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Sunny days, scenic environs, and subtle sophistication-all make San Diego one of the most popular areas in southern California. Situated south of Los Angeles, this sea-level city of 1.2 million residents-the nation's seventh largest city-offers something for everyone. Temperatures are mild, ranging from the mid-60s in winter to the upper-70s in summer. Fog that embraces the coastline in fall and winter is absent just blocks inland. Dress is stylishly casual.
Centuries before Europeans discovered San Diego Bay, the land was inhabited by native tribes, most likely descendants of Asians who had crossed the Bering Strait land bridge in search of better hunting. In 1542, the first European, the Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, arrived. He named his find San Miguel but left without colonizing the region.
It wasn't until 1602 that a European returned. Sebastian Vizcaino, a Spanish explorer, charted the coastline, renaming the area San Diego after a Spanish monk. In the late 1760s, Don Gaspar de Portola arrived to establish a presidio, or military fortress, at San Diego. A Franciscan priest who accompanied him established the first California mission, San Diego de Alcala; before long, 21 missions became part of the Spanish system, serving as social, religious, and economic links between Mexico and San Francisco. Trading of grain, hides, leatherwork, and wine prospered.
In 1821, Mexico, newly independent from Spain, named San Diego the territorial capital of Alta California, or Upper California. Over the next 20 years, both Mexican and U.S. citizens settled into Old Town, the area immediately adjacent to the presidio, bringing the population to about 350. But Mexican rule didn't last long; as fighting between the United States and Mexico abated after the United States annexed Texas in 1845, all land north of the Rio Grande and west to the Pacific Ocean came under U.S. control. For the next decade or so, the town remained sparsely populated even as the gold rush brought frantic growth to northern California towns.
It took Alonzo Horton, his vision, and his promise of land to spur San Diego's growth. A wealthy and shrewd developer, he purchased nearly 1,000 acres of land abutting San Diego Harbor (Old Town was about 3 miles to the north) for just 27 cents an acre in 1867. He then practically gave land away to anyone who promised to develop it. And so began San Diego's cycles of boom and bust. But mostly prosperity ruled, especially with the arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad, world fairs, and the military bases and tourism.
At its Balboa Park, San Diego hosted two world fairs-the Panama-California International Exposition, 1915 to 1916, and the California Pacific International Exposition, 1935 to 1936. Both fairs brought visitors galore to the city and the 1,100-acre park with gardens, pathways, and museums. Eventually, the world-renown San Diego Zoo was built next to the park. Both sites continue to bring hundreds of visitors annually.
But the biggest boon to San Diego's development was the influx of military personnel during World War II, when the area become home to the U.S. Navy's Pacific fleet. Today, San Diego is headquarters for Pacific military operations, notably the Naval Training Center and the Marines' Camp Pendleton.
The 1960s saw another push for development and tourism with the reclamation of more than 4,000 acres in what's now known as Mission Bay Park. Once a swamp, the area exhibits wide lawns, man-made islands, sandy beaches, and bright energetic nightlife. SeaWorld calls this area of San Diego its home.
Twenty years later, in another area of the city, Horton Plaza-11.5 acres of shops, specialty stores, restaurants, and two theaters-became a reality. Not long thereafter, San Diego established a convention center and hosted the 1996 Republican National Convention.
San Diego no longer resembles its humble beginnings as a hilltop Spanish mission 350 years ago. It's now a major metropolis with a thriving port and more than a million inhabitants.
A thoroughly modern city, San Diego has taken steps to preserve its remarkable past. Visitors and residents alike can enjoy a blend of architectural styles as they soak up the region's past in museums at Balboa Park and preserved sections of Old Town.
