Review by Paul Williams, photos by Paul Williams, and courtesy California State Parks

The most striking thing about arriving at San Diego by air is that it looks like you’re going to land in the middle of downtown. Turns out, you are.

Unlike most metropolitan airports, this one’s very handy to the city. Once on the ground, you’re right next to the water; a short taxi ride to downtown hotels.

And if it’s a typical San Diego day, the weather will be wonderful. Officially classed as “semi-arid,” the average temperature throughout the year ranges from a low of 14 degrees in January to a high of almost 23 degrees in August. During the day, the high temperature ranges between about 19 and 25 degrees, depending on the month. For many Canadians, this could be the climate of your dreams.

The San Diego tourism website can help with destinations. There you’ll find a smorgasbord of things to do in the area, helpfully arranged by category. We used it to get the lay of the land and to find out what events were scheduled during our stay.

Our base? Coronado Island, a community of about 25,000 people located in San Diego Bay, accessible by a multilane lane bridge (no tolls) that spans the water, or by ferry. We stayed at the Hotel Del Coronado – an interesting, historic and luxurious assembly of buildings, restaurants and gardens – courtesy of Hyundai Canada (who used the venue for the launch of the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe XL). We also had the use of a Hyundai Santa Fe Sport – the five-passenger version — to better explore the region.

On Orange Avenue, CoronadoHotel Del Coronado
On Orange Avenue, Coronado & Hotel Del Coronado. Click image to enlarge

Coronado Island is nice enough that you can while away much more time than you expect, what with the wonderfully maintained Coronado Central Beach, the numerous classic vehicles that many locals favour, the fine restaurants on Orange Avenue, the warm breezes and altogether civilized pace.

But we wanted to get a sense of San Diego’s surrounding topography, so headed back to the mainland, briefly took the I-5 north, then drove east on the I-8. Even though San Diego is a good-sized city at 1.3 million inhabitants, you’re out town in a matter of minutes on the Interstate.

Our Santa Fe Sport was the 2.0T version, which meant it was powered with a turbocharged, direct-injected four-cylinder engine making 264 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque (the “base” engine is a 2.4L “four,” making 190 hp). In “Limited” trim here in Canada, the price of our fully loaded Santa Fe would be $38,499. And just so you know, in the US the Santa Fe Sport is the 2.0T version, and base version is simply called the Santa Fe. Here in Canada, both are called the Santa Fe Sport.

Classic Vehicles on Orange AvenueClassic Vehicles on Orange Avenue
Classic Vehicles on Orange Avenue. Click image to enlarge

Cruising on the highway, the 2.0T engine is all but silent, and under acceleration is likewise smooth and quiet. It’s amazing how far four-cylinder engine technology has come in the past decade, with power and responsiveness equalling or besting the V6 engines many are replacing. Fuel consumption is improved, too, with all Santa Fe models now including an ActiveECO system that modifies engine and transmission operation to increase fuel economy by up to seven percent, according to Hyundai.

Further down the road – and we promised ourselves we weren’t going to do this – we stopped at a ubiquitous feature of the American landscape, the outlet mall. We went (I swear to you) because a California Welcome Center was there, and we wanted maps and information.

But once at the Viejas Outlet Center, we had to marvel at the impressive vision behind it. This is something we just don’t do well in Canada: make outlet malls that actually look nice.

First of all, the entire facility is sensitively modeled on a First Nation village theme. Natural rock formations, bronze sculptures and water features blend harmoniously into the environment and the whole place has a pleasant feel to it. Oddly (I guess), it’s also the location of Southern California’s largest outdoor ice rink.

We went to the California Welcome Center as planned, succumbed briefly to the Nike store, and continued our drive.

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