Saturday, April 30, 2011

Visiting San Diego

Visiting San Diego?Let me share with you some traveling and itinerary tips that will hopefully make you appreciate my adopted hometown. 
Downtown San Diego Skyline from Coronado's Ferry Landing

San Diego has been my home since 2004, and I believe I have explored a lot of San Diego in my 7 years here. However, most of the time I write about San Diego, it's about hiking at the backroads. I neglect the fact that San Diego is one of the popular tourist and vacation destinations here in US, where a lot of its tourists went back to make this place their new home.

Relaxing at North Torrey Pines State Beach

Instead of making an itinerary which I usually do when writing road trips to National Parks, I will instead feature here clusters of places in and around San Diego, grouped together for a day of activity. These are also the places I bring visiting friends and or family. Unless friends request for Sea World or Legoland, I usually do not bring them there, for I feel like there are other more interesting places to see AND FREE. And I feel like there is more joy out in the sea than inside Sea World.

Here are my list of places to see ( and all these assume starting from downtown San Diego ):

A: Explore Balboa Park, San Diego Hillcrest Area, Old Town, some of the beach communities nearby ( Pacific Beach or Mission Beach or sunset Cliffs at Point Loma) Cabrillo National Monument, Gaslamp Quarter and downtown San Diego. (one day)
1. start the day at Balboa Park.
Reflecting Pond at Balboa Park
Balboa Park is a cultural park right next to downtown San Diego, San Diego Zoo, the community of Banker's Hill and nearby is San Diego Hillcrest Area, which has a great selection of eclectic restaurants and coffee shops. Unlike other parks, this is actually a cultural park that houses many museums, gardens and the San Diego Zoo. If Torrey Pines State Reserve is my favorite place in San Diego for a natural setting, Balboa Park is my favorite if I wanted a mix of culture, civilization and nature photography. There is no fee to enter Balboa Park, but there is fee to enter the museums. Sometimes, I do get inside the museums ( especially if the weather is not good and if it is a Tuesday because of Free Tuesdays ). What I will share here is enjoying Balboa Park for free. Maybe, you can start your walking tour from The Desert Garden,
Desert Garden, Balboa Park
to the Rose Garden ( but Rose Garden has no flowers yet at winter ). My collection of grasshopper, different birds, hummingbirds, butterfly photos are mostly from the Desert Garden. From the Desert Garden, cross the footbridge to the other side of the park where the museums are. Even outside the museums, the old Spanish architecture of the buildings are good enough. If you love collection of orchids, proceed to the Botanical Building, where there is a collection of blooming orchids and other flowers year round.
Botanical Building
inside Botanical Building
After Botanical Building, depending on time and interest, you can continue walking around the park for more Spanish Architecture and other Buildings. If you want to see butterflies regardless of season, most likely, you will find one at Zorro Butterfly Garden, though of course, there are a lot more butterflies during spring, but I have seen the common one, such as Monarch butterfly year round at the garden.

2. From Balboa Park, move to Old Town State and Historic Park to revisit California and San Diego's History. There are many city tours provided here, but depending on your interest, you can get one or make your own tour by following this itinerary :). Maybe, you may want to have lunch at Old Town for some Mexican cuisine.

3. From Old Town, proceed to Cabrillo National Monument, both a natural and historical site.

Cabrillo National Monument
Cabrillo National Monument closes at 5:00 pm, you may want to skip the beaches and proceed directly to Cabrillo National Monument. At wintertime, it is great to spend sunset here, since at the top of the cliff, looking west, is the sunset,
One of My Favorite Sunset Pictures @ Cabrillo National Monument
and looking East is the changing of the colors of sky and clouds above downtown San Diego.

Looking East from Cabrillo National Monument @ Sunset
If you get there before 4:30 pm, you may want to explore the tidepool area first at Cabrillo. Even at high tide where you may not be able to see a lot of tidepool creatures, the rock formations in this piece of coast are still worth seeing.
Tidepool Area of Cabrillo National Monument
Me @ Tidepool Area of Cabrillo National Monument ( this is only accessible at low tide )
The Tidepool Area Below, from Above the Cliff
4. If Cabrillo closes before sunset, you can head out to Sunset Cliffs. It's one of the scenic places in San Diego to sit on top of the cliffs to enjoy sunset.

