San Diego 2012

Day 1 – 8/25/12 Saturday

Our West Coast adventure began at 4:00am! We flew out of RIC at 7:50am, quick layover in Chicago and after flying over the Grand Canyon (still looked fake, even from the air), we finally touched down around noon local time in San Diego, CA! We picked up the rental car, stopped by a grocery store to pick up some snacks then headed to the hotel to check in.

We stayed at the, wait, let me back up. All references to “we” are my Mom, Dad and me. The whole reason we were able to go to San Diego was because Mom signed up to go to a conference, reimbursable (mostly) by her company. Her expenses were paid for, so it was kind of a discounted vacation for me and Dad. Any chance I get to go “home” to California, I take!

Ok, where was I? Oh yeah, we stayed at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in the heart of downtown , steps away from Seaport Village and just minutes away from the Gaslamp Quarter. The view wasn’t too shabby, we had a direct view of the Sierra Madres and a marina and the bay was to our right. After unpacking we took a stroll around the hotel, stopped in the gift shops

and checked out the pool and the gym. We then headed up to the 40th floor to see the spectacular, almost 360 views from the upper hotel bar.

We ended the evening by grabbing a bite to eat nearby, practically falling asleep while chewing, back to the hotel and straight to bed.

Day 2 – 8/26/12 Sunday

It was Laguna Beach day!! Surprised, yet not all that surprised, to hit traffic on a Sunday. But traffic always seemed to slow down near Camp Pendleton for some reason. Onward!

We took a slight detour and headed to Newport Beach first to stop at our FAVORITE nursery/garden/floral place, Rogers Gardens. It has everything! Wish they would branch out and head east (no pun intended)! After oohing and aahing, we headed back down the coast to Laguna. We lucked out with the timing of the vacation in that it just so happened to coincide with the last weekend of the Sawdust Festival/Festival of Arts/Pageant of the Masters. We used to go every year when we lived in SoCal and we were very fortunate to be able to go this year! The Sawdust Festival is basically an art festival, much like ones they have around here in Richmond; Arts in the Park or the Art Affair. The only difference is there is sawdust everywhere, where it aptly received its name. A history of the festival can be found here:

Down the street is the Festival of Arts where the fancier, or more expensive, juried art is located. It is also where the Irvine Bowl is, which is where the Pageant of the Masters is performed. It’s almost indescribable. Their webpage does a fair job at explaining it, but only because I’ve now seen it:, But I’m skipping ahead…

After walking around the Sawdust a while we decided to head over to the Festival of Arts to kill some time before dinner. The city of Laguna offers a free shuttle to take patrons from the North end of Laguna Canyon Road, to the South and to several stops along the Beach. We lucked out with a free parking spot so we didn’t want to risk moving the car to make our dinner reservation at Las Brisas, so we risked the shuttle! It was actually a nice ride, but we waited what seemed like forever for the right shuttle, didn’t have a map of the route, didn’t know how many stops there were and really had no idea where the restaurant actually was. We were a little late but we made it and the view was worth the headache and hassle! I had Yellowtail with a seafood enchilada, Mom had Sea Bass and Dad had Sole.

After dinner and pictures we headed to the shuttle stop to take us back to the Festival of Arts. The theme of the Pageant this year was “Genius” and included oil paintings from Vermeer, Homer, Diego Velazquez, Manet, Rockwell, Seurat and van Gough. It also had marble sculptures from Michelangelo, Bernini and Rodin, and an especially spectacular laser and balloon interpretation, for lack of a better explanation, of the solar system to illustrate what could potentially be seen at the Griffith Observatory. Each piece of artwork was accompanied by a piece of classical music, performed live by an orchestra, which blended art and music just beautifully.

As I mentioned earlier, the website does not do the description of the performance justice. They spent some time during the performance to demonstrate from start to finish (with time-lapse of course), how they built each piece of artwork. An artist painted the background of the art on a large, life-size scale, a carpenter built any 3-dimensional pieces needed (tables, chairs, boats, etc), and volunteers dressed up, down to each individual thread, to recreate the characters in the artwork. There were even young children and they held perfectly still for at least 2-3 minutes! I didn’t understand why binoculars were for rent, but if I ever have a chance to see this again, I’m getting binoculars so I can see each and every detail! I could go on and on but bottom line, it was a not-to-miss, once (or hopefully at least twice!), in a lifetime opportunity and experience that I will never forget!

