Ok, so I am finally writing about San Diego. I want to say that it is one of my favorite cities in California, but I’ve only really been to southern California so far, and honestly (not to stroke the egos of Californians- cause let’s face it, they already have a great state) I have loved every city that I have visited there. I think it is something about that warm, ocean air. Whatever it is, San Diego is a beautiful city, and it has a lot to offer any visitor, from major attractions like Sea World and the San Diego Zoo, to cultural landmarks like Balboa Park, and natural parks like Cabrillo National Monument and Torrey Pines State Park.
My favorite of these, when it comes to San Diego is the cultural aspect. Balboa Park is home to several Spanish-inspired buildings- their sandy colored walls, and varied sculptures are particularly appealing in contrast to the vibrant, green gardens arranged around them. The land that the park sits on now was set aside 1868 for a city park, which was eventually beautified and named Balboa for the Panama-California Exposition in 1915. Now, it is a nice place to spend an afternoon, exploring the gardens, enjoying the architecture, and taking advantage of the varied museums that call the park home. There is also a really neat area called the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages, where they have different cultural events on Sunday afternoon. My only complaint about Balboa Park is that most everything required an entrance fee, and the Botanical Building, which I was really hoping to visit and is one of the few free attractions has weird hours and is closed on Thursdays.
The San Diego Zoo is also in Balboa Park, and I make it a point to visit this zoo almost every time that I am in San Diego. The San Diego Zoo is one of the most famous zoos in the world, or so I read, and it is home to over 4,000 animals. While it isn’t the largest zoo on Earth, the sheer size of this place can be daunting for the animal lover. It feels like there is just no way that you can visit every part of the park in one day, especially if you have little kids with you. Besides being large, half the time that you are in San Diego Zoo you feel like you are either hiking down a steep hill or hiking back up. On the bright side, you get a good work out while you’re there, but it can make seeing everything even more difficult. This sounds like a bit of a struggle, but it is something that I love about San Diego Zoo. You could literally spend all day here and still have new things to see, and there are so many animals there that I almost always end up seeing something new. Also, as a conservation scientist, I really enjoy seeing all of the interactive, educational materials at this zoo. Not only that, but the San Diego Zoo has done a wonderful job with immersive enclosures, and they have recreated a bunch of different environments that can be explored throughout the park. Really, I can’t sing the praises of this place enough. It is definite must for anyone that enjoys zoos and will be in the area.
Another area in San Diego proper that I have always enjoyed is Seaport Village. This is just a nice little area to walk around in, grab some tasty food, and do a bit of touristy shopping. I highly recommend visiting Frost Me Cupcakes if you are in this area. Their treats are not only delicious but beautiful. Seaport Village is also walking distance from the Gas Lamp District, which didn’t have as much shopping, but there are tons of restaurants here, including a pretty tasty Irish pub, the Dublin Square Irish Pub and Grill. It should be noted that parking at Seaport Village is not free, however, and I am not sure what parking is like downtown. Pretty standard urban annoyance, but worth being mentally prepared for nonetheless.
Finally, while there are probably tons of other attractions that I could highlight for San Diego, I just want to mention one of my favorite places in the city that isn’t as well known as the other places that I have mentioned here, and that is Cabrillo National Monument. As I have previously mentioned elsewhere, I am huge national park buff, and so Cabrillo was a must-visit for me. The park has a mix of cultural and natural aspects as well, so I think that is could potentially be appealing to a good mix of travelers. The park is named for Rodriguez Cabrillo, who became the first European to set foot on the United States western coast in 1542. Cabrillo National Monument, interestingly, is also a rather unique and historic place in terms of my PhD research as well, because this is considered one of the birth-places of whale watching! Migrating gray whales can still be seen from the shore of Cabrillo to this day, and if you are ever in San Diego during this season, I would highly advice visiting to park to take a peek at the whales. Onshore whale watching is one of the best ways to see whales if you are concerned for the well-being of the animals, as boats can get you much closer but can also harass cetaceans in the absence of protective laws (which the US has) or operator self-regulation.
Besides these, Cabrillo is home to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which was first lit in 1855 and is not only fun to explore, but is one of the original eight lighthouses of the US West Coast. There are also beautiful tidepools and coastal hiking here. We did this towards the end of our visit, after hiking and exploring the rest of the park, and since we took our trip towards the end of summer, the unshaded coast got pretty toasty, and probably shortened the time that we would have spent looking for animals in the shallow pools in the sandstone. So, besides suggesting that people visit Cabrillo, and that they take advantage of all the attractions that this park has to offer, I would also suggest that you plan your trip around the tidepools if that is something you are interested in.
And if you have any questions about my experience in San Diego or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. 🙂
My next update will be on March 1st, and I writing about my budget travels in Washington DC.