 If you want to have dinner with the San Diego skyline and harbor for a view, from Cabrillo or Sunset Cliffs, stop by at Shelter Island or Harbor Island for dinner ( the view is great while having dinner). However, if you want to experience a livelier atmosphere and with a lot more dining choices, move to downtown San Diego and Gaslamp Quarter.

B: Exploring Torrey Pines and La Jolla area ( one day exploring and sightseeing)
1. from downtown San Diego, drive North to Torrey Pines State Reserve. Torrey Pines State Reserve is about 18 miles North of downtown and is still within San Diego city limits, but feels like outside of San Diego. You can take a walk at the beach right next to the sand stone cliffs, or take a relaxing hike on top of the bluffs, or both ( make a loop hike from bottom to top ).
North Torrey Pines State Beach ( part of Torrey Pines State Reserve) and sandstone cliffs at low tide
Me @ Guy Fleming trail Lookout, Torrey Pines State Reserve
( if you plan to hike from bottom to top, you can park on the shoulder of  North Torrey Pines Road, then enter the park on foot for free. However, most tourists drive to the top and then take the short trails from the top to the look-out points. If you enter the park by car and drive to the top of the reserve, you pay $10 entrance fee).
Badlands and the Sea, Yucca Point at Torrey Pines State Reserve
2. from Torrey Pines State Reserve, drive South to Torrey Pines Golf Course, home of Buick International and 2008 US Open.

@ Torrey Pines Golf Course
3. from Torrey Pines Golf Course, continue driving South, and if you wanted, you can stop over at Torrey Pines Gliderport,

view from Gliderport

UCSD, and have lunch at University Town Center (UTC) area. Going to UTC, you will be passing the Science and Tech area, Scripps Green Hospital, Scripps Research Institute, Veterans Hospital, where you will be experiencing the unique well planned mix of residential, restaurants, hotels, retail and office spaces. Or you can proceed directly to La Jolla and have lunch at La Jolla.

4. Continue driving southwest to La Jolla.
 You can start your stroll from La Jolla Cove,
La Jolla Cove
east side of La Jolla Cove, you will see the sea caves, some sea lions, a lot of pelicans, cormorants, among other sea birds such as gulls and pigeons.
Cormorants and Gulls, Guards of the Cove :)
Barking Sea Lions
You can continue walking along the coast to Ellen Browning Scripps Park, to Children's Pool ( where the cute harbor seals reside),
Mom and Pup Pairs, Children's Pool, La Jolla

and up to where your feet will take you. Try to stay on the west side of this coastline for sunset, because it curves to the East, you will both see sunset looking West and the Earth's shadow ( blue above purple sky) looking East on Torrey Pine cliffs.
Sunset @ La Jolla ( looking West above Children's Pool )
After sunset, and if you still have some energy left for some more exploration, you can take a stroll at La Jolla shops if you are interested to see some souvenir items and for some shopping. Or you can just take a rest and have dinner in one of the restaurants.

C: Seaport Village, San Diego's Embarcadero, Whale Watching, and Coronado Island( save one day)
note: you may skip Whale Watching and still need one day for the above, just a more relaxed exploration of Embarcadero and Coronado Island.
1. Start the day at San Diego's Embarcadero, and see historical ships such as The Star of India and aircraft carriers such as the Midway, whale watching usually starts at 10:00 am, so if you are early, you have more time to explore the Marina.
Historical Ships and Midway from Embarcadero
2. If you want to go whale watching, you must wait at the port by 9:45 am. However, if you want to further explore the Marina, and explore the Seaport, there are also so many things to do. Some of my friends prefer to visit the Midway Museum and other Maritime Museums, some, they prefer to whale watch, so it is really up to one's preferences.
Grey Whale
Pacific White Sided Dolphins Spotted from Whale Watching

