San Diego Things to Do Tips by Dabs
San Diego Things to Do: 1,004 reviews and 1,753 photos
I made a pit stop at Horton Plaza on my walking tour of the Gaslamp Quarter mainly because I knew that there would be a restroom somewhere, it's more or less an outdoor shopping mall, not a top draw on my list when traveling. But on the way to the loo I did come across Jessop's Clock which I had remembered reading about. The clock has a long history in the city of San Diego, commissioned by Joseph Jessop, a local jeweler, it took 15 months to build and finally began publicly ticking in 1907. It's 1st stop was in Sacramento at a state fair, it then moved to 952 Fifth Avenue in front of J. Jessop and Sons. In 1927 it was moved to 1041 Fifth Avenue and finally again in 1984 to Horton Plaza.
It's said that the clock has only stopped three times, once when a team of horses crashed into the clock, once during an earthquake and on the day of the clock maker's death. That last one sounds like a bit of an urban legend to me but it sure does make a nice story.
The clock has 20 dials, on one of it's faces there are 12 dials which tell the time in places throughout the world.
Address: Downtown San Diego
The Horton Grand Hotel is actually two 1886 hotels that were slated for demolition but fortunately saved, moved here from other sites, renovated and connected by an atrium; the original Grand Horton on the left, the Brooklyn Hotel (aka Kahle Saddlery Hotel) on the right. The Grand Horton building was built by a German immigrant to look like the Innsbruck Inn in Vienna, the Brooklyn Hotel had more of a cowboy flavor, indeed Wyatt Earp resided here for 7 years. This was the only building I went inside while touring the Gaslamp Quarter and it's worth a stop even if you aren't staying here.
In the lobby you'll find a life size papier mache horse named Sunshine which originally stood in front of the Brooklyn Hotel when the ground floor was a saddle shop. The reception desk is a recycled pew from a choir loft, old post-office boxes now hold guests' keys. In the hotel's Palace Bar, there is a portrait of local madam Ida Bailey, her brothel, the Canary Cottage, once stood a couple of blocks away.
And what historic hotel would be complete without their own resident ghost, if you stay here in room 309 you may be visited by Roger Whitaker who seems to be a friendly ghost, the theories are that he was either shot by his future father in law and dumped near where the hotels were relocated or that he was a gambler caught cheating at cards at the hotel, ran back to room 309 and was shot through the door.
There was a sign in the lobby stating that there was a historical tour on Wednesdays at 3:00pm, it didn't specify if you had to be staying there or if there was a charge.
Address: 311 Island Avenue, Gaslamp Quarter
The Gaslamp Quarter is a revitalized section of downtown San Diego, like many urban centers it started as the main business district, went through a period of decay, then revitalized with the help of preservationists. The major development of this area started in 1867 when Alonzo Horton started to develop it. It didn't take long though for the seedy elements to move in, by the 1880s the area started attracting prostitutes and gamblers and by the mid 1900s it was filled the urban blight of adult bookstores, X rated theaters and massage parlors. The preservationists rallied to save the historic buildings in the 19070s and now you will find trendy restaurants, clubs and shops in and around the historic buildings.
The Gaslamp Quarter covers 16 1/2 blocks and has over 90 buildings listed on the National Historic Register. Architecture fans may want to take a tour, the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation gives a guided tour Saturdays at 11 am or Frommer's has a niceself guided walking tour online.
Photo 1 Yuma Building, built in 1888, it was a brothel in 1912, the 1st to be closed when they tried to clean up the area
Photo 2 The Keating Building built in 1890 by George Keating who died 1/2 way through the completion, his wife engraved his name at the top of the building
Photo 3 Louis Bank of Commerce built in 1888, it's been home to the city's first ice cream parlor, an oyster bar visited frequently by Wyatt Earp and the Golden Poppy Hotel, a brothel run by a fortuneteller
Address: Downtown San Diego
Thanks to an exhibit of French artisit Niki de Saint Phalle's sculptures at the Garfield Conservatory in Chicago, the instant I saw "Nikigator" (1991) outside the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park, I knew that it was one of her sculptures. Her sculptures are colorful, whimsical, exaggerated and larger than life, many of them are women known as "nanas" and many are animals.
