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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.
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.
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.
One of the most important ballparks of Major League Baseball (MLB), Petco Park is a baseball fan's haven and the base of the San Diego Padres. Its unique architectural layout is an ode to the region's geography and its natural allure. The framework of the stadium resonates of the surrounding peaks while the steel edifice and enclosing structures are designed like canyons. Landscaped with indigenous plants and featuring a lush area picnic hill, this magnificent stadium boasts to have the best seats for not only sports lovers but also concert goers.
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.
These hands-on science and technology exhibits open a window into the future. Take a multi-sensory simulated space mission and encounter a rogue comet. Also found here is the world's first Omnimax Theater, a dome 10 times larger than a typical movie screen. If the exploration of the science center makes you hungry, pay a visit to the museum's Galileo Cafe for a snack or a cup of coffee.
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.