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Things to Do in San Diego - page 2

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Whaley House Museum
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7 Tours and Activities

If walls could talk, the Whaley House could fill history books. Completed in the 1857, it served as the home of the Whaley Family, Mr. Whaley's general store, San Diego's first commercial theater, and the second county courthouse. All aspects of the home have been restored and today it is open to the public as a historic house museum.

On the basic tour, visitors explore on their own, but docents are available to answer questions about the house’s history and ghost stories. Rumor has it the house has been haunted since it was built. The Whaleys reportedly believed the spirit of Yankee Jim Robinson haunted the house. Robinson was hanged on the property before the house was built. According to legend, there is a list of ghosts that roam the house, including the Whaley’s daughter Violet, who committed suicide in 1885.

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Spanish Village Art Center
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San Diego’s largest artist community, the Spanish Village Art Center, is located inside bustling Balboa Park. Originally built in 1935 for an exposition to depict a real Spanish village, travelers can’t resist the center’s charm. Meander across the eclectic, multi-colored tiles of the village courtyard and watch the artists at work. Art collectors will love browsing pieces created by more than 200 different craftspeople. In addition to studio viewing, visitors can chat with the artists, sign up for art classes or attend special events like live art demonstrations.
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San Diego Air & Space Museum
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4 Tours and Activities

The year of 1911 was historic for the field of aviation. In an even that would shape the aviation as we know it, the Vin Fiz Flyer—piloted by Calbraith Perry Rodger—completed the first transcontinental crossing of the United States in an airplane. The flight required 82 hours of total time in the air—although the entire trip, including ground time, was a remarkable 84 days. Today, commercial jetliners make the trip in a little over five hours, and with the ease of transport that aviation has provided, it’s almost too easy to forget the steps that brought us up to this point. At the San Diego Air & Space Museum, however, every visitor, both young and old, can see how the craft of aviation has changed since its early years. Gaze on an intricate reproduction of the original Vin Fiz Flyer, or examine a replica of Charles Lindbergh’s famous Spirit of St. Louis. Military enthusiasts will love the collection of Hellcats and early fighter planes.

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El Prado
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San Diego’s El Prado is located in the center of Balboa Park and is considered by many to be the heart of this most beloved San Diego park. The beautiful Spanish Colonial House of Hospitality is located here, and fully restored to its 1915 splendor. Inside you’ll find visitor information and historical highlights of the park. The El Prado courtyard holds The Prado restaurant, famous for its cuisine and outdoor seating. Just steps away you’ll find the Spreckels Organ Pavilion – an open space containing the world’s largest pipe organ and home to free concerts during summer Sundays. This is the best of Balboa Park, and it would be a shame to miss it.

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El Campo Santo Cemetery
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Ghostly legends abound in sunny San Diego, so spooky stories associated with an old cemetery shouldn’t come as a big surprise.

El Campo Santo Cemetery was used in the mid-to-late 1800s. Some of the city’s early pioneers and infamous figures are buried at El Campo Santo Cemetery. One of the most famous grave sites belongs to Yankee Jim Robinson, who was hung at the site of the historic Whaley House, a couple blocks away. Some say his ghost has haunted the Whaley House since it was built in 1857. As San Diego grew, the cemetery was reduced in size. As a result some graves now lie beneath San Diego Avenue and Linwood Street. Tales of car trouble, chills and misty figures have been reported.

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Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial
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11 Tours and Activities

Mountains in San Diego? Known for its beaches and coastal views, a drive to the top of Mt. Soledad rewards visitors with 360-degree views of San Diego.

Winter days, if that’s what you should really call them, are typically sunny and clear and come with views down the coast and out to sea. Summer is nothing to complain about either, but the marine layer has a reputation for clouding the view a bit on some days. Sunset is a popular time to visit. The panoramic spot is also home to the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial and the 29-foot Mount Soledad Cross. Originally dedicated as the Korean War Veterans Memorial in 1952, today it honors living and deceased veterans from the Revolutionary War to current day.

