Discovering the city of San Diego requires getting to know its vast array of distinct and colorful neighborhoods. From the charm of Coronado Island to the hipster enclave of North Park, exploring San Diego can be a fun adventure. San Diegans love – and are proud of - their neighborhoods, each with its own personality and joie de vivre.

In introducing NAFSANs to San Diego, I would be remiss not to begin by highlighting the first thing visitors think of when landing in sunny California…so grab your flip flops, sun tan lotion, board shorts and bikinis…let's hit the beach!

1. Coronado Island

Spanish for the "the crowned one," it is easy to see how Coronado lives up to this description. Voted in 2012 as the #1 beach in the United States, Coronado Island offers gorgeous white sands and gentle surf, in a charming community just minutes away from downtown San Diego. Of course, not to be missed is the historic Hotel del Coronado, which opened in 1888. A Queen Anne masterpiece, the "Hotel del" has a fascinating and colorful history of visitors, including royalty, politicians, celebrities, and a few ghosts. If you have never seen this architectural masterpiece, it is definitely worth a trip to Coronado!

Getting there:

By car, you must cross the San Diego Coronado Bridge (California route 75) and in minutes you will be on Orange Avenue, the main thoroughfare through Coronado Island. Visitors can also get to Coronado Island via a 15-minute ferry boat or water taxi ride across the Bay from downtown San Diego.

2. Mission Beach

Mission Beach is as diverse as a NAFSA convention! This beach community is where you will find a 70 year old couple holding hands strolling down the boardwalk, a tattooed millennial on a beach cruiser, and a mom jogging with her twins in a double wide stroller. This is some of San Diego's best beach people watching. Where all walks of life come together for leisurely strolls, sand between their toes, cold sips and a gorgeous sunset! Not to be missed is a ride on the Giant Dipper at Mission Beach's Belmont Park, a wooden roller coaster built in 1925.

3. Pacific Beach

Just up the boardwalk from Mission Beach is the lively and energetic sandy shore of Pacific Beach, or "P.B.," as the locals call it. During the day, the three miles of P.B. is filled with tourists mingling among crowds of young beach goers living their California dream. Be sure and walk out to the end Crystal Pier for great views of local surfers hanging 10. In the early 1980s, down the street in Mission Bay, America was first introduced to the fish taco, and there is no better place to enjoy this Southern California favorite than in P.B. watching the waves! P.B. is the perfect place to head indoors to spend an evening at a funky beach bar or restaurant.

4. La Jolla

By land or sea, the stunning ocean cliffs of La Jolla are not to be missed. La Jolla lies just north of Pacific Beach, and is a San Diego hot spot for the snorkeling or kayaking adventurer. From La Jolla Shores, La Jolla Kayak provides tours of spectacular cliffs and caves, where you can see stunning marine life, such as Dolphin, Sea Lions, Leopard Sharks, and Garibaldi. If you are a first timer, certified instructors will provide you with a safe and memorable trip. For land lovers, the hiking trails of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve will provide some impressive views of the ocean cliffs, wildlife, and the rare Torey Pine tree. These trails are often a weekend favorite to San Diego locals.

*Photos provided by the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau

Bradley Moon is the Local Arrangements Committee (LAT) communications chair for NAFSA’s 2014 Annual Conference & Expo. Bradley was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, and spent a number of years living, studying, and working abroad. He earned his master’s degree from Hawai`i Pacific University in Honolulu and began his higher education career in in 2005 after touring with Cirque du Soleil throughout Europe and North America. Moon is currently the assistant director of international recruitment and communication at San Diego State University, having worked for Hawai`i Pacific University and the University of Hawai`i - Leeward Community College.