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Fly to the US from Australia and you will probably have to stop over in Los Angeles. LA can be a traffic-swamped urban sprawl but it's just two hours' drive north of the cleaner, more compact and more tourist-friendly metropolis of San Diego. With its laid-back, surfie attitude and almost 300 days of sunshine each year, San Diego is well worth a side trip if you are passing through LA.

Get your bearings

San Diego is a little bit like the eastern suburbs and city area of Sydney – a harbourside CBD rolls out to greener urban neighbourhoods along a coastline serviced by buses and a limited light-rail network. Choose a downtown hotel in the Marina District or lively Gaslamp Quarter if you want to walk most places. The latter is a charming urban playground filled with bars, restaurants and nightlife, historic Victorian architecture and dimly lit old-fashioned gas street lamps.

If you are comfortable driving on the right (or wrong?) side of the road, hire a car when you land in LA and take the scenic two-hour drive south on the famous Highway 1 (it can take a lot longer in traffic) to San Diego. This way you will have transport for the duration of your stay without searching for WiFi to use Uber, or plan around bus timetables. Australian driver licences are valid for visitors hiring cars in the US, and parking is free on many of San Diego’s streets.

Once you have made it to San Diego, stop off at the chic coastal suburb of La Jolla (pronounced “la hoya”). It is a holiday favourite for cashed-up Californians and the water is warm enough to swim in year-round. Just keep an eye on the resident sea lions.

The Baja-themed Old Town is San Diego’s former CBD, where the first Europeans settled in California. Check it out from 4pm onwards, for happy hours that carry on late into the night.

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