“I swear, it’s never this hot,” said Seth, our good friend and gracious host, at the start of our week long trip to the San Diego area. Of course we showed up during a heat wave. It never really bothered us, though (it was summer, after all), and Seth made sure that we saw the best that San Diego has to offer. With his beautiful Kensington neighborhood as a base, we rented a car and scooted around San Diego proper and surrounding parts for the better part of the next seven days.
We had to start with the zoo, of course. Meandering through Balboa Park, we all worked our way to the entrance and used Seth’s membership to get a discount on tickets. SDZ houses an amazing collection of life, and it is one park you must see if you ever have the chance. The place is huge, but we trekked through until about lunchtime, checking out different animals and plants, marveling at nature’s wonders. I could probably do a whole post on this place, but then again, you might be getting sick of reading posts about zoos.
For lunch, we feasted on burritos, cervezas, and – Sarah’s favorite – a couple of world famous strong & spicy margaritas at Ponce’s Mexican Restaurant. We loved this place not only for the unique selection of beverages, tasty eats and attentive service, but the walls, decorated from top to bottom with side by side portraits of gorgeous señoras and señoritas. I could feel their gazes upon me as I dipped my food into several styles of hot sauce, and once or twice I thought I saw their painted eyes dart across the room. Feeling sauced ourselves, we laughed along Adams Avenue until we made it back for a nap. A lollygagging evening stroll rounded out the activity of the strenuous morning.
The next day, after the most epic omelets we’d ever tasted from a well known hole-in-the-wall nook called Big Kitchen Café, we decided that we had to go back and check out Balboa Park for some more exploration. It was just too big to go through in a single day. Gardens, sculpture, and architecture adorn the grounds. We heard the National Anthem being played in the distance, but, strangely, it sounded like it was coming from a giant carousel. We followed our ears and finally spotted the outdoor pipe organ at the Spreckels Pavilion. Later on, we caught a glimpse of the California Tower, an eye-catching structure built in 1915 for the Panama-California Expedition.
This was vacation, after all, so one day I caught up with some reading outside, enjoying the weather and Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. When I finished the book, I was ready for some good old kitschy tourism. As a local, Seth wanted nothing to do with the Gaslamp Quarter, the “historic heart of San Diego,” but Sarah and I were all over it. After an outdoor seafood-in-a-bucket kind of meal at the Rockin’ Baja Coastal Cantina, we walked up and down the former red light district trying to imagine ladies of the evening leaning from the windows above and their upscale clients of yesteryear stealthily slipping into the welcoming doorways.
Our biggest adventure wasn’t in San Diego itself, but the nearby beach town La Jolla. A short drive (as short as possible, anyway, on California’s crowded highway system), we got to town and pretty quickly found a kayak rental package, complete with a guide. We were expecting others alongside us, but perhaps because it was the first scheduled tour of the day, we found ourselves on a private tour. Slipping into the sea, we sloshed over small waves and around rocky bends to check out the caves formed by millions of years of lapping water. Spotting sea lions and other assorted sea life, we got our money’s worth and even coaxed the guide into taking us closer than he’d originally planned, working our way into and out of a few of the caverns.
One day we drove to Cabrillo National Monument, a National Park, to see the various points of interest. After scoping the views, we checked out the Point Loma Lighthouse, climbing it from top to bottom and meeting the “lady of the house,” a costumed lighthouse keeper. Afterward, we scrambled down the rocks to take a closer look at some amazing tidal pools, small crags that fill with water and all kinds of ocean life. I felt like I could have been doing research there with Ed Ricketts and John Steinbeck as they wrote The Log from the Sea of Cortez. For Sarah, though, it was the perfect opportunity to get close to nature that she’d been looking for in our trip to California.
Being out west, we knew that we wanted to see the sun set over the water. On our last night, Seth knew just the place. You may have heard of the phenomenon of “the green flash,” an unexplainable moment of intense green light as the last bit of sun sinks beneath the horizon, but you may not have heard of the restaurant by the same name. Though we waited on queue for a while before they called our party, we did get to spend that time outside watching the sun sink below the waves. There was no green flash that I could detect, but the memory still stands out in my mind as one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever experienced. And the dinner was pretty good too!
San Diego is a great destination for couples and families. We were lucky to have a friend good enough to put us up in his guest room while we were there, and that certainly made the experience a better one; but, it would be hard not to enjoy the weather, sights, and experiences of lower California while staying anywhere in San Diego.
What do you think?
San Diego Zoo: best zoo ever?
What did we miss? Any local tips?