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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

The 59 Mile Scenic Drive in San Diego, California allows you to see as much of the spectacular scenery, history, and culture of the city as possible within the space of a few hours. You will need longer if you stop at many of the attractions along the way. The route is marked with blue and yellow signs with a white sea gull.

The journey starts at Embarcadero, near downtown San Diego. Along Harbor Drive, you will see the Maritime Museum and its three historical ships. The Star of India was built in 1863 and sailed around the world 27 times. The Berkeley ferried people to safety following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The Medea served in World War II.

Take the exit to the man-made Harbor Island where you will hotels, restaurants, picnic spots, and walks. There are two golf courses on the island, including one that is part of the North Island Naval Air Station. Back on the mainland, you will pass Spanish Landing before driving onto Shelter Island.

Next, you head to Point Loma with its panoramic views and history. Hides and tallow were exported from here in the nineteenth century when cattle was the staple of San Diego’s economy. The hides were used as currency and were worth $1. You will see the Old Point Loma Light House built in 1855 and positioned 462 feet above sea level. It was found to be too high to guide ships on a foggy day, so another one was built in 1891 and is still used. Whales can be seen from the southern tip of the point in the winter months.

Cabrillo Memorial and Cabrillo National Monument are both in this area. Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo entered San Diego bay on 28 September 1542 and named it San Miguel after Archangel Saint Michael.

The scenic drive then takes you to Sunset Cliffs, a popular surfing spot, and Ocean Beach, noted for its fishing and frequented by a number of bird species. Not far from here is the 4,600 acre Mission Bay Aquatic Park with its 27 miles of beaches. There is a marine life park in the area where you could spend hours viewing dolphins, seals, penguins, otters, sharks, and whales. Nearby, there is another marine life and entertainment park, or you can stop and watch the catamarans and wind surfers.

From there, you drive up to Soledad Mountain with its panoramic views across much of San Diego County. The route then passes the San Diego campus of the University of California and the Salk Institute. Dr Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine. Next are the Birch Aquarium and La Jolla Cove Park and Cave.

You will then visit Pacific Beach, with its ocean front walk, and Mission Beach, with its 74 foot Giant Dipper historic landmark. Soon you will come to Kobey’s Swap Meet, an open air market with a multitude of bargains from Thursday to Sunday.

The route heads inland to the Old Town State Historic Park, a historic Spanish and Mexican area with shops, restaurants, and shops. Catch a free walking tour of the area at 2pm every day. It is well worth stopping at Junipero Serra Museum too. It has artifacts and photos of early San Diego plus great views across Mission Valley to Mission Bay.

Next you will come to Balboa Park, named after sixteenth century Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa. At 1,400 acres, it is very large for a park so close to the downtown area of a major city. It includes many sporting facilities and museums. Within the park is the San Diego Zoo founded in 1916. It is home to thousands of animals and plants from around the world. Animals live in natural, shared environments, just as they would in the wild.

Heading back to downtown San Diego, you will pass the city’s financial district before coming to Seaport Village, a charming waterfront shopping center. Children can ride on the restored Broadway Flying Horses Carousel which dates to 1890. Nearby is the Convention Center and Embarcadero Marina Park where you can see the Coronado Bridge built is 1969. Before this, Juanita and Glorietta, known as the “nickel snatchers,” took people to Coronado by ferry.

Just up from here is the old Stingaree District where saloons, opium dens, and gambling halls did thriving business at the time of the California Gold Rush. You then come to the Gaslamp Quarter District. Alonzo Horton bought the land here in 1867 and it became the center of New Town, now the downtown area of San Diego. He made the street blocks short as corner blocks fetched a higher price. Examples of California and Victorian architecture are plentiful in this area.

Before returning to Embarcadero, you pass the Horton Plaza, renowned for its shopping and dining experiences, and as an entertainment area.

You can get more information on the 59 Mile Scenic Drive at the International Visitor Information Center at the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau on the corner of Harbor Drive and West Broadway. Also, a scenic drive map can be downloaded from a number of websites to help you navigate the route. There is a 31-track CD you can buy and play while you drive from place to place along the route. Each track tells you about the particular attraction you are passing or stopping at.