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San Diego

balboa parkFor San Diego's "museum central," head to Balboa Park. The 1,200-acre park in the center of San Diego is home to 15 museums. The San Diego Museum of Art and San Diego Natural History Museum are highlights, as well as art galleries, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, the San Diego Zoo (see below) and the historic Spreckels Organ Pavilion. Balboa Park also has glorious flora and fauna, particularly the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden and the Japanese Friendship Garden. There's a free tram that offers stops throughout the park.

The San Diego Zoo is world-famous and features a 100-acre tropical garden with 4,000 animals of 800 species. One of its distinctive attractions is its bioclimatic exhibits, which include the Polar Rim, Gorilla Tropics and Tiger River. There's a three-mile guided tour, children's petting zoo and a baby animal nursery.

Seaport Village is filled with fun shops and boutiques in a Cape Cod-esque seaport setting. Look for the "brand new" old (1895) carousel featuring a full menagerie of animals including an elephant, a giraffe, camels, a dragon, galloping horses and more.

gaslamp quarter district downtown san diego fountainSan Diego's Gaslamp Quarter, a 16.5-block urban neighborhood, is a showplace of restoration. Big draws include some 70 restaurants, 20 nightclubs and 40 shops, all clustered in a Victorian-era atmosphere. It's also a centerplace for big city events, from music festivals to Mardi Gras.

San Diego, the first city of California, has more than 20 historic missions. The most famous include Padre Junipero Serra's first mission in California, Mission San Diego de Alcala.

Hang out on San Diego's Mission Beach and Pacific Beach boardwalks (inline skates, surfboards and bicycles are available for rent). At Belmont Park, a mile south of Pacific Beach, you'll find the Big Dipper, a wooden roller coaster built in the 1920's and still in operation.

Baseball fans will love Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, located in the heart of downtown adjacent to the Gaslamp Quarter. Those arriving in season can take public transportation right to the ballpark from almost anywhere in the city, and enjoy the Boys of Summer at both day and night games when they are playing at home.

For an alternative to the usual city tour, try Hike Bike Kayak Sports; the company offers half- and full-day tours aimed at all fitness levels.

At LEGOLAND California, about a 30-minute drive from downtown, the 128-acre theme park is centered on -- what else -- LEGOS! Geared for kids ages 2 - 12, the park offers interactive attractions and kid-powered rides.

San Diego Wild Animal Park is a 2,200-acre preserve where some 3,000 animals roam as if they were in their native habitats of Africa and Asia. There's a narrated monorail tour and also lovely mountain trails for walkers.

surfer la jolla california sunset surfing surf pacific oceanLa Jolla, the "Palm Beach" of this part of California, is known for luxury resorts catering to the rich and famous, gorgeous beaches, and pricey shops that include Anne Taylor and Armani Exchange for clothing, several very upscale antique shops and at least two specialty cigar stores. Some of the best, most chi-chi restaurants look over the rocky bluffs to the sea, so if you plan a trip to the community, consider splurging on lunch at Tapenade or Nine-Ten, two of the finest (and priciest). If you're really adventurous, you can climb the rocks surrounding Black's Beach, which allows nude sunbathing.

Take a ride on a 1929 open cockpit biplane (the pilot flies from the back cockpit) via Barnstorming Adventures. You can also opt for a World War II Navy SNJ-4 or stunt rides in an air show plane.

During the winter months (December - March), numerous whale-watching services offer cruises and aerial tours; during the rest of the year they have harbor dinner cruises and other excursions. Try San Diego Harbor Excursion, which is allied with the Birch Aquarium. Other operators include Hornblower Cruises and H&M Landing.

Head to Tijuana, Mexico. Just 17 miles south (remember, though, you'll have to cross the border and waits are common), for dog racing, jai alai exhibitions and festive outdoor shopping plazas. Also check out the Tijuana Cultural Center, which hosts a museum, performing arts theater, restaurant and shops. To get there, you can take the San Diego Trolley light rail, which runs from the city to the Mexican border. If you plan to drive your own car, beware: you must purchase special auto insurance to drive in Mexico (check with your insurer). Note: Most rental car agencies do not permit renters to drive into Mexico.

Surfing: The North County beach cities (about 25 - 30 miles north of San Diego) of Solana Beach, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Encinitas and Leucadia are paradise for surfer dudes and dudettes. You can rent boards and take lessons or just go to any one of these beaches with a picnic and watch the semi-pros catch the waves. Leucadia Surf School boasts instructors with "college degrees and media credits who are local Leucadians"; they'll even answer questions in advance via e-mail.

For a lovely, pastoral excursion after wandering around the city, why not step onto the Coronado Ferry for a trip to the little island located in San Diego Bay? The ferry departs from the foot of Broadway or the Convention Center and drops you off at the Ferry Landing Marketplace, where you can shop for trinkets, have a cold one and then wander down to the beach next to the pier. Or you can grab a cab and head for the historic Victorian Hotel del Coronado and sip a margarita on one of its breezy porches until it's time to head back to San Diego. For families, Glorietta Bay is listed as one of the top beaches in the world and has playgrounds, picnic areas and paddleboat rentals.

With over 90 courses in the county, San Diego is a duffer's dream. The year-round fantastic weather also means you can reserve with confidence; it's rare that you'd miss your tee-time because of rain, although early morning fog can be a problem if you're booking a course close to the sea. A few of our favorite courses include the beautiful Torrey Pines, the venue for the 2008 U.S. Open; Carmel Mountain Ranch Country Club, which has challenging greens and mountain views; and the Mission Bay Golf Course, an inexpensive municipal course that's the only one in the area to offer night golf.

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