Travel: Salute San Diego

By Mike Yardley

The most southern of sunny California's cities punches well above its weight, with attractions aplenty.

Living in the shadow of its glitzy bigger sister, LA, San Diego is set around a gracefully curving bay, relatively free from smog and spaghetti freeways.

Although it was the site of the first mission in California, this beautiful city took off really only with the arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad in the 1880s.

Start your explorations in the Gaslamp Quarter. Covering 16 blocks of downtown San Diego, this national historic district includes gorgeous Victorian architecture of the Wild West, unique speciality shops, a flamboyant slew of ebullient Mexican restaurants, not to mention the bulk of the city's nightlife. Happy hour kicks off in most bars at 4pm, and usually lasts two to three hours. An irrepressible spot is the Social and Side Bar or, for live jazz, head for Croces.

However, the city's top drawer is the USS Midway aircraft carrier, which was part of the Navy fleet for nearly half a century and now graces the waterfront as a public museum. It dwarfs the neighbouring cruise ships, so be sure to head up to the carrier's top deck to check out the 25 restored fighter jets and bombers.

Sun-seekers are spoilt for choice when it comes to lounging on golden sands. Pacific Beach is a must-see on the San Diego checklist. Wander around the surrounding streets to sample the seaside culture, indulge in catch-of-the-day seafood, shop the surf shops, or simply watch the beautiful people with their perfect tans strut past. A 5km-long boardwalk connects Pacific and Mission Beaches.

If you're visiting during winter, be sure to do some whale watching - witness the action as these majestic creatures head north to warmer waters.

One of my favourite, and often overlooked, San Diego neighbourhoods is La Jolla. The pint-sized and utterly romantic seaside spot has a laid-back tempo suburb, eclectic shopping, and is home to hundreds of sea lions that laze around the shores. For a real splash, have a bite in The Marine Room - at high tide, the ocean surf crashes into the panoramic windows.

In a city famous for its aquatic life, it would be scandalous not to pay a visit to SeaWorld. Dolphins, seals, orcas, penguins and more are here to entertain, enrapture and enlighten you. If you're travelling with kids, this water park is destined to be seared in their memories as the holiday highlight. Shamu - the legacy name given to SeaWorld's succession of performing orca whales - will soon be celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Also popular with families is Legoland and the world-acclaimed San Diego Zoo, in Balboa Park.

- Hamilton News

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