About five hours from Luke Air Force Base is one of the most visited places on the West Coast. San Diego, if done right, can be an experience to remember.
The drive from Phoenix to San Diego takes one through Gila Bend, Yuma and from there it gets interesting. As the road leaves Yuma the austere landscape hits and in the distance is nothing but large sand dunes that are a sight to see. In some spots you can see the border fence that separates Mexico and the United States. Keep driving and the barren lands become a sight in the rearview mirror as the landscape turns to green rocky hills and the beauty Southern California is known for.
For military, there are two navy bases and a marine base with lodging. If you prefer to stay downtown, it’s filled with hotels of every price range. I recommend calling Navy Lodging at North Island at (619) 435-0191. The hotel is on Coronado Island on the beach and is better for families of those who want quick beach access. There is also lodging at Naval Station San Diego. They are closer to downtown and one can walk from lodging to the San Diego trolley, which can get you to many of the activities San Diego offers for single Airmen and families.
Balboa Park is a good stop for those looking for museums, natural gardens, music and good food. Access to the park is free to and is home to 17 museums, nine performing arts centers, 19 gardens, restaurants, dog parks and play areas. Things to currently see would include the Instruments of Torture exhibit, which is not for young children, at the Museum of Man. It also houses mummies and ancient Mayan artifacts for younger attendees.
Also located in Balboa is the San Diego Zoo. Active-duty military members get free admission when they show their identification and can purchase tickets at a discounted rate for family members. However, the least expensive way to obtain zoo tickets is by getting them before leaving Luke at the Information Tickets and Travel office. The zoo pass includes a free 40 minute bus tour. If you only have one day this is the place to start. Taking the tour also gets you a hand stamp to use the parks bus system all day.
After having fun at the zoo seeing animals that live on land, military members can head to SeaWorld. Military members get in into the park free with an ID plus up to three dependents. But beware, it’s a once a year deal so it can’t be used at the San Diego SeaWorld again for a year, but you are free to visit other parks under the same deal. This is the smallest of the SeaWorld parks but it has a lot to offer like the original Shamu. For families with smaller children be prepared to ride a limited number of rides, but you still get a good theme park and ride combo for the little ones.
Just a 20-minute ride north of San Diego in Carlsbad, Calif., is LegoLand. This park is geared for the smaller ones. My 7-year-old was able to ride everything but two rides and there only four my 4-year-old couldn’t ride. This park is a little cheesy for adults but it’s a big win for children and Lego lovers.
For single Airmen there is still plenty to do. The Gaslamp Quarter is downtown and is only minutes from both Navy lodgings. It is the spot for shopping, nightlife and entertainment. The events and activities are to numerous to mention here, but they are listed on the website at www.gaslamplocal.com.