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posted: 10/24/2013 6:00 AM

5 free things in San Diego, beyond surf and sand

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  • Fallen Star, a small cottage by artist Do Hi Suh, sits atop Jacobs Hall, a seven-story structure that houses the engineering school on the campus of the University of California, San Diego in San Diego. The piece of art is part of the Stuart Collection, which in a 1982 agreement uses the entire UCSD campus as a site for commissioned sculpture.

      Fallen Star, a small cottage by artist Do Hi Suh, sits atop Jacobs Hall, a seven-story structure that houses the engineering school on the campus of the University of California, San Diego in San Diego. The piece of art is part of the Stuart Collection, which in a 1982 agreement uses the entire UCSD campus as a site for commissioned sculpture.
    Associated Press

  • Gliders sail past the setting sun at the glider port, which is open to the public and provides breathtaking views of the Southern California coast in San Diego.

      Gliders sail past the setting sun at the glider port, which is open to the public and provides breathtaking views of the Southern California coast in San Diego.
    Associated Press

  • The free Timken Museum of Art is located in Balboa Park in San Diego.

      The free Timken Museum of Art is located in Balboa Park in San Diego.
    Associated Press

  • Balboa Park will be marking its 100th anniversary in 2015 with a host of festivities, although any day is worth a visit to the 1,200-acre urban oasis that rivals New York's Central Park and is home to the San Diego Zoo.

      Balboa Park will be marking its 100th anniversary in 2015 with a host of festivities, although any day is worth a visit to the 1,200-acre urban oasis that rivals New York's Central Park and is home to the San Diego Zoo.
    Associated Press

  • Father Agustin Mendez prepares to celebrate a Sunday Mass along the fence between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico. The best way to see the border without crossing it is at Border Field State Park, which is at the farthest southwest corner of the United States.

      Father Agustin Mendez prepares to celebrate a Sunday Mass along the fence between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico. The best way to see the border without crossing it is at Border Field State Park, which is at the farthest southwest corner of the United States.
    Associated Press file Photo, JULY 2013

  • A lone glider sails north over the rugged cliffs of the Southern California coast in San Diego. The glider port is open to the public and offers fantastic views and refreshments.

      A lone glider sails north over the rugged cliffs of the Southern California coast in San Diego. The glider port is open to the public and offers fantastic views and refreshments.
    Associated Press

  • The Geisel Library, designed by architect William Pereira, is just one of many places to visit on the campus of the University of California, San Diego.

      The Geisel Library, designed by architect William Pereira, is just one of many places to visit on the campus of the University of California, San Diego.
    Associated Press

  • The Salk Institute, designed by world-renowned architect Louis I. Kahn, sits above the Pacific Ocean and adjacent to the glider port and the University of California, San Diego.

      The Salk Institute, designed by world-renowned architect Louis I. Kahn, sits above the Pacific Ocean and adjacent to the glider port and the University of California, San Diego.
    Associated Press

 
By Julie Watson, Associated Press

SAN DIEGO -- The home of SeaWorld and a world-famous zoo offers plenty of cash-burning attractions, but San Diego also has awe-inspiring sites that are as free as the sea breeze and go beyond just sunbathing at the beach.

The nation's eighth-largest city has matured from its "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" surf days. Today it boasts a burgeoning international art scene, thriving farm-to-table food movement and a booming bio-tech industry.

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Here are five free things to do and see in the city and its surrounding areas that run the gamut from botany to border history.

University of California, San Diego

On a mesa above the Pacific, the setting alone is reason enough to visit the UC San Diego campus. The university's grounds are also dotted by 18 internationally acclaimed art pieces. They include a text-inscribed granite picnic table by conceptual artist Jenny Holzer and a blue-violet fence-like structure by renowned installation artist Robert Irwin that runs through eucalyptus trees. The most recently acquired installation is Fallen Star by Korean artist Do Ho Suh. The quaint one-room cottage hangs precariously off the seventh story of the engineering school. It is free and open on Tuesdays and Thursdays for anyone who wants to go inside for a serious case of vertigo. A self-guided tour map is available at stuartcollection.ucsd.edu/map/.

Balboa Park

Balboa Park will be marking its 100th anniversary in 2015 with a host of festivities, although any day is worth a visit to the 1,200-acre urban oasis that rivals New York's Central Park and is home to the San Diego Zoo. With 350 species of plants, Balboa Park offers hikes through palm-lined canyons and specialty gardens that are free to visit. The visitor's center offers a self-guided tour of the Trees for Health medicinal garden with ginkgo, cinnamon and mulberry. The Zoro Garden has a sunken stone grotto that was designed as a nudist colony during the 1935 California-Pacific Exposition. Today it is a butterfly garden with indentations built into rocks to collect small pools of water for the monarch, sulfur and swallowtail butterflies. At the park's center are a cluster of museums whose Spanish-Renaissance style buildings were erected in 1915 for a world fair to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal. balboapark.org/in-the-park

The Salk Institute

Just west of the UC San Diego campus is The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, which offers free guided tours Monday through Friday. Established in the 1960s by Dr. Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine, the research facility was designed by architect Louis I. Kahn. Salk wanted laboratory spaces that could be adapted to the future needs of science. Kahn designed two, six-story buildings and used concrete, teak, lead, glass and special steel. The laboratories have glass walls, allowing them to be flooded with daylight. An open courtyard of travertine marble acts "as a facade to the sky," the institute says in its description. The American Institute of Architects has included the facility among some 30 buildings that it said have "changed modern life." Reservations are required for the tour at salk.edu/about/architecture_tours.html.

Border Field State Park

San Diego is a border city, but it often does not feel like one despite the fact its center is less than a 20-minute drive to Mexico. The best way to see the border without crossing it is at Border Field State Park, which is at the farthest southwest corner of the United States. The park is free for those who hike in from the parking lot before the main gate. It's about a 1 miles to the picnic area, where visitors can see the towering steel fence marking the border, which plunges into the Pacific. The Border Patrol does not allow the public to go up to the fence but one can stand a short distance from it and see parts of Tijuana, including its bull ring. Music and kites often waft over from Mexico. The U.S. side is an uninterrupted natural coastal stretch that is part of an estuary reserve with more than 370 species of birds. Swimming here is not recommended because of rip currents. parks.ca.gov/?page_id=664

Torrey Pines Glider Port

For spectacular sky gazing, head to Torrey Pines Glider Port, a city-owned, private-use glider airport where paragliders and hang gliders jump off the wind-swept bluffs and silently float over the ocean. During World War II, U.S. Army cadets trained at the site, which is listed as a National Landmark of Soaring. Today there are picnic tables. The glider port offers lessons and equipment rental and sandwiches at the Cliff Hanger Cafe. Anyone can visit for free. sandiegofreeflight.com/jm170/

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