San Diego

First timer's Guide


downtown san diego san diego city view San Diego is California's second largest city (125 miles south of Los Angeles) and it is simply beautiful. The climate is gentle and warm and there are 70 miles of beaches, rolling hills and oh, so much to do in the county's 4,200 square miles. Located south of Orange County, San Diego is bordered by Mexico on the south, the Anza-Borrego Desert on the east and the gorgeous Pacific Ocean on the west. San Diego is a blend of urban and sub-urban life combined with 14 military installations and amazing tourist attractions. Originally inhabited by the Kumeyaay people, San Diego was 'discovered' by Juan Cabrillo, sailing under the Spanish flag in 1499. Father Junipero Serra founded the first of the 21 California missions in San Diego in 1769. San Diego is a great place to have a great time - here are some things that you might enjoy:

flamingos camel San Diego Zoo - We are zoo people and visit zoos almost everywhere we go and I have to say the San Diego zoo is one of the best. Just about every type of animal in the world is represented. bamboo There are some particularly wonderful newer exhibits like the panda, polar bear and hippos and lots of older ones in need of update but the animals are healthy and seem happy. We actually love the plant life that thrives in the zoo as much as the animals! You will walk a lot (the trams are ok but you really don't see very much) and take lots of pictures. Get there early and plan on a good long day! Check into combo ticket deals on the web…you can combine the zoo, Wild Animal Park and even Sea World for some huge savings. (Visit sandiegozoo.org for all the details)

rhinocerous hot air balloon wild animal park lioness wild animal park feeding giraffe San Diego Wild Animal Park - is sort of an extension of the San Diego Zoo and definitely worth the trip (35 miles north east). Seriously, it is like a visit to Africa - only better! You can see giraffes, rhinos, Cape buffalo, zebras, ostriches and so many more animals roaming around from your open sided tour vehicle. vulture sea eagle The tour is about 30 minutes and priced at about $10 for adults. If you want to get closer….the Photo Caravan Safari is for you. Your truck takes you right into the middle of the exhibit for unbelievable photo opportunities and close up and personal animal encounters. The cost is between $90 and $150 per person and must be booked well in advance. There are many other shows and exhibits (the bird show is fabulous) but do take the tour first so you are not disappointed.

shamu sea world Sea World - is absolutely amazing. We try to visit every year and never get tired of the Shamu and dolphin shows. Sea World does a great job of giving you an up close and personal experience with their creatures while keeping neptune roller coaster shamu sea world san diego them and YOU safe! Oh - and if you sit in the splash zone you will get DRENCHED - not just a bit wet! Take a copy of the schedule and get started…you cannot go wrong. If there is a special show you just MUST see….do it first so you won't run out of time. Take a hat and sun screen as most of the shows are outside and uncovered. Also, there are fun water attractions for the kids to do…so a change or a bathing suit or towel would come in handy. Also keep in mind it gets cool in the evening so if you plan a long day you might need a light sweater. You can get in the water with the dolphins but the reservations for this amazing experience go very quickly…I would book in advance if you are interested.

kayaking mission bay Mission Bay - is a 4,000 acre aquatic park offering beaches, camping, recreation, wild life preserve and Sea World and it is constantly changing with the weather, tides and time. It is really fabulous and is truly the heart of San Diego. Go to their web site and check out all of the many things to see and do at Mission Bay. www.sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/parks/missionbay/index.shtml

zoo visitors Balboa Park - home to 15 major museums and the San Diego Zoo is a wonderful place to relax or soak up some culture. The park is often referred to the Smithsonian of the West. There is a carousel (with a menagerie of animals) a train, and a selection of diverse museums to interest everyone! You can bring a picnic, dine at a fabulous restaurant or walk up to a hot dog stand or coffee bar - it is totally up to you. We keep trying to see everything and haven't even come close after years of visiting Balboa Park.

Old town San Diego - is interesting, charming and fun. There are so many historic sights in this area and there always seems to be a festival or celebration going on. We love to explore our roots and the food is simply FABULOUS! The Old Town Mexican Café is our favorite with their warm, homemade tortillas! Old Town is also a great place to shop for unique items at good prices. If you 'love a crowd' plan to visit during the Cinco de Mayo celebration (May 5th) which draws hundreds of thousands of revelers each year! Next time we are in San Diego at night we are definitely taking the Ghost Tour - call 1-877-6 HAUNTED - they claim it is really DEAD) We took one in Williamsburg several years ago and it was so much fun!

san diego mission mission de alcala San Diego Mission de Alcala - located off the I8 on Mission Gorge Road the Basilica is the first of the 21 California missions and marks the birthplace of Christianity in the far west. All children in forth grade study the California Missions and visit the ones closest to their schools. So…if you are visiting on a week day during the school year you may have a lot of company! Each mission charges a fee to enter ($5-$10 per person) and normally you walk around and self tour with docents sprinkled around to offer assistance and answer questions. Lots of great photo opportunities!