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Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden
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In the middle of San Diego’s most beautiful park lies what may be its most beautiful patch of land — a three-acre world renowned rose garden with over 180 varieties of the flower. Gardeners introduce new varieties each year, with 2,400 roses in bloom for most of the year.
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Spreckels Organ Pavilion
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The melodious sounds from Spreckels Organ Pavilion float across San Diego’s Balboa Park, treating passersby to a spectacular sound symphony. The organ is one of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organs, set in a beautifully ornate structure and gifted to the city by John and Adolph Spreckels way back in 1914. In addition to its rich heritage, the unique design of the organ thrills visitors with its 4,725 ornately decorated pipes — the largest is 32 feet long! Stop by the pavilion on Sunday afternoon and enjoy a free weekly concert in the park. Summer concerts are especially popular in sunny San Diego.
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San Diego Museum of Man (SDMM)
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In the 18th century, when Spanish settlers arrived here on San Diego’s shores, a band of Kumeyaay Native Americans already inhabited the coast. Though little remains of their settlements today, one of the best places to learn about the Kumeyaay is here at the Museum of Man. Here in San Diego’s only museum devoted entirely to anthropology, artifacts from many of the of the world’s ancient cultures are intriguingly displayed inside. Look at mummies that have been removed from their tombs in the sandy deserts of Egypt, or artwork and pottery from Mayan tribes from modern day Guatemala. Learn about the brutal history of torture and tools of the morbid trade, or peruse a collection of thousands of skulls that date to the origins of man. Some exhibits—like the history of beer—are only on temporary display, whereas collections on the Maya, Egyptians, and Kumeyaay are permanent exhibitions. When finished reading about Mayan monuments and hieroglyphic writing.

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Gaslamp Museum at the Davis-Horton House
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Built in 1850, the William Heath Davis House is the oldest house in San Diego’s Historic Gaslamp Quarter. It was owned by, you guessed it William Heath Davis, but he didn’t build it in San Diego. The pre-fabricated house was shipped to town from Portland, Maine by boat via Cape Horn.

It was Davis’ dream to build a city near San Diego Bay. New Town as it was called, included a wharf, store, park and several houses, but there was no potable water. When Davis lost his fortune he gave up on the city that would later become the Gaslamp District. The William Heath Davis House is also the home to the nonprofit Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation.

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More Things to Do in San Diego

Belmont Park

Belmont Park

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This ocean front amusement park offers thrills for kids and kids at heart. For adrenaline-lovers, there’s the Giant Dipper roller coaster and rock climbing, and if you’re looking for fun at a bit of a slower speed, there’s mini-golf and the arcade.

There’s no cost for admission. You pay as you go, buying tickets or unlimited ride wrist bands. Along with rides and attractions expect beach boardwalk style grub like ice cream, burgers and pizza. If your visit to Belmont Park includes some time at the beach, you can rent everything you’ll need, from surfboards and wetsuits to beach chairs and umbrellas. Belmont Park is also home to a FlowRider® wave machine and the onlyFlowBarrel® in the United States. Pumping 100,000 gallons of water per minute, the FlowBarrel® wave machine creates an endless 10 foot wave.

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Speed Circuit Family Fun Center

Speed Circuit Family Fun Center

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The need for speed is real at San Diego’s Speed Circuit Family Fun Center, which has go-kart racing, laser tag, and a games arena. The three areas are especially popular with groups and often hosts team building events, private parties, and celebrations. Racers receive helmets and head socks and then take to the tracks, which were designed by professional racers.
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LEGOLAND® California

LEGOLAND® California

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Modeled after the original Legoland in Denmark, Legoland is an enchanting fantasy environment built entirely of those little colored plastic building blocks that many of us grew up with. Legoland is split into nine major sections: The Beginning, Dino Island, Duplo, Village Green, Fun Town, Castle Hill, Miniland USA, Pirate Shores, Imagination Zone, and Land of Adventure. At Miniland USA, skylines of major metropolitan cities have been spectacularly recreated entirely of Lego. In Dino Island, a mini steel roller coaster called the "Coastersaurus" curves and dips around giant models of Lego dinosaurs. In Duplo, kids play with water and music. Castle Hill is a medieval castle-themed area. Its main attraction is "the Dragon," a roller coaster that slowly tours a castle. There’s also face-painting, boat rides, and several roller coasters scaled down for kids.
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New Children's Museum

