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San Diego

California's oldest, second largest and southern-most big city, San Diego is one of the nation's most popular playgrounds. With more than 300 days of sunshine, it also boasts the best climate in the United States. Full of contrasts, the city mingles contemporary urban sensibilities with colonial Spanish architecture, sparkling ocean vistas to the west with barren, boulder-strewn hills to the east, and fine dining establishments with the newest of "nouvelle cuisine" standing side by side with tiny tortillerias.

Vintage ships line the downtown waterfront next to the cruise docks, and a little red trolley can take you south of the border into Mexico. Or you can pet the orcas and dolphins at SeaWorld, take in a Padres game downtown, relive the turn of the century in the Gaslamp Quarter or simply sit and savor hot, homemade tortillas and Mexican food on the patio of almost any restaurant in historic Old Town.

Balboa Park, the largest urban cultural park in the nation, features "Spanish Colonial Revival" style buildings, designed and built for the Panama-California Exhibition in 1916 - 1917 to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal. The 1,074-acre park is home to art galleries, free botanical exhibits and 15 museums, including the Natural History Museum, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center and the world-renowned San Diego Zoo, with more than 800 species of animals, some of them rare and endangered.

Outside of town, day trips and excursions abound. There are more than 90 golf courses in San Diego County, plus 33 beaches. Take the kids to LEGOLAND in Carlsbad, spend a day at the horse races in Del Mar, visit the wineries or indulge in a hot-air balloon ride in Temecula, try your hand at lady luck in one of the many Las Vegas-style gaming establishments within an hour's drive of the city, go on safari at the incredible Wild Animal Park in Escondido, or visit the nude beach in tony La Jolla.

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