San Diego characterises a typical Southern Californian beach city: with year-round sunshine and surf, a superb coastline with miles of sandy-white beaches, easygoing inhabitants, and a wide variety of world-class family attractions, tourists can't help but be drawn to 'America's finest city'.
Although California's second biggest city with an ever-increasing population of more than a million, San Diego prides itself on its small-town ambience, with very little of the pollution, highway congestion and raciness of Los Angeles. In 1769 a Spanish missionary by the name of Father Junipero Serra established a Catholic mission and fortified settlement in what was later to become San Diego; it was the first permanent European settlement on the West Coast of the United States.
The city is a vibrant collection of colourful neighbourhoods and communities. It has award-winning restaurants, trendy shopping districts, attractions such as the world-renowned San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld, and a dynamic downtown district that includes the city's historic Gaslamp Quarter. There are numerous indications of its Mexican and Spanish heritage in the traditional architecture, typical Mexican cuisine, and strong links with the town of Tijuana just across the Mexican border.
San Diego is also rich in art and culture, and the city boasts the largest urban cultural park in the US, with beautiful gardens and Spanish architecture featuring 17 museums, art galleries and theatres to be found in Balboa Park. More than 70 miles (113km) of beaches around the city offer superb surfing and beach activities and provide the perfect introduction to this accessible and laid-back city.
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