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Originally discovered in 1542 and claimed by the Spanish, San Diego is the birthplace of California. The Southern Californian city, which covers some 400 square miles of land and sea area, serves a population of more than 1.2 million. It began life as the site of the first of 21 established missions, Mission San Diego de Alcala, which still holds services daily in the original mission chapel.

California's second largest city, and the seventh largest city in the U.S., San Diego lies in the southwest corner of the state, 120 miles south of Los Angeles and 20 miles north of Tijuana, Mexico. San Diego has 70 miles of coastline and a pleasant year-round climate that's made it a favorite for family travel.

San Diego is known for having the best year-round weather in the United States, owing to its southern coastal location that combines the warm dry air of the desert with the cool breezes of the Pacific. At the two extremes, summers are cool, comfortable and breezy, with low humidity and an average daytime temperature of 70 F, while winters are sunny and mild with temperatures rarely falling below 40 F in the evening. Spring and fall are pleasant, and rainfall is less than ten inches annually, usually occurring in the winter.

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Balboa Park (619-239-0512; www.balboapark.org) houses numerous cultural attractions including museums, art galleries, sports facilities, and the San Diego Zoo. Stop at the Visitors Center to pick up a bi-monthly Events Guide, which includes a detailed map of 1,200-acre Balboa Park and current listings of exhibits and special events, then choose from a number of Passport to Balboa Park combos for discounted admission to park attractions.

Dating back to the time of the early Spaniards in California, Old Town reflects the rich and colorful history of early California. Visitors are greeted by a number of activities and attractions, including daily shows and monthly festivals, specialty shopping, historic sites and parks, theater, and special interest tours, all with the charm and festive air of Old Mexico.

Mission Bay Park (www.sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/parks/missionbay) is the largest man-made aquatic park in the country, consisting of over 4,000 acres of near-equal parts land and water. The park offers a wide range of recreational activities including jogging paths, fitness stops and playgrounds for children. The bay boasts 27 miles of shoreline dotted with beaches, boating docks and launching facilities welcoming all forms of water sports. You may choose to take a harbor tour or dinner cruise or go whale watching at The Big Bay - San Diego Bay (www.thebigbay.com) where natural harbors and navy ships serve the ideal setting to view the city skyline.

Walk along 100 acres and visit with approximately 4,000 animals from nearly 800 different species at the acclaimed San Diego Zoo (Park Blvd. and Zoo Pl.; 800-407-9534; www.sandiegozoo.com). Take a guided double-decker bus tour, watch Gorillas frolic in the tropics and polar bears take the plunge, then bring the kids over to the children's petting zoo. Later, choose to explore the sites and sounds of the wild at The San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park, a 2,200-acre nature preserve located 30 miles north of downtown, where more than 3,000 wild animals roam free over native-like habitats from the African and Asian continents.

SeaWorld San Diego (500 SeaWorld Dr.; 800-380-3203; www.seaworld.com), located at Mission Bay, is a marine park offering numerous rides, shows and attractions. Shows with performing animals, featuring everything from trained killer whales led by star attraction, Shamu, to manatees, seals, dolphins, and penguins, are staged throughout the day at outdoor and indoor auditoriums. View marine habitats in their natural existence or experience a "Journey to Atlantis," a wet and wild ride of mythic proportions. Take a relaxing stroll through the R.L. Stines Haunted Lighthouse where frightening 4-D movie imagery brings your biggest fears to life.

Located in Carlsbad, a 30-minute drive from downtown San Diego, LEGOLAND California (One Legoland Dr., Carlsbad; 760-918-5346; www.legoland.com) is an interactive family theme park that caters to kids ages two to 12 and features six distinctive play areas, more than 50 rides, shows, and attractions like Dino Island and Aqua Zone Wave Racers. Children also have the opportunity to build, discover and explore, while grown-ups can marvel at more than 1,000 Lego models created from some 30 million LEGO elements.

San Diego is rich in history and the arts. Its culture is showcased in nearly 90 museums, historic sites and monuments, and five theaters, including Tony Award-winners, The Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse.

The Old Globe (1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego; 619-231-1941; www.theoldglobe.org) is an internationally acclaimed theater that has stood as San Diego's flagship arts institution for more than 70 years. It produces an annual season of 12 to 14 plays and musicals on its three stages, including a Shakespeare Festival. Broadway bound premieres and revivals such as The Full Monty, Pride's Crossing and Damn Yankees were first developed at The Globe.

