Dwight Eisenhower gave us quite a few things: victory in Europe, the interstate highway system and the “sister cities” concept, which Ike announced during a 1956 White House conference on citizen diplomacy. San Diego was one of the first cities to leap onto the bandwagon and has since forged relationships with 15 cities around the globe.
Scattered across six continents, San Diego’s civic partners represent a wide spectrum of urban landscapes and styles, from ancient Asian and European metropoli to cities that weren’t born until after World War II. They also make an interesting assemblage of destinations for those craving new, exotic and sometimes offbeat places to travel.
Alcalá de Henares, Spain
Located 20 miles east of Madrid, Alcalá de Henares was the birthplace of celebrated author Miguel de Cervantes (Don Quixote) and the place where a then-unknown skipper by the name of Christopher Columbus first suggested a voyage across the ocean to Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. Like San Diego, Alcalá is home to a large military airbase and a university town. In fact, the University of San Diego (USD) campus design was largely inspired by the Universidad de Alcalá. From the Plaza de Cervantes and cobblestone Calle Major to the Cathedral of the Santos Niños and the Archbishop’s Palace, the city is flush with Gothic and Renaissance architecture. A living-history train, with actors playing scenes from Don Quixote, runs between Madrid and Alcalá from April to June and October to December.
Where To Stay: Parador de Alcalá de Henares - San Jerónimo College, a 17th-century monastery school, has been converted into a romantic luxury hotel near the town center. parador.es
A thriving science and hi-tech hub, Campinas is located about 60 miles north of Sao Paulo. Founded around the same time as San Diego (1774), Campinas grew rich on Brazil’s coffee boom. The old town is spangled with Portuguese colonial landmarks, but the city also has its new-age attractions including modern science museums and a wide range of performing arts. The Bosque dos Jequitibas preserves a patch of rainforest in the city center, while the handsome countryside around Campinas flaunts coffee plantations, mountainous areas and villages populated by Dutch settlers. With more than 35,000 students, Campinas University ranks as the second best in Latin America.
Where To Stay: Royal Palm Resort - swimming pools, tennis courts, a fitness center and spa, and two thematic playgrounds for children round out the amenities at this Brazilian resort. royalpalm.com
Cavite City, Philippines
San Diego and this Philippines seaport have a lot in common, including navy bases and Spanish colonial religious institutions named San Diego de Alcala (the local example of which is the mission located in Grantville). A convent founded in 1608, the Cavite City version is now long gone, destroyed during World War II like most of the city’s other historic structures. But many other colonial relics remain, including Imus Cathedral, a stout “Earthquake Baroque” structure designed to resist the tremors that afflict the archipelago. Located on a peninsula stretching in Manila Bay, Cavite was the eastern base of the famous Manila Galleons that plied the Pacific with solid gold cargoes.
Where to Stay: Sonya’s Garden - perched on the side of Taal Volcano, about an hour’s drive from Cavite City, Sonja’s combines tranquil countryside and legendary Filipino hospitality. sonyasgarden.com
The city that inspired Harry Potter blends ancient and modern like no other British city. From Edinburgh Castle to the royal yacht Britannia and lofty Arthur’s Seat, there’s plenty of pomp and circumstance. But Scotland’s capital is also renowned for fine food, great beer and a summer-long festival season that includes the Royal Military Tattoo and The Fringe. Make like a Scot and trek Holyrood Park, get fitted for a kilt, learn the bagpipes and sink your teeth into juicy haggis before launching a pub crawl along the Royal Mile.
Where to Stay: The Scotsman - located in the former offices of The Scotsman newspaper, this chic boutique hotel is located right off the Royal Mile. thescotsmanhotel.co.uk
War forged the ongoing relationship between San Diego and this eastern Afghanistan city. As a forward operating base for U.S. Marines, Jalalabad has been a key city in the struggle against the Taliban. The city’s history stretches back more than 2,000 years to Alexander the Great’s invasion and, for centuries after, it was a center of the region’s Greco-Buddhist culture. For obvious reasons, Jalalabad doesn’t get many tourists these days. But if you do happen to find yourself there, visit the old royal tombs and the Hada Museum, shop for carpet in the market and try to catch a cricket game in the new stadium.
Where to Stay: Taj Mahal Guest House - Eastern Afghanistan’s best digs include a back garden, workout area and billiards room. tajhouse2012.wordpress.com
Jeonju, South Korea
It’s all about eating in Jeonju. Two hours by bullet train south of Seoul, the city is renowned around the peninsula for a culinary scene that includes iconic regional dishes (like bibimbap), celebrity chefs and gastronomic events. Between meals, duck into Hanok Village, an outdoor museum with more than 800 historic buildings from around Korea, or browse various palaces, temples and forts erected during imperial days, when Jeonju was an important political, cultural and religious center. Best time to visit is during the annual Bibimbap Festival in October.
Where to Stay: Benikea Jazz Around Hotel - located on the eastern edge of Jeonju, not far from the train station, the Benikea hotel features guest rooms decorated by local artists and designers. benikea.com
One of Mexico’s most progressive cities, Leon has won international recognition for its eco-friendly ways and means, including an über-efficient urban transportation system. Located in the highlands, about 240 miles north of Mexico City, the city blends Spanish colonial charm and modern business savvy. There are plenty of old plazas and palaces to poke around, but Leon’s most impressive landmark is much newer than it looks: the Neo-Gothic Santuario Expiatorio del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús is a flamboyant church built in the 1920s. The city’s central location affords easy access to nearby gems like Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende and the Tequila Country.
