Last month, I was invited by Kia Motors to learn about their cars at #theNewKia Event. During #theNewKia Event, I got to stay at the posh Hard Rock Hotel , dine in a couple of famous Gaslamp District restaurants and of course, drive their eco-friendly cars!
Since the company was gracious enough to let us drive anywhere in the city for as long as we wanted, I decided to discover some of San Diego’s fascinating past and share my favorite family friendly spots with you.
For those who haven’t visited it yet, San Diego has been dubbed by many as the birthplace of California since it was there that the first Europeans choose to settle.
Not many know where the actual name of San Diego originated. Apparently, it was Sebastián Vizcaíno, a land conveyor for the Spanish government who coined the name when he visited the area in 1602. He decided to rename the Bay and the area after his ship’s patron Saint as well as to commemorate his first Catholic service in California held on the feast day of San Diego de Alcala.
Though it struggled financially for centuries today, it is the 8th biggest city in the US. The city is world famous for its temperate weather, picture perfect beaches, and outdoor lifestyle.
Exploring the City’s Spanish Roots
The Cabrillo National Monument
Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo was the first explorer to arrive back in 1542. Every October a special festival is held in honor of the landing. Visitors can sample period foods and watch reenactments of the landing along with Native American, Portuguese, and Mexican folklore dances and songs. Our kids still remember (not favorably) the traditional stew they had when we went.
Most visitors come for the superb views of the city harbor and skyline. I know I did! However, those interested in the park’s history should know that the landmark statue is the work of Alvaro de Bree. The statue was commissioned by the government of Portugal and gifted to the US in 1939. Sadly, the original masterpiece was damaged by the weather and replaced by a limestone replica. Although the original is gone, the replica is stunning, and I loved visiting it in my Kia car.
Autism Travel Tip: If you come on a weekday the place is pretty much deserted.
In,1769, Franciscan friars Junípero Serra, Juan Viscaino and Fernando Parron established the first of twenty-one missions in California.
During its years of existence, the Mission saw quite a bit of turmoil including repeated rebellions by the local Native Americans. After the Mexican War of Independence, the newly formed government decided to close it down.
San Diego de Alcala Mission is one of the best-kept missions in California providing resources to visitors and about the era.However, it also serves as a cultural center and active parish with services. our kids were in fourth grade, it was the first mission we visited. Needless to say to this day it holds special memories for me.
Autism Travel Tip: Plan to arrive in the late afternoon to bypass campers and school kids.
The area is a reminder of San Diego’s Hispanic heritage during the nineteenth century. The original town was at the foot of Presidio Hill, in the area now known as Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
Nowadays, Old Town is somewhat touristy in nature, filled with souvenirs, Mexican restaurants and a few old-fashioned adobes reminiscent of a bygone time.
Though it is not easy to find parking in the area since it is always busy still I thought this would be the perfect spot to grab a late breakfast. Once I parked my Kia Niro, I headed to Dos Brisas for a breakfast burrito with bacon, eggs, cheese, potatoes. The hash browns that hit the spot and gave me the energy to drive to my next stop.
Autism Travel Tip: Arrive off hours if you plan to dine here.
San Diego’s Military Past
After the Spanish-American War and acquisitions of Pacific islands like Hawaii and Guam San Diego’s point, Loma peninsula gradually became converted to a military zone. The city’s strategic location led to it playing a significant role in transpacific naval activities.
In fact, up until the 1960s, San Diego resembled an oversized military urban complex rather than a desirable tourist destination.
Currently, Point Loma has two old Lighthouses; one old and the second even older. The older one built in 1855 turned into a museum of sorts is open to visitors. The ‘newer’ one erected in1891, is still in use today.
Autism Travel Tip: wear comfortable shoes you own but not flip flops like I tried to do since there’s quite a bit of climbing involved.
The USS Midway is a United States Navy Aircraft carrier. The Midway was the largest aircraft carrier until 1955 when it was too big to move through the Panama Canal. It participated in operations in the Vietnam War, and Desert Storm in the Middle East.
