Robert Arends

Top 5 San Diego Spots to Explore the Birthplace of California

The new San Salvador, the Mayflower of the West! Photo credit: Jerry Soto

The new San Salvador, the Mayflower of the West! Photo credit: Jerry Soto

Did you know, San Diego was discovered by Europeans 473 years ago? Yep, only 50 years after Columbus and more than 200 years before the Spanish missions were started.

Spanish explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo sailed his galleon ship, the San Salvador into San Diego Bay on Sept. 28, 1542 – going down in history as San Diego’s “first tourist.” He didn’t stay long, though, as there was no San Diego Zoo or LEGOLAND for the crew to explore. 😉

Today, tourists by the millions are drawn to our attractive sun-kissed shores in search of sun and fun, as well as the fascinating living history of San Diego.

Following are Top 5 places to step back in time and trace Cabrillo’s momentous discovery, and the founding of San Diego:

1. Maritime Museum of San Diego

San Salvador docked at the Maritime Museum. Photo credit: Jerry Soto

San Salvador docked at the Maritime Museum. Photo credit: Jerry Soto

Last month the Maritime Museum of San Diego launched a full-size, functioning replica of the San Salvador – the Mayflower of the West – much to the delight of landlubbers like me! The $6.2 million vessel took 5 years to construct (check out this cool time-lapse video of the ship’s construction) and can be seen docked at the museum’s pier on Harbor Drive. Plan is to have it open to the public (as in actually go onboard) later this year, hopefully by the holidays {fingers crossed}.

2. Cabrillo National Monument

Impressive statue of Cabrillo at Cabrillo National Monument

Impressive statue of Cabrillo at Cabrillo National Monument

Wonder what Cabrillo looked like or what he saw as he sailed into San Diego’s impressive natural harbor? Head to Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego’s only national park. There’s a 14-foot high statue of Cabrillo (originally envisioned as a 150-foot tall sculpture!) and incredible 360-degree, birds-eye views of the city. Also fun to explore are the Old Point Loma Lighthouse (one of eight original lighthouses on the West Coast), tide pools and bunkers from WWII.

3. Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

Folklorico dancers at Old Town State Historic Park

Folklorico dancers at Old Town State Historic Park

The Junipero Serra Museum on a hill overlooking Old Town, marks the spot where Spanish friars and soldiers established a presidio and the first Mission San Diego in 1769 (the original structures are no longer visible; the ruins are buried). Downhill, Old Town State Historic Park with its adobe buildings, old timey plaza and other sites, shows what life was like at San Diego’s first “downtown” in the 1800s. This is where the Wild West meets mariachis and our Hispanic heritage.

4. Mission San Diego de Alcala

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala

California’s first mission, Mission San Diego de Alcala in Mission Valley

In the aptly named Mission Valley near Old Town, is the second Mission San Diego de Alcala – which was moved here in 1774 to be closer to the San Diego River (makes sense). You can stroll through the mission and its beautiful gardens, chapel, church, a museum with original artifacts and an excavation site out back, believed to be the monastery.

5. Mission Trails Regional Park

Old Mission Dam in Mission Trails Regional Park. Photo credit: Ce Helton

Old Mission Dam in Mission Trails Regional Park. Photo credit: Ce Helton

Mission Trails Regional Park, one of the largest urban parks in the U.S., is just up the road from Mission San Diego. Highlights include the original Old Mission Dam, a state-of-the-art Visitor and Interpretive Center featuring exhibits dedicated to the Kumeyaay Indians who lived here 1,000 years ago and 60 miles of hiking trails including an awesome trek to the top of Cowles Mountain, the city of San Diego’s highest peak (1,593 feet).

See you in San Diego, and make your own history! 🙂


Destination San Diego Episode 1: Point Loma, Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach and more

In this episode of Destination San Diego, you’ll take a tour of NTC at Liberty Station, San Diego’s newest arts and culture district. We’ll take a look back at the history of the Point Loma Lighthouse at the Cabrillo National Monument and Pacific Beach’s Crystal Pier. And, you’ll see a wonderful side of Ocean Beach’s history that might surprise you. Plus, Stone Brewing Company Co-Founder and CEO Greg Koch will give you the inside scoop on San Diego’s ever-expanding craft beer scene and the best way to taste all that San Diego has to offer.

