This is a follow up to Top Ten Things To Do In San Diego Part 1.
#6 - East Coast comes West - Mission Beach
(3795 Mission Boulevard, San Diego)
Looking for a beach that is relaxed and laid back? Look again! Because Mission Beach is about the closest thing to a classic east coast beach like Atlantic City and Coney Island! Mission Beach is an action beach!
It’s true that with its designated surf areas and lifeguards year round from 9 am to dusk, many people do flock to Mission Beach to boost their tans and people watch (especially in the summer season when extra lifeguards man towers along the beach). But, as well as the usual beach activities, there is also a lot happening at Mission Beach.
In its early days, Mission Beach was home to a summer circus with all the fun of the fair – carousels and stalls. These days the party continues, though the surroundings are somewhat more sophisticated. There is a great night life here at Mission Beach with some of the hottest night clubs in the district and a pace that never stops.
A narrow concrete boulevard runs the length of Mission Beach which itself extends between three different areas:
North Mission Beach – this is where the summer circus began in days gone past. Now it is lined with funky apartments and equally funky clothing and gear stores;
Belmont Park – home of the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster. This is a must-do for the family when you visit San Diego. There is nothing greater than a ride on a Roller Coaster by the sea!
South Mission Beach – here the pace slows a little and as you come to the end of the Boardwalk you will find a pier full of fishermen, so bring your line! Out from South Mission Beach is an artificial reef which has been created out of shipwrecks. So if you are a diver, bring your gear and explore this man-made diving mecca.
If you want to take some exercise – other than strolling through the wonderful shops, or swimming in the Pacific Ocean – grab your running shoes and head for the Boardwalk. You will see that there are orange strips on the beach wall. These are marked at quarter mile intervals. So you will be able to actually measure your run. Great for the enthusiast, and a boost for the would-be enthusiast who needs some focus! Mission Beach is two miles of shoreline … you can do the math! Or, hire some roller-skates and explore the Boardwalk on wheels. There’s one thing for sure, at Mission Beach you won’t be the only one doing something!
#7 - Where it all began - Cabrillo National Monument
(1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive, San Diego 92106)
Cabrillo National Monument is part of the National Park Service and covers 160 acres of native habitat with the Pacific Ocean to its west and San Diego Bay to its east, part of a larger area – 660 acres – at Point Loma, west of San Diego city.
The area was largely undeveloped until 1962 when a new superintendent, Thomas Tucker, took over control of the area. He was concerned that there was not a real awareness of what the Cabrillo National Monument commemorated and wanted to heighten awareness of locals and visitors to the area of some of the history which had led to the setting aside of the area for the Monument which, of course, commemorates the arrival in 1542 of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to set foot on the West Coast of the USA.
The area itself begs to be preserved as it includes such varied terrain as to make it a safe sanctuary to a wide range of creatures with its rocky shorelines on the west home to marine plants and animals, and the ocean and air above both major migratory links.
If you take a self-guided two mile walk, for example, you will have views of San Diego Harbor and city skyline and, between December and March, there is a chance of spotting the Pacific Gray Whale as it passes by on its migration from Alaska to birth and rear its young in Baja California, Mexico.
Check at the Visitors Center for the tides, and then choose the right time to get the most out of your exploration of the tide pools which are abundant along the coastline.
It isn’t only at sea that you can witness great migrations, though. Cabrillo National Monument is on the Pacific Flyway which means that if you are a bird watcher, this is one great place to go and sit! There are over 200 species of birds recorded within the Cabrillo National Monument area.
For more information, take the short walk from the parking area to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse which has been restored to its 1880’s appearance. The buildings associated with the lighthouse, including the lighthouse keeper’s quarters, are used these days to house the park ranger staff and the Visitor’s Center. Ranger guided presentations of the high caliber we have all come to enjoy through the National Park Service are on offer. Remember, if you are planning to do a short walk, wear sturdy closed-in footwear.