The museum pays tribute to over 200,000 men and women who worked on the vessel during their service. My son thought the simulator was “cool” and has since asked to return to the ship numerous times since our first visit.I always like to grab a coffee and stand in front the iconic surrender statue since I find it so romantic.
Autism Travel Tip: Depending on your kid’s interest the visit can take anywhere between 2-4 hours.Try to prepare your kid by researching details about the Midway online before your visit.
San Diego’s Iconic Industries: Tuna and Tourism
From the 1910s through the 1980s, San Diego was considered the “Tuna Capital of the World.” The Pacific Tuna Canning Company founded in 1911, was San Diego’s first large tuna cannery. The industry peaked during the recession and WWII years but declined during the early 1980’s due to trade disputes with neighboring Mexico.
While you are in town, make sure to see the bronze sculpture that is dedicated to the cannery workers. The tribute sculpture is in Shoreline Park and was created by Franco Vianello.
The statue’s inscription reads “Tunaman’s Memorial honoring those that built an industry and remembering those that departed this harbor in the sun and did not return.”
Autism Travel Tip: We found the best way to have our kids remember the place is by having an impromptu picnic with tuna sandwiches nearby. I know, a bit kitschy but a great visual aid!
Hotel Del Coronado
My ‘test-drive’ partner Gustavo from @vivirLA, and I thought it would be good to take our own Kia Niro Star to meet the Grande Dame of the city – nicknamed the Del.
The Del Coronado Hotel is known for its wedding cake design and red turrets. Many celebrities, Presidents, and even Royalty have stayed here since it opened in 1888.
Dubbed as the perfect family destination hotel by many the Del is a San Diego icon. There are plenty of programs for kids to participate in. Teens even have a special lounge area packed with video games to keep them happy.
While at the Del, families can play on the incredible beaches, explore the area tide pools, or Peddle along the bike path. Due to the quiet waves, here surfing and boogie boarding is popular with the kids.
This property has been a tradition of sorts for us since we used to go every July Fourth and celebrate the holiday there. Our kids used to love riding the original elevator that goes from pool level up to the rooms and chats with the operator who still pulls wrought iron gates shut before it moves. But what they still recall to this day are the midday snacks at the Moo Ice Cream store (delicious!) and the pits to roast marshmallows in the evenings.
Today’s San Diego
San Diego hosted two of the World’s Fairs. These were the Panama-California Exposition in 1915-1916, and the California Pacific International Exposition in 1935-1936. Beautiful architecture is one thing that Balboa Park is known for. The area boasts the Spanish Colonial Revival Style and Mission Revival Style styles of architectureWhile at Balboa Park make sure you check out the museums, gardens, cafes, and The Old Globe Theater. There are 17 museums for you to see. They cover everything from space, sports, science, history, and art.
On a personal note as soon as we parked the Kia Niro bystanders started gawking at the car and commented on its sleek look. I felt like a celebrity as I could answer many questions that the bystanders asked about my car.
Autism Travel Tip: Plan to spend here an entire day and include the world famous zoo.
The Gaslamp District
Formerly known as the Stingaree District during the Gold Rush, the Gaslamp District has been getting a makeover since 1968. Gone are the days of gambling halls, opium dens, brothels, and saloons.
Now the revitalization of the Gaslamp District focuses on attracting middle-class tourists and residents back into downtown San Diego.
There are over 100 restaurants, 100 retailers and even over 30 nightclubs. This area is also, helping San Diego in its craft beer industry. With over 60 microbreweries, pub visitors can find their perfect beer.
There are multiple companies offering walking tours of the district including an architectural one for kids. Other popular ones are the ghost tours is the Gaslamp Museum at the Davis-Horton House. Built in 1859, some visitors claim the house is haunted. Since it was getting a bit late in the day I just preferred cruising around in the plugin Kia Optima.
Autism Travel Tip: Our favorite spot (that I missed this time) is the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop on Fifth Av.
All good things must come to an end…
I did manage to cover some of the highlights during #TheNewKia event. But I regretted the fact I didn’t have the time to discover more spots.
Hopefully, I will get a chance to do so soon and share them with you too.
Did your favorite San Diego spot make this list? If not, tell me which spot is your favorite, and I will try to cover it in a future post.