There are two other of her sculptures in Balboa Park that I saw, also near the Mingei Museum is "Poet and Muse", and near the Hall of Champions is "#23 Basketball Player" which coming from Chicago I knew to be Michael Jordan's number with the Chicago Bulls.
Niki de Saint Phalle lived in San Diego from 1994 until her death in 2002. I saw references to Queen Califia’s Magical Circle in Escondido's Kit Carson Park, a sculpture garden which was her last major project but I couldn't get what appeared to be the official website to open up. But I assume it's still there and it looked like a cool place to visit if you enjoy her work.
Address: 1549 El Prado
Directions: North East of Downtown
Phone: (619) 239-0512
Sherman-Gilbert House & Bushyhead House
A visit to Heritage Park is easily combined with a visit to the Old Town Historic State Park, it's just a short walk up the hill from Old Town. Heritage Park is a collection of seven Victorian era buildings that were moved from other parts of the city. Only the Temple Beth Israel synagogue is open to visitors, two of the houses have been turned into B&Bs, another has been transformed into a tea house.
Picture 1 Sherman-Gilbert House, built 1887, style Stick Eastlake, built by John Sherman, cousin of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, currently used as a park ranger house.
Bushyhead House, built 1887, Italianate style, built for Edward Wilkerson Bushyhead, early San Diego sheriff, chief of police and San Diego Union newspaper owner, to use as a rental, currently the Heritage Park Inn, a B&B.
Picture 2 Temple Beth Israel, built 1889, Classic revival style, San Diego's first synagogue, built by the Congregation Beth Israel
Picture 3 Christian House, built 1889, Queen Anne style, built by Harfield Timberlake Christian, currently the Heritage Park Inn, a B&B.
Picture 4 Senlis Cottage, built 1896, 19th century vernacular style, built for Eugene Senlis, an employee of San Diego horticulturist Kate Sessions, known for her work at Balboa Park.
Picture 5 Burton House, built 1893, Classic revival style, built for Henry Guild Burton, retired Army physician, currently Mrs. Burton's Tearoom.
Not pictured McConaughy House, built 1887, Stick Eastlake style, built for John McConaughy who founded the first scheduled passenger and freight service in San Diego County.
Address: 2454 Heritage Park Row
Directions: Just east of the corner of Juan and Harney Streets.
Phone: (619) 297-9327
We debated for a bit over whether to go to the San Diego Zoo or the San Diego Wild Animal Park and the zoo won even though we had been there on a previous trip, it was just simply easier to get to from where we were staying. It was a good choice, I think this is the nicest zoo I've ever been to and is consistently ranked at the top for zoos in the US.
Admission is not cheap, $28 for adults, $34 for the best value tickets that includes the aerial skyride and guided bus tour, the best value ticket is a better option for those folks that aren't able to walk long distances, some of the park also has fairly steep inclines. Our hotel had a slight discount on the best value tickets ($31) and there are discount options for multiple day passes that include Sea World and/or the Wild Animal Park. And once you get inside, food, beverages and souvenirs are pricey too, for a soda it was almost $4 but they give you a plastic souvenir cup and refills are then much cheaper. A family might consider packing a cooler and going back to the car for lunch.
What's particularly nice about this zoo is the more natural barless habitat that the animals are housed in and the lush greenery that you walk through to get from exhibit to exhibit, the flora and the fauna are both well attended to at this zoo. My favorite stop was to see the pandas, San Diego is one of only four zoos in the US to have them (Atlanta, Memphis and Washington DC are the other three). There was a pretty big queue to see them but it goes fairly quickly as they ask you not to stop on the lower level, you can stay as long as you want on the upper level.
Address: 2920 Zoo Drive
Phone: (619) 234-3153
Homes in Coronado
Visiting Coronado is a perfectly pleasant daytrip from San Diego, I wouldn't say it was the top place that I visited while in San Diego but the ferry ride was pleasant and the Hotel Coronado is a fabulous old hotel with a lot of history.
