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San Diego, California Travel Guide


San Diego is not just a great tourist city because of its family friendly tourist attractions, but because it is one of the rare cities in the world where they embrace their tourists without smothering them. San Diego is located in the southwestern corner of the continental United States and is the second largest city in California and the seventh largest in the United States. San Diego shares a border with Tijuana, Mexico making Hispanic culture an essential part of the city's vibe. This location also makes it an excellent hub for a south of the border daytrip.

San Diego is also full of family fun and plenty of great places to get out on the water. The city is home to San Diego SeaWorld San Diego, The San Diego Zoo, Legoland and the entire downtown borders the Big Bay. If you want to go sightseeing in San Diego, you can do it on a professional harbor cruise with a company like Hornblower Cruises and Events. For adults, there is also plenty to do in the cities downtown area known as the Gaslamp Quarter. This area has many new restaurants and bars to keep the party rolling.


The San Diego area shares a similar history with much of southern California. It was inhabited for a long while by the Kumeyaay tribe, explored and mapped by the Spanish during the 1500-1700’s, and then eventually settled as a military post with Mission San Diego de Alcala in 1769. In 1823, San Diego became part of New Spain, or Mexico. A few years later it became part of the United States after the Mexican-American War, and after the gold rush it became a county seat. In 1907, the major presence of the US Navy began, and to this day San Diego is home to the US Navy, US Coastguard, and US Marine Corps.


The land that is now occupied by San Diego was once the home of Kumeyaay First Nations tribes, dating back several centuries. Today there are 13 surviving Kumeyaay reservations in San Diego County.

When Juan Cabrillo arrived in 1542, he founded a settlement he called San Miguel.

In 1602, Sebastian Vizcaino entered the San Diego Bay, and gave it the name it is still known by, after his flag ship. The name was given to the Cabrillo settlement as well.

By the mid 18th century, a fort was established to protect the growing settlement, and was named the Presidio of San Diego. The site of the fort now lies within Presidio Park, a national historic landmark. The fort served as the base for Spanish efforts to colonize what would become California.

The Mission San Diego de Alcalá was established in 1769, and is celebrated as California’s first church.

Within a few years, the settlement began replacing its temporary buildings with then modern adobe materials, and San Diego began to grow. Colonist sentiment attracted settlers in droves, leading to unavoidable racial tensions with local First Nations residents. When the troubles turned violent, several colonials lost their lives, and the mission was burnt down.

Adopting the more durable adobe construction, the mission was rebuilt, and became even stronger than ever before. By the end of the century, it had grown into the largest in California, and began welcoming First Nations visitors looking to learn this strange new tradition.

When Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, the Presidio fell under Mexican rule. It would be purchased from Mexico almost 100 years later, and developed into a private park, before finally being donated to the city in 1929.

The capital of the Province of Alta California was moved from Monterey to an Diego, and elected Juan María Osuna the city’s first mayor in 1835. The former military man had been a strong proponent of a central government for the province for many years before winning the seat.

In 1836, Osuna established Rancho San Dieguito, a home where he could raise horses and cattle. The restored historic estate is located in what is now known as Rancho Santa Fe, a small community known for its high wage earners (the highest per capita income in the United States according to a 2000 census).

When war broke out with Mexico, Osuna actually sided with the Mexican forces, a decision which cost the life of his youngest son.

The population growth dropped off during the 1830s, and San Diego shrank, losing its status as a town. Following the discovery of gold and subsequent Gold Rush of 1848, however, the settlement began to grow again, surpassing its earlier population and gaining city status in 1850.

After several failed attempts to build a city park, the 1400 acre Balboa Park was finally established in 1868. Before long, an orphanage and high school (San Diego High School) were built to compliment the park. The park would continue to attract attention over the next century and a half, being featured in the 1941 classic film Citizen Kane, starring Orson Wells. It gave Stallone the name of his famous boxing persona Rocky Balboa, and in the popular 2003 video game Tony Hawk’s Underground.

The city of San Diego was chosen as the seat of the newly formed San Diego County. The new found growth and prosperity brought the railroad to the city, further expanding San Diego’s reputation and financial stability.

San Diego High School was founded in 1882, overlooking Balboa Park.

In the early years of the 20th century, several naval stations were developed in the region.

Balboa Stadium was built in 1914, in anticipation of the coming Panama California Expo. The stadium has welcomed many major events, from the public address of at least two presidents (Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt), to rock acts like the Beatles.

In 1915, San Diego played host to the Panama California Exposition, which ran until the beginning of 1917. The expo celebrated the construction of the Panama Canal, and led to the development of several San Diego landmarks. Among the most popular, Sprekels Organ Pavillion, which houses the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ.

The world renowned San Diego Zoo grew out of the exotic animal exhibits, established in Balboa Park. The zoo is one of the early pioneers of the “habitat” style enclosures, and has made several additional claims to fame over the decades, even being featured in several popular films, from the Christina Applegate and Will Ferrell's film Anchorman, to the Dreamworks animated feature Madagascar.

To help manage the chaos, Cabrillo Bridge was constructed, connecting San Diego with Cabrillo Canyon.

In 1935, the city welcomed the California Pacific International Exposition, hosting several nations and more than seven million spectators. A special silver 50 cent piece was minted, known as the San Diego Half. Since the expo was also to be held in Balboa Park, several improvements were made, costing the city nearly 6,000,000 dollars.

