Photo Tour: The San Diego Zoo

Bai Yun, a female Giant Panda at San Diego Zoo...

    The San Diego Zoo is home to over 4,000 animals of over 800 species. It is one of the largest zoos in the world and has an amazing team of zookeepers. It is situated near Balboa Park on a 107 acre parcel of land in the middle of San Diego.  It is always an experience to be able to see these animals and at times interact with them as well. Great for kids and adults alike.  See the giraffes, lions, tigers, African Black Rhinos, Giant Pandas, elephants, birds, monkeys, and much, much more. The San Diego Zoo has an amazing range of animals and also of plant species. They have shows also that display certain animals as they discuss the facts about the animals and their talents. A scenic sky gondola can take you from one end of the park to the other, or take the bus tour first (recommended for a brief tour of the grounds).  Here are some slides from our last trip to the Zoo -

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San Diego, A Diner's Paradise

Pier Restaurant - San Diego, California
    When we think of a place like San Diego, our mind usually conjures up images of beaches and palm trees, sunshine and mostly good weather. Maybe the San Diego Zoo or Sea World as well as the San Diego Bay, the Coronado Bridge, and quite a few Naval Bases.

    What some of us might not imagine is that San Diego is home to some of the finest restaurants in the world and is really growing some culinary roots.  The range of ethnic cuisine here is outstanding. Also, from fine dining to casual eateries, San Diego offers more delicious restaurants than one could possibly imagine.

    It is common for new residents to think that they miss San Francisco, Los Angeles, or New York because of all of the great restaurants there -- but once they begin to realize all of the hidden gems in San Diego's beautiful and unique neighborhoods -- they might just change their mind.

   The great thing also is that there are many ethnic neighborhoods that make some of the most delicious food outside of their countries of origin, and quite a few at that. San Diego boasts some of the best Mexican food (it better -- it is only a stone's throw from the Mexican border), Italian, Thai, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean food. Also there are African, Ethiopian and middle-eastern restaurants that are quite amazing, as well as lesser known regional cuisines.

   For some of the best Mexican food definitely visit Old Town. Our personal favorite is Cafe Coyote. They always have fresh hand-made tortillas and strolling mariachis. The Convoy area is the place to be for Asian specialty restaurants.  For Italian check out Little Italy. Filippi's has some amazing pizza and pasta at affordable prices, and Deborah Scott's Indigo Grill is out of this world when it comes to innovative cuisine inspired by the flavors of the southwest.

     Some of the top steak and seafood restaurants are also in San Diego. Bertrand at Mr. A's, The Oceanaire Seafood Room, and  Morton's Steak House in the Gaslamp area are worth mentioning for steak and seafood -- as well as Anthony's Fishette where you can order some of the best fried fish, shrimp, calamari, and chowder (for a very good price) -- and sit right above the water to watch the activity on one of the many cruise ships that make stops in the Port of San Diego.

Carnival Cruise Ship Splendor Arrives at Port ...
                  The Carnival Splendor as it pulls in to the Port of San Diego

   As far as a more eclectic style of artistic creations in the realm of culinary greatness, San Diego boasts a large amount of restaurants with award-winning chefs, who go to great lengths to provide the freshest local produce and incredible taste in dishes that are at the same time complex and beautiful.  For some of the top dining experiences in San Diego, try a visit to Nine-Ten or George's Modern in La Jolla. Or maybe 1500 Ocean at the Hotel del Coronado for some of Chef Brian Sinnott's innovative southland Coastal Cuisine. Arterra at the Marriott has also won awards for their innovative cuisine.