legoland LegoLand - is an amazing amusement park with rides and LEGOS everywhere. We really love the area where everything is built out of legos….New York, Washington DC, New Orleans, the shipyards, railways …there is simply too much to describe - but I promise you will not be able to walk away from there - easily! As with most So Cal parks, there are places for the kids to get into the water…so it is best to be prepared. Also, the park is one of our newer ones so the trees are small and there is almost no shade to escape from the Socal sun! JJ was so excited when he turned six and could test drive a lego land car, driving by himself! Many of the rides have height or age restrictions and sometimes it can lead to upset kids when one can do something the others can't - but only temporarily, because there are plenty of things for everyone to do! If your kid is great at building legos…there are competitions for different age groups the first full weekend of each month.

carlsbad flower fields Carlsbad Flower Fields - is one of my very favorite day trips. March 1-May 11 the commercial gardens, known as the Flower Fields of Carlsbad, are open to the public for a fee. The fields are located along the 5 freeway in Carlsbad. The 50 acres of brilliant colored flowers are amazing and dazzle those who drive by. But you really should park walk through the fields and you will never forget it. They grow ranunculus and gladiolas mainly but there is so much more offered to the visitor. As you walk higher and higher into the fields you can see the Pacific Ocean and the view is breathtaking. Be SURE to have your camera and plenty of battery and/or film! There is a rose garden, strawberries growing and being sold as shortcake, gold panning and a lovely garden shop where you can buy bulbs or cut flowers. Spring is definitely in the air at the Flower Gardens. Right next door is the Carlsbad Outlet so we combine the two into a fabulous day.

windmill carlsbad ralph lauren carlsbad carlsbad outlet Carlsbad Outlets - are located right next to the Flower Fields and you don't really even need to move your car. Exit on Palomar while traveling south on the 5 Freeway and take the first left on Paseo Del Norte (just past the big windmill) There are 90 premium stores and tremendous values for those who know how to shop. We had the hardest time finding coffee - the Starbucks is on the side between the flower fields and the outlets - by the time we found it - it was an emergency!

San Diego Top Dog Combat - is just for you, if you have always dreamed of barnstorming or entering into aerial combat or simply getting a breathtaking view of the coast of Socal. Here is the fabulous part…you actually fly the plane and you don't need a pilot's license. Their literature states…everything is real…except the bullets! OMG! Call them for reservations or more information at 1-800 SKY LOOP.

scripps instituite pier Birch Aquarium at Scripps - La Jolla - take La Jolla Village Drive off the I 5 Freeway - west and follow the la jolla beach signs to the Birch Aquarium located on Expedition Way. This is a small and delightful aquarium that you can easily see birch aquarium in a couple of hours. After…make your way down to the bay and the village. Sometimes the leopard sharks gather in the la jolla bay bay by the thousands and people wade out and walk among them. Joe did it with JJ on his shoulders when he was about 4 birch aquarium van and I almost had a heart attack on shore.


uss recruit historical landmark uss recruit air craft carrier uss midway uss recruit and veteran point loma navy housing Military - folks love to visit San Diego and show their families where they attended 'basic' training and visit the old haunts. You will find many changes when you do. Joe took me to see the Recruit where he was trained when he was in the Navy and it is now part of a shopping center. Many of the old bases have new construction and are hard to recognize....but still fun and the stories....wow!!!

del coronado bridge hotel del coronado coronado bridge Coronado Island - travel across the amazing Del Coronado Bridge and go see the Del Coronado Hotel….it is amazing and home of the highly acclaimed, award winning Sunday brunch. The food is simply scrumptious…you need reservations, and a big appetite - the price is approximately $50 per person.


del mar race track Del Mar Race Track -
is located 20 miles north of San Diego and 100 miles south of Los Angeles in Del Mar. It cirque du soleil is a beautiful old track built in 1937 and Bing Crosby greeted the first fan who walked through the gate. The meet is only six weeks - from mid July through the end of August and you really should get reservations for a seat in advance. As with most everything else - GET THERE EARLY and expect a fabulous day in the sun! Note: you can take the Amtrack from LA or Orange County and get a taxi to and from the track!

Tijuana, Mexico -
is right across the border from San Diego and we have visited there for years. We have often gone down to TJ for a day of dog or horse racing, shopping or simply with friends for a fabulous meal. There is a great toll road down to Encinada that we also have taken for many wonderful weekends over the years. We have not been for awhile due to our busy schedules and the increased difficulty in crossing international borders since 911. I can only say be aware of legal requirements (passport etc) and your car rental agreement before you attempt a trek across the border into Mexico. There is a trolley from San Diego that we have taken in the past which charges about $2.00 per person that might offer a better solution than hours of waiting in the line to come back across the border after a long day. Give them a call at 619 231-8549 and check it out!

go back to top... or home page... or prev page... or next page