California's second largest city, San Diego is located at the foot of the state's scenic coastline, where it enjoys more than 300 days of sunshine a year. The metropolitan area is an inviting mix of city chic and beach casual, with plenty of recreational opportunities ranging from sailing across a sparking bay to hiking in the Cuyamaca Mountains.
Port of San Diego
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San Diego is home to diverse nationalities, including Pacific Islanders, Asians, Hispanics, Middle Easterners and Europeans. It is most heavily influenced by its Spanish and Mexican roots. Visitors will discover this as they explore Balboa Park, munch tacos and take note of Spanish street names.
Shaped by canyons, flat lands and rolling hills, the city's numerous neighborhoods have distinct ethnic and cultural identities. Many of the most dynamic, including Old Town, Point Loma, Hillcrest and North Park, are within eight miles of the cruise terminal. Equally close is funky Ocean Beach, one of the last authentic California beach towns. Several other popular destinations -- like the Gaslamp Quarter and Little Italy -- are an easy walk from the port. Just a few miles from the bay is Balboa Park, the nation's largest urban cultural park, home to the Old Globe Theater and world-renowned San Diego Zoo.
For those who arrive or depart and have time on their hands, day trips abound. Take the kids to SeaWorld to pet dolphins or to colorful Legoland in Carlsbad. Enjoy a round of golf at world-famous Torrey Pines followed by a gourmet dinner overlooking the sea in La Jolla. Bet on the ponies during the summer racing season in Del Mar. Less than an hour's drive from the city, taste wine in Temecula's wine country, or camp overnight with lions, tigers and giraffes at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido.
Top San Diego Itineraries
Disney Wonder7 Night Mexican Riviera Cruise from San DiegoSan Diego, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, San DiegoNow
Eurodam4-day Pacific CoastalSan Diego, Victoria, VancouverNow
Oosterdam4-day Pacific CoastalSan Diego, Victoria, VancouverNow
Regatta28 Night World CruiseMiami, Havana, Colon , Puntarenas , San Juan del Sur, Puerto Quetzal , Acapulco, Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas, San Diego, San Francisco, Astoria, Oregon , Sitka, Juneau, Wrangell, Ketchikan, VancouverNow
Royal Princess7 Night U. S. Pacific Coast CruiseLos Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Francisco, Seattle, VancouverNow
Where You're Docked
San Diego Cruise Port Address:
B Street Cruise Ship Terminal, 1140 North Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101
Cruise ships dock at the B Street Cruise Ship Terminal in San Diego harbor at the bayside entrance to downtown. It's a 20-minute walk to the bustling Gaslamp Quarter and 15 minutes to trendy Little Italy or the novelty shops at Seaport Village.
There are no cafes, gift shops, ATMs or visitor information booths inside the cruise ship terminal; however, just outside the terminal is the International Visitors Center where multilingual staff and volunteers have information on activities, attractions, lodging and dining options, as well as maps and discounted tickets. The center is open seven days a week.
Good to Know
Trips to Tijuana or other nearby Mexican beach towns can be problematic, especially on ship departure days. Border crossings are long and unpredictable, and violence and crime, plus rising prices for everything from tequila to sombreros, act to deter even savvy locals from making the trip.
Taxis and airport shuttles will be plentiful at the port, airport or at downtown hotels. The port offers a list of shuttle services you can arrange in advance.
On Foot: From the port, it is a short walk to harbor attractions, the Gaslamp Quarter and Little Italy. If you're feeling adventurous, licensed pedicabs lined up at the port and around downtown can be fun transportation along the harbor and into the Gaslamp Quarter. Make sure the fee is agreed to in advance.
By Bus: The hop-on, hop-off (HOHO) Old Town Trolley is an efficient way to see highlights of downtown, Coronado, Balboa Park, Little Italy and Old Town. Along the way, drivers entertain with colorful history (and some tall tales). There are several pick-up stops downtown and free shuttle service to the trolley from select hotels.
City bus service in San Diego is fairly complicated and slow and not recommended for visitors, unless they want to see some of the city's diverse residential areas.
By Car: Taxis are plentiful, but expensive; so for longer visits, a rental car might be a better option. The city's network of freeways is fairly easy to navigate, but avoid the rush hours of 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
By Rail: For just-beyond attractions like Old Town and Mission Valley, there is a light-rail service from several downtown stops. The Coaster commuter train from downtown to Oceanside is no-hassle transportation to north county beach cities, including Encinitas and Carlsbad Village where the station stops are convenient to beaches, restaurants and shops.
