Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 18, 2017

© Ken Bohn

Giant panda Xiao Liwu is the star attraction at the San Diego Zoo

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San Diego

From culture to critters, this city comes alive

There are few cities that can match San Diego’s combination of natural beauty and cultural sites. With lush gardens, a world-famous zoo, offbeat museums and artist studios, California’s birthplace is also home to some of its finest attractions.

The best place to start exploring is Balboa Park (1549 El Prado, balboapark.org), home to a plethora of museums, themed gardens and the famous San Diego Zoo (2920 Zoo Drive; sandiegozoo.org; adults $44, children $34 and free in October; advanced ticket purchase recommended). Consider booking a Backstage Pass tour for the zoo, which takes you behind the scenes to visit with animals, trainers and feeders (tel: 619-718-3000; $99 plus regular admission; ages 5 and up).

For the culturally inclined, wander over to the colourful pavement of the Spanish Village Art Center (1770 Village Place, spanishvillageart.com) where dozens of artists ply their trade for visitors. Head west, just past the visually-unforgettable Botanical Building and lotus-blossom-filled Lily Pond, and you'll find the Mingei Museum (1439 El Prado; mingei.org; adults $8; kids $5 and free in October) which showcases hand-made art, crafts and tools from around the world. When you exit, meander a while in the spectacular Alcazar Garden (1363 El Prado), and from there take the wooden footbridge to the hidden Palm Canyon (1549 El Prado).

If you want to try something more kid friendly, check out the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center (1875 El Prado; rhfleet.org, adults $11.75, kids $9.75, adults add $6 for film), and catch a film in their massive-screened Heikoff Dome Theater. Nearby, you can go back in time at the Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age exhibition until October 2 at the San Diego Natural History Museum (1788 El Prado; sdnhm.org; adults $17, kids $11).

Leave the Park for a relaxed dinner at Soltan Banoo (4645 Park Boulevard; tel: 619-289-2801; soltanbanoo.com), a family-run restaurant that serves up homestyle Persian favourites like pomegranate soup and potato pancakes. Afterward, enjoy an evening at the Park's Old Globe Theater (1363 Old Globe Way; oldglobe.org; tickets from $29), which is modelled on the London original and offers both Shakespearean and contemporary plays.

For night owls, mystery and intrigue await you at downtown's late-night speakeasy, The Noble Experiment. To find this hidden gem, go through the door of The Neighbourhood (777 G Street) and look for a stack of kegs on a wall near the bathrooms. Discover the secret door, and you'll find yourself in an intimate bar, with paintings on the ceiling and guilded skulls on the walls (tel: 619-888-4713; nobleexperimentsd.com; reservations required).

The Spanish-colonial-styled Balboa Park Inn (3402 Park Boulevard; tel: 619-289-0823; balboaparkinn.com; doubles from $99) is an eclectic, but very clean and reasonably-priced place to stay next to the Park.

Embark on adventure

Beautiful downtown San Diego is right next to the water, and a stone’s throw away from the great beaches of the Coronado isthmus. The Embarcadero, right near the major convention centre, is a nice place to stroll mid-conference to take in views of the ships and urban trees made by local artists. If you're en famille, take the kids to The New Children's Museum (200 West Island Avenue; thinkplaycreate.org; $10), where they can climb all over the art installations. Another great option is the USS Midway Museum (910 North Harbor Drive; midway.org; adults $19, kids $10), one of the city's most popular attractions.

Drive over the four-kilometre San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge or take a San Diego Harbor Excursion ferry (1201 1st Street; sdhe.com; $4.25) to Coronado for a meal or a drink at the distinctive, red-roofed Hotel Del Coronado (1500 Orange Avenue; tel: 619-435-6611, hoteldel.com). Then wind your way through the dunes – which are piled to spell out "CORONADO" from above – and go for a swim or bodysurf at the beach.

Back on the mainland, the trendy Gaslamp District has a Victorian flavour and is packed with shops and restaurants. Searsucker (611 5th Avenue; tel: 619-233-7327; searsucker.com) has a tapas-style menu that allows you to sample an array of tasty seafood dishes, and the Chocolat Cremerie (509 5th Avenue; chocolatsandiego.com) is the perfect place for dessert. For food and (very lively) entertainment, there’s the Shout! House duelling piano bar (655 4th Avenue; tel: 619-231-6700; theshouthouse.com; $5-10 cover).

A sleepaway safari

If your family’s looking to get in touch with nature without roughing it too much, take them "glamping" (that’s “glam camping”) at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (15500 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido, sdzsafaripark.org) one hour’s drive northeast of downtown San Diego. The park offers a sleepover program called Roar & Snore Safari, where you choose your level of luxury, from wood-floored tents with rugs and fluffy bedding, to BYOB (B as in "bedding") vinyl-covered dirt pads (reservations tel: 619-718-3000; from $30 per person). Meals are included along with guided walks and a campfire program, and guests get an all-access look at the park while it’s closed to the general public.

For more on travel to the region, visit sandiego.org.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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