10 Things You Probably Don’t Know About San Diego

April 29, 2013 by

North America, Places to Go, Things to Do, Travel Advice & Inspiration

San Diego Beach

San Diego Beach

With sapphire waves, warm beaches and famous tourist sites, San Diego’s reputation as an iconic surf and sun destination is justified. Yet, visitors exploring beyond beaches and the Zoo can take these roads less traveled, enhancing a visit to this popular SoCal enclave.

Here are 10 things you didn’t know about San Diego:

#1 San Diego is a Major Gem Capital of the World

Not many know that the Pala gem-mining district produces the world’s highest quality pink tourmalines as well as bi-colored, watermelon, green and multi-colored tourmalines.  Abundant pockets of high quality gemstones were discovered in the northeastern dry desert hills, beginning a century-old local industry.  During the 1800s, the Empress Dowager of China prized the Himalaya Mine’s high quality pink tourmalines so much she purchased over 90 tons, skyrocketing prices.  Today, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. displays the Candelabra Tourmaline, a stunner mined at the Tourmaline Queen Mine in 1972.

Search for your own pink tourmalines, kunzites, morganites or other precious gems at the only actively working underground mine in Pala.  At the Oceanview Mine, you can screen buckets of gem-rich dirt and gravel, called tailings, for a fee.  The Staff provides training and equipment for a fee; you get to keep anything you find at no extra charge.

#2 Local Theatres Create Broadway Blockbusters

San Diego has sent more Broadway smashes to the Great White Way than any other U.S. city, courtesy of The Old Globe Theatre and the La Jolla Playhouse, founded in 1947 by Mel Ferrer and Gregory Peck.  Since the 50s, the La Jolla Playhouse has launched blockbusters such as “Jersey Boys” or Matthew Broderick’s revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

And The Old Globe has sent “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “Damn Yankees” and “The Fully Monty” back east.  When in town, catch a future Broadway hit before Manhattan does.

#3 San Diegans Are Known for Boasting About Their City

San Diego skyline

San Diego skyline

With constant sunshine, an average temperature of 72 degrees, the wide beaches, and their healthy outdoors lifestyle, San Diegans must be the most appreciative citizens in the world.  Sporting the local uniform of surf shorts and flip-flops, their favorite topic of conversation is how lucky they feel to live there.  When you visit San Diego or take a tour of San Diego, feel free to pick up this conversation with any local and experience why the town earned its nickname of ‘Sandy Ego.’

#4 You Can Do San Diego Without A Car

San Diego Ferry. Photo courtesy of nan palmero via Flickr.

San Diego Ferry. Photo courtesy of nan palmero via Flickr.

Save big bucks on gas and a rental car while absorbing lots of local color.  Plan to arrive at downtown’s Santa Fe Depot on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner from Los Angeles.  Travel around town on the extensive San Diego Trolley system.  Take a scenic ferry crossing on the San Diego Bay to visit Coronado Island or race north to the beach towns of Solana Beach, Carlsbad and Oceanside on the Coaster commuter train.  Then, boast about doing a Southern California trip without driving on the following ferries:

-Pacific Surfliner

-San Diego Trolley

-San Diego Bay Ferry

-The Coaster

#5 San Diego Has a Lobster Season and It’s Delicious

Unlike its East Coast cousins, the California spiny lobster lacks large front claws but diners prize the t firm, sweet, and delicate tail meat.  The males of this Pacific monster can grow up to three feet long and weigh up to 26 pounds.  Local lobster season runs from the Saturday preceding the first Wednesday in October to the first Wednesday after the 15th of March.  Savor the bounty, as well as local catches of Red Rock Cod, Swordfish, Urchin and Sea Bass, at the following local fish markets and eateries:

-El Pescador Fish Market, La Jolla

-Point Loma Seafoods, Point Loma

-Sportsmen’s Seafoods, Mission Bay

-The Fish Market, Downtown San Diego

-The Fishery, Pacific Beach

#6 San Diego Has a Little Known Gold Rush History

Julian's famous apple pies. Photo courtesy of greggoconnell via Flickr.

