Return to California

San Diego
© Can Stock Photo / marinm303

San Diego is located on the southern coast of California and has an urban population of about 3 million.  The area was claimed by Juan Cabrillo for Spain in 1542, but the city wasn't founded until 1769 with the establishment of the Presidio and the San Diego mission.  In 1850 California was ceded to the United States after the Mexican-American War.  Today San Diego is a major center for the US Navy, which is its largest employer.  The city is also known for scientific research.


The year round warm, dry climate makes San Diego a popular tourist destination at any time of year.  Temperatures are cooler in winter by only about 9 degrees F (5 C) and summer temperatures are pleasant.  From November to February it is possible to get monthly rainfall of 2 inches (50 mm), but most days continue to be sunny and dry throughout the winter.



  • San Diego International Airport (SAN) is centrally located only a few minutes from downtown.  A surprisingly few number of hotels offer airport shuttle service as the distance from the airport is very short and the city has an abundance of cabs.  The transportation system doesn't link well with the airport, as the Green Line Trolley bypasses the airport on its north side.

  • The Cruise Ship Terminal is less than 10 minutes from the airport.  The Amtrak station is at Santa Fe Depot, which is directly across the street from the Cruise Ship Terminal.  It services the city MTS transit system as well.

  • For tourists, the MTS is an excellent option for reaching various attractions from the hotels along the harbor.  MTS operates the bus system and a trolley system.  The "trolley" is poorly named, as this is a modern and efficient commuter rail system.  It has Green, Blue and Orange Lines all intersecting downtown at Santa Fe Depot and also at 12th and Imperial.  The trolley color for all three lines is Red, which is somewhat confusing.  Day passes are very reasonably priced and can be purchased from automated ticket booths at each station.  Take the Green line to Old Town San Diego, Little Italy, Seaport Village, the Gaslamp Quarter and Petco Park.  The Orange Line travels through the downtown core, one block north of Horton Plaza.

Green line trolley, Seaport Village, San Diego

Green line trolley is actually red, Seaport Village

  • Check out the bus system Points of Interest for connections from the trolley.  An inexpensive day pass covers the trolley and the bus system.  The central hub for buses is on West Broadway between Front and Union in the downtown area.  You can either walk from the harbor to the downtown in about 20 minutes or take a combination of short rides on the Green and Orange Lines to get there.  Take the #7 from downtown to Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo. 

  • Old Town San Diego is also an important transportation hub, as the Green Line connects with numerous buses right across the street from the beginning of the Old Town State Historic Park.  To reach Pacific Beach from downtown, take the Green Line trolley to Old Town San Diego and then the #8.   For SeaWorld take the #9 instead of the #8 at Old Town.

  • The Old Town Trolley Tour is an easy way to visit many San Diego attractions.  It's a hop- on hop-off.  Don't confuse this green and orange "trolley bus" with the red MTS "trolley train" that operates Green, Orange and Blue lines.

USS Midway, San Diego

USS Midway

Things to see and do in San Diego:

  • Balboa Park - the largest urban cultural park in the United States, with over 1,000 acres.  It includes the San Diego Zoo, 15 museums, gardens, performing arts, a carousel, gigantic outdoor pipe organ, miniature railroad, visitor center, restaurants and recreation facilities.  The San Diego Zoo offers a Skyfari gondola ride over the zoo, a 35 minute guided bus tour and a hop-on- hop-off express.  They also have a number of 4D theatres in the park.

  • Old Town San Diego State Historic Park - located in the Old Town of San Diego, this California historical landmark is dedicated to the early history of San Diego.  It includes restored buildings converted to shops, living history demonstrations and free tours.  There is no admission to the site.  The ambience of Old Town continues with the shops and restaurants adjoining the park.  Enjoy a yard of beer at O'Hungry's.  Walk up the hillside to Presidio Park and the Serra Museum.  Father Junipero Serra founded the first of California's 22 missions here.  The mission was later moved a few miles away.  Two blocks east of the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is Heritage Park, dedicated to preserving Victorian architecture.

