San Diego Zoo
Exhibits are often designed around a particular habitat. The same exhibit features many different animals that can be found side-by-side in the wild, along with native plant life. Exhibits range from an African rain forest (featuring gorillas) to the Arctic taiga and tundra in the summertime (featuring polar bears). Some of the largest free-flight aviaries in existence are here. Many exhibits are "natural" with invisible wires and darkened blinds (to view birds), and pools and open-air moats (for large mammals).
The temperate, sunny maritime climate is well suited to many plants and animals. Besides an extensive collection of birds, reptiles, and mammals, it also maintains its grounds as an arboretum, with a rare plant collection. As part of its gardening effort, it raises some rare animal foods. For example, the zoo raises 40 varieties of bamboo for the pandas on long-term loan from China, and it maintains 18 varieties of eucalyptus trees to feed its koalas.
The zoo is one of four zoos in the U.S. which have giant pandas on display, and is the most successful in terms of panda reproduction. The first two giant panda cubs in U.S. history to have been born in the U.S. and survive into adulthood. Since then, four more giant panda cubs, have been born to the resident giant panda parents Bai Yun and Gao Gao. All these American-born cubs except Xiao Liwu have been sent back to China to participate in the breeding program there.
The zoo is amazing really and it is almost impossible to give it adequate attention in a single visit. To me the highlights included the koala bear exhibit, the baby hippo, the elephant odyssey exhibit and huge multi-story aviaries that are there. It was a fantastic start to the day.
In the late afternoon and early evening, I drove over to Point Loma and visited the Cabrillo National Monument. It is located on the Southern tip of the Point Loma peninsula and is the spot where in 1542, the first European, Juan Rodriquez Cabriillo set foot on what would become the West coast of the United States.
The park offers a view of San Diego's harbor and skyline, as well as Coronado and Naval Air Station North Island. On clear days, a wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Tijuana, and Mexico's Coronado Islands are also visible. A visitor center screens a film about Cabrillo's voyage and has exhibits about the expedition.
It is a beautiful site and features a huge statue of Cabrillo that overlooks the entrance to San Diego Bay as well as the old Point Loma Lighthouse, which while no longer in use, has been preserved in its original state for visitors to explore. The lighthouse is a beautiful focal point for what is truly a wonderful place to visit.
The sweeping ocean vistas and incredible views are worth the visit by themselves and the park is certainly worth the short drive from downtown. You can also get a nice appreciation of the military history of the area from the park, from the vantage point you can see a wide range of military vessels of the US Navy in the harbor.