The United States' largest urban cultural park is also one of the world's most scenic, with a dazzling array of museums, entertainment venues, botanical gardens and architectural landmarks. The world-renowned San Diego Zoo is just one of the many treasures nestled within the verdant expanse of this 1,200-acre (490-hectare) park, set aside as a reserve for public use as early as 1835. The 1915-16 Panama-California Expo and the 1935–36 California Pacific International Expo left behind a wealth of architectural jewels strewn across the park, including the California Building fashioned after the typical design of a Spanish Colonial Church and now home to the San Diego Museum of Man. Fifteen museums, award-winning theaters, an antique carousel, a miniature railroad and the Spanish Village Arts Center come together at Balboa Park to celebrate the cultural diversity of the state and its inspiring natural landscape.
A sailor's delight! Relax while a licensed captain takes you on the sail of a lifetime with Sail San Diego. Or for the more adventuresome, you take the helm! Cruise through the blue waters of San Diego Bay and see the city from a whole new perspective. During January and February, you can also board their 'Marine Biologist's' boat to get up close and personal with migrating whales.
The centerpiece of the blissful Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo is a prolific destination for adults and children alike. Spread over 98.84 acres (40 hectares) of diverse landscapes, the zoo is home to an excess of 3,500 fauna that belongs to 650 species or subspecies. Established in the year 1916, it is one of the few non-profit wildlife conservation zones to nurture the highly-endangered Giant Panda. Laden with man-made habitats that emulate various topographies from around the globe, the park's most-visited exhibits includes the Monkey Trails, the Polar Bear Plunge, Elephant Odyssey, Tiger River, Koalafornia and the Panda Trek. Virtually every nook and corner of the zoo is made conveniently accessible by the beloved Skyfari, a gondola system that spans across nearly 75 percent of the property.
Located right along the Navy Pier in downtown San Diego, the USS Midway Museum lends deep insights into naval aviation and one of the important chapters of American history. The museum is home to the iconic USS Midway, which has been one of the country's oldest aircraft carriers. A famed naval museum in the United States, it also shelters an arsenal of other significant carriers, most of which were crafted in Southern California. The museum is complete with simulators, myriad deck exhibits and the stirring Battle of Midway theater. The museum has also been a host to an array of private, media and sporting events.
This club is a prime spot to hear new and cutting edge music in San Diego. Bands such as Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Alanis Morissette have been among the previous guests. Local bands play here as well, primarily featuring a punk-rock flavor. In addition to music, the club offers pool tables, an enclosed smoking patio, vintage pinball and video games. A stage and dance floor provides plenty of room to dance. Meanwhile, the full bar serves a long list of beverages.
Fun for adults and kids, this museum-on-water is the focal point of San Diego's historic Embarcadero Promenade. Comprised of several painstakingly restored historic ships, it is a tribute to the sea-faring age. One of the ships showcased at Maritime Museum of San Diego is the Star of India (1863), a stunning vision that graces the coastline as the world's oldest actively-sailed, square-rigged ship.
This unique gallery showcases original artwork from villages throughout the African continent. The gallery's owner travels in Africa for four months each year, forming relationships with various African communities and hand-selecting works of art to bring back to this gallery. A variety of works is offered here, including African jewelry and handwoven baskets. Yet, the most impressive artwork is likely the collection of stone sculptures. Representing unity, motherhood, wisdom and other valued traits, the sculptures convey the spirit of their motherland.
Manufactured by Nautica International, this R.I.B. is navigated by one of three U.S. Coast Guard captains through the waters of San Diego and Mexico. Along with the weekly excursions, Adventure R.I.B. Rides offers team-building and corporate events such as whale- and dolphin-watching excursions, naval heritage and wildlife tours, tours of the Coronado Islands, snorkeling, scuba diving and more. Adventure R.I.B. Rides also offers packages that include lunch on board or on a secluded beach. For the aquatic enthusiasts, the R.I.B. comes equipped with chart driver GPS, radar, video depth sounder, and more. For those who just cannot get enough, the three captains of this R.I.B. will rent it out by the hour.
One of only two places on the California coast where these gnarled, once nearly extinct specimens grow, visitors will witness more than 3000 Torrey Pines in this untamed 2000-acre (809 hectares) reserve. You will also see cliffs, mesas, canyons, beaches, and wetlands. Discover eight trails ranging from a 20-minute walk to a two-hour hike. Trail maps are available at the Visitor's Lodge, where you'll also find a modest natural history museum complete with a souvenir shop. Despite the shade, it can be hot in the summer, so bring your own water. See website for maps, online resources and more. Open daily from 8a
While touring this charming, affluent beach town, be sure to take the drive east along Nautilus Street until you reach Mount Soledad, the pinnacle of the city. From this vantage point, you can see far out into the blue Pacific, north to the North County beaches and past downtown as far south as the U.S. border. This view is especially spectacular at sunset. The site is well known for the controversy generated by the a cross as part of a war memorial that towers above the peak.