San Diego is a big city with a small-town feel. San Diego County covers
a vast area, encompassing 342 square miles and extending from the coast
to mile-high mountains to a point near sea level in the desert, but central
is delightfully urban and accessible. San Diego was incorporated
in 1850, and now houses a population of about 1.3 million people, making
it the second largest city in California. As you might expect, San
Diego has a large ethnic population, with nearly 25% of the population
being of Hispanic descent, and nearly 45% of the total population being
of ethnic background.
The city conducts most of its financial business in a single neighborhood,
the downtown district fronting San Diego Bay, in this way resembling New
York more than Los Angeles. San Diego has set some of its most prestigious
scientific facilities on the water-Scripps Institution of Oceanography,
as well as the Salk Institute. Jonas Salk didn't need the Pacific marine
environment for his research, but his regular morning runs along Torrey
Pines State Beach no doubt cleared his head.
San Diego has the ocean to thank for its near-perfect weather. An almost
perpetual high-pressure system from the North Pacific is responsible for
the city's sunshine and dry air; moderating breezes off the sea (caused
by the water warming and cooling more slowly than the land) keep the summers
relatively cool and the
warm and help clear the air of pollution. In the late spring and early
summer the difference between the earth and water temperatures generates
coastal fogs. For the most part, any time of the year is the right
time for a trip to San Diego. The climate is generally close to perfect.
Typical days are sunny and mild, with low humidity--ideal for sightseeing
and for almost any sport that does not require snow and ice. From mid-December
through mid-March gray whales can be seen migrating along the coast. And
in early spring wildflowers transform the desert into a rainbow of colors.
The annual high temperature averages 70°F with a low of 55°F, and the
annual rainfall is usually less than 10 inches. Most of the rain occurs
in January and February, but precipitation usually lasts for only part
of the day or for a day or two at most.
Exploring San Diego may be an endless adventure, but there are limitations,
especially if you don't have a
San Diego is more a chain of separate communities than a cohesive city.
Many of the major attractions are separated by some distance from one
another. The streets are fun for getting an up-close look at how San Diegans
live, but true southern Californians use the freeways, which crisscross
the county in a sensible fashion. Interstate 5 runs a direct north-south
route through the county's coastal communities from Orange County in the
north to the Mexican border. Interstates 805 and 15 do much the same inland,
with Interstate 8 as the main east-west route. State Highways 163, 52,
and 94 serve as connectors.
Unless you're on the freeway, it's hard not to find a scenic drive
in San Diego, but an officially designated 52-mi Scenic Drive over much
of central San Diego begins at the foot of Broadway. Road signs with a
white seagull on a yellow-and-blue background direct the way through the
Embarcadero to Harbor and Shelter islands, Point Loma and Cabrillo Monument,
Mission Bay, Old Town, Balboa Park, Mount Soledad, and La Jolla. It's
best to take this three-hour drive, outlined on some local maps, on the
weekend, when the commuters are off the road. Always study your maps before
you hit the road. The freeways are convenient and fast most of the time,
but if you miss your turnoff or get caught in commuter traffic, you'll
experience a none-too-pleasurable hallmark of southern California living--freeway
If you stick with public transportation, plan on taking your time. The
San Diego Trolley has expanded into Old Town; a commuter line called the
Coaster runs from Oceanside into downtown; and the bus system covers
almost all the county--but making the connections necessary to see the
various sights is time-consuming. Fashion Valley Shopping Center in Mission
Valley is one of the three major bus transfer points--downtown and Old
Town are the others--but because many of the city's major attractions
are clustered along the coast, you'll be best off staying there. Some
buses have bicycle racks in the back. A bike is a great mode of transportation
here; the bike-path system is extensive and well marked. With the large
distances between sights, taxis can be expensive and are best used for
getting around once you're in a given area.
Our experience with San Diego was a good one. We thought the climate
was wonderful, and the streets were beautiful (especially upscale La Jolla).
The setting over the bay is magical. We only visited the city briefly,
long enough to visit Sea World, but we hope to return one day and check
it out a little more.
For more information on San Diego, check out our pages: