need for your garden.

The Waterfront

Carlsbad is a beach town after all, so you have to spend some time at the beaches. You can stroll along the Seawall Trail, visit one of the State Beaches or hike along the wetlands of a lagoon. 

Seawall TrailCarlsbad Seawall on PCH

The seawall trail starts at the intersection of Carlsbad Village Dr and Carlsbad Boulevard (which is an extension of Pacific Coast Highway). This also happens to be one corner of

Carlsbad Village, with many shops and restaurants. 

The trail is paved with upper and lower sections and great views of the beach and the ocean. The upper trail is always busy with hikers, bikers and skaters. It is hard to navigate during peak hours – like weekends and holidays. On the lower side, only pedestrians are allowed, so it is a much better walk. 

The seawall trail is about 1-mile long and ends at Tamarack Beach, which has a lifeguard station and restrooms. You can extend your hike beyond this beach, but the trail meanders between side street and homes before it reconnects with the beach.

Carlsbad State Beach

Carlsbad State BeachThis long stretch of sandy beach is divided into 2 main sections. The main beach for day use, and the South beach for camping. 

The main beach is open to all and is popular for swimming, surfing, scuba diving, fishing, and beachcombing. It has showers and restrooms.

The campground sits atop the cliffs with stairs and ramps down to the sand. It is very popular during the summer months and you will need reservations many months in advance. Spaces are available for RVs with hookups, electricity and WiFi.

South Ponto Beach

This beach is very popular with surfers and gets very crowded in summer. The beach is Carlsbad State Beach - Campgroundlocated on a sandbar protecting the Batiquitos lagoon from the ocean. There is also a surf school at the southern end of the beach. 

Hiking

Batiquitos Lagoon

Batiquitos is a tidal lagoon at the southern end of Carlsbad with wetlands and nicely maintained trail. The coastal wetlands are managed by the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation and the volunteers operate a nature center with exhibits of the wildlife in the area. 

From the nature center, the trail follows the shoreline of the lagoon with stunning views of the marshes and avian residents of the wetlands. Along the way, many trees and covered benches offer protection from the sun. 

The trail is about 3-miles long with one gentle hill and considered very easy. It runs along the north side of the lagoon. 

Agua Hedionda Lagoon

Agua Hedionda LagoonAgua Hedionda is another protected preserve run by a volunteer foundation. Before you go on this easy 2.5-mile hike, spend some time at the discovery center. 

This center has exhibits of the region’s birds and wildlife and a history hall showing the geological eons that formed the lagoon.

The center also has a small aquarium and a touch pool where kids can pet some sea creatures. Right outside the center, you find a native plant garden and a short trail that winds in a loop through the lagoon. Along this short trail, you can take side trips to some shaded and secluded areas.

For more adventure and workout, find the longer trail at the foot of Kelly Drive. 

Hosp Grove Trails

Several trails wind through this eucalyptus tree grove, with great views of the city and the ocean. The trail climbs for about 100 feet for a commanding view of the Buena Vista Lagoon and the ocean behind it.  

Calavera Nature Preserve

An extinct volcano in Carlsbad with lush vegetation, a lake and a well-maintained hiking trail. The trail is about 3 miles long with a 400 feet elevation. 

You don’t have to make this climb to the top of Mt. Calavera (Skull Mountain), but if you do, you will be rewarded with expansive views in all directions – all the way to the ocean.
The trail can be confusing at times, so watch out for the signs along the way. 

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Food Safari in San Diego

San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - entrance from the waterfront - WikipediaMy wife and I recently ventured through the Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego to sample the local delicacies and learn a few things about its history.

We did discover a few great places, but we learned that the downtown area used to be a haven for drunken sailors and houses of ill repute. Thankfully, it is now a place for the whole family to stroll around, shop and enjoy world cuisines and delicious treats.  

San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - Royal IndiaWe started our journey at the Royal India restaurant around lunchtime. The first thing that grabbed my attention were the fanciful decorations and authentic statues and pottery. But I soon forgot about the ambiance as I browsed through the mouth-watering buffet choices. 

I usually avoid buffets, but in this case, it was a nice way to sample different dishes. Everything I tried was very flavorful and fresh, but my favorite was the Chicken Tikka Masala and Samosa. The kheer (rice pudding) was a great way to end the meal.

We knew we still had a lot of places to visit on this tour so we tried hard not stuff ourselves, but it was a losing battle.

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

After this great beginning, we started walking towards our next stop, Berkeley Pizza. Along San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - Berkeley Pizzathe way, we learned some interesting facts about the area. It all started when in 1867 Alonzo Horton, known as the father of downtown, purchased some land and developed “New Town” to the south of the established Old Town. The city later added 50 gas lamps to light up the streets - which gave the area its current name. 

Very quickly New Town filled up with gambling halls, saloons and brothels and became a thriving red-light district. But in 1912 the city cleared up the area in preparation for the Panama-California Exposition. 

After this quick history lesson, we entered Berkeley Pizza to try their deep-dish Chicago style pizza. The place is very small and always crowded. I thought this is a good sign, the pizza must be phenomenal. But I was disappointed. The slices had way too much tomato sauce and the pepperoni was too greasy. The crust and cheese were very good, so maybe I was just unlucky with my choice. 

