Postcard from America’s finest city

San Diego
Downtown San Diego at sunset. |

San Diego isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of California. That is understandable given the prominence of Los Angeles and San Francisco in all things culture and media.

Yet, San Diego is a destination in its own right. So much so that “America’s finest city,” as San Diego bills itself, is the perfect citycation.

What to do and see

As one might imagine, given its location along California’s coast, the Pacific has had a huge influence on San Diego’s development. This location became militarily strategic after the Panama Canal opened in 1914, leading to San Diego becoming the home port of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet.

Many visitors gravitate toward the harbor, known locally as the Embarcadero. Located a short walk from the heart of downtown, a paved path runs along the Embarcadero. Popular with locals, it makes for nice walks at sunrise or sunset.

Moored at the Maritime Museum are several historic vessels, including the massive former USS Midway aircraft carrier — once the world’s largest ship — and the Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship.

If you’re into trains, stop by the Santa Fe Depot, San Diego’s 101-year-old train station. Alternatively, try people-watching in the Little Italy neighborhood during the weekly Saturday farmers market. Afterward, do lunch at Anthony’s Fish Grotto, a local institution since 1946.

San Diego
The Star of India at the Maritime Museum of San Diego. |

In the evening, the place to be is the Gaslight Quarter.

This 16-square-block neighborhood, known for buildings dating to the late Victorian and early Edwardian eras, is full of restaurants that range from good to touristy and not so great. For dinner, I recommend the Hawaiian fusion restaurant Roy’s (temporarily closed because of coronavirus).

Weekends are also best spent at Balboa Park, one of the country’s greatest city parks.

Spend time admiring the ornate architecture of buildings temporarily erected for the Panama-California Exposition of 1915, which was held in competition with a world’s fair up the coast in San Francisco. Visitors can easily spend all day exploring the 17 museums and cultural institutions, including the Museum of Art and Museum of Us, the latter of which was called the Museum of Man until wokeness forced a renaming.

Another option is a day trip to La Jolla, where spectacular coastal views and world-class beaches await visitors. This is also home to the Louis Kahn-designed campus of the Salk Institute — a major draw for architectural enthusiasts.

Where to stay

I enjoyed my stay at The Westgate Hotel, which was known pre-pandemic for its elegant Sunday brunch.

The 1960s downtown high-rise has an interior décor reminiscent of a grand old European hotel. On the hotel’s walls and in its public spaces are both original and high-quality reproduced art. (Keep an eye out for the Gainsborough.)

"Spires and Crosses" is a weekly travel column. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter and Instagram.

Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.

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