Champagne Terry's top tourist tips

By: S. Terry Canale, MD

By S. Terry Canale, MD

San Diego has so much to see and do that compiling this list was especially difficult. I’ve tried to include things to appeal to a variety of interests, but I’m sure I’ve missed somebody’s favorite. So, take this as a starting point for exploring San Diego!

Balboa Park
Billed as the nation’s “largest urban cultural park,” Balboa Park encompasses 14 museums, several performing arts venues (including the Old Globe Theater), beautiful gardens, and the San Diego Zoo, in addition to unique shopping and restaurants.

The San Diego Zoo is one of the finest zoos in the United States. It’s immense, so taking the mobile tour to see the highlights is a good idea. This week, the Old Globe Theater is presenting Death of a Salesman and Emma: A Musical Romantic Comedy. The Museum of Man is, appropriately, featuring an exhibition on Strange Bones: Curiosities of the Human Skeleton.

Take the ferry to Coronado, visit the beaches, and enjoy a variety of specialty shops and fine restaurants. Admire the old-style architecture of the Hotel del Coronado to, where Edward, Prince of Wales, supposedly met Wallis Simpson and Frank Baum was inspired to create the Land of Oz.

USS Midway
The USS Midway is now an aircraft carrier museum; take the tour with a knowledgeable guide.

USS Midway

Gaslamp Quarter
With all meticulously restored brick-and-mortar grandeur, the historic Gaslamp Quarter has some of the city’s best restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. From international cuisine to exotic shopping opportunities, urban adventurers will want to make a night of it in the Gaslamp Quarter.

La Jolla
La Jolla, just north of San Diego, offers beautiful beaches, boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants. The Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve contains 2,000 acres with unspoiled beaches, 8 miles of trails, a visitor center, and guided nature walks on weekends. You might even spot some California gray whales on their annual migration from Alaska to Mexico.

Hornblower Cruises
Hornblower Cruises offers 3-hour dinner cruises (7:00–10:00 pm) every evening, with a full-moon dinner cruise on Feb. 18. Whale-watching cruises also are available.

Mission Bay
The largest man-made aquatic park in the country, Mission Bay Park offers a wide range of recreational activities. SeaWorld provides 200 acres of shows, rides, and animal encounters.

Old Town
The early history of San Diego is preserved in the Old Town State Historical Park, Whaley House Museum, Heritage Park, and Presidio Park, where Father Junipero Serra founded the first of California’s Spanish missions in 1769. Now Old Town offers shopping centers, a variety of restaurants, and the Chargers football stadium.

Little Italy
Billed as a “hip and historic urban neighborhood,” Little Italy offers restaurants, art galleries, specialty stores, and a Farmers’ Market every Saturday.

59-Mile Scenic Drive
With access to an automobile, you can spend from 3 hours to an entire day, driving from the Embarcadero in San Diego through Harbor Island, Mission Bay, La Jolla, Old Town, Balboa Park, and the Gaslamp Quarter. Information and a map are available at the International Visitor Information Center (W. Broadway and Harbor Drive).

Dining out
With thousands of fine restaurants, it’s nearly impossible to recommend just a few, but here are some old standards and a few newer “hot spots.”

  • Arrivederci Ristorante, 3845 Fourth Avenue
  • Athens Market Taverna, 109 West F Street
  • Bertrand at Mister A’s, 2550 5th Avenue (12th floor)
  • Café Chloe, 721 9th Ave, #1 (lunch)
  • Chocolat Cremerie, 509 Fifth Avenue (dessert only)
  • Cucina Urbana, 505 Laurel Street
  • Donovan’s Steakhouse, 570 K Street
  • Fluxx, 500 4th Avenue (upscale nightclub)
  • George’s California Modern/Ocean Terrace, 1250 Prospect Street, La Jolla
  • Hane Sushi, 2760 Fifth Avenue, Bankers Hill
  • Hash House a Go Go, 3628 5th Avenue (breakfast)
  • Kono’s Café, 704 Garnet Avenue (breakfast, brunch)
  • Marine Room Restaurant, 2000 Spindrift Dr, La Jolla
  • Oceanaire Seafood Room, 400 J Street
  • Terra Restaurant and Catering, 3900 Vermont Street

Special events
The San Diego Symphony performs “The Great American Songbook” with Jane Monheit, directed by Marvin Hamlisch; February 18 and 19 at Copley Symphony Hall ($20–$85) ( “Steel Magnolias” is on stage at the Lamb Players, Coronado ($28-$58). Or, go whale watching with naturalists from the San Diego Natural History Museum aboard Hornblower Cruises ($17-$39).

Tijuana, Mexico
For the overly adventurous or downright foolhardy, there’s always Tijuana. Drive to the border and walk across or take the San Diego trolley from downtown ($2.00, 45 minutes). Don’t plan to take your own automobile; you have to purchase Mexican automobile insurance.