There are a couple of obvious things that would make San Diego a favorite destination for me, like the fact that it’s only an hour and 24 minute plane trip away from my home airport, or the fact that almost always it will be warmer than where I live. Or the fact that it’s in California, which is my one of my favorite states to travel to for healthy, un-messed-with food and good libations. But there are some other things that I discovered about the San Diego area that make it interesting as well. Things you don’t know about. Unless you go.
Here is my list of things that I have learned to appreciate about this Southern Californian city, as well as some things that kind of left me “blah”.
1.0 The vegetation throughout the city:
I remember when I asked a co-worker native of San Diego what is the vegetation like down there, and she said “kind of like a desert”. Well, she was only half right, in my opinion. It’s “desert meets lush green, Hawaii tropical meets Arizona cactus”, if you can imagine that. Either way, it’s beautiful, as these next shots hopefully show it.
Various vegetation around our hotel, on the streets of San Diego
2.0 The Gaslamp Quarter:
I was afraid that the Gaslamp Quarter would be overrated, a bit, and that, in my opinion, it was. It’s a hopping place of open air bars and patios, souvenir shops and much construction, with Happy Hour menus, it seems, around the clock, and drunk smells (alcohol and throw-up alike) everywhere. The history is still there (its development started in the late 1800’s, so most of the architecture reflects that time), but it’s been swallowed by the urbanism of today and the attraction of bars, entertainment and random shops and contemporary murals.
San Diego has a feeling of big, dirty city, with bad roads, and limited parking. At least the parking was affordable, just a couple of bucks for a couple of hours, but harder to find. It overwhelmed more than it welcomed you. As you know, I am already a fan of bigger cities with a small town feel, like Montreal or Denver. This was different – more along the lines of San Francisco, Seattle, even Boston or New York (overlooking the scale, of course). Just not my … glass of wine, you know …
Snapshots around the Gaslapm Quarter
Street corner in the Gaslamp Quarter
The dirt of a big city
San Diego downtown street
3.0 The Bay:
On the way from the Downtown/ Gaslamp Quarter towards our hotel, in Point Loma, we passed by the San Diego Bay. Although the feel of the large, swallowing city remains, the views of the water and of the Marina are beautiful, and the silhouette of the city across the street from the boats is majestic. We caught some beautiful glimpses of the sunset resting in the water from this stretch of the road.
The San Diego Bay in the sunset
4.0 Point Loma neighborhood:
This is where our hotel was – in the same area as the airport. Being this close to a loud and busy airport usually bothers me, but people build right, I guess, in this town, because I could not hear the planes from our hotel at all. And the neighborhood across the street from me was amazing! A contemporary mix of single homes and townhomes, most of them in Spanish “hacienda” style, with just enough green space to make it fresh and not too much to overwhelm the homeowners with landscape chores. It had a vibrant air of posh but affordable, quiet and hip, wild and well kept, all at the same time. I joke with my husband and I say that I want to retire there, when I am all done with my job. Yeah, “when” is another question.
Neighborhood interior court in Point Loma
5.0 Torrey Pines State Reserve around the La Jolla region:
Just a short ride of maybe 30 minutes up the Pacific Coast, from San Diego, through the La Jolla region, will take you to the Torrey Pines Reserve. It has everything you’d normally expect from a State Park, well marked trails, lots of open beaches to walk, run, feed the seagulls or shoot the waves at your heart’s content. It also has very well marked vegetation, a visitors’ center and very limited parking, too. It’s here that I met the California I was always dreaming about and seeing in movies: to the right, you have the mighty Pacific Ocean, to the left you have the rocky mountain slopes.
The beautiful vistas at Torrey Pines Reserve
The pine trees on The Reserve
Desert meets flowers on the Pacific Shore.
On the way back towards San Diego, we stopped at Iris, this pub where we had the best fresh calamari with some home made aioli and cocktail sauce to kill for– some of the best snacks we had while down there. The restaurant was on the edge of Los Peñasquitos Lagoon, a coastal waterway filled with egrets and more seagulls and other water creatures – just a beautiful view off of our patio, and more photo ops for us, of course.