San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - Le Parfait ParisOur next stop made up for the disappointment. We headed towards Le Parfait Paris, a French bakery. 

Along the way, we stopped at the Gaslamp Museum. This small museum is a nice way to learn about San Diego and its main founder Horton. The garden outside the museum overlooks several historic buildings and has a statue of Bum the dog who led many parades and ran with the fire brigade.

At Le Parfait Paris, we delighted our eyes and our palettes with the large selection of pastries and desserts. It was hard to choose our treat, but we ended up with 2 flavors of macaroons - best macaroons ever. We liked this place so much, we went back the next day for breakfast. They actually offer much more than dessert. You can order Crepes, Quiche and Panini. 

After that delectable interlude, we started walking towards El Chingon. This San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - El Chingonrestaurant has multiple personalities. You can sit outside and enjoy your meal while gawking at people walking by or you can sit inside with the noisy sports bar as your background music. We went for the third option, a quiet second floor that overlooks the bar below.
While sitting in our secluded balcony, we were served home-made chips and salsa. They bring a tray with several flavors of house salsa in bottles. 

Along with the chips and salsa, we tried their “Al Pastor”, the slow-cooked pork taco. It was very rich and tasty and full of meat. Our only disappointment was when we ordered the house margaritas. We had to wait a very long time for our orders and they weren't anything special. 

San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - Horton Plaza - WikipediaAfter this pork and margaritas stop, I was glad we had a long walk ahead of us. We needed to digest all this food. 

Our destination was Little Italy neighborhood, but along the way we got to visit Horton Plaza Mall, US Grant Hotel and Spreckels Theater.  

Horton Plaza is an outdoor 5-level shopping and dining mall right in downtown San Diego. Its bright colors and tricky architecture make it a unique place to visit. Stairways and pathways between the various sections and floors don't connect. So you have to browse around to find the next section.

The Plaza has some of the large anchor stores likeSan Diego Gaslamp Quarter - US Grant Hotel Macy’s and Forever 21 and plenty of small stores. It is not considered a major mall, but it's within walking distance from downtown hotels and the waterfront. 

The US Grant Hotel is a historic place with 11 stories and 270 guest rooms. The hotel was built by Ulysses S. Grant, Jr., son of President Ulysses S. Grant, who named the hotel after his father. 

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

The hotel is infamous for its restaurant the “Grant Grill”. Women were not permitted at this place before 3 pm until a group of women in 1969 staged a sit-in. After the bad publicity, the restaurant was forced to abandon its men-only policy.

San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - Little ItalyThe Spreckels Theater is another historic place in downtown San Diego. It started life as a live performance theater but now can show movies. Spreckels is a well-known name in town. John Spreckels was responsible for building the Hotel Coronado and financing the San Diego-Arizona railway. 

After this long detour, we arrived at Little Italy with its busy streets and festive shops and restaurants. This little neighborhood started as a fishing town with immigrants from Italy founding Tuna fishing fleets and a large canary. All canneries closed by the 1980’s, but the neighborhood transformed itself into a shopping and dining destination.  

We ended our food safari at Davanti Enoteca in Little Italy. This restaurant serves traditional Italian dishes with a few American standards. By the time we arrived here, we were already stuffed, so we only had a dessert. We tried their tasty focaccia with cow cheese and topped with honey – a sweet and sour delight. 

We were guided through this food tour by Eric from “Bite San Diego” who was very knowledgeable and friendly. If you are interested in taking a similar food tour, ask them for their Downtown Walking Tour. 

Other great dining experiences in San Diego:

Over the years I enjoyed a great variety of cuisine in San Diego. Some of my favorites are listed below:

Full Moon Sushi

Embargo Grill, San DiegoA great place for Sushi lovers with unique Rolls, Sushi and Sashimi along with a full hot-dish menu and bar. 

Embargo Grill

A small place in a strip mall next to SeaWorld that offers great Caribean dishes. Try the "Key West" - a grilled marinated chicken with curry and Rum Cranberries. You can also build your own dish by picking your meat, sides and sauces. 

The Donut Bar

Yes, it is a donut place, but their creations and huge and delicious. The menu changes daily depending on available fresh ingredients. 

Ramaki Japanese Restaurant

A small hole in the wall restaurants offering fresh Poke and traditional Japanese dishes. You can build your Poke bowl yourself from the Poke Bar.

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Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa

nullThe city of San Diego and the greater San Diego County are home to beautiful beaches, popular attractions, hiking trails and many more adventures.

Many people come to the city to enjoy SeaWorld’s exhibits and shows or the world-famous San Diego Zoo, but there is much more to explore around town. 

You can spend days visiting the museums at Balboa Park, take a sunset dinner cruise in the harbor or climb aboard an Aircraft Carrier. 

Read the full San Diego review here.

On a recent visit to San Diego, we stayed at the Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa for two nights and loved every minute of our stay. 

The resort is right on the bay and has everything you need for fun and relaxation. 

The room

nullThe 2-queen-beds room was very comfortable with a great view overlooking a garden and the beach. 

The beds were the right firmness for my wife and me, with plush comforters and many fluffy pillows to choose from. The large quilted headboards made sitting in bed very comforting. 

Our room had a breakfast nook which contained the fridge, microwave and coffeemaker. Straw furniture overlooking the patio, garden and beach provided a nice relaxing place to sip our morning coffee.

