San Diego offers zoo, parks, shopping, restaurants for NTTC

Whether it's pandas or pasta visitors are searching for, San Diego will provide the answer, according to information from the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The San Diego Zoo, located in Balboa Park and noted for its panda collection, and the lively downtown area, with a long list of restaurants, are part of a dynamic metropolitan area that draws visitors and residents alike.

The zoo will provide a Dr Doolittle experience for the National Tank Truck Carrier spouses who attend the annual meeting, but instead of being in Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, the group will be talking to the animals on a backstage tour.

The zoo has had a love affair with giant pandas ever since two of the black-and-white bears came to visit in 1987. After years of red tape and tons of application paperwork, the zoo and China agreed on a 12-year research loan of two giant pandas, Bai Yun and Shi Shi. A new exhibit area was built, then expanded and renovated. It is now called the Giant Panda Research Station, the visitor's bureau points out. In addition, the zoo is home to 4,000 rare and endangered animals.

Framed by inland mountains and a natural harbor, the city offers entertainment morning to night. A good way to begin or finish the day is at the beach. Surfing and sailing, biking and running, swimming and diving are among the activities available at the city's coastal beaches and bays. Watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean may become a highlight of any visit.

During the night, guests can party away in the eclectic Gaslamp Quarter, a 16.5 block historic district, ablaze with over 100 restaurants, 40 nightclubs and bars, entertainment, and retail opportunities galore.

San Diego ranks as California's second largest city and the United States' eighth largest with a population of nearly 1.3 million residents. The city was founded by Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo when he landed in what is now San Diego Bay and claimed the area for Spain on September 28, 1542. Cabrillo National Monument commemorates the arrival of the Portuguese explorer and provides spectacular views of San Diego's harbor and coast line.

Lingering as historical examples are several colonial missions scattered thought the city. They include Mission San Diego de Alcala and San Luis Rey Mission.

For those interested in San Diego's long relationship with the US Navy, the USS Midway Museum displays that heritage. The ship was commissioned in 1945 and served through 1991, a period that is the longest history of service for a US aircraft carrier, according to museum information.

Ready to return to civilian life? Boutique shopping and trendy cafes abound in colorful Little Italy. Outdoor recreation, public art, and nautical history fill the downtown waterfront. For art and culture, see the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art. The city has a range of museums, 15 of which are located in the 1,200-acre Balboa Park, while others are spread throughout the county.

In addition to the zoo and museums, Balboa Park also is home to the performing arts, the James S Copley Auditorium, and acres of lush landscaping and gardens. The gardens enhance the park, including the Alcazar Garden, rose and desert gardens, the Japanese Friendship Garden, and a botanical building.

For a change of pace, visitors can make their way to SeaWorld where a Shamu show amuses the audience after which visitors can encounter polar bears at Wild Arctic followed by a thrill on the Journey To Atlantis water coaster.

For those with a penchant for taking chances, San Diego features eight casinos located throughout the region that have gaming from blackjack and poker, to Pai Gow, to progressive slot machines.

Feeling more like taking risks in other ways, pack up the golf clubs and head to one of San Diego's more than 90 links. You have a choice of courses with seaside, desert, or inland valley settings.

With such a variety of San Diego attractions, visitors can take advantage of trolleys, buses, and commuter rail that crisscross the city. MTS Trolley is a light-rail system that operates on three lines (Blue, Orange, and Green Lines), and travels across 51 miles with a total of 53 stations. There are 100 MTS fixed bus routes that operate throughout San Diego. Day passes are available.

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