San Diego Overview
California's oldest, second largest and southern-most big city, San Diego is one of the nation's most popular playgrounds. With more than 300 days of sunshine, it also boasts the best climate in the United States. Full of contrasts, the city mingles contemporary urban sensibilities with colonial Spanish architecture, sparkling ocean vistas to the west with barren, boulder-strewn hills to the east, and fine dining establishments with the newest of "nouvelle cuisine" standing side by side with tiny tortillarias.
Consider this: Vintage ships line the downtown waterfront next to the cruise docks, and a little red trolley can take you south of the border into Mexico. Or you can pet the orcas and dolphins at Seaworld, take in a Padres game at the new downtown ballpark, relive the turn of the century in the Gaslamp District or simply sit and savor hot, homemade tortillas and Mexican food on the patio of almost any restaurant in historic Old Town.
Balboa Park, the largest urban cultural park in the nation, features "Spanish Colonial Revival" style buildings, designed and built for the Panama-California Exhibition in 1916-1917 to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal. The 1,074-acre park is home to art galleries, free botanical exhibits and 15 museums, including the Natural History Museum, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, and the world-renowned San Diego zoo, with more than 800 species of animals, some of them rare and endangered.
The best part of the above? It's all accessible by walking, public transportation or short cab rides from downtown and the cruise dock.
For those who choose to stay an extra few days and rent a car, day trips and excursions abound. There are more than 90 golf courses in San Diego County, plus 33 beaches. Take the kids to Legoland in Carlsbad, spend a day at the horse races in Del Mar, visit the wineries or indulge in a hot-air balloon ride in Temecula, try your hand at lady luck in one of the many Las Vegas-style gaming establishments within an hour's drive of the city, go on safari at the incredible Wild Animal Park in Escondido, or visit the nude beach in toney La Jolla.
San Diego Quick Facts
For San Diego's "museum central" head to Balboa Park. The 1,200-acre park in the center of San Diego is home to some 15 museums. The San Diego Museum of Art and San Diego Natural History Museum are highlights, as well as art galleries, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, the San Diego Zoo (see below) and the historic Spreckels Organ Pavilion. Balboa Park also has glorious flora and fauna, particularly the Inez Rose Parker Memorial Rose Garden and the Japanese Friendship Garden. There's a free tram (daily, from 9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. summers; 10 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. winter) that offers stops throughout the park and to the parking lot. Info: www.balboapark.org.
The San Diego Zoo (2000 Zoo Drive) is world-famous and features a 100-acre tropical garden with 4,000 animals of 800 species. One of its distinctive attractions is its bioclimactic exhibits, which include the Polar Bear Plunge, Gorilla Tropics and Tiger River. There's a three-mile guided tour, children's petting zoo and a baby animal nursery. Info: www.sandiegozoo.org.
Seaport Village is located about a mile from the cruise dock and is filled with fun shops and boutiques in a Cape Cod-esque seaport setting. Look for the "brand new" old (1895) carousel featuring a full menagerie of animals including an elephant, a giraffe, camels, a dragon, galloping horses and more. Info: www.spvillage.com.
San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter, a 16 1/2-block urban neighborhood, is a showplace of restoration. Its big draws? 70 restaurants, 20 nightclubs, 40 shops, all clustered in a Victorian-era atmosphere. It's also a centerplace for big city events, from food and music festivals to Mardi Gras. Info: www.gaslamp.org.
Historic Missions. San Diego, the first city of California, has more than 20 missions. The most famous include Padre Junipero Serra's first mission in California, Mission San Diego de Alcala (Mission Valley, a 10-minute drive from downtown). Info: www.missionsandiego.com.
Hang out on San Diego's Mission Beach and Pacific Beach boardwalks (inline skates, surfboards and bicycles are available for rent). At Belmont Park, a mile south of Pacific Beach, you'll find the Big Dipper, a wooden roller coaster built in the 1920s and still in operation.
SeaWorld San Diego (500 Seaworld Drive): Part theater, part marine life exhibition, SeaWorld has at least half a dozen major shows (Penguin Encounter, Shark Encounter and Wild Arctic, among others) and even, in summer, Cirque de la Mer, a whimsical circus-style performance that involves both marine life and humans and features athletics, acrobatics and special effects. Info: www.seaworld.com.
Petco Park (100 Park Boulevard, 619-795-5401): Baseball fans will love the new home of the San Diego Padres, located in the heart of downtown adjacent to the Gaslamp Quarter. Those arriving in season can take public transportation right to the ballpark from almost anywhere in the city, and enjoy the Boys of Summer at both day and night games when they are playing at home. Info: sandiego.padres.mlb.com.
The downtown area is very compact and walk-able. For just-beyond attractions, there is trolley and bus service. Taxis are plentiful. Also check out bike cabbies that line up at the port. Rental car agencies are located in downtown San Diego as well as at the airport. To get to the North Coastal areas, there is the Coaster, a commuter train that leaves from downtown San Diego and returns several times a day and is inexpensive, fast and efficient.
