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Civilized and gracious Kensington is one of the most interesting of San Diego's distinctive neighborhoods to tour -- especially by foot, on skates, or by bike. Kensington sprawls across nearly flat terrain, so skating and biking -- let alone strolling or running -- along its streets do not involve much effort.

Most of Kensington was built prior to World War II on a formerly barren terrace overlooking Mission Valley. Although busy freeways snake their way through canyons below today, the streets of Kensington proper are quiet, consisting mostly of long, looping drives and numerous cul-de-sacs. Kensington was one of the first neighborhoods to break out of the rectilinear mold.

Kensington's developer long ago bestowed English place names on the streets, but the houses here are typically Spanish-style with red tile roofs. Behind the rows of palms, every lawn seems meticulously trimmed, flowers grow in profusion -- especially at this time of year -- and most homes offer a bright, freshly painted face to passing onlookers.

Kensington's streets connect with the rest of the city only on the south. Other than on Adams Avenue, the principal thoroughfare, there's not much traffic to worry about. So take the time to relax, look around, and appreciate the scenery.

A good place to start is the small park and library on Adams Avenue between Kensington Drive and Marlborough Avenue. Go south on Marlborough, and follow the circuitous, counterclockwise, six-mile route shown on the map, which is configured to maximize right turns and minimize encounters with automobile traffic. North of Adams Avenue, you can stay put on sidewalks (only if skating or walking; bikes legally belong on the street) and hardly ever cross a curb as you circle each of the cul-de-sacs that reach out to the edge of the terrace. Omitting some of the dead-end streets will shorten the trek, but don't miss the east extension of Ridgeway, where many of the finest homes in the area can be found.

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