New Children's Museum

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San Diego County is home to more than 90 museums, but the New Children’s Museum (NCM) downtown is a top choice among many families. Every visit brings the opportunity for kids to create something different. With three floors of hands-on activities, craft projects, and play areas, art is constantly being created. Kids are encouraged to roll of their sleeves and create a masterpiece.

In addition to performances and seasonal events, NCM runs a number of regular continuing programs including Toddler Time on the second Friday of the month and Finger Painting Friday on the fourth Friday of the month. NCM is across the street from Children’s Park, offering easy access to a nice spot for kids to run around and let off some steam.

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Liberty Station

Liberty Station

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As a major port and hub of the U.S. Navy, it’s no surprise that one of the city’s most important commercial districts is a former naval base. Once a military barracks and training center, Liberty Station is a cultural hub with a celebrated food market. The many food stalls, small shops, and even art galleries bring together some of the best of each in San Diego and represent the city’s diverse influences. The Liberty Public Market is a food hall comprised of artisan food, beer, wine, cocktails, and the city’s top local flavors.

Spread out over 28 acres, the Liberty Station architecture showcases San Diego’s historically Spanish roots. Many of the historic buildings have been tastefully converted into modern businesses and venues, many stretching along its main promenade. It’s also a major arts district, home to museums, dance companies, music halls, and a popular monthly art walk.

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San Diego Model Railroad Museum (SDMRM)

San Diego Model Railroad Museum (SDMRM)

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There was once a time when traveling by train was the image of American romance— galloping across the open plains on the back of a steaming steel horse. With the advent of planes and automobiles, however, the era of train travel in the United States has long since passed its twilight. Unless, of course, you’re at the Model Railroad Museum, where the power of locomotives is as clear as the trains are timeless. Here at this 27,000 square foot enclosure inside of Balboa Park, railroad clubs have created artistic scale models of classic American trains. Follow a train as it plies the rails of the historic Tehachapi Pass, and look at models for the Pacific Desert Line—a track that was planned from San Diego to the east but never came to fruition. The meticulous craftsmanship that’s gone into the models is nothing short of astounding, and in addition to the models and trains themselves, visitors can learn about the legendary history of traveling the U.S. by train.

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San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA)

San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA)

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Before you even walk in the door of the San Diego Museum of Art, you’re already looking at the piece of art that’s the building’s soaring façade. With heavy influence from the cathedrals and universities of cities in central Spain, the ornamented building is like a slice of Europe in the middle of Balboa Park. On the museum’s interior, the artwork continues with an extensive collection that spans over 7,000 years, from classic paintings by European masters to an array of South Asian art. Compare the style of Francisco de Goya with El Greco or Henri Matisse, or peruse the fascinating global collections from Quebec, Mexico, or China. There’s an entire section of native artwork from the Americas and across the Pacific, as well as gripping photography from some of the world’s original photojournalists. It’s the oldest and largest museum of its kind in the entire surrounding region, and since the temporary exhibits are always changing.

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San Diego Automotive Museum

San Diego Automotive Museum

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From the collection of Harley Davidson motorcycles and exhibit on Steve McQueen, to the famous, 1947 Louis Mattar Cadillac that drove 6,300 miles without stopping, the San Diego Automotive Museum is a cache of classic cars. Here you’ll find a permanent collection of classic American cars, as well as a rotating display of historic cars that define automotive nostalgia. In addition to the collection of nearly 80 cars, there’s a section on general automotive history, a look at the historic “Plank Road” that led to San Diego’s growth, and a scavenger hunt for kids to find the facts about different cars. Visiting the museum takes approximately an hour—unless of course you’re a mechanic or racer—in which case you could spend the better part of the day in this sanctuary of horsepower and design.

