For Architecture Buffs
San Diego's historical architecture often features the Spanish mission style introduced to California by Father Junípero Serra at the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá. Ostensibly, the adobe walls and tile roofs made it harder for Native Americans to burn down his churches. Spanish Colonial style was revived gloriously for the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park by New York architect Bertram Goodhue, who oversaw the creation of a fantastically romantic landscape abounding with Mediterranean flourishes.
But San Diego's first important architect was Irving Gill, who arrived in the city in 1893 and soon made his mark by designing buildings to integrate into the desertlike landscape. Gill's structures include numerous homes in Uptown and La Jolla. Gill's First Church of Christ Scientist building, 2444 Second Ave. (at Laurel) in Hillcrest, is on the National Historic Landmark list. Following the Expo, prolific local architects such as William Templeton Johnson and Richard Requa integrated the Spanish/Mediterranean concept into their structures around the city -- most famously the Serra Museum at Presidio Park, the Embarcadero's County Administration Center, Fiesta de Reyes in Old Town (formerly the Casa de Pico Motel), and the Torrey Pines Visitors Center.
Modernism swept through the city after World War II, championed by Lloyd Ruocco; his office, built in 1949, can be found at 3611 Fifth Ave. (it still operates as a design center). The city's steady growth after the war allowed many inspired architects to leave their handprint on San Diego; more recently, though, unchecked development has led to more than a few blunders along the way. The expansion of the San Diego Convention Center, for instance, proves most effective as a ludicrous barrier to any view of the waterfront from downtown.
Historic buildings of particular interest include houses such as the Craftsman-style Marston House and Victorian Villa Montezuma. Located southeast of downtown, the fantastical Villa Montezuma was operated as a museum by the San Diego History Center, but it has been closed in recent years; check www.villamontezuma.org for current information. The Gaslamp Quarter walking tour will lead you past the area's restored Victorian commercial buildings; a stroll along Balboa Park's El Prado is a must, while turn-of-the-20th-century neighborhoods such as Bankers Hill (just west of Balboa Park) and Mission Hills (west of Hillcrest) are feasts of Victorian mansions and Craftsman abodes. In La Jolla, you'll find the classic buildings created by Irving Gill.
Downtown blends old and new with mixed results, though no one can deny the value of saving the Gaslamp Quarter from probable demolition in the 1970s. Little Italy, the hot business and residential district along India Street (between Ash and Laurel Sts.), has been endangered by the building craze in recent years. Still, it's thriving amid some of the city's most progressive architecture. While you're in the central business district, take a look at the sprawling scale model of the city at the Centre City Development Corporation's Downtown Information Center in Horton Plaza (tel. 619/235-2222; www.ccdc.com); it gives a taste of where the city is headed. It's open Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm.
A splendid corridor of contemporary architecture has sprouted around the University of California, San Diego, including the campus's spacecraftlike Geisel Library, by William Pereira. Nearby are the Louis I. Kahn-designed Salk Institute and the Neurosciences Institute, a 1996 creation by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. A free tour of the Salk Institute, one of Kahn's masterpieces, is held Monday through Friday at noon; reservations are required and can be made online (tel. 858/453-4100, ext. 1287; www.salk.edu).
For more information on San Diego architecture, call the local branch of the American Institute of Architects (tel. 619/232-0109; www.aiasandiego.org). And for a self-guided tour of the city's highlights, Dirk Sutro's San Diego Architecture (San Diego Architectural Foundation, 2002; $25) is indispensable, with maps, addresses, and descriptions of hundreds of important structures throughout the city and county. Midcentury fans should check out the Modern San Diego website, www.modernsandiego.com; it offers a neighborhood-by-neighborhood breakdown of the architectural highlights.
Although most years San Diego struggles with too little rain, nevertheless this is a gardener's paradise. A big inspiration for San Diego gardeners is Kate Sessions, who planted the initial trees that led to today's mature landscapes in Balboa Park. While in the park, be sure to visit the Japanese Friendship Garden, the Botanical Building and Lily Pond, and the rose and desert gardens (across Park Blvd. from Plaza de Balboa). And you'll notice both the San Diego Zoo and Zoo Safari Park are outstanding botanical gardens. Many visitors who admire the landscaping at the zoo don't realize the plantings have been carefully developed over the years. The 100 acres were once scrub-covered hillsides with few trees. Today, towering eucalyptus and graceful palms, birds of paradise, and hibiscus are just a few of the 6,500 botanical species from all over the world that flourish here.
