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Off the Brochure Travel Guide: San Diego, California

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San Diego downtownWith temperatures averaging 70 degrees all year round, it’s no wonder that San Diego, California has been nicknamed “America’s Finest City.”

Despite being the second-largest city in California and the eighth-largest in the United States, San Diego retains a neighborly, small-town feel from the inland areas in North County to the sandy shores of the southern Californian coastline.

If you’ve come for the sunshine and the beaches, San Diego won’t leave you disappointed, but there are also plenty of hidden treasures that this California border city has to offer.

FOUR-LEGGED FRIENDS

Though most people might opt to visit Shamu and the rest of his aquatic friends at Sea World, why not take your four-legged pal on his or her own vacation in the sand? San Diego is home to seven dog-friendly beaches, and four of those welcome off-the leash pooches. Nestled a bit north of the famous Hotel del Coronado, Coronado’s Dog Beach is open 24 hours and allows your pet to frolic with the waves.

Beach Dog - San DiegoLocal favorite Ocean Beach allows leashed dogs to roam around at certain times, with a separate area on the north end that allows dogs to run off-leash at all times. And, if you don’t want your dog bringing sand into the car, walk two blocks to the Dog Beach Dog Wash. The self-serve location allows you to wash off your pets and purchase accessories and treats to keep them happy. www.dogwash.com

If you are intent on seeing sea animals on your trip, take a trip down to La Jolla’s Seal Rock. While the Marine Mammal Protection Act prevents people from getting too close to the harbor seals, you can admire them from a cliff above. It’s located at nearby Casa Beach, better known as Children’s Pool. Protected by a sea wall, Children’s Pool is a tide pool that is home to many sea creatures. It’s also a popular place for scuba diving, due to the reefs that are close to shore. www.sandiego.gov/lifeguards/beaches/pool.shtml

BEST VIEWS IN TOWN

For a panoramic view of the city, take a drive up Mt. Soledad and visit the Mt. Soledad Memorial. The cross-shaped monument sits atop the mountain and overlooks the city, offering 360-degree views. www.soledadmemorial.com

Geisel libraryWhile you are in the area, take a short drive to the University of California, San Diego campus. Ranked 38th in the nation according to the U.S. News & World Report rankings, the university is not only home to some of the nation’s brightest scholars, but interesting architecture and sculptures as well. Probably the most famous is the Geisel Library (left), named after the man best known as Dr. Seuss, which is shaped like an upside-down pyramid. Behind Atkinson Hall is the giant rock-like sculpture known as Bear, a 370,000-pound creation by Tim Hawkinson. Stop by Sun God, a 14-foot statute by French sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle, which is part of the larger Stuart Collection, a collection of public art on the UCSD campus. www.ucsd.edu/portal/site/ucsd

ROCK THE CASBAH AND BEYOND

Winstons Ocean Beach - San Diego, CASan Diego has a rich music scene and is the birthplace and home to many musicians including Frank Zappa and Blink-182. Many local bars and venues continue the tradition of San Diego rock. Winstons in Ocean Beach often features local bands on any given day. www.winstonsob.com

Or, you can stop by the Casbah in downtown San Diego. A local fixture since 1989, the venue often gets bands on national tours; however, the small stage area gives an intimate feel that keeps bringing bands back to play. Swing by and you might find your favorite band spinning a DJ set or smaller bands having a CD release party. www.casbahmusic.com

Don’t miss our California Travel section.

GOOD EATS BY THE BEACH

Taco Surf signBeing so close to the border, San Diego’s Mexican food scene is often infused with surf culture. Pacific Beach’s Taco Surf is a prime example. Decorated with surfboards and other surfing paraphernalia, Taco Surf’s menu features everything that you expect to find on a traditional Mexi-Cali restaurant. Try the breakfast burrito (four breakfast items of your choice rolled into a giant flour tortilla), or the carne asada fries (everything that goes inside a carne asada burrito on top of a heaping pile of French fries). Don’t forget their homemade hot sauce – it’s perfect even for those who don’t have a spicy palate. www.tacosurf.com

Another local favorite is Alamo Mexican Café. Decorated like an old-style Mexican eatery, this family-friendly restaurant is located in the heart of the Old Town district. With a great outdoor patio, the joint is perfect for nighttime and has fire pits located in the middle of each table to make sure that everyone keeps warm. The food is typical Mexican cuisine, but the unique dining atmosphere makes everything taste better.

Sipz Fusion Cafe - San Diego, CAIf you are hankering for some good vegetarian food, check out Sipz Fusion Café. With two locations in San Diego, the restaurant features vegetarian dishes that literally taste like chicken and your other favorite meats, as well as some non-vegetarian dishes for those who prefer the real deal. We recommend the Chinese chicken ‘n’ herbz soup (herbs in a mock chicken broth), and the Thai chicken curry, with an assortment of vegetables and soy chicken. www.sipz.com

Head over to the Oceanside Farmer’s Market for a taste of San Diego cuisine, from fresh farm-grown produce to local ceviche. The farmers market takes place every Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the corner of Coast Highway and Pier View Way. www.msoceanside.com

Another nearby beach city to check out is Huntington Beach in Orange County. Check out Ask the Locals Travel Guide: Huntington Beach, CA.

SPOOKY HISTORY LESSONS

Whaley HouseThe Old Town district of San Diego offers some spooky touring option that you might dare to venture into. You may be familiar with the ghost-laden Hotel del Coronado, but did you know that the Whaley House has been named one of the most haunted spots in America? Featuring a plethora of ghost stories that you’ll learn about if you go on the tour, the Whaley House also features Greek revival architecture, which was a predominant style in San Diego’s early days. www.whaleyhouse.org

Or, you can do as the locals do and visit the nearby El Campo Santo Cemetery at night for more fun. Established in 1849, San Diego has built over some of the gravesites, adding to the rumor that not all of the people buried in the graveyard have remained between its walls. There are many local legends about the ghosts that haunt this small graveyard, but more than that, it features the final resting places of some of the early criminals of San Diego. www.spookhunters.com

The Flower Fields - Carlsbad, CAFLOWER POWER

How about flowers? Take a quick drive north to Carlsbad to the 50-acre Flower Fields. The fields are overflowing with miniature roses, poinsettias, and Persian buttercups, plus a sweet-pea maze and an American flag made entirely of anemone flowers. On top of all the vibrant colors, the Flower fields offer special events such as arts-and-craft fairs and photography workshops. www.theflowerfields.com

FREEBIES!

While most people head to Balboa Park for the San Diego Zoo, most don’t realize that every Tuesday a number of the museums are free to all visitors. On the second Tuesday of the month, admission to the Museum of Photographic Arts, the Museum of San Diego History and the Veteran’s Museum and Memorial Center is free. And remember, the Timken Museum of Art is always free! www.balboapark.org

By Michelle Castillo for PeterGreenberg.com.

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