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Start with Sea World, and then visit San Diego neighborhoods like La Jolla, Torrey Pines, El Cajon, and Old Town. Don't miss famed SD attractions like Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Mission San Diego de Alcala, Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego Zoo, Coronado Island, and Gaslamp District.
Sea World, (800) 257-4268, in the Mission Bay area is open year-round. Take I-5 north to Sea World Drive exit and follow signs. A marine research facility and entertainment center that offers unique opportunities to see and feel marine life in their natural habitat and performing exceptional stunts.
Guided tours behind the scenes are offered. Save the Skytower ride till dusk and enjoy the sunset and incredible aerial view of San Diego and coastline.
Take I-5 north to Sea World Drive and follow it to Mission Bay Drive; it turns into Mission Bay Blvd. Several public beach areas are along here. Continue north to La Jolla, a community built along a section of this rugged coastline, that is closely identified with the Scripps family, of publishing fame, due to their efforts of protecting its natural beauty and contributing to its cultural character. The center of shopping is Prospect Street.
Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art, 700 Prospect, (619) 234-1001, in the former resident of the town’s benefactor, Ellen Browning Scripps. Nearby in La Jolla Cove are seven caves accessible from the Coast Walk. Further north along La Jolla Blvd is the world famous Stephen Birch Aquarium Museum at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, 2300 Expedition Way, (858) 534-3474, small admission fee. Stop at the Torrey Pines State Reserve, North Torrey Pines Road, (858) 755-2063, to see the rare Torrey Pine trees. Awesome views from trails in the Reserve.
North on I-5 at Via de la Valle, is the charming coastal community of Del Mar, home of Del Mar Race Track, (858) 755-1141, season is late July through mid-September. This whole area is a golfers paradise. Maps of area golf courses are available from visitor centers and chambers. South of Del Mar on I-5, take I-805 to 52, then east to I-15 and south to Soledad Freeway. Follow it east around Mission Trails Regional Park to Santee. Nearby are the Santee Lakes, a series of lakes formed at the mouth of Sycamore Canyon and are known great for fishing. Northeast on 67 in Lakeside is the Barona Casino, (800) 227-U-BET or (619) 443-2300. On I-8, 15 miles east, in Alpine is the Viejas Casino & Turf Club, (619) 445-5400 or (800) 847-6537.
Back in El Cajon, check out the Heritage of the Americas Museum, 2952 Jamacha Road, (619) 670-5194, on the Cuyamaca College campus. A small, but extensive family collection of the Bernard Lueck family, this community museum features some excellent pre-historic and historic artifacts and art from the Americas. Take I-8 west to San Diego Mission Road exit and follow it to Mission San Diego de Alcalá, (619) 283-7319, fee, the birth place of the California mission campaign. Built originally at the Presidio, six miles west, in 1769 by Padre Serra, it was relocated in 1774 to this site. Restoration began in 1895 and completed in 1934.
Old Town San Diego, (619) 220-5422, the 13-acre state historic park that once was the heart of the original settlement here is off I-5 north. Take Old Town exit and follow signs. Limited free parking areas are around the complex and on streets. The visitor center in the Robinson-Rose House, has a self-guided tour map of the park. Around the Plaza are seven surviving historical buildings. The other buildings have been restored using historical records. Plenty of new shops and restaurants are adjacent to the area.
Take Taylor Street east toward Mission Valley and turn right on Presidio Drive and follow signs to Presidio Park, the site where Gaspar Portolá and Padre Junípero Serra built the first white settlement in California in 1769. The park includes ruins from the original fort and the Serra Museum, (619) 297-3258, featuring items from the area’s early history and exhibits showing impact the mission era had on the native population.
Take I-8 west to the end of Freeway and Nimitz Blvd left to Chatsworth Blvd. Turn right to Catalina and left on it to the gate of Ft. Rosecrans. Follow Cabrillo Memorial Drive south for three miles to Cabrillo National Monument Visitor Center & Point Loma, fee per car, open year-round, (619) 557-5450. This beautiful 144-acre park looks over Coronado and San Diego bays and the Pacific.
Excellent place to watch ships entering and departing, as well as the whale migration in season. The Point commemorates the landing of the first European, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, on California soil September 28, 1542. The Old Point Loma Lighthouse has been restored and is one of the oldest on the West Coast.
Access to beautiful Balboa Park and the incredible San Diego Zoo is from I-5, at several marked exits, or 6th Avenue, Highway 163 and Park Blvd. To enjoy this urban oasis, stop at the House of Hospitality Information Center, (619) 239-0512, open year-round, on El Prado, next to Casa de Balboa for maps and information. Many of the buildings in this 1,400-acre park were renovated after being used for international expositions in the city. Ten different museums are here; all are worth visiting given their unique subjects. Many of them have free admissions on Tuesdays.
