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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.
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.
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.
Founded in 1769, Mission San Diego de Alcalá was the first mission founded by Father Junipero Serra in The Californias. Like many of the Spanish missions that were built along California's famous El Camino Real, the mission is actually the namesake of the major city it's near--in this case, San Diego. The mission experienced a tumultuous history since its founding, and its church building has since been rebuilt five times on the same site. Today, the mission stands as a remarkable example of early California history and is currently registered as a National Historic Landmark.
Visitors to the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park are regaled with a plethora of stories pertaining to the lifestyle which prevailed here in the past. Step back in time and immerse yourself in the history and culture of the area through visits to attractions such as the Casa de Estudillo, Johnson House and San Diego Union Museum among others. Along with these, the state park encompasses a series of other equally remarkable landmarks which offer the chance to gain a deeper insight into the heritage and traditions as they existed during the initial days of San Diego's founding.
Known as the harbor for the first European voyageurs to ever step foot in California, Point Loma is an attraction of great historic importance. Often described as the place where California began, this seaside community of San Diego overlooks the San Diego River to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the south and the Old Town to the east. Today, Point Loma is home to two important military bases, a university and a national cemetery. Proximity to the bay attracts surfers, sport fishers and yachts from all around the world.
History, food and fun are all within easy walking distance of the Old Town. Father Serra established the first mission here more than 225 years ago; Kit Carson helped to raise the first American flag in 1846. Now there are 37 restaurants and entertainment is abundant with artisans, dancers, galleries, hotels, mariachis, professional theatre and shops. Most restaurants and shops accept major credit cards. You can access this area from Interstate-5 by taking the Old Town Avenue exit, driving east and turning left on San Diego Avenue.
The Whaley House is one of a select few authenticated by the United States Department of Commerce as being 'haunted'. Thomas Whaley, a New York entrepreneur who came to California during the Gold Rush, built the two-story brick home in 1856 in order to provide East-coast civility for his wife. Used as the county courthouse and government seat during the 1870s, artifacts and period furnishings of the house remain intact even today. And apparently, the ghost does too.
High above Old Town, sits the Presidio. First built in 1769 by the Spanish Army as a fort, the Presidio lookout still provides a panoramic view of the city. The adjacent museum was built in 1929 revealing a fine example of Mission Revival-style architecture. Inside the museum you will find clothing, artifacts, furniture, tools and army artillery.