Museums of note include nearly a dozen in Balboa Park itself: The Marston House which is a craftsman-style house from 1905; the Museum of Photographic Arts, which exhibits the works of noteworthy still and film photographers; San Diego Aerospace Museum which has a replica of Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis on display as well as interactive exhibits; San Diego Automotive Museum which features more than 80 special-interest and historic cars and cycles; the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum which houses baseball and football memorabilia; San Diego Historical Society Museum and Research Archives, showcasing the region's history since the 1850s; San Diego Model Railroad Museum with its of exhibits and interactive displays; San Diego Museum of Art housing a permanent display of Spanish baroque old masters among others; San Diego Museum of Man, with its exhibits of cultures of American Indians and Mayan and Mexican civilizations; and San Diego Natural History Museum, which includes displays of plants, animals, and geology from around San Diego and Baja.
Visitors strolling through Old Town will find adobe homes and other historic buildings dating from 1821 through 1872. Nearby is Presidio Park, where the first Spanish mission and military fortress were built in 1769. Buildings open to visitors include Black Hawk Smithy & Stable; the Machado-Stewart Adobe and La Casa de Estudillo (restored adobes depicting early Mexican and U.S. relics and lifestyles); Mason Street School, an 1865 one-room schoolhouse; and Whaley House, thought to be the oldest two-story house in Southern California (and some say it's haunted, to bootexcl;).
Dotting Old Town are museums such as Colorado House-Wells Fargo History Museum, which features an old stagecoach, and the Steeley Stables Museum, a reconstructed stable that houses a collection of horse-drawn vehicles
A look at San Diego's past wouldn't be complete without a visit to these additional historical attractions.
[light shade square] Maritime Museum of San Diego. This fascinating site, located on Harbor Drive, has maritime exhibits as well as three late 19th-century vessels: the Star of India, a tall ship; the Berkeley, a 289-foot ferry; and the Medea, a steam yacht.
[light shade square] Firehouse Museum. Anyone interested in fire-fighting equipment of yore won't want to miss this spot and its collection of antique helmets and other equipment from around the world.
[light shade square] Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala. Enjoy a tour of the first of the California missions, which was built at Presidio Hill and moved to this site in 1774.
San Diego is more than museums and historic sites, however. You'll delight in these world-famous attractions as well:
[light shade square] Balboa Park. This 1,200-acre recreational center prides itself on being America's largest urban cultural park. The spectacular grounds offer more than 85 performing arts and international cultural organizations, 15 museums, gardens (such as the Japanese Friendship Garden), hiking and biking trails, and other recreational facilities.
:Many of the park's museums are mentioned above; other noteworthy attractions include the Centro Cultural de la Raza, dedicated to Chicano, Mexican, and Native American art and culture, and the 200-foot California Tower with its 100-bell carillon whose chimes ring out every 15 minutes.
Balboa offers many other attractions appealing to different interests. Take a look at some of them:
* For a taste of international culture, visit the House of Pacific Relations, a group of 30 small cottages, each home to a different nation. From February through mid-November, these houses hold daily outdoor programs featuring traditional foods, arts, music, and dancing.
* Theatre buffs won't want to miss the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater, which provides year-round puppet performances, and the Old Globe, a Tony Award-winning theater that's considered one of the nation's leading regional theaters.
* Enjoy the sound of concerts Sunday afternoon year-round at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.
* Reach for the brass ring at The Carousel, dating from 1922, as band music pipes in the background.
* Bowling enthusiasts may find the lawn bowling in the park entertaining. Players, all dressed in white, roll an elliptical-shaped ball along well-groomed lawns.
* Animal lovers will enjoy the San Diego Zoo. Located adjacent to Balboa Park, it's one of the world's largest zoos and home to giant pandas and koalas along with about 4,000 other animals. An offshoot of the zoo, San Diego Wild Animal Park is a 2,200-acre park exhibiting wild and exotic animals who roam at will in large open spaces. You can tour the park via the Wgasa Bush Line Railway, a true safari-like experience, or traverse exhibits such as the Kilimanjar Safari Walk on foot, watching for lions, tigers, and elephants. If you're looking for sea life, try SeaWorld San Diego. This 165-acre adventure park, located on Mission Bay's south shore, features sea lions, otters, walruses, and other sea creatures.
* Sports fans inevitably will end up at Qualcomm Stadium, which two major league teams-the San Diego Padres and the San Diego Chargers-call home.