Julian’s famous apple pies. Photo courtesy of greggoconnell via Flickr.

An hour’s drive east, the historically authentic, century-old gold mining town of Julian in the Cuyamaca Mountains showcases a little known chapter in California’s Gold Rush history.  Julian’s 1869 Gold Rush was short-lived but many settlers remained to create a vibrant apple-growing region.  Officially, visitors make a trek from the coast to experience a four-season mountain climate, which may include snow at the 4,235 feet elevation.  Some come for the hiking, historic sites and the B&Bs.  But one of the things you probably don’t know about San Diego is that the true reason for a Julian excursion is for the famous apple pies, proffered by bakeries up and down Main Street.

#7 San Diego Combines Indian Spiritualism with Surfing

Surfing in San Diego

Surfing in San Diego

About 25 miles north of downtown San Diego, Encinitas, a quintessential surf town, is home to a famous surf break called Swami’s.  The break is famously extolled in the Beach Boys’ song “Surfin’ USA.”  It’s also home to the lush gardens and hermitage of the Self-Realization Fellowship ashram, overlooking the reef point populated by surfers.  In 1937, Swami Paramahansa Yogananda created the temple and gardens as place of peace and meditation.

A once favored haunt of George Harrison, you can stroll gardens adorned with waterfalls, palms, flowers and koi ponds or contemplate the vast ocean below for free.  Nirvana at no extra charge.

#8  San Diego Enjoys a Purple Abundance

Aromatic lavender fields bloom during the May and June harvest season in San Diego’s backcountry.  Valley Center’s Keys Creek Lavender Farm, an eight-acre working farm, grows more than two dozen varieties of lavender and offers a glimpse into the area’s agricultural abundance.

Visitors can tour the fields, enjoy an English High Tea and learn how lavender is distilled into an essential oil in the farm distillery.  You can purchase Culinary Lavender, Lavender Lemonade, or Lemon-Lavender Whipping Cream Scones at the Farm Store.  Don’t forget your camera.

#9 California Was Born in San Diego

Casa de Estudillo, Old Town San Diego. Photo courtesy of Ken Lund via Flickr.

Casa de Estudillo, Old Town San Diego. Photo courtesy of Ken Lund via Flickr.

Long known to local Native Americans, the Kumeyaay people, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a Portuguese navigator sailing for Spain, made the first European landing in San Diego in 1542.

But it took another 200 years before Spain decided to act in 1769, dispatching Gaspar de Portolà and his expedition to build a California settlement at the Presidio of San Diego, a military post.  Soon, a cluster of adobes housing military families soon grew into the original town of San Diego.  But it wasn’t until 1846, when U.S. Marines raised the U.S. flag in San Diego’s plaza, that California got on track to become the 49th state.

Today, Old Town San Diego State Historic Park occupies the very spot of California’s birthplace, the spot where those first Spanish adobes once stood.

#10 San Diego is Ground Zero for All Things Dr. Seuss

Longtime resident of the beautiful La Jolla village area, Theodor Geisel, AKA Dr. Seuss, donated the world’s largest collection of original Dr. Suess manuscripts and other materials to the University of California, San Diego’s Geisel Library.  Named after benefactors and literacy supporters, Audrey and Theodor Geisel, its Brutalist architecture is controversial and as nonsensical as a Dr. Seuss rhyme.  Who knew that the kids who grew up with “One Fish, Two Fish” would one day study nuclear physics in a library named after the guy who taught them to read?

-Lenore Grenier

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One Response to “10 Things You Probably Don’t Know About San Diego”

  1. Janette Says:

    Great list! I actually didn’t know any of the facts you provided about San Diego. Well, perhaps I have heard that it is a gem. I would like to visit someday!

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