By Mark Hiss
High-end nightclubs. Adventurous dining. Hypermodern architecture. What happened to that nice little Navy town of San Diego? Well, that sleepy burg has woken up and it wants to party. Growth has been fast and furious over the past 2 decades and this Southern California city now finds itself with a glittering skyline and a fresh attitude. With its beaches and theme parks it's still one of the most family-friendly destinations in the United States, but the nearly nightly bacchanalia in the Gaslamp Quarter leaves no doubt this is not your father's San Diego.
Things to Do
San Diego's shining jewel is Balboa Park, a 1,100-acre oasis in the heart of the city. Featuring meticulously maintained gardens, hiking trails, and recreational opportunities, it's also the nation's largest urban cultural park, the setting for 15 museums. And if that's not enough, the park is where you'll also find the world famous San Diego Zoo. The city's rollicking downtown Gaslamp Quarter, highlighted by its dazzling Victorian architecture, is where both locals and visitors go for shopping, dining, and nightclubbing.
With weather that is almost always pleasant, San Diego is a year-round beach town (though water temperatures can be chilly in winter). With some 70 miles of coastline, there's most likely a beach that's just right for you. Looking for a nonstop party? Join the parade along the Mission Beach and Pacific Beach boardwalk. Family in tow? Coronado is just the place. Trying surfing for the first time? La Jolla Shores is forgiving. Au naturel sunbathing? Head to Black's Beach.
Restaurants & Dining
The locavore movement is in high gear here, with menus featuring generous portions of San Diego-sourced products, from seafood and beef to fruits and vegetables. Mexican food is a high priority, too, with the humble fish taco -- an immigrant from Baja California -- solidly entrenched as the city's favorite fast food. On the tonier side are the sumptuous restaurants of La Jolla, including two of the area's signature spots (both featuring stupendous views): The Marine Room and George's at the Cove.
Nightlife & Entertainment
San Diego is a capital of American theater, having originated numerous award-winning productions, some of which have ended up on Broadway. Leading the pack are the Old Globe Theatre and La Jolla Playhouse, both Tony Award winners for outstanding regional theater. Those who want to break a sweat on the dance floor need look no further than the city's nightlife nerve center, the Gaslamp Quarter. It offers glitzy dance and supper clubs, as well as bars (from dive to swanky) and live music venues.