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Fleet Science Center

Fleet Science Center

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It’s been said that hands-on, experiential learning enhances education, and if that’s the case, then the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center is helping to educate every person who walks in the building’s door. Especially enjoyable for families with children, this interactive science center has permanent exhibits on everything from energy to California’s water to the journey of cells in our body. Work with your hands at the “Tinkering Studio” inspired by famous inventors, or watch one of the live experiments conducted by the center’s staff. Learn about genetics and DNA and what’s inside of an atom, or channel your inner architect with the collection of 15,000 building blocks. The biggest treat, however, is the enormous IMAX domed theater with movies on everything from Humpback whales to the most mysterious corners of our Universe. This is the only domed IMAX theater in Southern California, and the movies displayed provide visitors of all ages with an enthralling visual feast.

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Japanese Friendship Garden

Japanese Friendship Garden

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Somewhat of a park inside of a park, the Japanese Friendship Garden is a sanctuary of calm inside busy Balboa Park. Symbolic of the friendship between San Diego and the Japanese city of Yokohama, this 20-acre garden has over 200 cherry trees that dot the manicured landscape. In keeping with the tradition of Japanese gardens, the landscape here is methodically arranged so the stones, water, trees, and plants have a natural and calming energy. It’s a place for serene, inward reflection, and also a place where visitors can experience traditional Japanese culture. Stop for a drink at the tea museum and gaze out over the ponds, or wander through gardens that are meticulously planted in traditional Japanese herbs. On weekends, there can be classes in everything from Japanese language to the art of fine calligraphy, as well as a festival for the cherry blossom bloom that takes place every March.

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Heritage Park

Heritage Park

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Heritage County Park provides a view into San Diego’s colorful past. Almost eight acres in size, the park contains several restored Victorian homes and San Diego’s first synagogue, Temple Beth Israel.

It all began after World War II when San Diego’s downtown started to boom. Expansion threatened the buildings with demolition, so private and public funds were used to relocate and restore them. Some of the structures, like the Temple Beth Israel, are open to the public. The first service was held at Temple Beth Israel on Sept. 25, 1889, today it is open daily from 9am to 5pm, unless a private event is scheduled. Built in 1896, the Senlis Cottage is also open daily from 9am to 5pm. The McConaughy House was built in 1887 and is now home to the Old Town Gift Emporium, a store that specializes in Victorian porcelain dolls. It is open Thursday through Tuesday, from 10am to 5pm.

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Old Globe Theater

Old Globe Theater

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Built in 1935 and modeled after Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, the Old Globe Theatre is one of San Diego’s top performing arts venues. It has produced more than 20 productions that have gone to Broadway and off-Broadway, and earned multiple Tony Awards. Enjoy classic and contemporary works, plus the annual Shakespeare Festival.
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Living Coast Discovery Center

Living Coast Discovery Center

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Inside the boundaries of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge is the Living Coast Discovery Center, a small nonprofit zoo and aquarium.

The Living Coast Discovery Center was first opened in 1987 under a different name, and since 2010 has been a working nonprofit. It's on San Diego Bay in Chula Vista, about 10 miles southeast of San Diego, surrounded by marshland. Exhibits at the aquarium include sea life, shore birds, and native plants. There are turtles, sharks, rays, owls, egrets, herons, and several kinds of raptors. There are scheduled live demonstrations of feedings each day.

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Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD)

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD)

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Two locations make it even easier to fit a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art into your San Diego itinerary. The museum's collection includes more than 4,000 works of art created since 1950.

The La Jolla location is perched on nearly three acres of oceanfront property and includes the scenic and colorful Edwards Sculpture Garden. More than a dozen sculptures and installations are on display throughout the museum grounds. The Sculpture Garden is a nice option for families and artists. Pencil sketching is permitted. The downtown location is more historic, set in the former Santa Fe Depot baggage building. Public tours are offered (free with admission) at both locations. Downtown tours begin at 2pm on Saturdays. La Jolla tours are held on Sundays at 2pm. Tours are also held at 5:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month at both locations. No reservations are necessary.

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