Within two years of Thomas Tucker taking over as Superintendent of Cabrillo National Monument, the Visitor’s Center was up and running alongside a 430 car parking area. San Diego residents and visitors alike are now able to reap the benefit of his wise foresight and enjoy this wonderfully diverse habitat.
Remember, Cabrillo National Monument is part of the National Park Service. There are no food concessions on site, and you should take your own drinking water into the area, and picnic either before or after your visit rather than within the Park area itself. That will be your contribution to keeping this area a safe habitat for a wide number of birds and other creatures for generations to come!
#8 - Up close and personal with the Beluga and Friends - SeaWorld San Diego
(500 Sea World Drive, San Diego)
If it is a theme park attraction you are seeking, or just a great day out for the kids, then SeaWorld San Diego is a compulsory must-see! This animal theme park is also a marine mammal park so you can have loads of fun and also learn a little about some of the mammals who share the planet with us, even if we wouldn’t normally get up close and personal with them in our normal daily life! Want to know what I’m talking about – think close encounters of the exotic kind with penguins, belugas, dolphins and whales!
If wandering around a theme park is something you struggle with, check out the Bayside Skyride. This six minute gondola ride takes you over Mission Bay and, with its towers sitting at 80’, will give you great views all the way. Including of the water! This is the only skyride which carries its passengers over a body of salt water.
But if you are travelling with little kids, or you are a big kid yourself, then you will want to check out some of the fun rides that are up and going here at SeaWorld San Diego. Obviously, they will all have a sea-based theme and, yes, you can be sure to get wet on some of them – especially, the Shipwreck Rapids raft ride which will take you through the turtle exhibit and so educate you a little before hauling you under water falls! Don’t want to get wet? Walk right on past the Shipwreck Rapids ride!
It’s not all about getting wet, though. The latest ride addition to the Park is a rollercoaster. But not just any old rollercoaster! This Manta two minute ride is not for the fainthearted – it boasts drops of 54’. This may be the longest two minutes in your life!
If you survive that, though, it might be time for a stroll through Rocky Point Reserve with its entertaining bottle nose dolphins. This dolphin cove is a wonderful exhibit of this species and it is definitely somewhere you should spend some time even if you did come to SeaWorld San Diego predominantly for the adventure of the rides!
For a slower paced roller coaster action than the newly installed Manta, check out the Flume rollercoaster which has thrills and spills and climbs and plunges but also takes time to wind through rocky scenes and provide a narration of the story of Atlantis at the same time.
And if you weren’t satisfied with the view from the Bayside Skyride, step into the capsule of the 320 foot SeaWorld Sky Tower. The capsule will soar you to the top at the rate of 150 feet per minute (that’s fast!) and spin you slowly at the same time. The SkyTower has been in operation for some time, but was recently refurbished in 2002 and is somewhat of a ‘must-do’ icon for SeaWorld San Diego.
Some advice for your visit? As with all theme parks, take some snacks and drinks with you if you have the kids as the concession prices will be fairly steep and the range fairly limited, wear sensible footwear so you can enjoy all the activities on offer, and, above all, allow yourself plenty of time for maximum enjoyment.
#9 - Natural Testament to Survival - Torrey Pines State Reserve
(12600 North Torrey Pines Road, San Diego, CA 92037)
Situated off Coast Highway 101 between La Jolla and Del Mar is Torrey Pines State Reserve, a State Natural Reserve.
Although the landscape here is extraordinary with its sea cliffs and lagoon providing a wonderful natural habitat for a wide range of bird and animal life, the Reserve is named after the rare pine tree, Pinus Torreyana. While the pine itself can live in other areas, the decision to preserve it in this area is based on the extraordinary fact that it can live in such conditions – perched on rocks and enjoying, at best, drought conditions.