Tip: The best way to enjoy San Diego attractions is by getting a Go City Card. You pay one price and get all the attractions you want. Go San Diego Card

The room has adequate lighting, plenty of outlets for our electronics, a small desk, chairs, a closet and clean and well-stocked bathroom. My wife especially liked the selection of shampoo and body wash and the fluffy towels. We also enjoyed the large flat screen TV with plenty of digital channels. 

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

Our building has a courtyard with pools and waterfalls and a family of ducks running around or swimming. In one corner of the courtyard, we enjoyed a secluded Jacuzzi with towel service. It was always a nice ending to our day – to just soak in the hot water and relax. 

Right outside the patio, there is a very well maintained garden and a beautiful gazebo. The gazebo was decorated with vibrant flowers with the bay view in the background. An amazing spot for some romantic pictures. 

The Resort

nullRight on premises, you will find a nice heated pool, several Jacuzzis and watersports activities. At night you can enjoy SeaWorld’s fireworks show from your patio or from the waterfront. 

The main pool area is spacious with a heated pool, lounge chairs, cabanas, a fire pit and a Jacuzzi. Right at poolside, you can enjoy snacks and drinks at “Fresco's Bar & Grill”. Also during summer nights, the whole family can enjoy a poolside movie. 

The resort sits right on the Bay. You can stroll along the boardwalk or you can rent a bike from the “Sand Box” rental shop. The rental shack has surreys, beach cruisers, kids bikes and trailers and beach toys.

For those who love watersports, you can rent power boats, paddle boards, aqua bikes, sailboat or Jet Skis. 

If you want to stay in shape, the resort has a fully equipped fitness center with lockers and showers. The workout machines are state of the art with screens to monitor your progress or to watch a movie or TV show. 

There is also a store next to the lobby with many essentials and souvenirs. If you need a quick snack, water or beer you can find it here. Or if you forgot to bring a swimsuit, hairbrush or toothbrush, they have it all and their prices are reasonable. 

Dining

nullSeveral dining options are available right inside the resort. You can enjoy sandwiches and drinks poolside at Fresco's Bar & Grill or you can have a nice sit-down dinner at Acqua California Bistro.

We tried Acqua for breakfast and for dinner. On both occasions, we opted for patio seating with a great view of the bay. 

For breakfast, we chose the all you can eat buffet. I usually try to avoid buffets, but we looked the food over before we ordered and we like what we saw. The buffet was stocked with all our favorites like scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes, French toast and pancakes. We also had a large choice of pastries and fruit.  

The dinner was also delicious and done right. I wasn’t very hungry so I ordered the Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and Mixed Green Salad. The soup was creamy and tasty. My wife ordered the Mushroom Crusted Filet of Salmon. She said it was cooked just right. 

On the first night, we didn’t have time to stop for dinner so we ordered room service. We ordered BLT sandwiches. They were very tasty and filling. We actually couldn’t finish them and we had enough for snacks the following day.

Location, Location, Location

nullI think the Hilton resort San Diego be a destination by itself. You have everything you need for a relaxing or active vacation right around you.

But obviousl,y you didn’t come here to stay in your hotel room. 

From your room, you probably can see SeaWorld in the distance. At night you can actually enjoy their spectacular fireworks show from the bay shore. Some rooms have a direct view to Seaworld from their windows. The resort offers a free shuttle to SeaWorld. Check with the front desk for information. 

A short drive away you can enjoy Coronado Island, USS Midway, Gaslamp Quarter, Seaport Village and Balboa Park – to name a few.

You can take a trolley to all of those destinations and leave your car behind. Read about the historic Trolley Tours here.  Ask the front desk about a shuttle that will take you to the first stop on this trolley tour of San Diego.

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

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Historic Trolley Tour

nullThe city of San Diego and the greater San Diego county are home to beautiful beaches, popular attractions, hiking trails and many more adventures.

Many people come to the city to enjoy SeaWorld’s exhibits and shows or the world famous San Diego Zoo, but there is much more to explore around town. 

You can spend days visiting the museums at Balboa Park, take a sunset dinner cruise in the harbor or climb aboard an Aircraft Carrier. 

Read the full San Diego review here.

One of the best ways to explore the city of San Diego is by taking the historic old town trolley. You can jump on and off the trolley at any of the 10 stops throughout the day.

nullAlong the way, the driver will share with you interesting San Diego history and tips about places to see and things to do.

You can start your tour at any of the 10 stops along the route, but Tthe main starting point is at Old Town San Diego. 

This State Park is a collection of protected historic buildings that were turned into a living museum of San Diego life in 1800’s. 

While in old town you can enjoy visits to Spanish Adobe style homes, buy souvenirs from stores or dine at one of the unique restaurants. Casa de Estudillo is especially interesting with its unique style and interior courtyard.

Tip: Many hotels have shuttles to Old Town. Ask your concierge for schedules and make sure you can get back to old town before the last one. You can also find a list here.

nullThe second stop is at the Embarcadero where you can find attractions like the USS Midway, Harbor Cruises and Whale watching excursions. From here you can walk to the next stop or you can hop back on the trolley.

Interesting Facts: In San Diego, it’s illegal to shoot jackrabbits from the back of a streetcar. I wonder why they had to make this law.