To get to Coronado, I took the trolley to the Sante Fe station, walked about 5 minutes and hopped on the ferry ($3 each way). Once the ferry landed at the Coronado dock, I walked out to the street outside the shopping area and found the #904 bus that takes you to the Hotel Coronado. I really had no idea of how far it was but I certainly was glad I found the bus since the bus ride was at least 15 minutes. The buses here were included with my 1 day MTS pass ($5 US). The bus schedule coordinates with the ferry schedule making it a very convenient way to get to the center of Coronado. Once I spotted the Hotel Coronado, I hopped off the bus, went for a stroll on the beach and wandered through the grand old hotel.
I'm sure there's a lot more to Coronado than the Hotel Coronado but I had places to go and food to eat so I headed back to the bus for the ferry ride back to San Diego.
Hotel Del Coronado
The Hotel Del Corondo is THE must see stop in Coronado, a fabulous old white beach resort with red roofed turrets, towers and cupolas that opened in 1888. If you are like me and unwilling to fork over $300 or more per night for a hotel you can still check out the beach, have a drink or a meal in one of the many restaurants or outdoor patios overlooking the ocean, have a look at the grand old lobby or find the display on the history of the hotel down near the shopping.
Back in it's heyday it was host to at least 10 US Presidents, part of Some Like it Hot starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon was filmed here and it's rumored that the King Edward VIII met Wallis Simpson here, she was a Coronado divorcee whom he eventually abdicated the throne for.
And what historic hotel would be complete without it's own ghost, Kate Morgan was found dead on November 29, 1892, a suspected suicide although many other theories have been tossed about. Guests have spotted her spirit every since.
Address: 1500 Orange Avenue
Directions: Take the ferry from downtown or drive across the Coronado Bridge.
Phone: (800) 582-2595
La Casa de Estudillo
Old Town San Diego was just a short walk from my hotel so I headed over there both nights I was staying there, the 1st night everything was already closed up and I just had dinner but on my 2nd visit many of the buildings were still open, most are free to visit and have displays on life in Old Town. I think the Whaley House was the only place with an admission fee.
The Old Town State Historic Park recreates the early days of San Diego from 1821 to 1872, shortly after the Mexican War of Independence to 22 years after California became a state. You can pick up a map of the park or join a walking tour at 11am and 2 pm daily at the Robinson-Rose House, 4002 Wallace St. The park consists of 20 structures, 7 of them original, the rest are reconstructed. Some of the structures you can visit are La Casa de Estudillo, a mansion with a garden courtyard; Mason Street School, California's first public schoolhouse; the San Diego Union Printing Office, the city's oldest surviving newspaper office; and the Seeley Stables Museum, with exhibits on transportation and a collection of wagons, carriages and stagecoaches.
Frommer's has a nice online walking guide to Old Town.
Address: North of Downtown
Directions: South of I-8 exit Taylor St. and East of I-5 exit Old Town Avenue.
Old Town has a trolley station on both the green and blue lines.
Sunset Cliffs overview
I saw the 59 mile scenic drive recommended as a good way to see some of the highlights of San Diego if you have a car, since I was starting from Old Town I started at Ocean Beach, No. 6 on the attached website and followed it to La Jolla Cove Park, No. 11. I then went back and hit No 1-5 going backwards and did much of the rest of the tour using public transportation the following day.
I think the driving tour works a lot better if you are not intending to stop anywhere, I spent a few hours in La Jolla and then wanted to make it down to Cabrillo before it closed so the driving tour didn't really work all that well for me.
Ocean Beach, a hippee/surfer community, wasn't even awake when I arrived there around 10 am, the stores weren't open yet and there were very few people around. I went the wrong way when exiting Ocean Beach and ended up at Sunset Cliffs, there was a very nice view from here so it was a good mistake. Mission Bay Aquatic Park was also a bit sleepy as it was a Wednesday morning, I imagine it's much more crowded on a weekend.
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