2011 Convention: Come Visit My Home Town!
Dan Mahr

It’s time to start seriously planning your visit to San Diego for our convention next April. CSSA convention chair Duke Benadom and San Diego C&SS convention chair Peter Walkowiak and their teams of volunteers have been working hard to put together another fantastic convention. I’ve enjoyed working with my program co-chair Kelly Griffin on the program; we’ve got a great lineup of speakers, a few old friends and some exciting new faces. The Mission Valley Marriott is ready for us, and the plant and pottery vendors will have plenty of souvenirs for us to pack up and take home.

Of course, our convention will be the focus of your trip, but I’m sure you realize that San Diego is, without doubt, one of the top visitor destinations in the U.S. It is a big-time city but with home town charm. In fact, it is my home town (at least it was for my first 30+ years, and Susan and I will soon return to enjoy our retirement years). So, for those of you less familiar with the area, I’d like to suggest some of the possibilities you should consider to extend your stay and further enjoy your visit. Before we get started, two important notes. First, the following information pertains strictly to San Diego – the city itself, the greater metropolitan area, and the County of San Diego. Additional opportunities for fun in the sun are in communities to the north and across the border to the south in Baja California, Mexico. Second, many of the cactus and succulent oriented destinations below will be accessible from the delicious menu of mid-convention day trips, so be sure to sign up for one of those.

For Cactophiles and Succulentists.

San Diego County is the native home of many types of cacti and succulents from coastal species that are adapted to the winter rainfall of our Mediterranean climate to mountain dwellers that may be covered by a blanket of snow in the winter, to true desert dwellers in the eastern part of the county. Various species of prickly pear (Opuntia), cholla (Cylindropuntia), barrel cactus (Ferocactus), Mammillaria, Yucca, Agave, and Dudleya occur within the greater San Diego metropolitan area. It’s easy to spot Hersperoyucca whipplei flower stalks and prickly pears, both native and escaped (especially various forms of Opuntia ficus-indica in the latter category) as you drive through the undeveloped hillsides around San Diego and neighboring communities. Indeed, there are 30 taxa of cacti in San Diego County (http://www.sdnhm.org/research/botany/sdcacti.html) and about 20 other succulents (http://www.sdnhm.org/research/botany/sdplants/index.html) including all of the above plus Bursera, Euphorbia, and Fouquieria. A good location to view coastal succulents is Point Loma and an outstanding location to view the desert species is Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=638). At 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego is the second largest state park in the U.S. It is about a 2-hour drive east from the convention site. It could be either a long day trip, or to really see the desert at its finest, plan to spend a night. But book reservations early because April is wildflower season in the desert and many come to enjoy the spectacular views and fine weather at that time of year.

San Diego County boasts several beautiful public and private gardens that feature cacti and other succulents. The San Diego Botanic Garden (http://www.sdbgarden.org/index.html) (formerly Quail Gardens) is in coastal Encinitas, about 30 minutes north of our convention facility. A beautifully designed and maintained 35 acre garden, there are nearly 30 individual theme gardens; those of interest to our group include the Australian, African, Canary Islands, Mexican, New World Desert, South Africa, South American Desert, and Undersea Succulent Gardens (the latter uses succulent plants to simulate a coral reef). Balboa Park is a “must see” for every San Diego visitor (see “General Attractions” below). Probably best known for the San Diego Zoo, the park is home to numerous gardens. The zoo itself is an accredited botanic garden with 4,500 species and the animals’ enclosures are often landscaped with vegetation from their native habitats. Don’t be surprised to see mature plants of Pachypodium lamerei in full bloom, or various aloes throughout the garden. Near the zoo entrance are fantastic specimens of the unusual pink-flowered ponytail palms (Beaucarnea). Balboa Park’s Desert Garden is just east of the zoo’s parking area. It is 2.5 acres with some 1300 plants, many being cacti and succulents. In all, there are about 15 gardens in Balboa Park; for brief descriptions of each see http://www.balboapark.org/in-the-park/gardens. Another “must see” is San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park (more below). Again, the park is an accredited botanic garden with exotic landscaping, including succulents, throughout. A short (though steep) walk up a hillside takes you to the Baja Garden and Old World Succulent Garden. The Baja Garden includes probably the largest collection of boojums (Fouquieria columnaris) outside of Baja, as well as burseras, agaves, cacti, and other succulents. Both gardens are maintained by volunteers from our host San Diego Cactus and Succulent Society. Also on the grounds of Safari Park is a shade house maintained by the San Diego Epiphyllum Society with nearly 600 plants exhibited, and of course April will be prime blooming time. For an overview of the gardens at Safari Park, see http://www.sandiegozoo.org/CF/plants/gardens_wap.html.

And yes, there are cactus and succulent nurseries in San Diego County. I’ve decided not to list them here because many will be vendors or otherwise involved in the convention. The San Diego Cactus and Succulent Society maintains a list of Southern California nurseries at http://www.sdcss.net/nurseries.html; of those listed, Grigsby Cactus Gardens, Rainbow Gardens Nursery, and Rare Succulents are all located in northern San Diego County. I suggest you contact them in advance to be certain when they will be open.

