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San Diego has plenty to offer sun-starved football fans.

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

University of Oregon football fans may feel dissed by the BCS because their favorite team didn't land in a more prestigious bowl game, but anybody who knows anything about Southern California recognizes the upside of the 2005 Holiday Bowl.

It's happening in San Diego, one of many places the sun goes when it heads south for the winter. In December last year, Eugene had a whopping zero sunny days. San Diego, on average, has about 21 sunny or partly sunny days.

Better still, San Diego specializes in so many remarkable attractions that families heading south for the game probably will have a few coin tosses themselves to figure out which nongame activities to enjoy.

The city has so many golf courses, if you played a different one each week, it'd take almost two years to sample them all. For animal lovers, the San Diego Zoo beckons with its 1,800-acre Wild Animal Park - home to 3,000 animals. There's Sea World for those who enjoy performing killer whales and Legoland for those obsessed with all things made from classic LEGO blocks. Would you believe busts of Abraham Lincoln and Elvis Presley?

The shopping and dining out options are dizzying.

But folks who have already sprung for tickets, air travel, hotel accommodations and such may not have much left over for the big attractions.

So we've assembled a list of free or low-cost fun to be had in the city also known as the gateway to Tijuana.

Here are our top picks:

Whale watching: Yes, we know you can watch migrating gray whales along the Oregon Coast from December to March.

But in San Diego, you can do it in the sun.

The city boasts 70 miles of public beaches, but locals recommend the Point Loma peninsula as the spot to see migrating gray whales swimming south from Alaska to Baja California this time of year. The Cabrillo National Monument there has a glassed-in observatory for viewing. The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. The single-vehicle daily fee is $5. The park also accepts Golden Age, Golden Access and National Parks Pass passports and the Cabrillo National Monument annual pass. Besides whale watching, there are tide pools and an historic lighthouse to explore.

Balboa Park: A huge urban cultural park of 1,200 acres, it's home to lush gardens, 15 museums, a theater and the rest of the San Diego Zoo. This time of year, look for the Whoville decorations in connection with the Old Globe Theatre's production of "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" Lights are up through Dec. 31.

The host of museums at the park - natural history, art, photography, automotive and aerospace - mean something for everyone, but it's hard to resist the San Diego Model Railroad Museum and its Lilliputian trains. It is among the most extensive indoor displays in the world. Admission ranges from $2.50 to $6 for adults (discounts provided for seniors, students and those in the military). Hours are Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Old Town State Historic Park: San Diego honors its cultural heritage with a six-block area that features Mexican lore and historical sites. Several famous haunted houses also are in the district. That area and the Gaslamp Quarter with its scores of Victorian structures are worth a walking tour. Visit gothere.com/sandiego/oldtown/ and www.gaslamp .com for maps and more detailed information.

Big Bay - The city's natural harbor is home port to Navy ships, a sportfishing fleet and thousands of pleasure craft. You can visit the USS Midway/San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum. For a different kind of thrill, check out the Maritime Museum, also on the bay. Among its exhibits is a Soviet B-30 attack submarine, a '70s era vessel that once stalked U.S. ships during the Cold War.

For more information about these and other San Diego attractions, visit www.sandiego .org. More information about events directly connected to the Holiday Bowl, such as the Big Bay Balloon Parade and other pregame activities, is available at www.holidaybowl.com.

CAPTION(S):

The Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego is a good spot for whale watching. San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau San Diego averages 21 sunny or partly sunny days during the month of December.
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Title Annotation:Travel
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 18, 2005
Words:738
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