Stop number three is at Seaport Village where you can spend time shopping, dining or enjoying the street artists. Seaport Village is also home to some interesting art galleries and a candle shop.

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

The fourth stop is at the Marriott – close to the convention center. The marina right at the Marriott is an interesting destination by itself. But from there you can take the little ones to the Children’s Museum for some hands-on fun.

nullThe next stop is at the Horton Plaza and Gaslamp Quarter. Spend some time at the mall or walk around the quarter for some unique shops and dining experiences. Also in the area, you can find a movie theater, House of Blues and Michael J. Wolf Fine Arts.

Tip: When you board the trolley for the first time, you will get a sticker to place on your clothes. This is your ticket to hop on and off the trolley. The stickers do not stick to some material. You can place the sticker on any piece of paper or on a credit card to avoid losing it. 

nullStop six is also at the Gaslamp Quarter closer to the waterfront. This side has destinations like the historic district, Chinese historic district and Altitude Sky Lounge at the Marriott. The lounge is a good place to dine, dance and enjoy the views.

Stop seven gets you to the Hilton Bayfront which is at the south end of the convention center. From this stop, you can walk to Petco Park baseball stadium and the Ferry to Coronado Island.

Interesting Facts: The first driver across the Coronado Bridge when it first opened was Ronald Reagan in 1969.

nullThe eighth stop takes you into Coronado Island close to the beach and the famous Hotel Del Coronado. 

The ride from stop 7 to stop 8 takes you over the Coronado bridge with amazing views of the bay, downtown San Diego and the island. The bridge connects San Diego downtown to Coronado island and crosses over the SD bay.

Interesting Facts: The Hotel Del Coronado is the country’s largest wooden structure.

nullStop nine takes you to the heart of Balboa Park where you can find a lot of nature walks, museums, gardens, restaurants and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. 

The last stop is at the Little Italy neighborhood. This area has a lot of history and full of boutique shops and Italian restaurant. 

Interesting Facts: From the early 1930s to the late 1970s, San Diego was the tuna capital of the world.

While here you can visit the Piazza Basilone Memorial – a tribute to the neighborhood’s soldiers who died during the Korean War. The Piazza has tables, benches and water fountains. You can relax and have a picnic. 

If you happen to be here on Saturdays, you can enjoy the farmers market. 

At the end of your epic tour of San Diego, jump back on the trolley and head back to old town to complete the circle. 

Tip: The best way to enjoy San Diego attractions is by getting a Go City Card. You pay one price and get all the attractions you want. Go San Diego Card

I loved this tour and would recommend it to everyone exploring San Diego. Just leave your car behind and enjoy the sights. Most major hotels offer shuttle service to Old Town or are a few steps away from a trolley stop.

Historic Trolley Tours offer another tour to the beaches and La Jolla. I did not try it, but planning on it during my next trip to San Diego.

You can find an interactive route map here.

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

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La Jolla

null

La Jolla is a little town on the outskirts of San Diego with nice sandy beaches, coastal cliffs, hotels, golf courses, a state park and the famous University of California, San Diego. It is also famous for the La Jolla Cove and Caverns. 

The nearby city of San Diego and the greater San Diego County are home to beautiful beaches, popular attractions, hiking trails and many more adventures.  Read the full San Diego review here.

No one knows for sure where the name originated, but some say it means the place with holes – referring to the many caves and coves on the shoreline. Others say it means the Jewel. In either case is a jewel on the beach and it is full of caves and coves – making it a very interesting place to visit and explore.

Interesting Facts: The Birch Aquarium at Scripps in La Jolla is the largest oceanographic museum in the country.

La Jolla Cove

nullA beautiful cove and beach with a nice path for walking and viewpoints to gaze at the waves and the sea lions. 

The cove is also right next to the underwater park with clean water and plenty of sea-life for snorkelers and divers.

The scenery around the cove spectacular. From the moment you park your car and start walking you will come across breathtaking views.La Jolla Cove, San Diego, CA

Tip: There are a few available parking spots at street level and next to the Cave Store, but they run out fast. Also next to the Cave Store you kind find a parking structure. 

From the cliffs, you can see a large arch with waves breaking against it. Big trees hang from the edge of the cliff and lots of wildflowers decorate the slopes. 

As you walk down the slope, you come upon a park and stairs going down to a very small La Jolla Cove, Coastal Trailbeach. At high tide, this beach stip all but disappears. It is mainly used as a launching pad by snorkelers and divers.

Along this park, there are cliffs occupied by seals and seagulls. You can climb down and get very close to the lazy seals. 

The Cave Store is also the only entrance to the La Jolla Cave. Pay $5 to descend into a steep stairway down to the water level. As you approach you will hear the surf breaking against the rocks and the cave walls. The cave opens onto the Ocean with a nice view of the cliffs in the distance. 

Tip: Another great way to enjoy La Jolla Cove it to rent a bike and take a ride along this paved trail. 

La Jolla Cove, Coastal TrailOnce you are done exploring the cave, you can extend your adventure by catching a trail that starts behind the store and goes further up the cliffs. This easy dirt trail offers amazing views of the ocean and has a variety of colorful vegetation.  