Check out this video featuring The Food Network's Aaron Sanchez talking about the 'Fish Tacos' at George's Modern La Jolla

1500 OCEAN Restaurant
                   1500 Ocean Restaurant at the famous Hotel Del Coronado

                          Spectacular views from George's at The Cove in La Jolla

       The taqueria scene in San Diego is probably by far the best outside of Mexico and is quite diverse. They each offer their own unique interpretations of traditional Mexican dishes including California-only creations like the California burrito with Carne Asada and french fries.  Some even offer tortillas without lard for the vegetarians or health-conscious folks.  But for the most traditional, who really just want some good old-fashioned Carne Asada tacos, head to Tacos El Gordo in Chula Vista where they will amaze you with the freshness and quality of their tacos that seem to put them head and shoulders above the rest (not to mention that their quesadillas are to-die-for). Perhaps this is why they are incredibly busy every day of the week. They handle the volume easily though as their cooks are very impressive and lightning-fast. Just be aware that the traditional style is very simple. And they only offer a few items. It's definitely a cultural experience and the food is delicious. They also have Orange Bang which is a plus.

   A couple of our personal favorites are The Hash House A Go Go in the Hillcrest area and Tao restaurant in the Normal Heights/Adams Ave. neighborhood. The Hash house boasts huge portions of creative comfort food that must be seen and tasted to be believed. Click on the link to their website and see for yourself. Their breakfast scrambles and 'hashes' are so delicious, as well as all of their creations. A must-visit in my opinion if you are a visitor or local of San Diego.   Tao restaurant is a tiny restaurant that takes no reservations but is well worth the wait if it happens to be full. Give them your cell number and they will call you when a table is ready. First of all, they make their own tofu which happens to be delicious, especially when served with the free mixed green salad (yes free -- they give every table a complimentary salad for starters, and ice cream with mango and strawberries for dessert).  Their fried snapper 'hot pot' is so good we order it almost every time. As well as the garlic chicken which can be made with real or 'mock' chicken. Absolutely amazing... and amazingly affordable. Great service and ambiance too.  The choices here in San Diego are absolutely stupendous. I will admit it takes a while to discover all the top spots, but keep checking our site and we'll steer you in the right direction. Here's a fun video from the Executive Chef of The Hash house showing how to make some of their famous pancakes --

   So the next time you are bout to take a trip to visit a place, think about all it has to offer. Not too many places can offer the variety and quality of cuisine, as well as living, that San Diego offers. It truly is a very special place and is constantly developing to fit the name it has often been given -- "America's Finest City."  If you are headed down this way feel free to email us here at Explore San Diego for some tips on where to go, where to dine, and where to have fun. It's a one stop shop for all ages. I hope you have a wonderful visit if you decide to explore San Diego.

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The Second Home of Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras 3

 San Diego's Mardi Gras seems to be growing by leaps and bounds -- 40,000 expected in attendance this year. People have been partying all night in the famous Gaslamp Quarter with world-class DJ's on the soundstages.

   The San Diego Mardi Gras festivities began on Tuesday Mar. 9 and continued on into the night as revelers decked out in Mardi Gras attire and wild outfits danced to hypnotic beats coming from the loudspeakers.

   The festivities here in San Diego are growing yearly as people from around the world are discovering what a great time of year it is to visit 'America's Finest City'.  Many international travelers and tourists alike have gathered together for this once-a-year event that rivals some of the largest street parties of the world.

The RC44 International Sailing Regatta Comes to San Diego Bay


   San Diego has once again seen the world class sailing yacht races in their own San Diego Bay -- continuing it's reputation as one of the world's finest venues for world class sailing events. To celebrate the return of the most technologically advanced sailing class -- now named the RC44 -- San Diego's new Port Pavilion on the Boadway Pier has been hosting this event from March 2-6, as well as opened it's facility to the public for the viewing of this spectacular series of races. This has been viewed as a 'coming out party' of sorts which hopefully will bring international attention to the Port Pavillion -- which is the Port of San Diego's new cruise terminal and event center -- and put it in the upcoming spotlight for future sailing yacht races of this caliber.

   Some of the best sailors from around the world have been representing their crews and boats -- of which some have already earned prestigious titles, and others who are a bit newer to the international racing spectrum. These San Diego races are the first in a series of events leading up to the 2013 America's Cup competition which will be held in the San Francisco Bay. Following the San Diego venue, the RC44 will be heading on to Europe to continue the series, which is attracting visitors from all over the globe as well as world-wide media attention.

