ON THE ROAD AGAIN: SAN DIEGO

Forty years ago San Diego was a sleepy navy town that most regarded as a far-flung Los Angeles suburb. Fast-forward to today and San Diego is now California’s second largest city that is no longer in L.A.’s shadow. While San Diego still has what many regard to be the most beautiful climate in the country, there have been social costs that have come along with its rapid growth. The high cost of living here would make even a jaded New Yorker blush and the standstill rush hour traffic makes the Long Island Expressway look like the Daytona Speedway in comparison. Nonetheless San Diego remains an excellent getaway.

After all of these years San Diego’s most popular attraction remains its world famous zoo. The San Diego Zoo achieved its initial fame from one of its keepers, Joan Embry, would frequently appear on the “Tonight Show” and Johnny Carson would have a ball interacting with some of the zoo’s smaller inhabitants. You would be hard-pressed to think of a land mammal that cannot be found here. The most popular attractions are the panda and gorilla exhibits.

The San Diego Wild Animal Park located 20 miles north in the town of Escondido is a large preserve that allows visitors to observe animals in a more natural setting than an urban zoo. The Wild Animal Park has had tremendous success in the breeding of endangered species. Visitors are particularly enraptured by the numerous baby elephants that are on display here.

The San Diego Zoo is situated right in Balboa Park that serves as the city’s chief municipal oasis. Balboa Park is also home to a great number of San Diego’s museums yet sadly most tourists to the city tend to overlook them. The San Diego Museum of Art houses a large collection of 16th century Spanish treasures including works by El Greco. The San Diego Museum of Natural History contains fossils from the dinosaurs and mammoths that roamed Southern California. The San Diego Museum of Man has remnants from both the ancient Egyptian and Mayan cultures.

Balboa Park has plenty of attractions for those who like museums with a lighter touch. The San Diego Air & Space Museum contains the command module of Apollo 9 as well as aircraft dating back to aviation’s earliest days. There is also an aviation hall of fame that features everyone from the Wright brothers to Frank Borman to Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin. The San Diego Automotive Museum has everything from Ford Model Ts to T-Birds and Mustangs.

The San Diego Hall of Champions is a sports fan’s delight as it pays tribute to both athletes who grew up in San Diego such as Ted Williams to those who have played on its various professional teams such as the Padres and Chargers. There is also a pair of original seats from Yankee Stadium when it opened in 1923.

A relaxing way to spend a balmy San Diego evening is to take a three-hour dinner cruise on the Lord Hornblower which provides beautiful views of downtown San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico in the distance. There is a plentiful choice of menu options and the DJ will keep you entertained throughout the excursion. The Hornblower Company also operates daytime whale watching tours.

There is no shortage of lodging properties in San Diego and not surprisingly two of the best are found in the city’s toniest section, La Jolla, where golf’s US Open will take place this June. The Grande Colonial, located on Prospect Street, La Jolla’s answer to Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive, opened in 1925 and is a member of the National Historic Hotels of America. The Grande Colonial is upscale but far from stuffy and it offers many amenities. It is also located one block from Pacific Ocean and La Jolla Cove, which has become a popular tourist spot because seals and sea lions like to rest here. These pinnipeds know their real estate! La Jolla Cove is also a great place to watch some spectacular sunsets. You can call the Grande Colonial toll-free at (866) 229-1146.

Located a few miles east of the Grande Colonial is the Hyatt Regency La Jolla that is conveniently located right off Interstate 5 in the Aventine neighborhood of La Jolla. The Hyatt has won architectural awards and it is within walking distance of top restaurants and stores. If you are a serious swimmer then you will love the Olympic-sized heated pool that has several lap lanes. You can also get a great vantage point for sunsets from its 16th floor Regency Club. You can reach the Hyatt at (858) 552-1234.

San Diego’s most famous hotel however is the Hotel del Coronado located on Coronado Island located across San Diego Bay from downtown San Diego. The “Hotel Del” as the locals call it, is a Victorian architectural wonder and it has hosted everyone from United States presidents to current celebs as Jimmy Buffett to Jennifer Aniston. It was also the setting for the classic Marilyn Monroe film, SOME LIKE IT HOT, which was shot here 50 years ago. Even if you do not stay here you should enjoy the scrumptious Sunday brunch at the Crown Room or have dinner at either its Sheerwater or 1500 Ocean Restaurant. There is also a day spa here.

For more information on San Diego you can its Visitors Bureau at (619) 232-3101 or its website, sandiego.org, where you can buy discounted tickets for the city’s many attractions.