By Aaron Feigenbaum
The second-largest city in California and birthplace of the state, San Diego has built itself up from a sleepy backwater of the Spanish empire to America’s 8th-largest city and a center for tourism, shipping, naval activities, and, recently, biotechnology. Located just 20 minutes away from the San Ysidro Mexican border crossing, San Diego is a decidedly international city with a huge diversity of people, languages, and cultures. San Diego not only offers countless fascinating attractions, but, rather surprisingly, a slower-paced, more small-town feel than one might expect.
Originally settled by the Kumeyaay tribe, the area now known as San Diego was claimed for the Spanish empire in 1542 by Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. In 1769, Gaspar de Portola, who also founded Monterey, founded the city which started out as the fort on Presidio Hill. The Presidio was slowly deserted after Mexico took over the area from Spain in the early 1800‘s. After a series of bloody battles in the Mexican-American war, San Diego, along with the rest of California, was surrendered by Mexico to the United States in 1848.
The city went on to host two World’s Fairs and really grew in WWII where it became a major naval and arms manufacturing hub. There was a population boom just after the war but the city suffered from budget cuts during the Cold War, and the collapse of the tuna fishing and cannery industries in the late 20th century, San Diego is now a center for tourism, science, and commerce.
What to Do and See:
San Diego Zoo/Safari Park: Located in Balboa Park, the San Diego zoo is one of the most renowned in the world. It houses almost 4,000 animals, some of which are found at no other zoo in the world. You will see polar bears, hippos, gorillas and the giant panda which is a rarity for zoos. For a more authentic, wild experience visit the zoo’s sister Safari Park 35 miles north of downtown. It’s a huge expanse of land where you can see rhinos, giraffes, lions and gazelles all in their natural, albeit transplanted, habitat. There’s even a replica of an African fishing village, as well as a tram ride through the park or a balloon ride for an extra fee. Tickets for the zoo run at $46 per adult $36 per child. The Safari Park has a large range of experiences to choose from which cost from $45 per person all the way to $599.
Sea World: Home to the always-popular Shamu, the killer whale, Sea World is an aquatic theme park extraordinaire. Among other things, you can enjoy whale shows, dolphin displays, sea-lion/otter programs and then ride a roller-coaster and take a gondola ride over Mission Bay. There’s also a walk-through aquarium with sharks, manta rays, and more. This family-friendly adventure will cost at least $64 per person. If you’re willing to spend a bit more you can bundle your tickets those for the zoo and other attractions.
Coronado Island: Home to a naval air station and a Navy SEALS center, Coronado Island is also a pleasant, picturesque locale that’s great for a relaxed day of strolling, swimming and sunbathing. You can see the house that Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum rented, or take a tour of the stunning Hotel del Coronado.
Downtown San Diego: The downtown area hosts a wide range of attractions including the Gaslamp Quarter which showcases a number of impressive Victorian homes and the Maritime Museum which is home to many vessels including the world’s oldest active sailing ship Star of India. There’s also the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum, one of San Diego’s star attractions. For $20 per adult $10 per youth you can get an in-depth history of the vessel’s Cold War history and see how sailors lived in it for months on end. There are fighter jets on the top deck, as well as older aircraft below.
Legoland: If you’re driving with kids to San Diego then this is a perfect stop along the way. Located in Carlsbad half an hour north of San Diego, Legoland is chock full of family fun with drivable Lego cars, a Lego water park, a pirate-themed ship ride, a rail ride through a Lego medieval castle themed area, and Lego replicas of famous American cities. If you only want to buy tickets to Legoland, the online prices run from $76 per adult and $66 per child. The water park and aquarium are charged additionally.
Eat and Daven:
The Grille is San Diego’s only glatt kosher restaurant. It’s a bit out of the way but the drive might be worth it for the unique menu that blends American, Israeli, and Mexican cuisine. The Emet Market is attached to the restaurant for your shopping needs. (6548 El Cajon Blvd., (888)-418-1437, thegrillesd.com)
There is a Ralph’s and Albertson’s downtown, both of which carry select kosher items. You can also find a Ralph’s kosher experience in the upscale La Jolla district (8657 Villa La Jolla Drive, (858)-597-1550).
There are a number of frum shuls in San Diego including:
1. Beth Jacob Congregation at 4855 College Avenue (858)-287-9890)
2. Chabad of Downtown San Diego at 472 Third Ave. (619) 702-8518
3. Kehillas Torah at 14133 Via Alisal (858) 829-9648
-The Hotel del Coronado on Coronado Island has hosted 10 U.S. Presidents and has the distinction of hosting the first presidential dinner outside the White House in 1970. The hotel is also the largest wooden structure in the U.S.
-The library of UC San Diego owns the world’s largest collection of Dr. Seuss manuscripts. Dr. Seuss, otherwise known as Ted Geisel, lived in La Jolla.
-Charles Lindbergh had his plane Spirit of St. Louis built in San Diego and he tested it on the runway of what’s now the San Diego International Airport, before his famous 1927 transatlantic flight.