San Diego, California, may have an urban population pushing easily towards the 3 million mark. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t places to enjoy a quiet glimpse of the great outdoors, or commune with your animal nature.
For example, it doesn’t take much effort to find San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park, one of the top-ranked zoos in the country. Be forewarned: it’s big. And during peak season it can be a little crowded. But visit on a weekday, or first thing in the morning and you may find you’ve got the polar bear almost all to yourself. In the same vein, leave another day free to visit the associated San Diego Zoo Safari Park, roughly 45 minutes (by road) from the zoo. If you’re more keen on sea lions, sharks and Shamu, think SeaWorld in Mission Bay Park or the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The latter is actually in La Jolla, but their approach is slightly more educational and in winter you can take guided tide pool tours, which earns it our vote.
For less than the cost of single admission to any of the above, however, you can get up close and personal with mother nature at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve (just pay for parking). Though it’s a little way out from the city center, the reward is 2,000 acres of beach, lagoon and torrey pine-framed trails. If you want to know what San Diego might have looked like before it became a wildly popular place to live, head inland, to Mission Trails Regional Park. One of the nation’s largest urban parks, Mission Trails boasts 5, 800 undeveloped acres which includes miles of hiking trails, Lake Murray (where you can launch a boat) and Kumeyaay Lake, where you can pitch a tent and see a few stars.
So it’s not the ends of the earth, but really, it’s about as close as you can get this close to a bustling city like San Diego, California.