A world-class zoo, fine dining, and other big-city benefits don't mean there's not also plenty of natural wonder in this Southern California city.

By Alison Bing
February 12, 2009
Courtesy San Diego Zoo

Untrammeled landscapes and rare wildlife sightings make Tasmania an enticing destination, but if you prefer your nature hikes and wildlife discoveries to be followed by all that a major city has to offer, then San Diego may serve as a closer alternative. Though it may be urban, it has an antipodean wild side, from eucalyptus groves and coastal tide pools to rare wildlife species thriving in the educational cageless habitats of the San Diego Zoo. And at just 125 miles from the travel hub of Los Angeles, it’s more convenient than Australia’s remote state.

Eat smart: You don’t have to cross the International Date Line to develop a taste for Tasmanian food and drink. In the heart of downtown San Diego’s recently revitalized Gaslamp Quarter is trendy new Bondi Bar & Kitchen, an authentic Australian gastropub where “G’Day!” is the host’s greeting and grilled Tasmanian trout with a tangy, caramelized sauce of Aboriginal bush tomato (a native Australian relative of the eggplant) is a menu favorite. Pair the signature fish dish with Tasmanian Boag’s Premium Lager, a pale, crisp brew of Tasmanian hops and highland water slow-fermented at low temperatures. For other South Pacific eats at lunch, the Bareback Grill offers organic New Zealand lamb-burgers and welcomes the wetsuit crowd with a laid-back surfer scene.

Be fit: Before you head into the zoo at Balboa Park, take a walk through the park’s fragrant eucalyptus grove, one of the largest outside Australia. These towering trees were initially imported in the 1850s for use as railroad ties, but they had an unfortunate tendency to split under pressure. Southern Californian growers were left with a lot of trees, and perhaps not coincidentally, found uses for eucalyptus ranging from aiding respiratory trouble to skin ailments. Few of these benefits have been conclusively proven, but one thing is certain: This stately grove looks, sounds, and smells wonderful, with long leaves that rustle soothingly and an invigorating, minty scent.

Live well: When you’re ready to take on the wilds of Tasmania, head to the San Diego Zoo, where you’ll encounter wallabys, the smaller, more cuddly Tasmanian cousins of the kangaroo, and the largest collection of koalas outside Australia.

Where to stay: The hub of San Diego’s action is located in the 16-block Gaslamp District with its grand three-story Italianate facades dating to the 1880s. Here you’ll find the budget-friendly, historic Sofia Hotel, where updated rooms feature cushy sleigh beds and fossils and shells embedded in the décor. De-stress after your day in the urban wilderness in the in-house yoga studio and full-scale spa.