3 Best Things to do in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco
By Kay Smythe
The following items are the personal preference of the author. Kay Smythe has been widely published and won awards for her travel writing. Here is what she has to say about the three major cities in California.
Though San Diego is often seen as the dullest of the California triplets, this is a popular misconception of the city. However, there are certain things that will simply not be endorsed on here that you may find on other sites (watch Blackfish for more information).
- Balboa Park and Museums
Arguably the best day out in the whole world, bar the Grand Canyon, Balboa Park is a vacation unto itself. With everything from a replica Globe Theatre to one of the best zoos in the world, we highly recommend dedicating a whole day to exploring this vastly underrated part of Californian culture. Back in 1835, the Alta California authorities set aside the 1,400 acre tract of land for public recreation. It is this site where Balboa Park remains today. Though land wasn't officially turned into a park until 1870, it's fate has always been decided.
- San Diego Zoo
Okay yes, this is technically in Balboa Park, but this is a whole other day out in and of itself. Home to almost 4,000 animals from more than 650 species, San Diego Zoo is famous the world over. Unlike many other zoos, San Diego was the pioneer in open-air, cageless exhibits that recreate natural habitats for the animals that reside in the zoo. If this wasn't good enough, then the zoo is also one of the few in the world that successfully breed giant pandas!
- Beer, beer, and more beer
San Diego is home to so many breweries that it is impossible to find an exact figure. We imagine it is over 100 at this point, but that is probably a conservative figure. Thanks to the joys of Uber and Lyft, day-drinking like Europeans is now possible across the county. Of course we cannot endorse non-stop drinking all day every day, and we certainly don't want to inflict San Diego with all of the drunkards that the world has to offer, but it is a must-do for visitors. Most breweries offer food and other refreshments for friends of Bill. They also give tours of how your favorite micro-brews are produced.
Fear not, this list will not be made up of Hollywood Boulevard and Griffith Park (although this is a favorite). Los Angeles is far from the strictly entertainment-based fandom of visitors, and there are elements of this sprawling county that are relatively unknown to the average tourist. However, these three things are essential for all guests of La La Land.
- Driving Mulholland
As well as developing most of the infrastructure that makes Los Angeles a liveable city, Mulholland gave his name to the infamous road that tracts around the hills of LA. The vistas from this road high up above the city will allow you and your tour to see Los Angeles like a king. Look down upon the western side, surveying everything from the Hollywood sign to the Pacific Ocean and embrace the magnitude of the scale. From there, follow the road around to the Valley. On any given day you can watch as the smoke of wildfires billow like an erupting volcano beyond the hills, or look down at where people actually live their day-to-day lives in Los Angeles. For me, this is my favorite thing to do in LA when I have guests.
- Venice Canals
Just shut up and relax. Venice is a great neighborhood with loads to offer. You can wander down Abbot Kinney and watch the locals go about their fairly slow and relaxed day. You'll see things you cant un-see on the Boardwalk. Hell, if you're into architecture then Venice should be your one-stop in Los Angeles above all else. The canals (yes, Venice was predominantly canals during it's first incarnation) is one of the most underrated and unobserved parts of the weird little town. Merely a block or so from the main road, the canals are often bathed in silence. Even as an honorary local, it is one of the few places in Los Angeles where I can always be amazed and relaxed.
- The Getty
Okay, so this was an obvious one, right? Everything I fly into Los Angeles, I find myself set upon the Getty and the memories it holds. My first Christmas in LA when my parents came to visit. One of my closest friends and clients was one of the eight original architects. This building and the contents it holds is some of the greatest in human history. The art, the views, everything about this building inspires everyone not matter what their demographic. For the youngest children to the oldest pensioner, the Getty is ESSENTIAL for your soul. Go! Go now!
San Francisco is hella awesome. Locals will laugh.
Seriously though, San Francisco is the original California. Who hasn't daydreamed about the Golden Gate Bridge, or whimpered at the horror stories of Alcatraz Prison? This city is rated by many as the best city in the world, and this is a fair statement.
- Ride on a cable car
You haven't actually done San Francisco unless you've spent time on one of these historically marvellous contraptions. Unlike other modern transport, cable cars are a social experience as much as they area mode for commuting. Even if you're only going five blocks, please ensure you check out these excellent machines.
“Why would I want to spend the day in a prison?” Is the response I often receive to this recommendation. There are SO MANY reasons to spend even just half a day at this epic monument to the hideousness of American history. If we do not remember our past, then we are doomed to repeat it. Imagine how the inmates felt looking out at that beautiful skyline on 4th of July. Picture the short history of the Golden State, a beautiful home that is still in it's infancy. Alcatraz, like Hearst Castle or Grant Grove or the Hollywood Sign, is one of the most culturally explicit parts of American history and should be learned about by all visitors of California.
Most cities have one, but San Francisco's is special. The architecture, the food, the scents and smells of Chinatown culminate in a belief that you really are in China. The bustling nature of this enclave makes crossing the road an all-new dangerous pursuit (because the road becomes a sidewalk unto itself). If you're looking for gifts for your loved ones, random items to decorate your home, bizarre ingredients for a new meal, or just about anything else, it can be found in Chinatown. Take time to hang out here. You'll see things you can't unsee.