By that time, it was 11:00pm, which was really 2:00am in Virginia, and it was a miracle we made it back to the hotel without falling asleep. Straight to bed again, it was a busy, unforgettable day!

Day 3 – 8/27/12 Monday

It was LA Day! We headed up North to Malibu to visit the Getty Villa. Situated and built in the cliffs overlooking the ocean, J. Paul Getty had the Villa dei Papiri, discovered in Herculaneum, Italy, recreated in Malibu and now houses his extensive collection of Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities.

If they were originals (which not much is anymore, seems like only reproductions are on display), they were spectacular examples of artifacts from that era. As part of my design education, I had to take art history classes and my favorite was always Greek and Roman architecture, art, and the mythology represented in that art. One of my favorites was the water jar depicting Hercules battling the Hydra. There were also multiple pieces of armor on display which was very intriguing.

But alas, we had to peel ourselves away from the display cases because we still had things to tick off our list while we were in town. We headed into the hills of Hollywood because in the 18 years I lived in Southern California, I never once laid eyes on the Hollywood sign! I was not going to pass up the opportunity this time! Traffic truly is horrendous and I admit, California drivers are not the friendliest. But hey, we all had places to go and things to see, so I just went along with the flow…which is speed, weave and honk!

By the way, other than our last day, I drove the family EVERYWHERE, but it was more or less voluntary because out of the three of us, I think my road-rage may be a smidge less than my parents, which if you know me, should give you a pretty good idea of the level of combined rage stewing in the car, not pretty…and is the one and only thing I DON’T miss about Cali…

As we made our way up through the streets, Mom yelled and pointed from the backseat “There’s the sign!!!” Keep in mind, I was the driver…yet I must still be the photographer, and I managed to catch the “OOD” of the Hollywood sign ;-) But as we got closer, I got a full view of the sign, FINALLY! We also saw the Griffith Observatory sitting on the edge of the mountaintop. Several minutes of multiple switchbacks and frightening hairpin turns finally brought us up to the top of Griffith Park. Again, there was too much to do and too much to see, so I only had a couple of minutes to spare to run around and get a couple of pictures. But it was a spectacular view and I can officially check The Hollywood Sign off of my list.

We headed back into LA traffic to head down south to Cardiff by the Sea to have dinner at the Chart House, one of our family’s favorite restaurants. We had a table right by the windows, which were open and allowed the late day breeze to blow in off of the ocean. We timed it just right so that we could see the sunset, so most of our evening was spent longingly gazing out over the water.

I was able to check yet another thing off of my list that evening. We actually witnessed, with our own eyes, that green flash you see in movies when the sun hits the edge of the water (which after researching, is obviously an optical phenomena, but fun to think of as a magical moment). It was JUST like the movies too. The sun dipped further and further into the ocean and just at the last second, the sun itself didn’t turn green but had more like a halo around it, followed by a small ray of green light that shot straight up in the air like a spot light. Then it was gone. Unfortunately I had turned my camera off to fully enjoy the moment and wasn’t able to capture the event on film. But every sunset we watched the rest of the trip, and every sunset I witness the rest of my life, I will be looking for that green flash!

Dinner consisted of scallops for me, the ever popular surf & turf for Mom and mixed seafood grill for Dad. It was another fun-filled, but exhausting day. Straight back to the hotel and bed!

Day 4 – 8/28/12 Tuesday

Mom’s first day of sessions started so Dad and I were on our own until about noon. We decided to go to Balboa Park to visit the Natural History Museum. The main exhibit was “Skulls” and they had some really interesting specimens. I now have a new appreciation for Opossums and Beavers!

Towards the end, there was a case of all kinds of monkey skulls, along with one human one. It was incredibly fascinating to see the side by side comparisons.

And Walruses and Dolphins, oh my!

We finished our tour with a quick look around the gift shop but didn’t buy any trinkets. I took a few pictures around the outside and we jumped back in the car and headed back to the hotel to meet up with Mom.

The rest of our day consisted of driving along the “59-mile scenic drive” that I had found on a website the last time Mom and I were there. We started out at Harbor Island then wound our way up to Point Loma and Cabrillo National Monument. The views from up there were just spectacular! They say on a really clear, crisp day you can see to Mexico, but it’s never clear in smog filled Southern California, but that wasn’t even the issue that time. A huge bank of fog rolled in completely out of nowhere, so we had to pack it in a little early. But our admission ticket was good for the week so we decided to come back another day.