Where to Stay: HS Hotsson Hotel - an outdoor heated pool, tennis center and spa with al fresco treatments make this modern hotel the place to stay in Leon. hotsson.com
With its laidback attitude, outdoor lifestyles, endless beaches and Mediterranean climate, Perth may be more like San Diego than any other city on the planet. And the similarities continue. The thousand-acre King’s Park is a leafy, Down Under version of Balboa Park, the Freemantle waterfront could easily pass for Mission Bay, and the wildflower-strewn desert beyond resembles our own Anza-Borrego. This sister-city bond was forged in 1986 as the Western Australian capital was preparing to host the America’s Cup yacht race.
Where to Stay: Hougoumont Freemantle - tucked inside a Victorian-era building that previously served as a brewery, brothel and Italian Club, this new hotel is within an easy walk of the waterfront. hougoumonthotel.com
Taichung City, Taiwan
A two-hour drive south of Taipei, this is Taiwan’s third largest city, a hard-working hub of business and industry celebrated for its delicious suncakes, fruity bubble teas and trendy shoemaking. Californians will be equally amazed and shocked by the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan; similar reactions are provoked by the giant golden Buddha statue at PaoChueh Temple. Taichung is also a great base for exploring the natural wonders of mountainous central Taiwan, including Shei-Pa and Tarako national parks.
Where to Stay: Reddot Hotel - admittedly designed with a sense of humor, the Reddot flaunts plenty of pop art and playful furnishings. reddot-hotel.com
If you’ve never heard of this African oceanfront city, you’re not alone - Tema didn’t exist before 1962, when it was founded as a purpose-built “new town” and Ghana’s largest seaport. Tema’s big claim to fame is the fact that it’s located at zero degrees longitude, right on the Greenwich Meridian. Not surprisingly, Greenwich, England is another of its three sister cities. Other than watching containers unloading at the port, there’s not an awful lot for visitors to do in Tema. Although the Sakumo Lagoon Protected Area on the town’s western edge is a wetlands of international importance, home to sea turtles and 70 bird species.
Where to Stay: Labadi Beach Hotel - Ghana’s best beach resort lies about halfway between Tema and Accra on a golden stretch of South Atlantic sand. legacyhotels.co.za
San Diego’s Hispanic alter ego is the easiest of all the sister cities to reach, situated just a quick drive down Interstate 5. With more than five million people, the Mexican metropolis is now larger than its north-of-the-border kin. Shopping and dining remain de rigueur for any visit, but you can also catch an IMAX movie, dance performance or art show at the Tijuana Cultural Center, or head west for a slice of Baja-fresh sea, sun and sand.
Where to Stay: Hotel Ticuán - efficient, comfortable and modern, Ticuán offers a dash of contemporary Mexico in the middle of old Tijuana. hotelticuan.mx
“Siberia meets the sea” is a great way to describe this Russian seaport, which overlooks the Sea of Japan at the end of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Golden Horn Bay, with its soaring bridges and Pacific Fleet warships, is the main attraction. The fading, yet still-fantastic tsarist architecture and Communist-era monuments complement this waterfront city’s eclectic charm. Wild Siberia is never far away - visit the islands in the Peter the Great Gulf, Lazurnaya Bay or the remote Zov Tigra National Park (one of the last bastions of the Siberian tiger).
Where to Stay: Sibirskoe Podvorie - the inn’s history stretches back to tsarist times (1898), when a local merchant built this ostentatious, imperial-style mansion. otelspen.com
Another Iron Curtain orphan, Poland’s capital has blossomed, since the wall came down, into one of the more intriguing cities in Eastern Europe. The Polish burg mashes a thousand years of architectural styles from medieval St. John’s Cathedral and baroque Lazienki Palace through Soviet Bloc monstrosities. Catch a concert at the Chopin Salon, study the stars at the Copernicus Science Center or reflect on the city’s turbulent past at the Warsaw Uprising Museum.
Where to Stay: Polonia Palace - overlooking one of Warsaw’s main squares, the Polonia has long been one of the Polish capital’s finest abodes. poloniapalace.com
Bacchanalian delights infuse this sleepy seacoast city, renowned for being home to China’s oldest and largest winery, as well as the fruit produced in its hinterlands. Perched on the north shore of the Shandong Peninsula, Yantai is also a fishing port and beach resort. Founded in the 1700s, Changyu Winery offers a museum, underground cellar and tasting room. After your tipple, head over to Nanshan Park to see the pandas, and then end the day at Haichang Fisherman’s Wharf with its aquarium and seafood eateries.
Where to Stay: Sheraton Yantai Golden Beach Resort - located along a sandy stretch of Taozi Bay, this sprawling Sheraton resort offers water sports, a luxury spa and restaurants serving Chinese, Japanese and European cuisines. starwoodhotels.com
Yokohama is more like a twin sister than a regular sister city of San Diego. It has a busy seaport, a famous zoo and a marine theme park - and it’s homebase for the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet. The futuristic skyline of Minato Mirai 21 dominates downtown Yokohama, with the towering Cosmo Clock Ferris Wheel standing as a must-do attraction. But the city has plenty of quirky things, too, like the Cup Noodles Museum, the world’s tallest lighthouse and Japan’s largest Chinatown. Plus, Tokyo is half an hour away by bullet train.
Where to Stay: InterContinental Yokohama Grand - InterCon Suites, located on floors 27-29, offer sweeping views across Yokohama city and Tokyo Bay. interconti.co.jp