The yummy calamari at Iris's
Egret on the Los Peñasquitos Lagoon
6.0 The puppies, the kitties and the wild parrots, too:
We have been to cities that are dog friendly before (like Denver, Vail, Park City and Seattle). But we have not seen anything quite like San Diego yet! There are dogs and cats virtually everywhere, and I don’t mean the stray kind. People here love to dress up their dog, and restaurant websites even advertise that they are “dog friendly” on their sites. We also saw a wild parrot around our hotel, as a local told us quite matter-of-factly that “oh, yeah, we have a couple of resident wild parrots here, in Point Loma.” And they were not quiet, either.
The creatures of the streets of San Diego ....
7.0 The food
As we normally expect from any place in California, the food was overall above average. Everything was a bit higher (price wise) than what we are used to, but everything was delicious, fresh and definitely unique. We ate on patios most times, as the weather was gorgeous for this time of the year (late February). There are several options in specific menus for vegetarian and vegan foods, right along with the best seafood and pizza in town. We went to a “hippy” café (The Naked Café) for breakfast one morning and that had this vegan wrap with a side of quinoa that I loved … I know, I know: it’s not breakfast food, but it was so fresh and plenty that I didn’t care. It gave me the energy I needed for the day. And where else in Utah can I get quinoa for breakfast, right?!
Dinner at Anthony’s Fish Grotto on The Bay was amazing! Funny how I live in the mountains, but I had to fly all the way to California, on the Ocean, to have some decent trout! Anthony’s does have the best views of the sunset from their dining room, so if you’re into that, definitely check them out!
The "made to order" (otherwise non-) vegan flat bread at Oggi's
The "quinoa" breakfast at The Naked Cafe
Street food: Pretzels and veggies with cheese dip and hot mustard at Barley Mash in the Gaslamp Quarter
A more traditional "American" breakfast at Crest Cafe, one of Guy Fieri's picks
8.0 The Pacific Ocean:
My favorite element from this trip was the proximity to the Ocean – which is why I booked this trip to begin with! Call me crazy, but I have to see The Ocean, any ocean, at least once a year every year or else I am losing my gourd, more than usual. After living on The Atlantic in my past, and having seen The Pacific three times so far, in my life, I can tell you the latter is my favorite. The color is a peaceful blue, and it’s quieter, more patient, and more “friendly”. Definitely less angry than its East Coast brother.
9.0 The history:
If you’re a history buff, then San Diego has a lot to offer, for a relatively young city. Spanish and Mexican history and architecture meet American South West. It is also a modern military base, so lots of recent history reminders greet you at every place. We visited the USS Midway, a massive aircraft carrier, anchored in the San Diego Bay. Right next to it, the Unconditional Surrender Statue greets the ships entering the Bay. You’ll love picking apart the architectural styles of the Old City and of Balboa Park as well.
The USS Midway Memorial
The statue of The Unconditional Surrender
10.0 And that brings me, finally, to my favorite escape: Balboa Park. There is everything for everyone there: there are beautifully landscaped gardens, gorgeous statues, and ornate architecture, a massive outdoor organ, a large pavilion hosting orchids and other tropical plants, there are birds of every color, beautiful trees, bushes and plants at every corner, open door amphitheaters, and fountains, and countless museums for every taste or hobby. We never did make it to the Zoo, but there is that as well, and from what we read, it is extensive. We visited the Photography Museum, the Japanese Gardens and the Orchid Exhibit at the Pavilion.
The entrance at Balboa Park
Architectural detail at Balboa Park
Orchid at Balboa Park
The gardens pavilion at Balboa Park
The Bonsai Garden at Balboa Park
The Japanese Gardens at Balboa Park
The outdoor organ amphitheater at Balboa Park
More architectural detail at Balboa Park
Overall, we had a great trip and San Diego offered us that busy and relaxing getaway that we were hoping for: we chilled, and ate, and learned some new things to widen our minds. We will probably go back, but we’re not in a rush. We’re open to other Western (and not only) hidden gems, first, speaking for both of us, I think.