San Diego: ‘America’s Finest City’

San Diego truly earns the nickname of America’s finest city. We liked the pleasant city with good climate, few traffic jams and easy access to everywhere we wanted to go.

We drove down to San Diego from the Bay Area, with our 1 year old. This was our first trip to SD and the aim of this trip was to visit all the places our baby would not be likely to appreciate, in the near future. At this stage, she is too young to care where she goes, as long as she can people watch. For this reason, we skipped the zoo, Sea World, Lego Land and the like. We will be back for that later.


Cabrillo National Monument

A must-visit on our list, for experiencing San Diego’s historic past, is the Cabrillo National Monument. It commemorates the landing of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo at San Diego Bay in 1542. This event marked the first time that a European expedition set foot in California. Adjacent to the visitor center, there are rooms with many exhibits from the early days of Spanish explorers and missionaries. Other interests at this location include a large statue of Cabrillo, from where you can get a sweeping view of the city. The Point Loma lighthouse is restored to give a snapshot of the life the innkeeper and his family had. An old Fresnel lens is on display as well.

Mission San Diego de Alcala was the first of the 21 missions founded by Fr. Junipero Serra, in present day California, in 1769. Although Juan Cabrillo had ‘discovered’ California a couple of centuries ago, and claimed it for Spain, there were no European settlements in the area. In the late 1760s, with Russian territorial interests advancing from the north and French and British interests in the other parts of Canada and America, the Spanish felt compelled to establish settlements in California, to protect its territorial interests. Fr. Serra was a part of one of the large parties that set out from Mexico, by sea and by land, to occupy California. Fr. Serra and the other padres set up a series of missions for their missionary work among the Native Indian tribes. The mission at San Diego has well restored buildings and partially excavated sites of the original mission buildings. The restored buildings’ exhibits showcase the life at these missions in those days.

The Old Town Historic Park or ‘Old Town’ has many historic buildings from the early days of Spanish settlement in the early 1800s. This formed the nucleus for the town of San Diego. It is very nice to walk through the town, exploring the different restored buildings and its exhibits. In the years following the Mexican independence, these buildings were used by the Mexican government. Don’t miss out on the flavorful Mexican restaurants in the area. We tried Café Coyote and the food was very good.

Gaslamp Quarter is the ‘Historic Heart of San Diego’ with 5th Avenue as its main street. There is a commemorative gate at 5th Ave and L St. The area, covering about 16 blocks, has some of the old buildings still standing. In the late 1860s, an American real estate developer tried to make this area a bustling new city center, close to the bay. Major developments led this area to be referred to as ‘New Town’. The name “Gaslamp Quarter” is a reference to the gas lamps that were common in San Diego in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

USS Midway

Flight deck of the USS Midway

The USS Midway museum was a good stop on this Fourth of July weekend. We bought the tickets at Costco beforehand, which had the best price available. USS Midway was a US aircraft carrier, commissioned shortly after WWll. For 10 years, it was the largest ship in the world! It also has the distinction of being the first US warship, too big to pass through Panama Canal. Decommissioned in 1992, this ship is now a museum, docked at San Diego. The ship has 3 levels open to the public. The top level or the flight deck has many interesting models of aircrafts that you can climb into and experience. The flight deck is stroller friendly. A tour of the ship’s island (or bridge) is possible, but there is a minimum height restriction and leaves out little kids. Do this tour as soon as you arrive. The lines can get pretty long as the day progresses. The mid-level, the hanger is also very stroller friendly. However, the lowest level, which offers a great view of life at sea, is very stroller unfriendly. But we were able to do fine, carrying our baby. Right next to the USS Midway, is the Tuna Harbor Park. From here, you can get a good view of the enormity of the ship. This park is also home to the sculpture ‘Unconditional surrender’, based on a famous WWll photograph.

Torrey Pines State Park is home to the rare Torrey Pine, an endangered species of pine growing only in San Diego and on the Channel Islands off the coast of California. We hiked the Guy Fleming trail, which was a short, stroller friendly trail offering good views of the ocean and the coastal flora including the Torrey Pine. The trial, which can be windy, is accessible from the South Beach. The entry fee for cars is much more than what we usually see in similar parks.

La Jolla

La Jolla Cove

La Jolla is a very nice neighborhood. It is in this area that we experienced the worst traffic in San Diego. After driving around in circles looking for a parking spot, we were very lucky to find a spot close to the La Jolla cove. Walking along the nice pedestrian path on the cliff close to the shore, we took in the Pacific Ocean, the crashing waves, the sea lions and the crowd of people. La Jolla cove with its pretty blue waters was so crowded that I am sure we wouldn’t have found the space to spread a beach towel!

Coronado Island is a great place to end any day. The Centennial Park offers very good views of the city skyline. Coronado beach has been voted one of America’s best beaches, multiple times. The beach, with the famous Hotel del Coronado in the backdrop, can get pretty crowded due to its popularity. Parking around the area can be a nightmare. Be prepared to walk quite a bit. What makes the effort worth it, is a beautiful beach with fine white sand and shallow waters, making it ideal for kids.

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