  • The San Diego Harbor is a favorite destination.  The Santa Fe depot, across from the Cruise Ship Terminal, connects with Amtrak and the city transit system.  Beside the cruise terminal to the north is the Maritime Museum of San Diego.  It offers tours of the Star of India, the HMS Surprise and several other ships and submarines.   Beside the cruise terminal to the south is the Broadway Pier.  San Diego Harbor Excursion offers a number of options from the Broadway Pier.  They also operate under the name Flagship.  Take a one hour harbor cruise, a two hour harbor cruise or a dinner cruise.  Try their Patriot Jetboat ride.  They also operate the Coronado Island Ferry here.  Tickets are sold at the waterfront.  Book online directly with San Diego Harbor Excursion or some excursions can be booked through Viator.   The next pier south of the Broadway Pier is home to the retired aircraft carrier USS Midway, where you can tour the ship and even sit inside some of the fighter jets on the flight deck.  Alongside the Midway on its south side is the Unconditional Surrender Statue and the National Salute to Bob Hope and the Military.  From there it's about a 5 minute walk along the waterfront to Seaport Village for dining and shopping.   Enjoy al fresco dining on the waterfront promenade at the Edgewater Grill.  Next stroll the Embarcadero and then continue south along the waterfront past the yachts, the Grand Manchester Hyatt, the Marriott, the San Diego Convention Center and the Hilton.  The Coronado Island Ferry has a landing at the Convention Center, as an alternate to travelling to Coronado Island from the Broadway Pier.

Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego

Hotel Del Coronado

  • Visit Coronado Island - actually it's the City of Coronado on a point of land accessible by a short ferry ride or a few minutes by car over the impressive Coronado Bridge.  The ferry ride to Coronado Island Ferry Landing is inexpensive and offers the option of connecting to the Broadway Pier or the Convention Center.  You can also reach the island on the Old Town Trolley Tour.  The marketplace at the ferry landing is a popular spot.  Coronado Island includes the well known Hotel del Coronado.  Visit Coronado Beach and Silver Strand State Beach.

  • Gaslamp Quarter - dining, shopping and historic buildings in the downtown.  Horton Plaza is the main shopping mall downtown.  Watch the San Diego Padres play at Petco Park.  The Gaslamp Quarter is the center of San Diego night life.  Use the Green Line trolley to reach the Gaslamp Quarter.

  • Little Italy - the best street side Italian dining and shopping in San Diego, plus a weekly farmers market.  The Green Line trolley stops at Little Italy and it's a two block walk from the station.  Ironically, Little Italy is located on India Street.

  • SeaWorld - well known for its killer whale performances and controversy over captivity of these animals.  Shamu is their mascot killer whale.  From the harbor, take the Green Line trolley to Old Town and transfer to the #9 bus.

  • Mission Bascilica San Diego de Alcala - California's first mission, built in 1769.  Nearby is Qualcomm Stadium where the San Diego Chargers play.  Qualcomm and Mission San Diego are both stops on the Green Line trolley.

  • Visit a beach - Coronado Beach, Mission / Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach or Coronado Beach.  

  • Belmont Park - beachfront amusement park and entertainment center.  Located at Mission Beach and not to be confused with the famous horse racing venue in New York.

  • Old Point Loma Lighthouse and the Cabrillo National Monument dedicated to Juan Cabrillo, who claimed the area for Spain in 1542.  Enjoy views of the San Diego skyline and scan the sea for migrating whales.

Loma Point Lighthouse, San Diego

Point Loma Lighthouse, © Can Stock Photo / siborisov

Things to see and do near San Diego:

  • La Jolla - "The Jewel" is a picturesque, affluent California sea side community 20 minutes north of San Diego.  Visit the Birch Aquarium, Windansea Beach, La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores.  Drive by the Mormon Temple of San Diego.  In August and September, swim or kayak with leopard sharks on an HBK Sports adventure.  To the north, just past La Jolla you will find Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, Torrey Pines Golf Course and Blacks Beach. La Jolla can be reached by city bus #30 from downtown or from Old Town.

  • San Diego Zoo Safari Park - about 40 minutes northeast of San Diego.

  • Legoland California Resort - about 40 minutes north of San Diego.

  • Old Mission San Luis Rey de Francia - about 45 minutes north of San Diego.  Founded in 1798 and the largest of the 21 California missions. 

  • Mission San Juan Capistrano - An hour north of San Diego.  Drop by on March 19th to see if the swallows make their annual spring return appearance.  Visit Laguna Beach at the same time.

  • Cross the border to Tijuana, Mexico.   Ride the Blue Line trolley all the way to Tijuana from downtown.  Then catch an inexpensive bus from the US border to Avenida Revolucion in the Zona Centro. 

Botanical Building, Balboa Park, San Diego

Botanical Building, Balboa Park

San Diego Tours:

Hotels in San Diego:

Downtown, near the Cruise Terminal: - the Manchester Grand Hyatt, a great hotel in a great location.

Mission Valley, SeaWorld- Town and Country Resort & Convention Center

Pacific Beach: - Crystal Pier Hotel and Cottages - The cottages are on the pier and some of them are over the ocean.  Book directly with the hotel and well in advance.

San Diego International Airport - (SAN) - includes list of hotels with a shuttle.

View San Diego map

View San Diego Pics