The RC in RC44 is for Russell Coutts, who led the BMW/Oracle Racing crew to victory against Switzerland in last year's America's Cup held in Valencia, Spain. Coutts also co-designed these sleek high-performance sailing machines. Ironically, Coutts, who originally hails from New Zealand, led Team New Zealand to win the America's Cup in 1995, which ended America's reign as sailing champions and as the 'home of the America's Cup', but he then brought it back to America last year, and will be leading the BMW/Oracle boat in this exciting series.
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AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 01: (L-R) BMW... Skipper Russell Coutts with Owner Larry Ellison and crew

The BMW Oracle Racing America's Cup yacht USA-...

The BMW Oracle Racing America's Cup Yacht USA 17 sailing off the coast of Valencia, Spain January, 2010

A Nice Sunny Day in Old Town, San Diego: Photo Tour

   One of the most historic parts of San Diego has to be Old Town -- and if you crave some of the best Mexican food this side of the border and beyond -- then this place is a must-visit. The shopping is also quite unique -- it's a great place to pick up interesting souvenirs from one of the oldest California border towns.

  I took a walk on this beautiful day of Monday, Feb. 28th, and scored these great shots of one of our local treasures --


San Diego's Top 5 Beaches

La Jolla Cove Sunset, California
   Ahhh yess  the beaches. One cannot bring to mind San Diego and not visualize in some way the beautiful beaches stretched all the way down the coast from the North County to La Jolla, Mission Bay and San Diego Bay, as well as the southernmost point of the southwestern United States.  It is a wonderland of beach paradise.

   After living in San Diego for about 4-5 years now -- being a trans-plant from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii -- I'm finally getting a feel for each beach and it's community, and have been slowly learning my way around these places.

   It feels good to know the right place for the occasion, whether it be surf or fun beach activities.  I have taken it upon myself as my duty to represent these beaches fairly and say that these are my favorite beaches in San Diego and I highly recommend them.  They are all beautiful and unique in their own way and I have grown to appreciate them.

Pacific Beach1. Pacific Beach -- Pacific Beach to me is the best all-around beach for everyone.  It is big enough to handle large crowds and has great waves on most days. The lifeguards are great there so it's good for families.  The boardwalk is the best I've seen as far as cool beach boardwalks, spectacular cliff-side views , great sunsets, and people-watching.  The shops and restaurants are also great and worth visiting. One of our most favorite places to dine is Filippi's on Garnet. They have some amazing pizza as well as a dinner that includes Lasagna, Eggplant Parmesan, house salad and Minestrone soup. The shops are quite varied but mostly seem to be hip and eclectic as well as great surf shops and clothing/furnishing stores. They also boast a variety of regional cuisine restaurants which in my opinion definitely puts it over the top of many nice beaches of the world.

You are most likely to see --  
surfers, bodyboarders, cyclists, runners, students, yuppies, hippies, punks, tourists, good waves, hot chicks, buff dudes, skateboarders, college students, big beach, cliffs, more waves, great sand quality and texture, great sunsets, a very cool pier with rental apartments on it, tons of great shops, restaurants, hotels, the very first Rubio's.

2. Ocean Beach   -- Ocean Beach is one of the most unique places on Earth. It is one of the last real 'communities' out there in beach-land. It is a beach that is friendly to all and that spirit is exemplified by the large dog beach that is full of so many dog gone characters running around and charging into the waves looking for tennis balls or squeaky toys.  Everyone's spirit seems to improve when dogs are around. I would say that is a good analogy for this town. Extremely friendly beach town with so much personality and charm.

The Ocean Beach Pier is also one of the longest piers on the west coast, and is also made of cement and is quite sturdy. It's pier is most supreme over Pacific Beach's squeaky rotting wood one (Most of it's ok but in some areas you can see straight through so I like to watch my step on that one).

Ocean Beach Pier at sunset.

