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Enjoy sunny San Diego: The city’s outdoor attractions are must-see

Marci and Melanie DeWolf
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USS Midway Museum (center foreground) docked at Navy Pier in downtown San Diego.

San Diego is ideal for vacationing families. Theme parks, kids museums and 70 miles of beaches hold appeal for all ages.

This locale is well suited for the active outdoor lifestyle and is blessed with dependable sunshine, typically 267 days a year. As California’s second-largest city, it is filled with historic sights, botanical gardens and quick access to nearby beach towns.

In addition to the city’s reputation as a mecca for the laidback and unhurried, San Diego has a deeper purpose. It is a nautical town with a strong Navy and military presence. Historic ships, like the USS Midway, are permanently docked here. The city played a prominent role during World War II and produced 162 airplanes in one week after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Spectacular views of the waterfront and downtown can be seen from high atop the Cabrillo National Monument.

The best way to discover a new city is on a citywide narrated tour. The Old Town Trolley tours give an overview of 100 of the city’s key attractions. It goes on a 25 mile loop, visiting 10 neighborhoods with 10 destination stops. Visitors can hop on or off with frequent pickups at all stops.

A walking tour around Old Town San Diego State Historic Park conveys a cultural connection to Mexico with authentic cuisine, crafts and architecture. Old Town was California’s original capital and San Diego the state’s first Spanish settlement, in 1769.

Balboa Park, crown jewel of San Diego, is the largest urban cultural park in the country. It offers art, music and performances year-round. This vast cultural expanse is known for its red tile roofs and soaring towers.

The park is almost a city within a city. It encompasses 1,400 acres, 19 gardens, 15,000 trees and 17 museums. The sweet Japanese Friendship Garden is serene and elegant, enhanced by streams and bridges.

The San Diego Zoo, one of the world’s largest, is contained within the park. It has 3,700 animals, exhibiting some of Earth’s rarest species. The Spreckels organ pavilion’s immense outdoor pipe organ is said to be the largest in the world.

The excitement builds aboard San Diego’s many bay cruises. Frolicking sea lions living on bait barges entertain on the Hornblower Harbor Cruises. These have an environmental focus enhanced by onboard exhibits of bay marine life. One- or two-hour narrated cruises point to 50 landmarks and historic sites.

The popular USS Midway Museum is celebrating the Battle of Midway’s 75th anniversary. Kids can attend free through Dec. 15.

For lodging, the Porto Vista Hotel in Little Italy is art- and culture-centric. The 190-room boutique hotel has rotating art exhibits in the elevator and lobby as well as abstract art panels in the lounge. The hotel offers art classes and has an in-house art director.

San Diego’s culinary specialties are spotlighted at the Little Italy Food Hall, where six local vendors fill a 6,000-square-foot space. Patrons can dine outside in the airy Piazza della Famigia with a view of the bay.

Morning Glory Restaurant, a millennial hangout, is known for its creative brunches and offbeat décor. Vibrant pinks and greens spark an ’80s vibe, as does a 30-foot neon pink flower sculpture in the main dining room. Souffle pancakes and champagne vending machines are part of the charm.

COVID-19 safety protocols and guidance are in place to protect tourists as part of the state’s safe reopening plan. Dine-in restaurants are operating at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is lower. Outdoor dining is a favored option. Movie theatres, churches, museums, zoos and aquariums are also at the 25% threshold.

San Diego is two hours south of Los Angeles and 30 minutes north of Tijuana, Mexico. For more information go to sandiego.org.

The Junípero Serra Museum in San Diego's Old Town.