San Diego

Exterioratdusk_miniA vibrantly modern and evolving city, San Diego has a growing roster of cultural attractions in Balboa Park and a revitalized Gaslamp Quarter with a hip shopping and nightlife scene. Active travelers love the city for its surfing, diving, and hang-gliding opportunities, and families come to explore SeaWorld, nearby Legoland, and the world-class San Diego Zoo.

Whether you head inland or stick to the shore, the fresh ocean air is never very far away in this Southern California city. However, the beach isn’t San Diego’s only claim to fame. With its hole-in-the-wall taco stands and unique attractions, this city is the perfect combination of urban attractions and laid back coastal culture.

The six-block area known as Old Town, at the foot of Presidio Hill, is full of old adobes and Victorian homes. Just north of Old Town, on the other side of the 8 freeway, stretches the park and waterways of Mission Bay. The big lure here is SeaWorld San Diego.

At the northeast edge of town beats the city’s cultural heart. The 1,400-acre (570-hectare) Balboa Park gathers together numerous museums and theaters, a science center, an arts center and the much-loved San Diego Zoo. The San Diego Museum of Art in particular has a fine store of works on display.

Visit the Gaslamp Quarter to see a prime example of urban revitalization. On the bayfront, Seaport Village is done out in New England style. Its weathered-wood buildings are mostly filled with shops and cafés; it’s also the departure point for several cruise-tour boats.

Giant pandas, Bornean sun bears, jaguars, California condors, and the largest colony of koalas outside Australia can all be found on the western side of Balboa Park in this famous zoo. One of the largest in America, it houses over 4,000 rare and endangered animals representing more than 800 species. The zoo has a policy of eschewing cages in favour of moats wherever possible in an attempt to recreate natural conditions.