San Diego Stories and Tips

San Diego - Notes/Thoughts

Mexican Border Photo, San Diego, California

This is a great trip, especially for a long weekend or alongside a business trip; there are tons of beautiful beaches, sunny skies, and lots of attractions for kids and romantics alike. First thing's first, and I would say that whether you have a computer at home or not, after landing, check out the visitors office within the airport. They have several "San Diego This Week" guides. Those include highlights of the city for that week; they include coupons, maps, phone numbers, and must-see attractions. They’re free, so take 5 minutes and check it out.

There are no toll roads in San Diego, so enjoy the freeway system while in town BUT make note that their driving laws (on turning, for example) are very different from what you are probably used to. San Diego is comprised of several different neighborhoods—all allowing you to experience something different. There is downtown, which includes the six-block shopping mall; Horton Plaza; the Embarcadero waterfront; the Gaslamp quarter, which includes dining and shopping; Seaport Village; Old Town; Balboa Park; Mission Bay; Hillcrest/Uptown; and Coronado.

There is a restaurant here for everyone—fancy to casual and cheap to ultra-expensive. The same goes for types of cuisine—I challenge you to go here and leave saying that you couldn’t find a place to eat. Horton Plaza is in the heart of downtown San Diego, and it’s a must-stop for an afternoon of shopping or just walking around. There are over 100 shops, restaurants, art galleries, and arcades here—fun for everyone. For those who like antiques, there are tons of these treasures in the Seaport Village along Harbor Drive—about 75 shops, constructed to look like a small whaling village. It’s a nice, quieter place to walk around, and it’s close to downtown. The Gaslamp District is definitely the place to go for nightlife in this town. Every storefront is a bar or restaurant (or both), and regardless of the night of the week, people are out in full force here. Parking is tough, so take a cab or prepare to walk (more on Gaslamp in my other journal).

The Old Town Trolley is a real treat and one of the best bargains in town. It is an open-air tour bus that stops at several of the city’s tourist highlights. You can hop on and off, and the tour runs daily. Old Town focuses on just that—the historic beginnings of San Diego. Within Old Town, there is Heritage Park Row, which features seven original 19th-century homes that have now been converted to shops and inns. Balboa Park covers more than 1,400 acres of the northeast Downtown area. The park includes the zoo, many museums, gardens, restaurants, and historical buildings. The zoo, obviously one of the most famous in the world, is home to more than 3,000 animals and also boasts a botanical garden. There’s much, much more on both of those in my San Diego Zoo journal.

Sea World is located at the end of Mission Bay on Sea World Drive. Covering 150 acres, exhibits include sharks, penguins, whales, and dolphins. One of the big draws here is Shamu, the killer whale. They also offer some water rides and attractions that are Disney-esque, like "The Penguin Experience". As with any other theme park, the prices are high but worth it if you are looking for a good family outing. Although we did not stop here, there is another theme park called "Legoland". I guess if you use your imagination, you could figure out what type of park it is.

Although Tijuana is in Mexico, I would be remiss if I didn’t include it somewhere in this journal. Many people who visit San Diego visit Tijuana, as well, so here it is... Tijuana… it used to be for people looking for a good bargain, but now I would say it’s for the very brave, the very curious, and/or the very cheap. From the heart of San Diego, the drive is about 45 minutes. You can get to the border by either driving and parking in one of the many open fields (for a small fee), or you can take the San Diego Trolley to the end at San Ysidro and walk across. (Note: San Ysidro is home to a large outlet mall that you will pass when crossing the border—it is on the California side.) In general, this is a very dirty and seedy area. It’s nothing like any other part of Mexico you have ever been to or will ever go to again. Once you cross over (and it’s not very difficult), you will find vendors selling everything from Chicklets to prescription drugs to arts and crafts and leather. Everything is negotiable, and it is also important to mention that these people live in real poverty. I say that because I have seen people who go there and try to buy goods for next to nothing. Why barter over 50 cents when they clearly need it more than you do?! The buildings in general are very run-down, cracked, and just look like they are falling apart. There are children everywhere trying to sell you anything and everything, and it becomes sort of upsetting (to me, at least). This is a cash society. Although I’m sure some vendors accept credit cards, I would recommend paying with cash and walking away.

I have been told there is more then meets the eye the farther you drive into the city, but if you are like me, when you get there, you won’t want to stay long, basically for fear that you won’t get back across or that you’ll be mugged. People here get aggressive, and they don’t take well to nasty tourists, so mind your Ps and Qs, and remember: you are the minority, and they are not criminals, just poor. If you do choose to stay, there are bullfights, Jai Alai matches, the beach at Rosarito, and a new museum called the Museum of the Californias. Crossing back over is more of a hassle, and the lines get long—really long—so be prepared and go with patience. Although it’s not a big deal provided you have identification, it is time-consuming. You will see that many people drive across the border and park in Mexico, but I do not recommended doing that, since those lines are much longer, and often they want to search your trunk, etc. Plus, California insurance is not valid in Mexico, so if you get into an accident, it is possible for you to be thrown in jail for lack of insurance. The way to avoid that would be to get that clause added onto your rental contract when initially renting the vehicle, or, of course, don't drive over the border. Notes: DON’T drink the water, and Tijuana is not a place to be after dark. F.Y.I. - There is a $400 customs limit.

Overall, San Diego is a great city with warm people and beautiful surroundings. It’s a safe and fun trip regardless of the time of year. For business and pleasure it really is a must-stop city. Highly Recommended.

Been to this destination?

Share Your Story or Tip