When the Second World War set in, new production brought with it a new economy, revitalized and strong. Military spending would remain a prominent factor in the city’s economy throughout the Cold War, a factor that led to increasing interest in the technology sector, in particular advanced technological development.

Qualcomm, one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world, set up shop in San Diego in 1985, further boosting the economy. The two major economic boons (biotech and Qualcomm) helped pave the road to the new millennium. In the early years of the 21st century, Qualcomm boasted revenues in excess of 7.5 billion dollars annually.

Following the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, the economy slumped, as much of it relied on the military production and research budgets. The growth of bio-technology, however, brought considerable stability, as San Diego’s long history with research and development attracted a strong biotech market. The city is now a major player in global biotechnology.

The suburbanization of the city began to slow, and the higher salaries San Diego commanded provided ample opportunity for urban renewal. Several districts, such as the Gaslamp Quarter and the East Village, were treated to major renovations, and the city supported the construction of such major undertakings as the San Diego Convention Center, PETCO Park and Horton Plaza. The skyline saw great change, with the construction of skyscrapers and high rise residences.

In the early years of the new millennium, San Diego residents suffered from a pension fund scandal amounting to a nearly 1.5 billion dollar shortfall. Several politicians were convicted of accepting bribes, and the mayor resigned.

It did not take long for San Diego to regroup after these setbacks, and the city passed one million residents. The proudly multicultural population enjoys a rising economy, one of the lowest crime rates in the nation, and a growing tourism industry, drawn by the many historical and modern attractions. Among them, Seaworld San Diego, Legoland and the San Diego Zoo are the most renowned. The city also supports many popular annual festivals and conventions, from the Street Scene music Festival to the San Diego Comic Con, a comic and graphic novel based convention that draws visitors from around the world for one of a kind events, celebrity sightings and rare collectible merchandise.


Power: 120 V, 60 Hz

Languages: English

Climate: The climate of San Diego is pleasant and inviting. The spring months often endure a thick marine based atmosphere that travelers sometimes mistake for fog, even though it hangs quite high in the air. As warm winds get trapped beneath the marine atmosphere, temperatures can soar, leading to a more arid summer.

The city enjoys a warm, yet mild climate through the summer months, leaning towards but not quite reaching the sub-tropical climate. Occasional droughts have hit the region, as temperatures climb during the summer months.

Temperatures peak late in the season, preceding the start of the more humid winter months. While snow is rare, San Diego winters are often the rainiest time of the year. While the weather remains fairly consistent, the general topographical nature of the city (being spread out over mountains and canyons next to the Pacific Ocean) lend to varying climate experiences from one district to another. The weather on one side of the mountains may not be the same on the other side. As such, visitors are advised to check the weather in both their starting and ending destinations.

Currency: US Dollar

Time Zone: PST (UTC-8) - Summer (DST) PDT (UTC-7)

Getting around: Without an extensive network of public transportation, San Diegans rely mostly on cars to get around the city. However, many visitors and locals choose to ride trolleys, a cheap, safe, and convenient way to get around downtown San Diego. The red trolleys take transport people through downtown, while the green-and-red Old Town trolleys only tour Old Town. Sightseeing tours operate on vintage open-air double-decker buses, and feature a hop-on, hop-off option.

The San Diego Airport is a large international airport, and is the only convenient airport nearby.


The San Diego Zoo

Wild Animal Park

SeaWorld San Diego


Balboa Park

Old Town

Seaport Village

Gaslamp Quarter

There is plenty more to explore in San Diego.

Activities | Sights | Shopping | Events | Business Index?


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La Jolla


Baci Ristorante: Voted #2 Best Restaurant in San Diego, Baci in Old Town is an Italian restaurant offering classic and delicious Italian dishes. The elegant restaurant is pricey, but the dining experience – complete with servers in tuxedos and romantic ambience – makes the cost worth it.

Candelas on the Bay: This bayside restaurant in the district of Coronado allows guests to dine with stunning views of the bay and the downtown San Diego skyline. The Mexican-French fusion cuisine is loaded with tantalizing new and unique flavors.

Primavera Ristorante: Primavera in Coronado is an affordable Italian restaurant that has an extensive and ever-changing menu and diverse wine list.

Whisknladle: A down-to-earth bistro that serves American cuisine and has a diverse wine list, Whisknladle in La Jolla also has an after-hours lounge.

Wasabi Sushi: Wasabi Sushi in the area of Mission Beach is a modern sushi bar with affordable prices and fresh, quality fish. The house special is the Wasabi Special Roll, with lobster, avocado, and shrimp tempura topped with albacore, green onion, masago and ponzu sauce.

Aladdin: This Mediterranean and Lebanese restaurant in the area of Hillcrest serves great food at a reasonable price. Entrées include vegetarian plates, wood-fired Mediterranean pizzas, lamb, halibut, tabouleh, and dolmas.


San Diego lodging consists mainly of large chain hotels. For visitors seeking luxury, the famous Hotel del Coronado offers beachfront accommodations. San Diego has nine hostels and budget hotels, all of which receive good reviews on Lucky D’s tosses tons of freebies to its guests and has a ground-floor bar; the Banana Bungalow is at a prime beachfront location; and the Old Town Western Inn is a budget hotel with an old-California feel. Beach camping is also available at some beaches, as well as in areas nearby San Diego.


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