It was on to Soledad Mountain which offered breathtaking, 360 degree views of all that San Diego had to offer. But unfortunately the fog was getting even thicker so we quickly got back in the car to the next stop. We skipped UCSD campus and the Birch Aquarium. I would have liked to have gone to see the fish and sea life but I had already seen it on the previous trip and the ‘rents weren’t interested so, onward!

We did stop to enjoy the view at La Jolla Cove though. I felt myself getting really excited as we approached the viewing area just above the seals’ cove and as I peered over the edge, I found it filled with, wait, PEOPLE! What happened to the seals!??! As I walked around the platform I spotted a couple on the rocks and a few were bobbing up and down in the water. Mom suggested that maybe they didn’t stay year round and only came up to the beach with their pups and once they were old enough they went about their lives elsewhere. Made sense I guess. But it was a big bummer as I had really been looking forward to seeing all the cute little seals!

We were on our way to Old Town and the Presidio when the folks decided they had had enough of an adventure for the day and wanted to head back to the hotel. Not one for missing out on a beautiful day, I decided to forgo “resting” and took a leisurely drive around downtown with the windows down and the system up.

Dinner was supposed to be a picnic at sunset at Sunset Cliffs, but the parental units were not too keen on that idea and decided they wanted to go to El Torrito for some good old-fashioned (chain) Mexican food instead. It was just as we remembered it. Chips and salsa were had in massive quantities, tacos and burritos were inhaled and the deep-fried ice cream wasn’t too shabby either.

We didn’t officially watch the sunset that evening, but the sky sure did turn a really pretty pink. Bet it would have been a beautiful sunset though…had we been able to actually see it, you know…at Sunset Cliffs (not bitter AT ALL, nope, not one bit).

Back to the hotel and I decided that after four nights of caving in to every indulgence on the menus, it was time to visit the gym. I over prepare for everything and I mean everything. Which means I usually tend to over pack. Clothes, toiletries, flip-flops, jewelry, gym clothes, all check. Socks and tennis shoes…hmmm…no, why would I need those? So ya, can’t even begin to tell you how cool I looked jogging along on the treadmill in flip-flops. And they were those really cheap plastic ones too that made that perfect Flliiip FLLLLLOOOP sound each step I made. Luckily there was only one other girl in there but man was I in a hurry to get off that machine!

Back up to the room with enough time to check email before it was lights out (yes, I work even when I’m on vacation, lame!).

Day 5 – 8/29/12 Wednesday

I had planned to get up early and go to the beach that morning, but I could barely see out of the window the fog was so thick! So, there went that plan, back to bed.

After Mom got out of her class, we all walked down to Seaport Village to stroll around and look at some of the stores. Most were very touristy, which was fine because I needed a genuine San Diego sweatshirt, mission accomplished! We had a light lunch at one of the restaurants along the water which was lovely.

We then jumped back in the car to pick up where we left off on our “59-mile scenic drive” from the previous day. Our starting point was Old Town State Historic Park. Dad had talked about wanting to walk around and see the sights there while we were planning our itinerary and as soon as we drove through it, he decided the drive by was sufficient enough ;-) There wasn’t much but some (more) tourist type places (and pretty stereotypically for the area I might add), so we moved on up the hill to the Presidio. Not much interest in getting out and looking around there either so we continued on.

What was left on the drive we had already seen or weren’t too interested in seeing, so we decided to head back up to Cabrillo. The views that time were much better, you could actually see down to the water!

It was still a bit hazy and smoggy, but still pretty amazing. We stopped down at the tide pools, but the tide was in, or out, I can never remember which is what, but regardless we didn’t see all of the fun stuff you see in a tide pool. There was a lighthouse but I wasn’t in the mood to climb up the hill so I just took a couple of pictures from below.

After that we headed to La Jolla where we had dinner reservations later that evening. We just sat for a while and watched the water, watched a few swimmers and gazed out at some yachts and sailboats going by.

Dinner was at the Steakhouse at Azula La Jolla. We didn’t get a high roller table right at the floor-to-ceiling windows, but could still see out at the view of the cove, mostly. