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In stark contrast to the frenetic pace of its neighbors to the north - San Francisco and the Bay Area and Los Angeles, San Diego is much less hectic. San Diego always has the ambience of a resort, even though it also has a very large military presence, and is a major financial and business center. San Diego is actually California's second largest city, but certainly doesn't seem so. In reality San Diego is much closer to the popular laid-back image of California life than either of the other two major cities. Set on a beautiful natural harbor, San Diego has miles of oceanfront, and the city spreads out from this through all kinds of terrain into the desert at the city limits. South of San Diego is the border with Mexico.

The variety of terrain is one of the features of San Diego that make it so attractive - canyons and valleys, hills and cliffs. The city has built upon this natural geography rather than grading and bulldozing it into submission. The ocean attracts tourism and non-leisure businesses equally; the downtown core is very conveniently laid out and easy to get around. Inland the well-contoured landscape is covered with impressive real estate perched in seemingly precarious positions. While San Diego is much more conservative than other places in California, it is nonetheless very friendly and informal. People here seem to have more time, or certainly act as if they do - they are most helpful to visitors, and are proud to show their city. The presence of so many well-traveled military personnel also ensures that the populace is more aware of the world at large, and is particularly welcoming to visitors from outside the U.S.A..