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With an estimated population of nearly 1.4 million, San Diego ranks as the second-largest city in California and the eighth-largest in the United States. The city hosts a diversity of neighborhoods, each of which offers its own unique flavor. The epicenter of downtown is the historic Gaslamp Quarter, which in recent years has seen an explosion of flashy fashion boutiques, restaurants and art galleries in Victorian-style settings. Neighboring East Village is San Diego’s largest downtown community. Known for its funky cafés and live music venues, it continues to attract artists and musicians and hosts San Diego’s September Street Scene – the largest music festival in California. North of downtown is Old Town, which has preserved the city’s Spanish and Mexican heritage, and some of the city’s first houses. Adjacent to Old Town is Uptown, a pedestrian-friendly area that consists of North Park, University Heights, and Hillcrest. The neighborhood – and especially Hillcrest – serves as a center of the city’s gay and lesbian community. Further west, between the airport and La Jolla, is the scenic coastal area, which encompasses beach communities such as Mission Beach and Pacific Beach, both famously popular with surfers and students. If you continue north, you will eventually reach a stunning piece of coastline that belongs to La Jolla, home to some of the most beautiful and safest beaches in Southern California. It is also where you will find one of the region’s most affluent communities and some of the best – and most expensive – dining.
In comparison to sprawling LA, San Diego has the feel of a compact city, and it is tempting to stay downtown. A lot of people do, however, think of San Diego in terms of the whole county, which leaves a lot more to explore. The regional terrain is extraordinary in itself and varies from the Pacific coastline in the west to the Sonoran Desert in the east. Those who travel to the northeast will also come across its snow-capped mountains, while travellers who go south will find themselves at the Mexican border in just 15 minutes. This variety makes the city a favourite for outdoor activities such as hiking, surfing, biking and sailing. Additionally, the long list of family-friendly attractions (LEGOLAND, the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, the New Children's Museum) make it a city that offers abundant entertainment for everyone.
Street food in San Diego is synonymous with fish tacos, and most locals couldn’t enjoy a Padres game without one. But it doesn't stop there. The city offers too many exciting dining options to pass up. Little Italy is an obvious choice for contemporary Italian cuisine, while the Gaslamp Quarter continues to attract cutting-edge chefs who are eager to make a culinary statement. To experience local drinking culture, make sure to also visit the wine-making district (the vineyards are located in the North County, just 45 minutes from downtown) and the abundant artisanal breweries.
Whether you just want a regular black coffee or a signature espresso with a pastry-to-go, San Diego knows how to please its coffee crowd. The city is known for its abundance of coffee houses and has everything from simple, inexpensive cafés to well-established coffee chains, with some of the best and most loved concentrated around Balboa Park.
San Diego’s nightlife suits a wide variety of tastes, and there is no shortage of hip hangouts. From the legendary jazz clubs to the jet set bars, many venues are just waiting to be discovered. The night comes even further alive during the summer, when the usual bars and clubs are complemented by tons of outdoor concerts, theatre and cinema. Note that you can’t buy drinks after 2am.
San Diego is a great city for heart-warming retail therapy. The very accommodating climate provides the perfect backdrop for open-air shopping centers, and there is an endless variety of top quality malls, luxurious brands and vintage shops to choose from. Hipsters are also well served with many small designer boutiques and retro bookstores and record shops.
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