Tip: The best way to enjoy San Diego attractions is by getting a Go City Card. You pay one price and get all the attractions you want. Go San Diego Card

Across the street from the beach area, you can find many hotels, stores and restaurants. George's Ocean Terrace offers a high-end dining experience with great ocean views. 

Closer to the cove you can dine at Brockton Villa Restaurant. This place is famous for their brunch, especially the French toast. The view from the patio is breathtaking.  

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

La Holla Shores

nullOne of the most popular destinations in La Jolla is La Holla Shores beach. It is a one-mile stretch of sandy beach that is always crowded with sun worshippers, swimmers and kayakers. 

While at the beach you can rent bikes

Tip: Alcohol is not permitted on any of San Diego beaches. So leave your beer behind.

At the south end, you can find the La Jolla Underwater Park – a popular place for divers and snorkelers. 

To the north, you will find the Scripps institute Birch Aquarium, Torrey Pines State Natural Preserve and Black’s beach.

Torrey Pines State Natural Preserver

nullA 2000-acre stretch of coastal cliffs and a lagoon protected by the State with stunning views of the ocean and challenging hiking trails.

It is also home to the Gilder Port from which you can watch gliders launch above the cliffs and the waves. If you dare you can join a class and learn how to fly.

Right next to the glider port and slightly to the north you will find a very steep trail with hundreds of steps down to the beach. The hike very invigorating, but remember that you have to climb back up those steep steps. 

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

Another difficult but short hike is the “High Point” trail. But the view from the top is amazing. You can a panoramic view of the preserve and the lagoon. 

For an easy hike, try “Guy Fleming Trail”. It is less than a mile with mostly level ground and 2 overlooks with great views.

Black’s Beach

nullThis is a secluded stretch of beach under the Torrey Pines cliffs. The northern end of the beach is run by the State and nudity is tolerated in that area. While the southern end is run by the city of San Diego which enforces a strict no-nudity law. 

The beach itself if very beautiful and uncrowded, but getting down from the parking lot is a chore. You would have to climb down steep ramps or steps.

In spite of the difficulty, it is popular with surfers and naturalist.

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Sea World San Diego

SeaWorld San Diego - Dolphin DaysSea World is the only park in which you can get up close and personal with sea creatures and get an education while having fun. You can meet Shamu the killer whale, watch the Dolphins play their tricks, visit the sharks in their natural habitat, go to the North Pole on an icy safari and peek at the Penguins – and you get all that fun for a bargain.

You can add an “experience” to your visit, like Dolphin Interaction Program or Beluga Interaction Program.

The park also offers a large variety of dining options and the prices are much more reasonable than other Theme parks.

Tip: As usual, it pays to plan ahead. Go to SeaWorlds website and browse the various activities and show times.

Shows that you shouldn’t miss are Orca Encounter; Sea Lions Live; Dolphin Days; A trip to SeaWorld SD - Dolphin DaysWild Arctic; Shark encounter and Sea Rescue.

For thrill seekers, try one of the rides: Journey To Atlantis; Manta; Shipwreck Rapids and Wild Arctic (the ride).

All those shows, exhibits and rides will be described below in more detail. Also, see special Christmas celebration details at the end of this article.

Watch the video at the bottom of this article for an overview of the park.

Get a Go-City Card with passes to Seaworld and many more attractions here.

Explorer's Reef 

nullAs you enter the park you will immediately be greeted by SeaWorld's newest attraction which opened in March 2014. 

Explorer’s Reef is a covered but open exhibit that allows visitors to interact with a variety of fish and sharks. Young children especially enjoy petting Mantas, Cleaner fish and Bamboo Sharks.

Right next to the reef you can explore the newest souvenir store, The SeaWorld store. You probably should refrain from taking the kids there as you enter the park. Otherwise, you will be carrying their souvenirs all day long.  

Orca Encounter 

nullShamu and his friends the killer whales (Orcas) show off their natural behavior as they interact with their trainers.  The show used to be called believe, but was upgraded to the current show recently.

Tip: The old One Ocean shows was replaced recently with this new toned down encounter with Orca whales. The trainers try to show the Orcas natural behavior instead of forcing them into unnatural tricks. To many, this made the show slow and boring, but the reasons for the change are commendable. It is safer for the whales and the trainers. 

Expect to be dazzled by high-flying tricks, the music, the multimedia presentations, the new fountains and the playfulness of the whales.

The show is about 25 minutes, but the pre-show is part of the experience. During your wait, you will be presented with video clips about our planet and oceans. The clips will educate you and inspire you to take better care of our environment. Also, while waiting, you and your kids can use your cell phones to interact with the sea creatures.

Tip: You will get enough warnings about this one, but here is my warning too: If you sit in the first 8 to 12 rows you are guaranteed to get wet. The Orcas really enjoy drenching the audience. You can always buy a plastic poncho and brave the tidal waves.

At the back of the Shamu stadium, you can get even closer to the whales. The glass window viewing area provides an amazing look at the whales playing or feeding.

Dolphin Days

nullThis shows used to be called "Blue Horizons" and some time ago, "Dolphin Discovery".

The Dolphins are always the main actors and they still like to show off their flying tricks and enjoy splashing the audience. 

Along with dolphins, you will see appearances by pilot whales who like to play with the Dolphins.

The show is about 23 minutes. As usual get there early to get good seats. 