Where You're Docked
Cruise ships dock at the B Street Cruise Ship Terminal, right in the heart of downtown.
Staying in Touch
Internet Cafe (800 Broadway near Horton Plaza) is the nearest to the B Street Pier.
Little Italy: Indigo Grill (1536 India Street, 619-234-6802, Lunch 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. Monday - Friday, Dinner 5 - 10 p.m. Sunday - Thursday and 5 - 11 p.m. Friday - Saturday) which serves northwest and southwest fusion cuisine, is one of the city's hottest new restaurants.
The Gaslamp Quarter houses the city's largest concentration of eateries for all appetites, but some favorites include Lou & Mickey's (224 Fifth Street, 619-237-4900, dinner daily from 5 - 10 p.m.) and Acqua A1 2 Ristorante (322 5th Avenue, 619-230-0382, lunch 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. Monday - Friday, dinner daily from 5 - 10:30 p.m.)
Downtown: Star of the Sea (Harbor & Ash Streets, 619-232-7408, dinner only, Sunday - Thursday 5:30 - 10 p.m., Friday - Saturday 5:30 - 11 p.m.) is a San Diego standout -- romantic, great views, coastal cuisine.
Pacific Beach has numerous casual finds; try the Green Flash (701 Thomas Avenue, 858-270-7715, 8 a.m. - 10 p.m. daily) for fun beachy food -- ask to sit on the patio. Costa Brava (1653 Garnet Avenue, 858-273-1218, 11 a.m. - midnight daily) is known for its fabulous tapas.
Uptown: The Corvette Diner (3946 Fifth Avenue, 619-542-1001, Sunday - Thursday 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Friday - Saturday 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.) is a fun, moderate, 50s-esque diner; it's a great family joint. Hash Hash A Go Go (3628 Fifth Avenue, 619-298-4646, breakfast 7:30 - 11:30 a.m., lunch 11:30 a.m. - 2 p.m. and dinner 5 - 9 p.m. -- til 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday) is an amazing amalgam -- hip and trendy yet known for big plates and value prices.
Coronado: For romance, try Chez Loma (1132 Loma, 619-435-0661, daily 5 - 10 p.m., Sundays 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.), a French/Belgian restaurant in a cozy Victorian cottage. More casual? The Bay Beach Cafe (1201 1st Street, 619-435-4900, Monday - Friday: breakfast 7 - 10:30 a.m., lunch 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. and dinner 5 - 10:30 p.m.; Saturday/Sunday brunch 7 - 11:30 a.m., lunch noon - 4 p.m.) is easy going and has a great view.
Cafe 222, (222 Island Ave. 619-236-9902) located between the waterfront and Horton Plaza, serves downhome food with a California healthy twist. Chili, sandwiches and salads are on the menu as well as the Cafe's signature waffles and hotcakes. The owner, an actress and restaurant critic, seems to know how to keep folks happy...the restaurant wins awards and is the darling of the San Diego "it" crowd. It's inexpensive, too!
Anyone who loves baseball will enjoy dinner at McCormicks & Schmick's (675 L Street), located in the new Omni Hotel (619-231-6664) at Petco Park, as much for the display of baseball memorabilia as for the dining experience. Guests of the restaurant can wander through the displays in the hotel lobby, too, where they will find Babe Ruth's American League 1932 contract with the New York Yankees, Willie Mays' autographed broken game baseball bat, and other items of interest.
For a fun, festive, interactive experience, try Casa del Pico (2754 Calhoun St., 619-296-3161) in the Bazaar del Mundo Marketplace in Old Town. Dine to the music of mariachis on a patio strung with lights, and watch the show. This is, of course, after you've gone shopping in the charming plaza, with 16 different boutiques featuring hand-crafted items. Info: www.bazaardelmundo.com.
Waterfront dining in San Diego is spectacular at any time of the year; you can sit on the outside patios in summer and behind walls of glass when it's chilly. Fresh seafood and brilliant sunsets mark Star of the Sea (Harbor Drive at Ash St., 619-232-7408), the upscale brother to Anthony's Fish Grotto next door. Again, this restaurant is just steps from the cruise ships, right along the harbor. Info: www.starofthesea.com.
Because the dock is in the middle of downtown, guests who visit San Diego as a port stop will have no problem quickly finding their way to enjoyable activities, shopping and dining. Horton Plaza, an upscale vertically-built urban shopping mall, is only a ten-minute walk away from the port, has a Nordstrom department store as its flagship, and is surrounded with little boutiques and fun restaurants. Anthony's Fish Grotto (1360 North Harbor Drive), a San Diego dining institution, is located directly adjacent to the cruise ships, right on the harbor, and is open for lunch and dinner. The best place for breakfast is Cafe 222 (222 Island Avenue), located between the ships and Horton Plaza, serving reasonably priced omelets, pancakes, waffles and frittatas with a great deal of funky attitude.
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