During the summer horse racing season, there's a Pony Express train to Del Mar. The train leaves from the historic Santa Fe Depot near the port on Kettner Boulevard several times daily. Roundtrip fare is $8 to $11 depending on the destination.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency is the U.S. dollar, and ATMs are readily available throughout the city and just off the cruise terminal.
English is spoken everywhere, including in the tourist-friendly areas of Baja, Mexico.
Food and Drink
Many San Diego restaurants celebrate farm-to-table cuisine, drawing from the area's abundant specialty growers and fishing enterprises. Mexican food abounds, too; it seems there's a taco shop on every commercial block in this city where fish tacos were made famous. A boom of craft brewers have made San Diego a mecca for beer lovers from around the world who travel there to sample acclaimed neighborhood gastropubs.
The Fish Market and Top of the Market will satisfy seafood cravings. These popular seafood restaurants owned by the same company are a few blocks south of the cruise terminal; they occupy a large waterfront building with stunning views across the bay to Coronado. Go casual downstairs or find fine dining upstairs. The restaurant has its own fishing fleet, so you know the catch is fresh and local. No wonder the clam chowder and cioppino are menu favorites. (750 N. Harbor Drive, between Kettner Boulevard and G Street; 619-234-4867; open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday to Saturday)
Since celebrity chef Brian Malarkey opened Searsucker, this flag-ship restaurant has become the Gaslamp's best for food and high-energy atmosphere. You'll be in the middle of the action while savoring Malarkey's upscale down-home fare like duck fat fries and a two-patty burger with secret sauce. If you prefer a quiet place to chat and dine, this isn't for you. The restaurant also serves one of the best lobster rolls east of Nantucket. (611 5th Avenue, between Market and G streets; 619-233-7327; lunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, dinner 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; dinner 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday to Saturday)
Bertrand at Mister A's, the venerable hilltop fine-dining restaurant with stunning city and bay views, has served up celebratory fine dining for decades. Rejuvenated in decor and cuisine, it offers an extensive menu of traditional dishes with a contemporary twist -- like their signature king and blue crab salad or the irresistible Snicker Bar Mousse. The decor and setting is upscale, but the professional staff keeps the experience friendly and relaxed. The nightly happy hour is one of the city's best; so is the new brunch. Tip: Park for free on the street after 6 p.m.; there's no validation for the underground garage. (2550 5th Avenue, 12th Floor, between Laurel and Maple streets; 619-239-1377; open 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday to Sunday)
A North Park gem, Carnitas' Snack Shack offers a dining experience that is quintessential San Diego. Chef Hanis Cavin has single-handedly created a new category of gourmet cuisine based on the humble hog. The place is tiny; a walk-up window often has a long line of hungry fans eager to devour a plate of carnitas tacos or a triple-threat pork sandwich. A small but delightful patio in the back fills up quickly. (2632 University Avenue, between Pershing Avenue and Villa Terrace; 619-294-7675; open noon to midnight Wednesday to Monday, closed Tuesday)
It's hard to top Tom Ham's Lighthouse restaurant's incredible view across the bay to the downtown skyline. A remodel added al fresco dining and a new seafood-focused menu (lobster bouillabaisse, paella, etc.) by Chef Lance Repp. The family-owned institution also serves a popular Sunday seafood brunch. Make reservations to get outdoor tables, and don't leave without trying the banana peanut butter pie topped with bacon-infused toffee. (2150 Harbor Island Drive; 619-291-9110; open 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday to Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday)
Judging by lines out the door at the 60,000-square foot monument to beer and good food, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens at Liberty Station is a crowd pleaser. Dishes on the limited all-day and brunch menu, ranging from bison short ribs to barbecue duck tacos and chicken tikka masala, are designed to be paired with Stone's artisan brews. Decor -- tumbling water, granite walls and boulders -- provides a wow, whether dining inside or out. It's family friendly, too; kids are welcome. Reservations recommended. Tip: Some dishes are spicy hot; ask your server for ones that suit your heat tolerance. (2816 Historic Decatur Road, suite 116; 619-269-2100; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday)
San Diego is a microbrewery capital, drawing beer lovers from all over the world to quaff hand-crafted suds. At Stone Brewing's World Bistro & Gardens at Point Loma's Liberty Station, grab apparel for men, women and even infants with Stone's Arrogant Bastard Ale logo. Suit-case stuffers like beer towels, openers, coasters and even dog collars are for sale too.
Next to the cruise terminal is the historic USS Midway Museum. The aircraft carrier is now a naval and aviation museum where military buffs can buy a Midway ball cap, T-shirts emblazoned with "The Kiss" photo, and souvenir coins made from arrest wire used to help stop planes landing on the flight deck.