Dolphin Point

Used to be called Rocky Point Preserve. This is where you get to meet the Bottlenose SeaWorld San Diego - Dolphin PointDolphins up close and personal. You can actually touch the dolphins and feed them (only fish purchased at the nearby stand). You can also peek at the dolphins through the underwater viewing glass while listening to educational information.

Due to the popularity of this encounter and dolphin diet requirements, SeaWorld set specific times for feeding them. Check the times on the map/schedule and get there early. You may have to wait in line for a while to get to feed the dolphins.

Tip: Watch out for seagulls trying to steal the feed fish from your hands.

You can also watch Otters play or feed nearby.

Sea Lions Live

nullWatch the sea lions spoof some of the most popular TV shows and Movies like CSI; Idol; Dancing with the stars. And don’t miss the pre-show. Show duration about 20 minutes.

Penguin Encounter

nullTake a peek at the lives and times of 300 cold weather Penguins in their natural habitat. You will encounter many species of penguins like Emperor; King; Adelie; Gento; and Macaroni. Watch them above water, on the snow and then watch them as they dive into their underwater habitat.

Tip: The temperature is very cold inside this exhibit, so make sure you are prepared. Also, the exhibit tries to mimic the natural Antarctic environment so except the exhibit to be very dark during summer (Antarctic winter).

You can enjoy this exhibit in 2 ways: Go on the conveyor belt and be guided through the habitat, or go up the stairs and stroll at your own pace. The upstairs viewing deck has benches and TV screens for some educational programs about the Penguins.

Tip: As you step out of the exhibit, make a sharp left and enjoy the warm weather Penguins playing in their small garden.

Shark Encounter

nullCome face to face with sharks of all shapes and sizes as you walk through their habitat.

Tip: Sharks loose their teeth all the time. If you look closely along the edges of the tunnel you find some shark teeth.

The highlight of the exhibit is a 57 ft. acrylic underwater walkway.

You will see sharks swimming all around you. Some of the species you will encounter are Sand Tiger; Bonnet Head; Black Tip and White

Sesame Street Bay of Play

If you have kids make sure to schedule a stop at this play area for kids of all ages. This gives the adults a chance to relax and the kids a chance to let loose.

This Sesame street inspired area is full of rides, games and interaction with characters. It replaced the long-running Shamu's Happy Harbor and I think it is a big improvement. New rides are Abby's Sea Star Spin; Elmo's Flying Fish; and Oscar's Rockin' Fish.

Activities left over from the old play area are The cargo nets, slides, bouncer and water play area. For a little workout, you can join the kids climbing the nets and going down the slides.

Wild Arctic

nullwild arctic is the newest exhibit at sea world. you start your arctic exploration by riding on a jet helicopter – which is a motion simulator. The chopper takes you on a wild ride to a remote research station. Along the way, you will see breathtaking icy wilderness and you will encounter a few mishaps.

Tip: Riders who prefer a smoother ride, select the middle seats of the helicopter.

If you don’t like simulator rides, there is an alternate route that takes you directly to the observation area. You can watch the same scenery – from the helicopter point of view – on a giant screen and then head to the research station on foot.

nullOnce you land at the research station you can observe polar bears, white beluga whales, walruses, and seals. your observation starts from above the ice and water – then gradually takes underwater. Along the way, you will pass through an ice tunnel with a 25-foot long ice wall.

Tip: put your hand on the ice, see your hand sinking in the ice and making a print, and find out how long you can last.

The gift shop at the end of the exhibit is full of cute stuffed polar bears and beluga whales.

Tip: the weather in Arctic is freezing cold. so make sure you have a jacket or sweater.

Shipwreck Rapids

nullGet ready to be very wet. This is your typical water ride that twists and turns between shipwrecks, live turtle habitats and waterfalls.

Ride the tube rafts and start your whitewater rafting adventure. You will get splashed a little along the way, but you are guaranteed to be drenched by the end of your ride.

Tip: For people who don’t like to stay wet, SeaWorld provides drying booths near the exit of the ride.

Tip: If you skip the ride because the line is too long, you can take your revenge and have some fun. Use one of the water cannons along the path from Shipwreck rapids to Cirque del la mar to drench the raft riders.

Manta

nullThis is the newest attraction at SeaWorld. It is a high-speed rollercoaster ride. It has a lot of twists and turns but never goes up-side-down.

The ride starts deceptively slow and relaxed. You will first go through an underwater tunnel. Using giant HD screens, sound effects and slow rocking motion, you will feel like you are really underwater – with great views of Mantas and sea creatures. Then all of a sudden a door opens and you are launched onto the high-flying adventure. This rollercoaster has a lot of twists and turns but no 360 loops. The ride lasts close to 2 minutes.

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Once you are done with the ride, head over to the new Manta aquarium where you can pet the mantas or see them in action through large acrylic windows.

Journey to Atlantis

nullAtlantis is a water ride and rollercoaster for thrill seekers. You start your ride with a 60-foot plunge into water then you go through a calm period with your boat floating through a river.

Along the way, you will encounter evidence of the lost civilization of Atlantis and you will come face to face with sea creatures.

At the end of the calm boat ride, you are lifted up and then dropped onto a winding rollercoaster.

