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Historic SceneryIt would be unfortunate indeed if your stay in San Diego had to be a short one, but at least you won't have to choose between visiting the city's most important historic sites and photographing its most picturesque. History and scenic beauty conveniently come together in California's second largest city; just travel out to Point Loma to see for yourself.

On September 28, 1542, Portuguese explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo sailed past this rocky headland and into San Diego Bay, becoming the first European to visit what would become the West Coast of the United States. A 14-foot-tall sandstone statue of the explorer, part of Cabrillo National Monument , commands a breathtaking panorama of the surrounding area including downtown San Diego. From the statue's base you can also snap a great shot of Old Point Loma Lighthouse farther up the hill, and it's difficult to take a bad picture of nearby Sunset Cliffs , an area where churning Pacific waves have sculpted bluffs into shapes that artfully play with light and shadow.

More than 200 years later, in 1769, Gaspar de Portolá established a presidio or fort atop what is today Presidio Hill. An interstate runs along one side of the hill and only ruins of the fortress remain, but this historic site is now a lush, landscaped park overlooking a golf course and Old Town San Diego State Historic Park , and the whitewashed mission-style building housing the Serra Museum, with its tower and long arcade, makes a lovely centerpiece for photos of the presidio.

The museum honors Junípero Serra, a Franciscan friar who accompanied Portolá and established California's first mission, Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá . A cross made of thousands of tiles from the presidio's ruins commemorates the site of Serra's first in a series of missions that eventually stretched north along the coast past San Francisco. San Diego de Alcalá was later moved 6 miles inland where you'll find it today, although the photogenic basilica there with its distinctive bell wall is an early 20th-century reconstruction of the mission as it looked in 1813.

By 1869 California had been admitted to the union, yet San Diego was still a small town of far less significance than its rivals to the north, San Francisco and Los Angeles. But in that year, a wealthy landowner and developer named Alonzo Horton arrived in San Diego determined to build a new city, not in the shadow of the presidio, but near the waterfront. The area became downtown San Diego, and during the 1870s, brick commercial buildings sprung up in a district known today for its meticulously restored Victorian-era architecture and local restaurants: the Gaslamp Quarter. You'll get your best view of the quarter's elaborate architectural details during the day, but the district really comes alive after dark when the nightclubs and restaurants fill with people and the warm glow of period street lamps competes with the garish light of neon signs.

The city reached another historic turning point in 1915 with the opening in Balboa Park of the Panama-California Exposition, a tribute to the Panama Canal's completion and San Diego's Latin heritage. The lovely Spanish Colonial Revival-style buildings designed for the exposition were joined 20 years later by several more built for a second exposition that were inspired by Native American, Mayan and Aztec designs. Pick a postcard at random at any San Diego gift shop and odds are it will show some lovely vista within Balboa Park: an elegant tower gilded by the setting sun, a splashing fountain bordered in colorful tiles or a courtyard crowded with tropical plants and lined with palm trees.

Whether you buy a postcard or take your own photos, you'll have all the evidence necessary to convince your friends and family back home that San Diego is one of America's most beautifully historic cities.

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San Diego, CA

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Travel Information

City Population

1,307,402

Elevation

13 ft.

Sales Tax

State and county sales taxes total 7.75 percent in San Diego. A lodging tax, called a transient occupancy tax, of 10.5 to 12.5 percent also is levied along with a 10.5 percent (11 percent at the airport) rental car tax.

Emergency

911

Police (non-emergency)

(619) 531-2000

Hospitals

Alvarado Hospital, (619) 287-3270; Scripps Mercy Hospital, (619) 294-8111; Sharp Memorial Hospital, (858) 939-3400; University of California-San Diego Medical Center, (858) 657-7000.

Visitor Information

996 N. Harbor Dr. San Diego, CA 92101. Phone:(619)236-1242

Air Travel

San Diego International Airport

Rental Cars

San Diego County is served by major rental car agencies. Hertz, at the airport, offers discounts to AAA members; phone (619) 767-5700 or (800) 654-3080.

Rail Service

Amtrak, (800) 872-7245, rolls from the historic

Buses

Greyhound Lines Inc., (619) 515-1100 or (800) 231-2222, has a depot at 1313 National Ave. Greyhound buses and Five Star Tours' eight-passenger shuttles, (619) 232-5040, offer service to downtown Tijuana, Mexico; reservations are required 24 hours in advance.

Taxis

Local taxis are metered. Cab companies include Orange, (619) 223-5555; San Diego Dispatch, (800) 368-2947; USA, (619) 231-1144; and Yellow, (619) 444-4444. Base fare is around $2.80, with a rate of approximately $3 for each additional mile. Limousine service is available throughout the area averaging about $75 an hour.

Public Transportation

Transportation by bus and trolley is available in San Diego.

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