Chula Vista is often overlooked as a daytrip destination for San Diegans, so get out and explore the region of South Bay, known for its waterfront parks, coastal wildlife refuge, United States Olympic Training Center, and amazing Mexican food options thanks to its close proximity to the border.
Waterfront picnic or exercise, the choice is yours
South San Diego Bay is home to several parks, perfect for waterfront parties, like Bayside Park with its stretch of grass, built-in barbeques and boat launch. This stretch of land is also popular among exercise junkies; take a walk or jog along the Chula Vista portion of the California Coastal Trail; or pedal a portion of the Bayshore Bikeway, originally looping from The Ferry Landing at Coronado , down the Silver Strand, around the South Bay, and then back downtown (24 mi. total).
To get to Bayside Park from Interstate 5, exit J St., which turns into Marina Way; veer left to stay on Marina and access the parking lot to the right.
Explore the Living Coast Discovery Center
This non-profit aquarium and zoo is located amid the largest salt marsh habitat on San Diego Bay. If you visit during the week, it's almost like having the place to yourself from petting stingrays and observing sea turtles to discovering San Diego Bay's native plants and wildlife. Wandering these grounds and the surrounding reserve feels worlds apart from downtown San Diego.
Fall is prime time for bird watching from the observation deck where you can scope out hundreds of species. Don't miss the trail leading from the Center down to the Bay. Along it, you'll spot everything from cottontails to lizards, and once you get to the water's edge, the wide open space, silence and solitude makes it worth buying a membership.
Pro tip: When you arrive, there's a gated entrance accessible only by the free shuttle that comes every 15 minutes to take visitors into the reserve.
For hours and admission prices, visit chulavistanaturecenter.org
1000 Gunpowder Point Drive, Chula Vista. (619) 409-5900
Stroll Chula Vista's downtown village
The Third Avenue Village is an eclectic mix of old and new. Whether you're looking for sports gear, comic books, a new wig, or fresh produce, there's shopping and eating options of all sorts. Every Thursday at 3 p.m., there's a certified Farmer's Market; don't miss the Teriyaki Grill (380 Third Ave., (619) 585-1789) for San Diego-style fusion melding Asian and Mexican influences; and Talavera Azul (365 Third Ave., (619) 427-6476) for traditional Mexican breakfast, like chilaquiles.
Next month, be sure to visit
Chula Vista during Semana de los Muertos (Oct. 26-Nov. 1), a weeklong celebration for the Day of the Dead, with altars and decorations throughout the business district. For more information about events, visit thirdavenuevillage.com. 353 Third Ave., Chula Vista.
Visit the United States Olympic Training Center
This incredible 155-acre sports complex is one of only three in the nation. Visit daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for a self-guided tour along the 1-mile Olympic Path, where you'll see athletes train like never before. First, stop at the Visitor's Center, grab a map with points of interest, or even opt for a cell phone led tour. At 11 a.m. on Saturdays, there's a video presentation and guided tour.
Want in on the action? Chula Vista BMX runs a program Tuesdays and Saturdays at the dirt bike track. Visit chulabmx.com for more information.
2800 Olympic Parkway, (619) 656-1500, teamusa.com
Eat amazing Mexican food
You don't have to leave the country for authentic, regional Mexican cuisine - just take a gastro tour of Chula Vista. Dig into divine lamb barbacoa at Aqui es Texcoco (1043 Broadway Suite 108, (619) 427-4045), make a delicious mess with your "wet" Guadalajara-style sandwich from El Gallito Tortas Ahogadas (1008 Industrial Blvd., Chula Vista. (619) 397-9650); and don't forget dessert with a refreshing chamango smoothie from Teresita's Fruiteria. 4370 Palm Ave., Ste S. (619) 662-7575.
More neighborhoods to explore
Anza Borrego, Balboa Park, Coronado, Del Mar, East Village, Encinitas, Fiesta Island, Golden Hill, Hillcrest, La Jolla, Linda Vista, Mission Beach, Mission Hills, North Park: Part 1, North Park: Part 2, Ocean Beach, Point Loma, San Carlos, South Park, University Heights