Tip: This is a busy ride. Expect long waits. Best time to visit is when the park opens or when the big shows are in session (Whales and Dolphins).

Electric Eel

SeaWorld San Diego - Electric EelThis the newest thrill ride at SeaWorld with multiple launches, upside down spins, steep drops and backward acceleration. It is not for the faint of hurt. With speeds of up to 60-miles an hour and climbs up to 150 feet, prepare for a lot of screams. 

The Electric Eel is part of a new area of the park called "Ocean Explorer". At the entrance of this area, you can explore Eels, Mantas and Octopi in their natural habitat. 

Sea world Sky Towernull

A 320-foot tower with a climbing, rotating cabin. While spinning around at a very leisurely speed you can enjoy commanding views of San Diego and the bay. you get a totally different flavor of the ride depending on the time of day. try a ride around sunset and a nighttime ride. Only one regret about this ride: I wish the viewing windows are kept spotless so I can take better pictures.

SeaWorld Christmas celebration  

nullSeaWorld turns into a winter wonderland during the holidays. Christmas decorations adorn every corner and some of the sea creatures are celebrating too.  Just walking around between attractions will put in a festive mood and fill you with the holiday spirit. 

As you enter the park you will be greeted with an amazing tall Christmas tree festooned with beautiful ornaments and lights. Your favorite characters, like Shamu, will be on hand to take pictures with your family. 

Some of the must-see holiday attractions are Polar express 4d; Snow World; Shamu Christmas show; Clyde and Seamore Christmas show and Christmas Tails (Pets).

nullPolar Express 4D is a special version of the popular movieofh the same name. The 3D effects will put you inside the action, but the added dimension of special effects tricks your senses into believing. There are a few surprises that I don’t want to spoil for you, but a warning too: 

Tip: Do not set in the front seats. Try to find a place in the middle rows and right in the middle of the row you select. Obviously, you have to get in early to be choosy. We were late getting in and had to settle for the 2nd row. We still enjoyed the show, but we had to strain our eyes and nicks to see everything. We also missed an amazing special effect that did not reach the front rows.

Snow World is an area set aside for snow play – with real snow and a sledding area. Kids of all ages can play with the snow and have snowball fights, but the sledding area is reserved for kids 12 and under.  Also, expect to see falling snow along the path to Snow World.

The Otter Show: Santa gets held up and can’t deliver the Christmas gifts. “Biff” fills in for him and finds out that OP makes the naughty list again. OP and his accomplices “borrow” the list to make changes. The whole team goes looking for the list, but OP sneaks it back to its place – just in time for the gifts deliveries.

Clyde, Seamore and OP otter have a new story to tell at the Sea Lion and

We missed the last Christmas Tails show (at 3:15), but I heard from a lot of people – especially with young children – that they loved it. The basic storyline is that the dogs, cats and birds threw a big holiday party.

All in all, it was a very great way to celebrate the holiday for the whole family.

Sea World San Diego
500 Sea World Drive
San Diego, CA 92109
(800) 257-4268

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San Diego Zoo Safari Park

nullSomeday I would love to go on a real African Safari and come face to face with a Lion or a Tiger – but until that day comes, I can go to the next best place right here in California. 

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is located in San Diego County close to the city of Escondido. It spans 1800 acres of land and is stocked with 2600 animals from 300 species. It is also home to thousands of plant species – some of it in a protected preserve. The main attraction is a vast open area with free ranging animals that vary from the fierce lions to the tame Giraffes. The only way to enjoy this vast flora and fauna is to join a Safari. More the on Safari options later.

nullThe Safari park and the Zoo in the city of San Diego are run by the non-profit organization “San Diego Zoo Global”, which also runs a research institute. The organization dedicated to the reproduction, protection, and exhibition of animals, plants, and their habitats. 

So the big question is: what is the best way to enjoy the Safari park? It all depends on how much you are willing to spend on your experience. You can spend $50 per person for entrance and the Africa Tram Safari or you can go for the Caravan Safari for $139. If you are really into the wild, you can build a custom Safari experience, but be ready to pay $600 or more. 

Tip: The best way to enjoy San Diego attractions is by getting a Go City Card. You pay one price and get all the attractions you want. Go San Diego Card

If this is your first visit and you are not sure what to do, I suggest just going on the included African Tram Safari tour. Once you are inside you can decide whether you want to pay extra for additional Safaris.

Before or After the Safari

nullAs you are walking from and to your Safari experience you can enjoy several shows and exhibits along the way. 

Near the park entrance, stop at “WINGS OF THE WORLD” to view some varieties of wild and rare birds. In this exhibit you actually enter the enclosure with the birds and can view them in their “simulated” natural habitat.

As you exit “wings of the world” you will pass “NAIROBI VILLAGE” – a large lagoon with a Congo River fishing village. In and around the lagoon you will find a large variety of bird species like pelicans, storks, shoebills, and ducks, herons and egrets. The most impressive were the pelicans with graceful one footed stand and the huge storks. One way to really enjoy this area is to climb to the top of the wooden structure (tower) for bird’s eye view. 

nullAs you are walking to your Safari station you will pass a large glass viewing area overlooking the Lions habitat (Lions Camp). The area looks like a battered Safari camp overrun by lions. There are always a few milling about or napping. While we were visiting one of the lions got up and walked right up to the glass window, as if he was visiting the zoo of humans and viewing the various species. A great photo opportunity.