Originally founded in 1947 by Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire and Mel Ferrer, La Jolla Playhouse (2910 La Jolla Village Dr., La Jolla; 858-550-1010; www.lajollaplayhouse.com) is revered for producing classics like The American premiere of Jane Eyre and the world premiere of Thoroughly Modern Millie. The internationally renowned playhouse is located at the Mandell Weiss Center for Performing Arts on the Campus of UCSD.

Maritime Museum of San Diego (1492 N. Harbor Dr., San Diego; 619-234-9153; www.sdmaritime.org) is open every day of the year from 9 a.m. - 8 p.m. and is known for restoring, maintaining and operating historic vessels, including late 19th- and early 20th-century steam ferries and yachts, and its prized possession, the Maritime Heritage Award-winning, Star of India, the world's oldest active ship dating back to 1963. Public events and educational programs team with permanent displays and temporary exhibits to make for a fun and informative day of discovery by the sea.

San Diego has a pleasant, temperate year-round climate that's suitable for swinging a golf club at any of its more than 90 courses, or going for a swim, surfing or snorkeling at some 70 miles of sandy beaches.

Scuba and Kayak San Diego (1775 E. Mission Bay Dr.; 619-260-1880; www.scubasandiego.com) has a variety of diving activities ranging from beginner to experienced. They offer professionally guided instruction and diving tours anywhere from a practice pool to the famed La Jolla Cove. Take a guided night dive or accept a more challenging mission with a San Diego charter out to Wreck Alley and visit the resting place of the HMCS Yukon Destroyer or an older Coast Guard ship.

H&M Landing (2803 Emerson St.; 619-222-1144; www.hmlanding.com) offers local and long-range sport fishing trips for up to 21 days and provides luxurious accommodations and personalized crew service aboard six passenger yachts or private charters. Offshore whale-watching cruises take place from December through March to view the California gray whale during its migration south and include narration, indoor/outdoor seating, lounge, and guaranteed sightings.

The historic Balboa Tennis Club (2221 Morley Field Dr.; 619-295-9278; www.balboatennis.com) in Balboa Park, opened in 1939 and boasts 25 hard courts, 19 of which are lighted for nighttime play, and a challenge court, where pre-established games are always set. The club is the site for many prestigious tournaments, and plays host to 1,400 members and 6,000 visitors a year.

Located in the Mission Valley/Old Town area, Riverwalk Golf Club (1150 Fashion Valley Rd.; 619-296-4653) is a 27-hole championship resort golf course steeped in charm framed in billowing fairways, scenic waterfalls and lush bentgrass greens. Private lessons are available at the club's golf school along with lighted practice range with target greens, and PGA and LPGA-caliber instruction.

There is a wealth of lodging options available in San Diego with everything from full service hotels to cozy bed-and-breakfasts, and larger resort style properties with special vacation packages.

Courtyard by Marriott San Diego Downtown (530 Broadway; 619-446-3000; www.marriott.com/sancd) is located in the Gaslamp Quarter in downtown, housed in a 1920s Italian-Romanesque style bank building offering a unique mystique born of a bygone era. Its 245 guestrooms range from King to the Presidential suite overlooking the San Diego Bay. The hotel is located close to area attractions like the San Diego Zoo and historic Old Town.

A registered historic site, Bed and Breakfast Inn at La Jolla (7753 Draper Ave., La Jolla; 858-456-2066; www.innlajolla.com) was first built in 1913, the result of architect Irving Gill's visionary "cubist" style architecture. Located within a tranquil garden setting, the Inn combines decorative elegance with Old World charm, and contains 15 guestrooms, some with ocean views and fireplaces.

La Costa Resort and Spa (2100 Costa Del Mar Rd., Carlsbad; 760-438-9111; www.lacosta.com) offers 474 accommodations among 400 acres 30 minutes north of San Diego. Guests can play 36 holes of golf, choose from among 21 tennis courts, four restaurants, two lounges, and the Chopra Center, a world-renowned spa which employs fitness experts, facialists and massage therapists.

San Diego offers plenty of shopping opportunities. Visitors can choose from among major shopping malls, exclusive boutiques, name brand outlets, specialty shops, or open-air themed shopping districts like Seaport Village and Old Town State Historic Park.