San Diego Natural History Museum, (619) 232-3821, fee, focuses on mineralogy, while Casa de Balboa, houses the Museums of San Diego History, (619) 232-6203, fee, covering the city’s history since 1850. Photographic Arts Museum, (619) 239-5262, fee, features images from around the world. Hall of Champions Sports, (619) 234-2544, fee, showcases outstanding amateur and professional athletes from the area. The San Diego Model Railroad Museum, (619) 696-0199, fee, has four extensive layouts of model trains. Other buildings to visit are the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater & Science Center, (619) 238-1233, fee, featuring a planetarium theater and physical science exhibits, and San Diego Aerospace Museum, (619) 234-8291, fee.
The California Building houses the San Diego Museum of Man, (619) 239-2001, fee, which traces the development of man and his cultural practices. A special treat for organ music lovers is the marvelous outdoor Spreckels Organ and Pavilion, (619) 702-8138, south of Plaza de Panama. During July and August on Monday evenings and year-round on Sunday afternoons, free organ concerts are held. Call for more information.
The San Diego Zoo, (619) 231-1515, fee, is one of the most famous and largest in the world with its 100 acres, 4,000 animals in 850 species and over 6,500 botanical species. A guided bus tour is offered inside the zoo for a small fee that helps plan your leisurely walk through it later. The Skyfari aerial tram helps visitors get the from one side to the other and several moving sidewalks help with the steep hills. It is a full day’s outing. Take a 2.5-hour Harbor dinner cruise with San Diego Harbor Excursion, 1050 N. Harbor Drive, between B St and Broadway Piers, (800) 442-7847 or (619) 234-4111.
From downtown take Harbor Blvd. south or from I-5 take the Coronado (Highway 75) exit over the impressive San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge, (toll) to the Island & Beach. At one time a barren wasteland used for hunting quail and rabbits, this 4,100-acre peninsula was purchased in 1885 for $110,000 to build a resort and tourist attraction. Follow Orange Avenue, 75, through town and past historic Hotel del Coronado, 1500 Orange Avenue, built in 1887. The last survivor of the old California seaside resorts, it has a colorful history.
Continue south on 75, the Silver Strand Scenic Highway, to Imperial Beach and back to I-5 south of Chula Vista. Silver Strand State Beach runs along the oceanside. Take I-5 north back to Harbor Drive and head downtown. Visit the Maritime Museum, 1306 N. Harbor Drive, (619) 234-9153, open year-round, fee, spread aboard three historically significant ships anchored close to each other. The old Santa Fe Depot, built in 1915 and still used for Amtrak and the Coaster (Metropolitan Transit System), is on Kettner Blvd. and Broadway.
Take Kettner south to Seaport Village, (619) 235-4014, open year-round, an impressive complex of restaurants, shops and entertainment centers connected by charming cobblestone pathways with waterfront views. The 1890 Looff Carousel is a popular attractions for children of all ages. The San Diego Convention Center is next door. Contact the Convention & Visitors Bureau at 401 B St, Ste 1400, Dept 344, 92101, (619) 232-3101, for information.
At 4th Avenue & Harbor and running north, begins the 16-square-block Gaslamp Quarter. This area of restored Victorian buildings now houses a collection of coffee shops, boutiques, antique shops, theaters and restaurants. A fun place to walk and enjoy. The Gaslamp Quarter Foundation leads a two-hour walking tour on Saturdays, fee, from the William Heath Davis House, 410 Island Avenue, (619) 233-4692. This house is the oldest structure in the quarter, having been built on the East Coast in 1850 and shipped around Cape Horn. A visitor center occupies the main floor. Horton Plaza, Broadway and G Street, (619) 238-1596, is a combination of modern and old.
Here, a 11.5 acre, multi-level shopping complex has been constructed in a rainbow of colors with complex angles and over 140 shops. The original 1871 Horton Plaza Park leads into the structure. The Emerald-Shapery Center, 402 W. Broadway and the America Plaza, 1001 Kettner Blvd. at Broadway, are high rise office towers reflecting the contemporary architectural design that now shapes this historic city’s sparkling skyline.
Tijuana or Ensenada, two of Mexico’s nearest tourist towns can be explored in one day. Given challenges of border crossing, parking and insurance, consider using one of the following companies for these excursion: San Diego Scenic Tours, (858) 273-8687, San Diego Mini Tours, (619) 477-8687, or Baja California Norte, (800) 310-9687.