What’s In This Episode of Destination San Diego

> Watch all the Destination San Diego Episodes

Robert Arends

Explore the Treasured Islands of San Diego Bay!

Birds-eye view of Kona Kai Resort on Shelter Island

Birds-eye view of Kona Kai Resort on Shelter Island

Did you know…San Diego Bay is home to three unique islands, located real close to downtown San Diego? Their names are Harbor Island, Shelter Island and Coronado Island. Truth be told they’re technically peninsulas, two of which are man-made (Harbor and Shelter). But they sure feel like island getaways, worlds away from the every day.

In fact, Shelter Island was specifically created to be “San Diego’s Hawaiian Isle” – a tropical escape without having to spend hours on a plane to the South Pacific. Join me on a voyage to all three islands, highlighting the coolest sights on each:

Shelter Island

Shelter Island is a fun fav with its swaying palms, Hawaiian architecture and other Polynesian touches. Top 5 don’t miss sights are:

1. Bali Hai Restaurant

Bali Hai Restaurant, Shelter Island's "tiki temple"

Bali Hai Restaurant, Shelter Island’s “tiki temple”

San Diego’s original tiki temple, featuring tiki icons Mr. Bali Hai and The Goof on the Roof, plus strong Mai Tais, fabulous views and Polynesian dishes.

2. Kona Kai Resort

Beach at Kona Kai Resort

Enjoy your own private beach – with drink service! – at Kona Kai Resort

The newly renovated Kona Kai Resort with its own private sandy beach (yep!) and chic new Vessel Restaurant.

3. Fathom Bistro

Fathom Bistro on the Shelter Island pier, a best-kept secret serving 15 beers on tap, gourmet hotdogs and sausages.

4. Pacific Portal sculpture

Pacific Portal sculpture on Shelter Island

Pacific Portal sculpture on Shelter Island

The giant seashell-looking Pacific Portal sculpture by James Hubbell, “San Diego’s Gaudi”!

5. Yokohama Friendship Bell

The Japanese-style pagoda that houses the Yokohama Friendship Bell, a gift from San Diego’s sister city Yokohama.

Coronado Island

Coronado Island is called the “Crown City” for good reason. It’s a postcard-perfect jewel on the bay. Top 5 must-sees on the bayside:

1. Coronado Island Marriott Resort

Catching some rays in Coronado Island Marriott's double hammocks.

Catching some rays in Coronado Island Marriott’s double hammocks.

Relaxing double hammocks at Coronado Island Marriott Resort for afternoon siestas.

2. Gondola Rides

Authentic Italian gondola rides at Loews Coronado Bay Resort.

3. Coronado Ferry Landing

Bike & Kayak Tours' kayak adventure from Coronado Ferry Landing

Bike & Kayak Tours’ kayak adventure from Coronado Ferry Landing

Coronado Ferry Landing, featuring a small sandy beach (great for kids!), “Secret Art of Dr. Seuss” at Stephen Clayton Gallery, affordable rides on the Coronado Ferry and San Diego’s only urban kayak tour.

4. Candelas on the Bay

Authentic Mexico-style cuisine at Candelas on the Bay. Their Sunday brunch buffet is phenomenal!

5. Shoreline Park

Shoreline Park, a secret “pocket park” on the bay that’s the perfect place to chill out or picnic away from the hustle and bustle.

Harbor Island

Harbor Island is blessed by its super convenient location across the street from San Diego International Airport. Top 3 must-sees:

1. Island Prime-C Level Lounge

Primo bay views and food at Island Prime restaurant

Prime bay views and food can be found at Island Prime on Harbor Island

For fine dining, Island Prime-C Level Lounge with its bayside setting and succulent seafood and steaks is second-to-none.

2. Tom Ham’s Lighthouse

Check out the renovated landmark Tom Ham’s Lighthouse, a fully functioning lighthouse and restaurant with the best Sunday brunch on the island.

3. Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina

Sheraton San Diego Hotel Pool and Marina

Water activities about at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina on Harbor Island

Rest your head at Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina with its two sleek towers overlooking the bay. It’s very family friendly and even offers a Bayfront Shuttle ($1 per person) to nearby waterfront attractions like the USS Midway Museum, Maritime Museum of San Diego and Seaport Village.

Here’s to a fantastic summer of island vibes and good times on San Diego Bay! 🙂