The Torrey Pines were named after a leading botanist in the late 1800’s who never actually visited the area. A Botanist in the area as part of the US-Mexico boundary survey wanted to protect the pines, because of the rarity of the condition they live in with hardly any soil. The City Council was persuaded in 1899 to set aside 364 acres as a public park and over the years more land, including the cliffs with the Torrey Pines, was added.
Apart from the pine trees, though, Torrey Pines State Reserve is a wilderness in an urban sea and home to one of the last salt marshes and water fowl refuges in Southern California. The lagoon is vital in order for the successful migration of the seabirds that pass through this area.
Because of the fragility of the ecosystem which keeps all these things alive and thriving – animal and birdlife and trees – there is no camping and no picnics allowed in the area and you will be encouraged on your visit to explore within the eight miles of laid out trails, though the area itself consists of 2,000 acres. Check at the Visitor Center for more details of the trails as there is work continually being done to keep them in a safe condition for use and from time to time rock falls do close off areas of the reserve. The Visitor Center will also be able to guide you as to what you might to expect to see on a certain trail which is useful, particularly if you have limited time available.
Whether you are a resident or a visitor, you may also find it interesting to take in the view from the Torrey Pines State Reserve of another natural phenomenon. The Carmel Valley Faultline is quite easily seen in the cliffs. The Park Rangers will be able to show you the best viewing places for this faultline and others which pass through the Reserve.
Remember, wear sturdy shoes for your walking within the reserve, take layers of clothing if you plan to sit and watch the birdlife for any period of time, and carry in water only to drink. Preserving this area is arguably more important now than it was to the botanists in the 1800’s who had the foresight to set aside the area for us to enjoy today.
#10 - Follow the March - Mormon Battalion Historic Site
(2510 Juan Street, San Diego, CA 92110)
Motivated by a desire to leave Illinois and find a more welcoming and friendly home in Utah, a group of Mormons came to an agreement that their move would be supported by the leaders of the day in exchange for some service to the US Army.
And so it happened that during the American-Mexican war, there was one religious based battalion in action – the Mormon Battalion. This volunteer unit, with a Mormon officer leading but under a Union commander, marched 2,000 miles from Iowa to San Diego, a march which was particularly significant for the American Union as it secured much of the south west and opened up wagon routes. On arrival in San Diego in 1847, the Battalion worked alongside other Union soldiers to build the city’s first court house. Before their part in the arrangement was completed, they continued on to their intended final destination of Salt Lake City. No members of the Battalion were injured or killed in any battles on the way and many civilians (women and children) accompanied the march.
The Mormon Battalion Historic Site Monument was established in 1940 and a Visitor Center at the site was erected in 1960. Originally, the site was very much a place for the Church of Latter Day Saints to educate visitors to their own origins, but in 2010 the Visitor Center re-opened with an emphasis on sharing also the history of the region with less emphasis on the religious aspect.
On arrival at the Site you will be greeted by guides dressed in replica period costume and taken on a tour which uses state of the art interactive displays. On entering a large reception room, you will notice a wall of framed portraits. These images embrace the latest digital technology and interact in conversation with the guide while telling the story of the part that they played in the Mormon Battalion, including the march and other events around the time. The characters literally bring to life their story.
After passing through the room, the story is taken up again with the introduction of the gold panning exhibit which is considered to be one of the most authentic available for public viewing as you are whisked into the history of the era which included, of course, the somewhat frenzied and exciting gold rush period.
There is an opportunity to pan for gold, make bricks and try on replica period clothing at the conclusion of the tour. This is an educational activity which is very popular with district schools as it relays in an easily understood and interesting way a segment of history from the area. The activity is also provided at no charge by the Church of Latter Day Saints and you should not be surprised, for that reason, to also be given an insight into the beliefs and mechanisms of that Church during your tour.
This very popular activity is open from 9 am to 9 pm. The use of technology provides quite a wow factor for what could otherwise be a very dull historical narrative! There are some great photo opportunities at the gold panning exhibit, so remember your cameras!