Places to see in San Diego: It takes something special to be rated America's 'finest city'

Beaches, cafes, bars, caves, museums, sightseeing...there's something for everyone here. But more than anything else, it's the warmth and positive vibes of San Diego that will keep you going back

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It sure takes something special to be the uncontested ‘finest city’ of America. San Diego has everything America has to offer: From beaches and beer to sight-seeing and exquisite luxury experiences, it all resides here. 

From its beginnings as a US naval base, to its surviving the great depression, and finally its coming-of-age in the second half of the 20th century, the city has its history written not only in museums but also on every street corner — through a culture that exudes positivity and a happier outlook to life. 

It’s no wonder that many choose San Diego to form their first impressions of the USA. The fact that it packs so many things to do makes a week-long stay here seem too short. It’s got something to refresh every palate, from the relaxed sacking-out kind to the adventurous backpackers. 

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Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá: History buffs and romantics alike are often overcome with awe in the heart of the bustling streets of San Diego. As a city that has taken leaps in terms of development, the vivid influences of the land are reminiscent of its rich history. You can visit Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá to discover how the Spaniards founded the serene structure back in 1769 or the Whaley House Museum in Old Town to chance upon an appearance of San Diego’s famous ghosts. (There are guarantees of apparitions here). 

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USS Midway: There’s nothing like a maritime museum aboard the erstwhile USS Midway, once the longest aircraft carrier, which is now a full-fledged museum. Do go for the guided tour and a package that takes care of your breakfast and dinner out because it’s truly unmissable.

Balboa Park: If you’re short on time and want to visit many places at once, centre your trip around Balboa Park, a 1,200-acre public park that hosts more than a few attractions. There’s something for everyone here: From the Japanese Friendship Garden and the exquisite Mineral and Gem society to the tribute to El Cid — the medieval hero — you can enrich your knowledge. 

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Old Globe: There are three significant gardens here: the Botanical Building (with its beautiful Lily Pond), a Cactus Garden that dates back to over 80 years and the Spanish-styled Alcazar Garden. You can eat and drink your heart out and revel in the enchanting San Diego Symphony tunes. The park also hosts The Old Globe, which is inspired by the London namesake and hosts only the best Shakespearean plays. There’s always something going on here, so ensure that you have the park’s calendar checked before you make reservations. 

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San Diego zoo: Among the world’s most famous zoos, it is situated within Balboa Park. Spread over 100 acres and home to over 3,700 rare and endangered animals, the zoo captivates the imagination of the young and old alike. The vast aviaries and bioclimate zones not only offer novelty to visitors, but also make the animals feel the comfort of their home regions. We recommend the Polar Bear Plunge, the Monkey Trails and the Australian Outback experiences here. 

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Little Italy: In the Spanish flavours, you would be surprised to find the Italian delights of Little Italy. The Farmer’s Market will introduce you to the freshest fruits, vegetables, and meats. If you want to up the thrill, especially for kids, then Belmont Park is where you should be. Situated along Mission Beach, where you can ride a roller-coaster that’s nearly 95 years old and made of wood. It’s called the Giant Dipper and is what we’ve all grown up drawing as the quintessential outline of the classic roller-coaster. 

Petco Park: Sports enthusiasts shouldn’t miss San Diego Padre’s home stadium, Petco Park. It offers a water view, which is rare for a stadium, and also some of the finest beer to keep those not interested in the baseball action, well occupied. 

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Torrey Pines Golf Course: It  makes for another engaging encounter with the 18-hole championship courses set on a cliffside. It is expected to be home to the 2021 US Open and has already hosted the likes of President Obama and Tiger Woods. The Del Mar Racetrack and the Torrey Pines Gliderport, which offers a bird’s eye view of the Natural Reserve below, are other thrilling attractions. 

Harbour Island: Once you’ve had your fill of adventure and discovery, there’s nothing like perching at a vantage point to take in the gorgeous sceneries and coastal landscapes. From the Harbor Island, you can jet ski your way to Liberty Station, and capture some of the finest sights. Or you can settle down at the Sunset Cliffs and watch the sun take its daily dip into the ocean. 

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La Jolla Cove: For true luxury seekers, the La Jolla Cove is a must-visit. The upscale village hosts some legendary stores, galleries and boulevards. It isn’t called the jewel of Southern California for nothing. It’s here that the culinary delights of San Diego begin. La Jolla’s NINE-TEN Restaurant is located within the Grand Colonial Hotel and exemplifies California’s farm-to-table philosophy under the leadership of Chef Jason Knibb. The Michelin-starred restaurant offers a popular dinner where patrons can enjoy great meals, wines, and views. George’s At The Cove is another of La Jolla’s gastronomic delights. You can take in sweeping views of the ocean on the terrace of the restaurant and feast on the finest fish tacos in all of San Diego. The produce is sourced from nearby farms and is prepared in an authentic Californian style.    

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Gaslamp Quarter: For more classic American fare head to the Searsucker Restaurant in the bustling Gaslamp Quarter. From a bottomless brunch to a hip-hop one (on the 2nd Saturday of every month), the restaurant offers a unique charm in a breezy setting with a hint of laidback luxury. For a more polished affair, we’d recommend Mister A’s restaurant on Banker’s Hill. Recently ranked among the most scenic restaurants in all of America, it plays its youthful card by promoting #misterasrestaurant and inviting guests to share their glimpses of the views and their experiences of food. What better testimony does a restaurant need than a crowd-sourced catalogue of memories? 

Fairmont Grand Del Mar resort:  San Diego spoils you for choice when it comes to luxury stays. You can role play your way into the 249-room Spanish Colonial hallways of the Fairmont Grand Del Mar resort, which offers four pools, the choicest restaurants, an 18-hole golf course, an equestrian centre, and a Cadillac Escalade car service! Staying with the antique hotel experience, we’d also recommend The Lodge at Torrey Pines, which sits on a rocky cliff above the ocean. Its wooden interiors have colonial touches and are a stark contrast to the deep blue views outside. 

The Horton Grand Hotel:  If you’re looking for a more contemporary option,the L’Auberge Del Mar could be your pick with its expansive spaces and sprawling views of the ocean. Since Balboa Park is the go-to destination for most San Diego tourists, it would make sense to stay in the vicinity. The Horton Grand Hotel, one of the leading hotels, is just about a mile away from the park. Inspired by historic style and ready to take on the needs of today’s tourists, the Horton Grand offers ample tourist-friendly attractions and services to its guests.

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WHERE TO STAY: San Diego is home to some truly luxurious hotels. Check these out

Fairmont Grand Del Mar: 5300 Grand Del Mar Ct, San Diego, CA 92130; Rs 45,000/night 

Park Hyatt Aviara Resort: 7100 Aviara Resort Drive, Carlsbad, CA 92011; Rs 36,000/night 

The US Grant: 326 Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101; Rs 22,000/night 

Hotel del Coronado:  1500 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA 92118; Rs 31,000/night 

HOW TO REACH: Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, and Lufthansa have daily flights from Mumbai and Delhi to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Connecting flights from these cities to San Diego take 60 and 90 minutes, respectively. Business-class return fare on code share start at Rs 2.50 lakh.

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