Gaslamp Quarter (www.gaslamp.org) is a 16-block section of history in the heart of downtown San Diego. Boutiques boasting both ethnic and cutting-edge fashions and retailers rub elbows with niche-oriented shops. From San Diego Hardware to Z Galleries' modern furnishings or Far East finds at the Opium Factory, it's an unusual mix of everything and the unexpected.

Overlooking the Pacific is La Jolla's Prospect Street (www.lajollabythesea.com), which is lined with small specialty shops, boutiques, antiques emporiums, and art galleries. Besides being known for Southern California's most beautiful coastline and perfect weather, the Village of La Jolla is also known for its elegant designer fashions and fine jewelry within this spectacular 30-block stretch in the downtown district.

Carlsbad Premium Outlet (5620 Paseo del Norte, Suite 100, Carlsbad; 760-804-9000; www.premiumoutlets.com), located north of downtown, is home to more than 90 designer and manufacturer outlets-the largest outlet center in San Diego-specialty retail, wineries, and restaurants. Shop for bargains at Barney's of New York or Crate & Barrel.

Downtown's historic Gaslamp Quarter is San Diego's most electrifying and eclectic entertainment hub featuring more than 80 nightclubs.

Top of the Hyatt - Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego (One Market Pl., San Diego; 619-232-1234; www.hyatt.com) is an upscale casual lounge offering stellar views from the 40th floor of the west coast's tallest waterfront building at San Diego Bay between the Convention Center and Seaport Village. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer skyline views beyond the club's classically styled decor.

The San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau provides information and brochures on traveling to San Diego and covers all the variety and diversity of its 100 neighborhoods. Visit www.sandiego.org or call (619)236-1212 for more information on the city, or to receive a free vacation planning kit, book travel packages, and more.

Bertrand at Mister A's

One of San Diego's star restauranteurs has turned his attentions to updating a city landmark and with fabulous results. Bertrand Hug has done wonders for Mr. A's, now officially called Bertrand at Mr A's, updating the cuisine, decor and service. The new menu is a combo of American and French with entrees like miso-glazed sea bass, a lobster "fish and chips," and tuna carpaccio and sweet crab. Though black-tie has been replaced with casual elegance, fans of the old Mr. A's will appreciate that what was best about the restaurant remains intact: its prime location on the 12th floor of a financial building in downtown San Diego serving up beautiful panoramas of Balboa Park and San Diego Bay.

Bertrand at Mister A's
2550 Fifth Ave.
(619) 239-1377
www.bertrandatmisteras.com


Blue Point Coastal Cuisine

The easily accessible Gaslamp District is near the convention center, and one of the first restaurants to grace the area was Blue Point Coastal Cuisine. Opened more than a decade ago, it is still among the very best places to sit and relax in a supper club bistro-style atmosphere. Steaks and fish dishes are among the offerings, which also include a house special lobster bisque (the secret ingredient is port) and raw oysters that change weekly. The black-and-white tile floor and booth provide a comfortable atmosphere that is both intimate and friendly. Expect a creative seafood menu culled from the freshest local catch. Enjoy, relax and gather with your colleagues for a great evening with this classic restaurant.

Blue Point Coastal Cuisine
565 Fifth Ave.
(619) 233-6623
www.cohnrestaurants.com


Café Coyote

This casual restaurant in the heart of Old Town is a San Diego landmark that has entertained and fed diners for more than 20 years. Try the tasty handmade tortillas filled with delicious and savory meats and vegetables. Enjoy the indoor/outdoor seating and musical entertainment as you dine on traditional Mexican fare and try the wide selection of tequilas. Café Coyote is just steps away from the historic sites of Old Town, a great place to wander after dinner.

Café Coyote
2461 San Diego Avenue
(619) 291-4695
www.cafecoyoteoldtown.com


Café Japengo

Café Japengo offers a sushi and Pacific Rim menu that is cutting edge and wide ranging. Shrimp and scallops with rice noodles, a whole striped bass Japonaise and roasted duck with tortillas will have your mouth watering in no time. The room is also one of the city's most stylish with marbled walls, bamboo trees and a sleek bar that screams for PIBs (people in black).

Café Japengo
8960 University Center Ln.
(858) 450-3355
www.cafejapengo.com


Café Lulu

For inexpensive, casual dining near the convention center shoot for Café Lulu in the Gaslamp Quarter. A hip, Bohemian atmosphere comes with a health conscious menu comprised of organic ingredients and no meat. Veggie lasagna, cheese melts, soups, and salads for lunch, eggs and waffles for breakfast come with some very inventive coffee drinks. Nab a table outside to watch the sidewalk action.

