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Chula Vista

San Diego County’s second largest city boasts authentic Mexican food, a burgeoning craft beer scene, and outdoor activities galore

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About seven miles from downtown San Diego in one direction and the Mexican border in another, Chula Vista is quickly developing its own strong identity as a tourist destination. There are the more obvious, historical draws—Aquatica by SeaWorld, San Diego’s largest water park; pop megastar concerts at Mattress Firm Amphitheatre (formerly Cricket Wireless Amphitheater); and the numerous eateries serving up the most authentic Mexican food you’ll find north of the border.  

But there’s a subtler side to Chula Vista, one that begins to reveal a diverse and dynamic town that embraces its natural resources, cultural influences, and forward-thinking spirit. With its 560 acres of parkland, which stretches from the San Diego Bay (grab your picnic basket and head to J Street Marina Bayside Park) to the shores of Lower Otay Lake in the rural east, Chula Vista is an ideal spot for all types of outdoorsy excursions. The queen jewel of the city’s park system, dubbed by locals the Emerald Necklace, is the 200-acre Otay Valley Regional Park, which includes eight miles of hiking trails and seven ponds. An exploration of this open-space oasis illustrates why the Spanish translation of Chula Vista is “beautiful view.”

A visit to The Living Coast Discovery Center’s aquarium and zoo on the Chula Vista waterfront (adjacent to the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge) is another fun, affordable way to explore the local habitat and wildlife. Spend your morning feeding bat rays and meeting the resident raptors, then head over to Third Avenue Village in Chula Vista’s historic district to stroll the eclectic shops and restaurants.

The Village is home to Onstage Playhouse, a popular community theatre venue—be sure to check their season lineup before your visit. If you are a purist when it comes to Tijuana-style street food, head to the no-frills Tacos El Gordo. Two other local favorites for simple, but supremely authentic Mexican food are Karina’s Mexican Seafood and Lolita’s Taco Shop.

Insider tip: Don’t miss Lolita’s California Burrito—carne asada, french fries, cheddar cheese, and sour cream rolled up in a flour tortilla.

Nothing pairs with Mexican food quite like a cold beer, and Chula Vista is an emerging hotspot for urban brewing. Check out Bay Bridge Brewing, the area’s first microbrewery, and Novo Brazil, which serves up an award-winning German-style Chula Pils. 

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