Garden enthusiasts will also want to stop by the 35-acre San Diego Botanic Garden (formerly known as the Quail Botanical Gardens) in Encinitas. If you'd like to take plants home with you, visit some of the area's nurseries. Start with the charming neighborhood one founded in 1910 by Kate Sessions herself, the Mission Hills Nursery, 1525 Fort Stockton Dr. (tel. 619/295-2808; www.missionhillsnursery.com). Walter Andersen Nursery, 3642 Enterprise St. (tel. 619/224-8271; www.walterandersen.com), is also a local favorite, located not far from Old Town. Flower growing is big business in this area, and plant enthusiasts could spend a week just visiting the retail and wholesale purveyors of everything from pansies to palm trees.
Founded in 1907 by Kate Sessions, the San Diego Floral Association is the oldest garden club in Southern California. It's based in the Casa del Prado in Balboa Park (tel. 619/232-5762; www.sdfloral.org) and offers workshops and exhibits, as well as day tours to places of horticultural interest; the website features a roundup of all the gardening-related activities happening in the county.
For Military Buffs
San Diego's military history dates to the U.S. Navy's aviation achievements at Coronado in the 1910s. Today, one-third of the Navy's Pacific Fleet is home-ported in the city's natural harbor. San Diego salutes its armed forces during Fleet Week, which takes place from mid-September to early October; it's headlined by the popular Miramar Air Show, with aerial performances by the Blue Angels. For more information, visit www.fleetweeksandiego.org or www.miramarairshow.com.
The city's flagship (pardon the pun) military attraction is the aircraft carrier USS Midway, making its final tour of duty as a floating museum. The Midway served from the end of World War II until the first Gulf War, and it's now docked along the Embarcadero. The San Diego Air & Space Museum in Balboa Park celebrates the history of flight, and has a strong focus on aviation's military heroes and heroines. The park is also the location of the Veterans Museum & Memorial Center, 2115 Park Blvd. (tel. 619/239-2300; www.veteranmuseum.org), a resource center with a small museum that has holdings dating back to the Civil War.
Both Flagship and Hornblower Cruises tour San Diego Bay, providing a glimpse of naval activities; and Old Town Trolley Tours offers an amphibious Sea and Land (SEAL) tour of the bay. At Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma, visitors gain an excellent view of the harbor, including the nuclear submarine base; a museum installation tells about the gun batteries established on the peninsula during World War II.
Just before you reach the gates of Cabrillo National Monument, you can pay your respects at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery (tel. 619/553-2084; www.cem.va.gov). It didn't officially become a National Cemetery until 1934, but remains interred here date back to 1846 and the Battle of San Pasqual. With its row upon row of gleaming white headstones and sweeping ocean views, this is a very moving and inspirational spot. It's open Monday through Friday 8am to 4:30pm, Saturday and Sunday 9:30am to 5pm.
The public is invited to the recruit graduation at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, off Pacific Coast Highway (near Barnett St.), held most Fridays at 10am (tel. 619/725-6400; www.mccsmcrd.com). The Command Museum on the base (tel. 619/524-6719; www.mcrdmuseumhistoricalsociety.org) has a huge collection of Marine memorabilia; it was updated and expanded in 2007 and includes a gallery devoted to the Vietnam experience. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 8am to 4pm; it's free, but admittance to the base requires a photo ID.
For Wine Lovers
Visit Orfila Vineyards, 13455 San Pasqual Rd., Escondido (tel. 800/868-9463 or 760/738-6500; www.orfila.com), on the way to or from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Besides producing excellent chardonnay and merlot, the winery also makes several Rhône and Italian varietals. The tasting room is open daily from 10am to 6pm; guided tours are offered at noon. The property also features a parklike picnic area and a gift shop. Another tasting room and gift shop is located about 2 miles outside the mountain town of Julian, 4470 Hwy. 78, near Wynola Rd. (tel. 760/765-0102); hours are Friday through Tuesday, 10am to 5pm.
Surrounded by suburbia, Bernardo Winery, 13330 Paseo del Verano N., Escondido (tel. 858/487-1866; www.bernardowinery.com), has an assortment of shopping and dining options on-site. Founded in 1889, it's Southern California's oldest continuously operating winery, surviving Prohibition by making grape juice and sacramental wine. The tasting room is open daily 9am to 5pm (later on weekends in spring and summer); the shops and bistro are closed on Mondays. Fallbrook Winery, 2554 Via Rancheros, Fallbrook (tel. 760/728-0156; www.fallbrookwinery.com), produces award-winning sauvignon blancs and Syrahs; a tasting room is set up in the aging cellar, but you need to call ahead to make a reservation.
In Temecula, just across the San Diego County line in Riverside, there are more than 30 wineries that are open for tours and tastings. Mexico's wineries in the Valle de Guadalupe are also within reach; they are east of Ensenada, about a 90-minute drive from downtown.