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Southern California Close-Ups: San Diego, Coronado and La Jolla

The city to the south is both kid- and adult-friendly, with cultural offerings, outdoor attractions, revitalized neighborhoods and great restaurants and bars.

June 03, 2012|By Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
  • Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times
Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times (m46f6vpd20120531153921/600 )

San Diego could be improved. If the county had 75 miles of beaches instead of 70. If the Padres won a World Series or the Chargers won a Super Bowl. Or if the municipal sloganeers dropped "America's finest city" in favor of "You stay classy, San Diego."

But this is nit-picking. Besides its most obvious tourist attractions — the beaches, the zoo and Old Town — San Diego's downtown has interesting edges, several old neighborhoods are showing new vigor, and everybody seems to be brewing artisan beer. It's kid-friendlier than San Francisco, cooler than the desert and healthier than just about any place. It's true that many San Diegans claim to hate all things L.A., but between complaints, they've built a destination that's likely to keep Angelenos coming forever. Remember the sunscreen, leave your Dodgers hat in the trunk and enjoy.

For the second installment in 2012's Southern California Close-Ups, here are 11 micro-itineraries in San Diego, Coronado and La Jolla — nothing comprehensive, just a beginning, based on one prodigal son's samplings in the last few months. (Before spending the last 20 years in Los Angeles, I spent about 24 in San Diego.) Later this year, we'll return for the northern part of San Diego County, including Del Mar, Carlsbad and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, formerly known as the Wild Animal Park.)

PHOTOS: San Diego sights

1. San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo ( Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times )

For all the attention it gets, the San Diego Zoo (2920 Zoo Drive, San Diego) boils down to about 3,700 animals on 100 acres — not unlike certain college campuses. But instead of four years, you spend a full day, beginning at the 9 a.m. opening. Use the bus or Skyfari aerial tram to trim walking time. And be glad that, unlike the Los Angeles Zoo, this one has a pleasant full-service restaurant: Albert's, in the Lost Forest. At $32 a kid, the zoo costs about half as much as SeaWorld, and parking is free. Of course, your teenager may still drag his or her feet. That's when you disclose that the first YouTube video ("Me at the Zoo," posted April 23, 2005) was an 18-second clip of YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim standing in front of an elephant at the San Diego Zoo, mumbling about its trunk. Never mind the biology, kids. Come for the ancient Internet history!

2. Balboa Park

Balboa Park ( Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times )

Even if you omit the zoo, Balboa Park (1549 El Prado, San Diego) is among the most inviting and enlightening public spaces on the West Coast. Its 1,200 acres include more than a dozen museums (fine art, folk arts, photographic arts, cars, planes, trains, anthropology, natural history, sports) and several performing arts venues, most notably the Old Globe theaters. Then there are the gardens, the reflecting pool and a few restaurants. When you've had enough, get a bite in one of the resurgent old neighborhoods nearby. In addition to downtown and Hillcrest, there's North Park, where craft beer and well-wrought sandwiches await at Tiger! Tiger! (3025 El Cajon Blvd., San Diego). Or South Park, where you can get a burger, beer and picnic-table seat while the kids gobble hot dogs and goof off in the play area at the Station Tavern (2204 Fern St., San Diego). Or explore Adams Avenue, about 2 miles north of the park. On the 2800 and 2900 blocks in the University Heights area, you'll find plenty of antiques stores. You'll want to pause for pizza and beer at the Blind Lady Ale House (3416 Adams Ave., San Diego). Then maybe catch an arty foreign film at Kensington's arty old Ken Cinema (4061 Adams Ave., San Diego). Adams Avenue's merchants host street fairs with music in April, June and September (www.adamsavenuebusiness.com).

3. East Village

A statue of Tony Gwynn stands next to Petco Park ( Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times )

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