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Living: Travel: ANIMAL MAGIC.

Byline: ROZ LAWS

HOW do you scare a dolphin? Clap your hands and shout 'Boo!', of course!

My new friend Priscilla reacted to this with a high-pitched squeal, but the trainer assured us she loved this game and wasn't really frightened. In fact, the dolphin appeared to be having almost as much fun as me as we played together in a pool at San Diego's SeaWorld Adventure Park.

She rose from the water so I could hold her flippers and dance with her. And cuddling up for a photo was an extraordinary, unforgettable experience.

It's this kind of animal magic that I'll always associate with San Diego. Just the day before, I'd been hand-feeding giraffes and getting amazingly close to rhinos at the city's Wild Animal Park.

And later on, I watched in awe as a giant panda rolled and dozed in the world famous San Diego Zoo.

Of course there's more to San Diego than its wildlife. This sunny Californian city, a two-hour drive south of Los Angeles and close to the Mexican border, has a pleasant atmosphere and plenty to see.

A good way to start exploring is by boarding an Old Town Trolley Tour, pounds 15 for adults and pounds 7.50 for children. You can cover 30 miles in an informative two-hour guided tour, or hop on and off at eight stops along the way including the old town, harbour, zoo and huge Horton Plaza shopping centre.

One stop you must make is at the extensive Balboa Park with its 15 museums, pretty gardens and superb Prado restaurant, as well as the zoo, which is home to the giant pandas on loan from China - Shi Shi, Bai Yun and their three-year-old Hua Mei.

San Diego is the home of the US Pacific Fleet and the Tom Cruise movie Top Gun was filmed here. Most of the sailors are stationed on the charming island of Coronado, worth a visit to see the grand Hotel Del Coronado.

This was where the Marilyn Monroe classic Some Like It Hot was shot, and where, reputedly, the Prince of Wales first spotted Wallis Simpson.

At night, head for the historic Gaslamp Quarter, featuring Victorian buildings housing restaurants, bars and clubs buzzing with live music.

Travel 35 miles north of the city and you come to the Wild Animal Park. This is much bigger than anything else you might have encountered of its type, such as the West Midlands Safari Park.

At 2,200 acres, the wildlife preserve is home to more than 3,500 animals and 250 species. Many rare creatures from Asia and Africa, including white rhinos, zebras, flamingos and gazelles, can roam and breed freely.

The best way to see them is on a caravan tour in an open-sided truck. This brings you up so close to the creatures that in some cases you can touch them.

I marvelled as a family of giraffes came up to be fed - feeling their rough bluey-grey tongues lick your hand is a surreal experience.

Later, we found ourselves among a small herd of rhinos as they patiently waited for their helping of apples. I came back with some fantastic photographs and great memories.

FACT FILE

For further information on San Diego, visit www.sandiego.org or ring 0906 577 0032.

A half-hour interactive dolphin experience at SeaWorld (www.seaworld.com) costs $135 (around pounds 80) per person in addition to the park admission of $42.95. Advanced booking is essential.

The caravan tour at the San Diego Wild Animal Park (www.sandiegozoo.org) costs around $100 (pounds 60) and also has to be booked.

Children need to be at least eight years old.

CAPTION(S):

SYNCHRONISED GRINNING... Roz and new pool pal Priscilla; BREAK FOR THE BORDER... Mexico is just a short hop from downtown San Diego
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Nov 24, 2002
Words:635
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