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San Diego in California is not nearly as busy as its 'big brother' Los Angeles, but has the same lovely climate. In addition, there are excellent beaches and cozy neighborhoods, making the city an attractive destination for a short break.
The old city center still breathes the Spanish (or Mexican) past of the town. The colonial houses in Old Town are all named 'casa'. Some of these houses are open for visits, like Whaley House, the oldest stone building of San Diego where ghosts wander around, according to the legend. Special night tours are held during Halloween. Bazaar del Mundo is a somewhat touristy mix of restaurants and shops where Mexican sing and dance groups perform on a regular basis.
In the seventies of the last century, the Gaslamp Quarter was a neglected neighborhood which was due to be demolished. This touched a sore point with architects and artists, who saw the possibilities of this district and began to renovate the houses. Many streets are built very steeply against a hill and it is a lively district with restaurants, hotels and shops. Perhaps a little bit touristy nowadays. Less so in the case of Little Italy, where there are many restaurants and shops too.
The Balboa Park lies east of the center. It is a 1200 hectare park, where many cultural settings can be found, especially along El Prado, a wide promenade across the park. Most buildings are in the so-called Spanish Colonial style. Like the San Diego Museum of Art, the largest and oldest art museum of the region. The collection of Spanish art is particularly impressive and includes works by Murillo, Zurbarán, Ribera and El Greco, amongst others. The National History Museum and the Model Railroad Museum are also situated along El Prado.
The Museum of Photographic Arts, or shortly MOPA is interesting. There are works of famous and less famous photographers with a high emphasis on social topics and photojournalism. The Air and Space Museum is dedicated to the development of space aviation. Highlight of this museum is the Spirit of St. Louis, in which Charles Lindbergh made his famous flight. The Museum of Man has an enormous collection about the history of mankind. From the old Egyptians to the Mayans and the Kumeyaay Indians, the original inhabitants of the region. The San Diego Zoo (according to some the world's most beautiful zoo) and the impressive greenhouses from the Botanical Gardens are also in Balboa Park.
Seaworld is not only an aquarium, it is an enormous theme park too. Nevertheless, it is mostly the sea animals that steal the show: there are shows with seals, dolphins, penguins and orcas. In the summer there is a spectacular firework show every evening. You can make a helicopter flight over the Antarctica in the IMAX theater. The restaurants are mostly located next to the aquaria so you can watch dolphins or sharks swim by as you enjoy a burger.
The beaches near San Diego are fantastic, especially those north of the city. Near La Jolla, a chic urban area, are caves and rocks where you might spot seals, pelicans and dolphins. A popular way to explore the caves is by kayak, but of course you can snorkel or dive there as well.
Large cruise ships moor at B Street Pier, but it also functions as the take off point for catamaran trips to the island of Catalina, about three hours from San Diego. Near this island lie several shipwrecks which you can explore by snorkeling or diving, or making a trip with a special boat with a glass bottom. The gray whales pass by every year in their migration from Alaska to Mexico and vice versa. Special tours to spot the whales are very popular.
You can make beautiful car trips from San Diego through the mountains to the east of the city and the underlying desert. For example to the town of La Mesa east of San Diego, where a Farmer's Market is held every Friday.
And you can go to Tijuana, across the border, in Mexico. You can not enter Mexico with your rental car, you have to leave it behind on a parking lot near the border. To be frank, Tijuana is primarily a 'tourist trap' that has little to do with the real Mexico.
In downtown San Diego and along the beaches you have to pay for street parking. It is strictly checked, so make sure your parking time is sufficient. You can also opt to park your car in one of the many parking garages. For a visit to Gaslamp Quarter we recommend you park your car in the garage Park-it-on-Market or on the Horton Plaza parking lot.
San Diego Bay is the city's airport, five kilometers north of the city center. San Diego International Airport (also called Lindbergh Airport) is accessible via Interstate 5 (Sassafras exit) which connects to State Route 163 and the I-8 and i-15. The route to the airport is clearly signposted.