Also on your way, don’t forget the visit Lorikeet feeding area. Those tiny colorful birds are very friendly. As you are holding a cup of nectar they will land on you and start drinking right off the palm of your hand. It is an amazing experience – not to be missed.

nullIf you are lucky and arrive during the seasonal Butterfly Jungle exhibit, then you must see it. When you are buying your tickets you will an allotted time for your visit. Make sure you make it around that time. Once you are in your will be face to face with thousands of butterflies from various species. Some of them will land on your clothes or hats. One of them landed on my cheek and tickled me to death by fluttering her wings and antennae – a unique experience caught on camera.  

Safari options

Build your own discounted San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

The park offers many ways to interact with the animals. Some of them more up close and personal than others. The only drawback I can see for this abundance is that you have to pay a lot of money for every additional Safari. 

Also, some Safari’s get sold out early, so it is advisable to make a reservation. For example, if you really want to be on the Caravan Safari, you have to book it ahead of time.

Here are the available Safaris …

Africa Tram Safari

nullThis is the Safari that is included in most admission passes. It is a guided tram ride through the African Plains.

When you first get into the tram, try to find a seat on your left side (or the side facing the Animal habitats). This is the side with the majority of views and provides for the best pictures. If you end up on the right side or the middle you will still enjoy the Safari but your pictures may have other people or tram poles in them.

The guides/drivers are very knowledgeable and seem to really love the wildlife and believe in the mission of the conservancy. You will get a steady stream of information about the various animals and habitats. If you heard it all before, bring your electronic device with you. 

Some of the most famous inhabitants of this area are: herds of curious giraffes, massive rhinos, graceful gazelles, and impressively horned antelope, ostriches, African crowned cranes. We especially enjoyed watching a herd of Giraffes feeding from the trees.

Tip: You can go on the tram tour as many times as you desire.

Fodor's Southern California 2013: with Central Coast, Yosemite, Los Angeles, and San Diego (Full-color Travel Guide)

Caravan Safari

nullThis is probably the best safari experience at the park. You get to ride in the back of a truck and get into areas that are usually only accessible by staff. The tour is about 2 hours long, much longer than the tram tour.

Some of the highlights are feeding the Giraffes and the Rhinos.  The Giraffes grab the leafs right out of your hands. 

Try to get on the first tour of the day. The animals are more likely to approach at this time – maybe they are still hungry in the morning. 

This Safari costs around $95 (or $139 with entrance).

Balloon Safari

nullHave you seen pictures of hot air balloons floating over the African plains chasing the herds of animals in their feeding grounds? The Balloon safari tries to simulate the experience by taking you up in a single large hot-air balloon. The balloon is tethered to the ground but goes up high enough to allow a great view of the whole area. Bring a pair of binoculars to enhance your experience. 

Flight-line Safari (Zipline)

This is a great experience for adventure seekers. You will first get some lessons and gear, and before you go on your zipline adventure you get to practice on a scaled down run. 

Once you are ready, you ride a truck to the upper launch area.  Your harness is hooked to the line, you are comfortably seated then you start your long slide above the rhinos, deer and other animals. 

This Safari costs around $70 (or $114 with entrance).

Cart Safari

nullRiding a small cart with an experienced guide through the park gives you a more personalized tour of the African or Asian animals. The guides provide a lot of information about the animal’s characteristics, feeding habits and habitat. You will also get to watch while the guide offers some treats to the animals. 

The cart Safari costs around $40 (or $84 with entrance).

Behind the Scenes Safari

Are you curious about what it takes to run such a huge wild animal park? How do they care for and train the animals? If so, then the behind-the-scene safari is for you. 

Go to places that are off-limits to the general public: Visit a lion or tiger bedroom; feed some rare animals; visit the veterinary hospital or the research labs. 

This Safari costs around $70 (or $114 with entrance).

Roar and Snore Safari

When you are on an African Safari you will probably spend several nights in a campground between expeditions. If you love camping close to the animals you can enjoy this experience at the Safari park. Several options are available for your accommodations and activities. Some programs are for adults only (over 21) and others for families with kids 6 and over. The campground overlooks the African Plains and offers great views of the animals in their natural habitat. 

Depending on which option you pick, expect to pay from $184 to $264.

The Ultimate Safari

nullThis Safari option allows you to custom design the Safari of your dreams. The professionals at the park will guide you through the various options that meet your needs and interests. Do you want to spend more time interacting with the wild animals or visiting exhibits? Do you prefer your visit to be on the adventurous side or on the mild and relaxed side? 

You have to plan for this experience ahead of time. Once you arrive for your experience, a private tour guide is assigned to you and spends 5 or 8 hours with you – depending on which option you picked. The tour includes one meal.

Expect to pay $599 for 5 hours and $950 for an 8-hour experience – per person. 

Build your own discounter San Diego Go Card Here - Multi-attraction Pass.

Other places to try: Thorntree Terrace for sandwiches, paninis, salads, and burgers; Mombasa Island Cooker for BBQ favorites, burgers, vegetable skewers, entree salads.

If you prefer you can bring your own food and eat at the shaded picnic area.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

15500 San Pasqual Valley Road

Escondido, CA 92027-7017   

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