* No visitor should miss the San Diego Convention Center, site of the Visitor's Bureau, where you can pick up tons of information about San Diego and the surrounding area. It's also the official home for many conventions.
San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter is the place for premier dining, shopping, and entertainment. Here, you'll find an eclectic blend of food, fine art galleries, boutiques, bazaars, specialty shops, and theaters. In the evenings, old-fashioned gas lamps illuminate wide brick walkways and sidewalk cafes. The area has coffeehouses, clubs, theaters with live performances, and more than 90 restaurants.
Other shopping areas are scattered throughout the city and include the Bazaar Del Mundo with more than a dozen shops featuring Mexican folk art, Del Mar Plaza with upscale boutiques, Kobey's Swap Meet (a large open-air market with everything from produce to furniture), San Diego's most renowned shopping mall at Horton Plaza, and other large contemporary malls.
At Seaport Village, shoppers will discover 75 waterfront shops and restaurants, daily live entertainment, a vintage carousel, and horse-drawn carriages.
San Diego is also a place for active travelers. To the east of the city is the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, where you can play tennis or golf at a resort or hike along trails to see an array of cacti, succulents, and palms.
To the north along Highways 67 and 78 lie quaint towns such as Ramona, an ideal place for horseback riding, and the historic mining town of Julian with its Wild West-style main street.
A 15-minute ferry trip across the bay from downtown San Diego is the picturesque community of Coronado. For more than 100 years, this peninsula with its more-perfect-than-Hollywood seaside setting has been the destination of choice for presidents, stars, artists, and others. It's a shopper's paradise with specialty shops and restaurants at the Ferry Landing Marketplace and sidewalk cafes along Orange Avenue. You can walk, rent bikes or rollerblades, and explore 15 miles of scenic bike paths.
To the north along the coast are still more charming beachside towns such as Del Mar, La Jolla, and the eclectic Solana Beach, all ideal for a day's outing on the beach or strolling in town. Local weather promises a long season of outdoor activities. From June through November, you can enjoy swimming, surfing, waterskiing, scuba diving, and boating in this region.
Feeling adventurous? How about a bike tour through Southern California wine country? You'll find one in Temecula, just an hour north of San Diego. All wineries are open to the public for tastings and several offer tours.
Getting around San Diego is as easy as following a city map or hopping a bus, trolley, or train. Visitors with access to a computer will love the Online Transit Information System, known affectionately as OTIS. To use OTIS, simply plug in a starting point, destination, dates and time of day, and the site will provide advice on the form of transport to take (bus, trolley, train), where to take it from, how long the trip will take, and the fare. OTIS also gives options for return trips, schedules, and routes. Riders can even specify how much (or littleexcl;) walking they prefer-priceless information for free.
Harbor cruises offer another perspective on this bustling city. Hop on one just to see the scene, or look for one that offers dining or whale-watching.
For more information on San Diego, an active, modern city with something for everyone, visit http://www.sandiego.org, call 619-236-1212, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Once you're in town, visit the International Visitors Information Center at 1040 1/3 West Broadway (at Harbor Drive).
Thinking about a side-trip to Tijuana, Mexico, for a little bargain hunting and excitement? You're not alone. For years, curious San Diegans have flocked across the border-it's just 3 hours from San Diego-to watch bullfights, horse racing, cockfighting, gambling, and other "wild" activities at the Tijuana Fair. In 1917, when San Diego banned cabaret dancing, Tijuana built dozens of casinos and cabarets to fill the void. Three years later with the start of Prohibition, Tijuana eagerly embraced America's thirsty citizens and has continued to entice them with a busy nightlife, delicious food at many restaurants, and tempting bargains on imported goods. Prime Tijuana shopping areas include Mercado de Artesanias (arts and crafts), Plaza Rio Tijuna Shopping Center, and Avenida Revolucion (the city's oldest area). Visit http://www.tijuana.com to learn moreexcl;
Carol Munson is a freelance writer in Doylestown, Pa.
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