   Newport Avenue is where most of the cool shops and eateries are at. It's a bit lower budget than PB for the most part but there are definitely some awesome grinds on this little strip of stores, shops, and restaurants.

   The Sunshine Company is a great place to get a massive beer selection a rooftop deck and a taqueria next door with a window that goes right into Sunshine Company. Also hit up Pride surf shop and South Coast Surf Shop. They have a great selection and a friendly crew.

   The waves in OB are pretty darn great, despite being quite close to the river which at time can make them one of the slightly dirtier waves at times, and especially after a rain.  Overall though the waves in OB are many and excellent. For this reason it can also become quite crowded but still fun.

This photo was taken by Bryan Gener, for any u...
   OB is one of those towns I will always be fond of.  Great, great beach. Most interesting people watching ever.

You are most likely to see  --  
Surfers, bodyboarders, swimmers, cyclists, skateboarders, great waves, dogs and people of all shapes and sizes, hippies, cyber-hippies, street punks, tattoos, piercings, normal people (not too many), cool shops and restaurants, eclectic stores, amazing pier, beautiful cliffs, awesome sunsets, live bands, one of the best Farmer's Markets around.

3. Imperial Beach -- It's quit possible that I put Imperial Beach in the 3rd spot because I don't want everyone to go there or move there or something. Imperial Beach is my spot. It's a quiet cool family beach town which is far enough away from the crowd to feel the energy of the beautiful and vast beach and ocean there. There are also some amazing houses right on the beach which are fun to look at while I'm riding or waiting for those excellent waves. There's not too much going on in Imperial Beach but that's one thing I love about it. From most places there you can see the bullring in Tijuana. It is the southernmost beach in the western United States.

   Imperial Beach hosts an annual sand castle competition that has some mind blowing sand sculptures. I would highly recommend that event. Also the sand is the best in San Diego next to Coronado's pure white grains. The waves there are phenomenal but for the most part uncrowded due to it's positioning right next door to Mexico. And the Tijuana River flows some nasty stuff out once in a while... but usually only after a fairly heavy rain. It is advisable not to surf within at least 3 days of a heavy rain due to the unusually large amount of bacteria in the water. On stretches of good weather, the water in California is generally very nice and fairly clean... but it does get a bit chillier than our tropical neighbors in Hawaii.

   You are most likely to see
-- surfers, bodyboarders, families enjoying the beach, alot of people fishing on the pier (must be some good fish around there), a restaurant on the pier (The Tin Fish -- try the garlicky shrimp burrito it's amazing), dogs (on and off leashes), free parking close to the beach, one of the coolest surf shops in California (The Surf Hut on Seacoast Dr.), one of the best sandcastle competitions ever.

4. Coronado City Beach -- Many people have heard of the famous Coronado Island and it's amazing and beautiful blue bridge that leads to one of the finest places in America. With it's fine white grains of sand and expansive beach, to it's parks and quaint family beach town, it stands as a must see if you are visiting San Diego. Coronado has so much charm and is quite an upscale neighborhood as well -- being home to The Hotel Del Coronado... one of America's most famous historic hotels. It has not lost it's feeling as an extremely comfortable and laid back beach place to dine or relax and get a tan. The waves here are somewhat finnicky but can be good at times. Good offshore winds as well.

Coronado, San Diego. MLK Day 2009.

5. Torrey Pines State Beach -- This beach and area is a rare place indeed and pretty much a must-visit if you would enjoy hiking along a beautiful coastline amongst a rare breed of native trees called Torrey Pines.  There are some nicely paved trails and paths around this area and the beach is long and expansive. There is also a large long parking area where people can park their cars or RV's with ease. It is a popular place though so it sees plenty of traffic through the year, but it is large and able to handle it without seeming too crowded. The feeling of nature there is amazing. The large hill there is a great workout for hikers and bicyclists alike.

View of beach with Torrey Pines State Park in ...

   So whether you are a local or a visitor... I hope this avid beach-goer has inspired you to visit San Diego's beautiful beaches as much as possible. Let's keep them clean and serene for years to come...

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