San Diego is the epitome of a Southern Californian city. Blessed by a year round climate, framed by the Pacific Ocean and exuding a certain laid-back Californian vibe.
Nestled in the southwestern corner of California, it can be overshadowed by its more celebrated neighbours, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. San Diego is the state’s second largest city and makes a perfect city break destination with its mix of beaches and city life. The city itself benefits from a varied geography with the peninsulas of Coronado and Point Loma jutting out in the Pacific creating a large natural harbour. As a result, San Diego has direct access to several golden sand beaches in close proximity, from Mission Beach in the north, to Coronado in the west. Combined with a varied topography of hills and valleys means that one is never far from an interesting vista of the cityscape and the Pacific beyond.
The setting of the city around the water means that San Diego is made up of a network of distinct neighbourhoods and areas. For the visitor, the first stop is likely to be in the Downtown of San Diego, where many of the city’s larger hotels are located. Characterised by slightly anonymous high risers, this area is also home to the Gas Lamp Quarter. This area was previously run down and far from the tourist trail, however the transformation and regeneration of inner San Diego has resulted in a bustling downtown quarter characterised by historic building facades, and varied shops and restaurants. Whilst the gas lamps themselves may now run on electric, this beautifully preserved network of streets is worth exploring.
Within walking distance to the south and west lies San Diego’s principal water front. The Embarcadero houses the USS Midway, now a museum, which is testament to the city’s naval importance. The highlight of the waterfront is undoubtedly the Sea Port Village. This development was the pioneer of the city’s waterfront, creating a leisure and shopping destination in a previously industrial area. Today it houses many eateries and tourist shops. Given its role in transforming the perception of San Diego’s waterfront, it is somewhat ironic that plans are afoot to replace it with a higher density scheme. That would be a shame as the low density and intimate nature of the village is what makes the Seaport Village such an attraction to the visitor.
Away from the waterfront are a diverse range of areas from Little Italy and its excellent selection of restaurants, to the Old Town and its Mexican style buildings. Balboa Park is one of the city’s main highlights and is a truly unique attraction that many a city around the world would aspire to have. Housing an extraordinary range of museums and galleries as well as the celebrated San Diego Zoo, it has an idyllic setting in the park grounds. With its pedestrian walkways and attractions in relatively close proximity, Balboa Park makes for an enjoyable place to spend an afternoon.
Beyond the city centre, there are several outlying areas which make the journey worthwhile. Coronado is one of these such areas. Accessed via the sweeping San Diego-Coronado bridge which provides a dramatic panorama of the city, Coronado has a certain village within a city feel. Leafy wide avenues, eclectic architecture and trendy shops and eateries along Orange Avenue make this an ideal place to spend a couple of hours. The highlight of Coronado is undoubtedly the Hotel Del Coronado, or ‘The Del’ as the locals refer to it. This classic hotel is an American icon, associated with a plethora of celebrated figures from films, politics and even royalty. The hotel is set on the Coronado beach which is worth the trip alone. Consistently rated as one of the top beaches in the United States, this glistening stretch of golden sand and Pacific surf makes for a quintessential Californian experience at the beach. Further up the coast, Mission Beach and the exclusive suburb of La Jolla are also worth soaking up the dramatic scenery and chilled Californian beach vibe.
For exploring the city, the public transport system is clean and efficient, including both trams and buses. A trip on the city’s Old Town Trolley tours is also recommended. In just a few hours, with its entertaining and informative commentary, this tour covers all the city’s main sights from its distinctive open-air buses. It also provides the option of hopping on and off throughout the day.
However you choose to explore the city, any visitor to San Diego will be struck by its scenic setting and its varied and eclectic neighbourhoods. One is never far from idyllic beaches and well preserved natural environments in San Diego giving the city a distinct ‘small town’ feel, unique amongst larger American cities. The city is also a good base to explore the Southern Californian landscape and nearby Mexico which is within touching distance. With connections to cities throughout the United States and London, now has never been a better time to visit this city by the Pacific.
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