If you want to do both whale watching and exploring further the maritime museums in the Embarcadero, save a separate day for whale watching. If you plan to go whale watching, buy ticket from Goldstar (online) since you can save a lot of money through this.
3. If you are still not tired after whale watching and have some energy, when you get back to San Diego Harbor, take another ferry to Coronado Island. Though it may be past sunset ( you may spend sunset at the sea during whale watching), but Coronado Island is beautiful to experience at night, and so at day time as well. There are many restaurants here and some people just hop to the island for dinner and a short relaxing walk.
San Diego Skyline from Coronado Island
You can actually also choose to drive to Coronado Island. If you take the ferry, rent some bicycle to ride a bike to tour this small community, it is pretty safe and you would see a lot of tourists doing the same. However, if you feel not safe biking at night, you can also choose to drive or take their local bus.

D: Wild Animal Park and some sightseeing at North San Diego County ( one day )
1. start the day driving North East to Escondido to visit Wild Animal Park.

Wild Animal Park is a unique extension of San Diego Zoo. I love this park for its naturalistic setting where the animals are not caged and the exhibits are wide, and yes, animal can roam wild.
Roaming Lions @ Lion Camp
I love this park not only for its naturalistic setting, but also for the many trails to explore around the park. My favorite trail is the cactus trail where right next to it is the forest trail.
There are also many things to do and explore in this park, actually, being up close to the animals and observing them in a more naturalistic setting is a wonderful experience.
2. After Wild Animal Park, and if you want to explore the communities in North County San Diego, from Wild Animal Park, drive East on 78 to Oceanside.
Oceanside Pier
Oceanside is the northernmost of San Diego County. From Oceanside, you can go back driving South and passing some more coastal communities at Carlsbad, Del Mar, etc until you are back to San Diego. If it is spring time, you may want to reverse the order and start exploring this side first before wild animal Park for the spring wildflowers at Flowers Field in Carlsbad.
The Flower Fields ( at spring - March to May )
The Flower Fields is also right next to Chelsea Premium Outlet Mall where one may find great deals for designer items.

E: Explore San Diego Backroads: road trip to Julian, Anza Borrego Desert State Park,
Me at Font's Point, Anza Borrego Desert State Park
Salton Sea, Joshua Tree National Park,
Me @ Joshua Tree National Park
and if interested, you can stop by at the premium outlet mall shopping at Cabazon before going back to San Diego ( one day ).

There are still a lot more places to explore in and around San Diego, right now, it is wonderfully spring, and the wildflowers are blooming!!! Come, visit my city!!
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  1. Wow, you have so much to see and do in your city! I would love to visit Torrey Pines, Balboa Park and the Wild Animal Park someday. Fantastic Post, Betchai!

  2. When I think of San Diego, the zoo comes to mind. I don't know why. Have never stepped foot in US though. Hope to travel there one day.

  3. Awwww....I don't know what more I can say. I thing....I just wanna tell you this Betchai...

    Can I be in your shoes for one week? :p

  4. There is so much to see there! I wish the people who run my city would remember to show off some of the beauty here. They keep it hidden or destroy it, then they wonder why nobody wants to come here. If they would show it, like they do in your city, our happiness here would never go away.

  5. What a wonderful tour of San Diego, betchai! Fantastic pictures, and beautiful places to see.

  6. I love San Diego. I haven't been there in a number of years but am looking forward to going back. I have to admit, I am partial to the San Diego zoo.

  7. I do not think I can write so much about my place.

    San Diego is proud of you.

  8. Wow betchai.. I am speechless.. Seeing your collection of photos is like eating a buffet spread.. Beautiful!

  9. Super article, when I was in San Diego, I haven't seen all these places. Only a few.


  10. Wow, that was a long post! I love the beaches and cliffs. I was in SD once, long ago. We went to the zoo.

  11. Love your images! They make me wanna come down to San Diego again! :) So inviting... :)

  12. Betchai,if that is not EXPLORING, I don't know what it is. Makes me realize that I haven't seen anything yet in my whole life.You surely are living a great life by enjoying nature.