Café Lulu
419 F St.
(619) 238-0114
www.cafelulusandiego.com


Candelas

Taking its name from the candles that burn brightly in votives placed in tiny lanterns, romantic Candelas has served sophisticated Mexican fare for several years now. Expect fine cuisine with a good mixture of fish, beef and a vegetarian offering called Torre de Berengena, which is eggplant stuffed with cactus, tomatoes and bell peppers with a basil Dijon mustard sauce. Or try the beef strips served with jicama and pear slices, feta cheese and dressed with a chile piquin tamarindo y caramel sauce. A hearty choice would be the white bass encrusted with basil and mozzarella cheese served over mashed potatoes and vegetables dressed with a piloncillo sauce. A hot lounge next door offers the chance to unwind with dancing and listening music.

Candelas
416 3rd Avenue
(619) 702-4455
www.candelas-sd.com


Cucina Urbana

This rustic country-style kitchen and wine shop offers a sophisticated urban setting, reasonable prices, and a surprisingly inventive menu based on organic, local produce. The California-inspired menu of Cucina Urbana is based in Italy’s riches but with a distinctive twist. Executive chef Joe Magnanelli goes for the freshest, most interesting dishes, including a stuffed fried squash blossom appetizer and traditional grilled octopus. This is affordable dining in a cool, arty and unique room, part of the latest trend in San Diego—make it great, sophisticated and fun, but don’t make it expensive. Diners can opt to choose their own bottle of wine from the attached wine store. Local diners have become hooked on the family-style dining, a fun way to meet people and enjoy the meal with new friends.

Cucina Urbana
505 Laurel Street
(619)239-2222
www.cucinaurbana.com


Donovan’s

Great steak, great atmosphere, and great meals—that’s what to expect at Donovan’s, the downtown outpost of the flagship restaurant in La Jolla. The restaurant offers the same high level of service just steps away from the busy convention center, the city ballpark and the famous Gaslamp Quarter. Expect a vast menu that showcases USDA prime steaks as well as huge sides, such as creamed spinach, creamed corn casserole, giant onion rings, and large asparagus spears. Other classics are on offer here as well, with selections such as salmon and shrimp scampi for those who don’t want steak. All entrees are served with fresh vegetables and your choice of baked potato, garlic smashed potatoes or skillet-fried potatoes with sauteed onions and peppercorn gravy. Top it off with some classic desserts, such as creme brulee, New York style cheesecake or chocolate mousse, and you’re in heaven.

Donovan's
570 K Street
(619)237-9700
www.donovanssteakhouse.com


George's at the Cove

If La Jolla's George's at the Cove isn't the best restaurant in San Diego county, it's hard to say what beats it. Seared Maine scallops, warm mushroom salad, striped bass and beef tenderloin all come with organic produce from the famed Chino Farm in Rancho Santa Fe. Who knew peas could taste so good? If you're very hungry try the tasting menu, where you can sample a little of many things. Add a variety of wines to the mix. Book far in advance to snag a table with an ocean view and add romance to an unforgettable dinner.

George's at the Cove
1250 Prospect St.
La Jolla
(858) 454-4244
www.georgesatthecove.com


Osteria Panevino

Sometimes nothing will do but Italian and for some of the best pasta dishes in the entire city head to the Gaslamp's Osteria Panevino. The space screams New York with bare brick walls and tables set closely together. The food, authentic Tuscan cuisine, features everything from antipasti to homemade pastas in a variety of sauces, to meat and fish entrees, is terrific. If you can't decide on a wine try the themed trios of two-ounce tasting glasses.

Osteria Panevino
722 Fifth Ave.
(619) 595-7959
www.osteriapanevino.com


Roppongi

Tapas are the rage at Roppongi, an Asian-fusion style cafe that combines the flavors of Japan, Thailand, China, Vietnam, Korea, and India in a very tasteful way. Towering Polynesian dungeness crab stacks, chicken and porcini mushroom dumplings and Mongolian duck quesadillas are some of what's in store for the adventurous diner. If you are very hungry not to worry. There are also many traditionally-sized main courses from sea bass to duck confit. Lively, sophisticated and exciting...and the environment's not bad either.

Roppongi
875 Prospect St.
La Jolla
(858) 551-5252
www.roppongiusa.com









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