A special exhibit on the Dead Sea Scrolls opens with panoramic photography of San Diego, Israel and Jordan. From their desert landscapes to their scenic beaches, the topographical similarities are striking.
That being said, the ancient scrolls in the exhibit were made 2,000 years ago in Israel and found in caves along the Dead Sea, not in La Jolla. Twelve new scrolls from Israel — including five new scrolls that have never before been publicly exhibited — will join the display for the next three months.
Bring your eyeglasses, and be prepared for chilly temperatures and dim lights — conditions that are necessary for the preservation of these fragile documents. That said, the exhibit provides a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see some amazing artifacts, including a scroll with the Ten Commandments that is the oldest and best-preserved of all the Deuteronomy manuscripts among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
If the scrolls alone aren't enough to entice you on a cross-country flight to the southwestern edge of the continental United States, consider some of the other charms that San Diego has to offer.
Let's start with Balboa Park. In addition to the Natural History Museum (www.sdnhm.org), the park contains a wealth of other cultural institutions, including the San Diego Art Museum (www. sdmart.org) and a dozen other specialized museums related to photography, San Diego history, automobiles, sports, railroads and more. Really, whatever your hobby or interest, it's quite likely that Balboa Park has a museum to suit you.
If you're searching for the park's wilder side, just listen for roaring lions. The park's San Diego Zoo (www.sandiegozoo.org) covers 100 acres, and features 4,000-plus rare and endangered animals, and more than 700,000 exotic plants. Don't miss the playful polar bears (my wife wanted to spend the whole day watching them splash around), the sleepy koalas or the shy giant pandas.
Though the zoo is pricey, you can feel good about supporting conservation and research activities covering pandas, bears, elephants, condors, monkeys and more.
Of course, there's more to San Diego than Balboa Park. At Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, you can step back in time to the mid-19th century. Visit the first newspaper office in San Diego (the printing press was shipped by boat around the tip of South America), see a restored Wells Fargo carriage and explore La Casa de Estudillo, an adobe mansion that was once home to the Mexican captain who commanded San Diego's Presidio fortress.
Ghost-lovers shouldn't miss the Whaley House at 2476 San Diego Ave., an 1857 home that was named by the Travel Channel as the most haunted house in America.
The resort-style San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina (333 West Harbor Drive; 619-234-1500) is the perfect place to stay if you want to be right on the water. Get a water-view room and relax on your balcony watching the boats bobbing in the harbor. Take a short stroll westward along the waterfront to the shops and restaurants of Seaport Village (www. seaportvillage.com).
Keep going north along Harbor Drive, and you'll come to a fascinating collection of historic ships known collectively as the Maritime Museum of San Diego (www.sdmaritime.com). This little flotilla includes The Star of India, an 1863 National Historic Landmark known as the oldest ship in the world that still sails the sea.
Fans of actor Russell Crowe will enjoy getting the chance to board the reproduction Royal Navy frigate HMS Surprise captained by Crowe in the film "Master and Commander."
In nearby county-owned Heritage Park stands Temple Beth Israel, San Diego's first synagogue. The 1889 building is the second-oldest existing synagogue structure in California. The simple, dramatic Classic Revival-style structure no longer is the site of regular services, but the building can be reserved through the County Department of Parks and Recreation for weddings, Bar/Bat mitzvahs and other events.
The modern epicenter of Jewish life in San Diego can be found 10 miles northwest of Old Town around the picturesque beach town of La Jolla. Indeed, Beth Israel's new synagogue is located just east of La Jolla on a three-acre site large enough to accommodate the congregation's thousands of members.
In La Jolla itself, visitors are more than welcome at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center (www.lfjcc.org). Pick up a day pass to use the center's state-of-the-art fitness facilities, complete with Olympic-size outdoor swimming pool and lighted tennis courts.
The JCC is also the base for the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture, which encompasses an art gallery, Judaica library and Holocaust Memorial Garden.
Stop by this November and support Jewish authors at the 13th annual San Diego Jewish Book Fair.
Check it out at: http://sdcjc.lfjcc.org/sdjbf/2007.