General Attractions.

San Diego County has an abundance of attractions to fit the interests of almost everyone; here is a synopsis.

For the water inclined. Of course, San Diego is on the ocean, and there are numerous beaches in Mission Bay, La Jolla and elsewhere. But keep in mind that this is not southern Florida; in April the air will be cool and the water cold. I got my interest in biology by exploring the tide pools; for a list see http://www.sdnhm.org/fieldguide/places/tidepooling.html. For the more adventuresome, snorkel or scuba the La Jolla kelp beds from La Jolla cove – rent equipment and hire a guide from shore (several on-line sites). For those who like to see exotic sea creatures but keep their feet dry, try the Birch Aquarium, operated by University of California’s famous Scripps Institution of Oceanography (http://www.aquarium.ucsd.edu/) or spend a day at Sea World (http://www.seaworld.com/sandiego/).

Historically oriented? In 1542 Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo led the first European exploration of what would become the West Coast of the United States. During that year he became the first European to sail into San Diego Bay. Point Loma encloses the bay on the north and Cabrillo National Monument (http://www.nps.gov/cabr/), which lies at the tip of Point Loma, is of interest both historically (visit the Old Point Loma Lighthouse) and as a small preserve of natural coastal habitat including some of our native cacti. At Old Town State Historic Park (http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=663) just a few minutes from our convention site, you can get a glimpse of San Diego during the early years. It is also a great location for shopping and eating, with numerous Mexican restaurants and other cuisine (http://www.oldtownsandiegoguide.com/). Very near Old Town is Presidio Park, home to Serra Museum (https://www.sandiegohistory.org/serra_museum.html). This is the location where, in 1769, Father Junipero Serra established the first mission and fort in what was to eventually become the state of California. The historic and beautiful Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala itself is located just a few minutes east up Mission Valley, very near our hotel. It is still used as a Catholic church with regular masses (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission_San_Diego_de_Alcal%C3%A1). San Diego has been of major military importance since the early years of European colonization, and the US Navy and US Marine Corps both have significantly shaped the history of San Diego. The Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) Museum (http://www.mcrdmuseumhistoricalsociety.org/) may be of interest, as well as the Maritime Museum of San Diego (http://www.sdmaritime.org/) where you can climb aboard the Star of India (the oldest active sailing ship in the world!) and other ships of historic interest. The aircraft carrier USS Midway is also a museum, with over 60 exhibits and 27 types of restored aircraft on deck (http://www.midway.org/).

Like animals? The world famous San Diego Zoo is in beautiful Balboa Park just about 4 miles from our convention hotel. While in the park (http://www.balboapark.org), there are numerous other attractions, including the San Diego Natural History Museum and 3D theater (http://www.sdnhm.org/index.php5) and the Rubin H. Fleet Science Center and IMAX theater (http://www.rhfleet.org/visit.html). In all, there are 15 museums in the park. About a half hour north on I-15, just south of Escondido in San Pasqual Valley is San Diego Zoo’s other major attraction, San Diego Wild Animal Park (now called San Diego Zoo Safari Park) (http://www.sandiegozoo.org/park/) where many of the animals are held in much larger and more natural enclosures.

Entertainment for kids of all ages. Legoland (http://california.legoland.com/) is located near Carlsbad off of I-5, just about 30 minutes north of our convention facility. For older kids with an eye on partying ‘til dawn, San Diego’s Historic Gaslamp Quarter (http://www.gaslamp.org/) is the place for shopping, dining, and evening entertainment. If you need to relax on the links after a grueling week of cactus talks, bring your clubs; Southland Golf lists 84 courses in San Diego County. If you want to play the famous and challenging Torrey Pines South course, get your reservations in early (but you can buy lots of plants from the convention vendors for the cost of the greens fees!).

There are plenty of opportunities to take home some tangible memories of your trip to San Diego. Of course, typical souvenirs can be found at all the attractions listed above. In addition, Seaport Village (http://www.seaportvillage.com/) with over 50 shops and numerous eateries is a popular destination. More upscale shopping can be had at the numerous boutiques in La Jolla (http://www.lajollabythesea.com/about/index.php). San Diego County has numerous shopping malls – Fashion Valley (http://www.simon.com/mall/default.aspx?id=765) is one of the best and is located only three miles from our convention facility; Horton Plaza (http://westfield.com/hortonplaza/) is another great shopping experience, located in the Gaslamp District (but beware of the parking structure – it eats people; I had to be rescued once and my mother-in-law will never let me forget!). One opinion as to the “best” malls in San Diego County can be found at http://sandiego.about.com/od/shopping/tp/top_malls.htm.

Getting around.
If you plan on being out and about a fair amount, you might want to get a rental car. Otherwise, for local transit through much of the greater metropolitan area, including Seaport Village, the Gaslamp Quarter, and Old Town, the San Diego trolley is a convenient alternative, with a pickup point very near our hotel.

So, yeah, there’s lots to do for all tastes and interests in San Diego. So bring the family, come early, and stay late, and enjoy your vacation in my home town.

All photos by Susan Mahr.


Copyright © 2010 The San Diego Cactus & Succulent Society