  13. What an absolutely fabulous job you did of portraying some of the wonderful reasons to visit San Diego. If I hadn't moved to San Francisco after my year of living in Orange County over 33 years ago, San Diego would have been my second choice. As it is, I have been frequently to attend various forensic conferences - our annual national pediatric forensic conference takes place ther every year. I'm also blessed to have two dear nurse colleagues who live in the area and several other friends so I get down about four times a year - not as often as I would like...and now, retirement, will probably make it less often.

    You have certainly gotten in a lot of exploration in your time there and your photographs are treasures.

  14. On each picture I would say oh that is my favorite but then I would see the next one and say the same! I have never been to San Diego but hope to go soon. Your pictures are so beautiful!!!

  15. All the beauty and grandeur San Diego has to offer, can't be done in a weekend. Ocean life alone, I can spend one whole day!

  16. Bethchai thank you for "taking" us to San Diego, wow! it's really beautiful!

    love the sun set at La Jolla and the sea lions, never seen them here free in the wild only inside the zoo

  17. San Diego is a beautiful place, and I hear it is almost 70 every day of the year. That sure sounds good to me.

  18. betchai, your San Diego photos always have me breathless. It's like traveling there through you. I definitely have to get there one of these days. You've captured the heart of your hometown and that's what makes these photos so spectacular.

  19. Hello,
    great post and wonderful pictures. San Diego is indeed a wonderful city with a lot of fun and interesting attractions. At Fox Rent A Car Blog we also wrote posts about San Diego and its attractions. We like to share travel tips and inform travelers about all they have to see and where they should stop in different cities.
    Thanks for sharing.

  20. Some years I visit SD maybe once or twice. You've given me new ideas for places to visit on my next trip. I love La Jolla and I never get tired of seeing that huge VJ Day statue or whatever it's called.

  21. Beth, very organized itinerary! Thank you so much for doing this and sharing this. I will consult this post when we decide to visit your guys! The pictures are so beautiful and the post is well-thought-of. You really did a good job! :)

  22. Betchai, I can't wait to see the beauty of San Diego! I can't wait to be there and explore the beautiful sceneries and places! Thank you for the awesome photos!!

  23. You trip captured a whole lot of great memories. I love San Diego, though I don't quite visit the way you do, we do the family and kids stuff. Can't wait until I am able to explore...but then...might be too old by then. haha

  24. WOW... a very informative travel guide to San Diego. Your love and passion for traveling really shows in this great post. This would really be a big big help to those planning to visit San Diego. :) Keep on blogging Betchai!

  25. u make use of reflection very well in yr pics... i particularly like this pic ->Sunset @ La Jolla ( looking West above Children's Pool )

  26. I will surely explore your area in time, hopefully we can travel out there and meet you too. Seeing all the shots makes me feel nature at its best is there!

  27. hi betchai its me jerla... hope u still remember me. I love those photos above as usual :) you take excellent photos. musta nman u? i've been wanting to see colorful trees here in san diego, any place you can recommend? hope to hear from you soon :)

  28. It is relaxing to see these images again. I have been to the Balboa Park and the Desert Park, that was where we saw a few wild animals.

  29. Hmmm, thinking about retirement in San Diego....

  30. Goodnes, Betchai, the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau should be paying you handsomely for this incredible travel narrative and photography presentation you have done on what is available for tourists to the San Diego area. It is absolutely stunning.

    Over my 35 years as a Californian, I've been to San Diego dozens of times - for conferences and to visit many friends who live there. Consequently, I've had the pleasure of seeing many of these wonderful places. Had I not settled in the San Francisco area, San Diego would have been the city I would have chosen as my home. It truly is a beautiful place, with so much to offer.

  31. I love San Diego. I haven't been there in a number of years but it is always on my list of potential destinations.

  32. wow!!!! still catching my breath here....i would love love love love to visit one sweet day!!!

  33. Great photos…I felt like I was taking a walk right there with you!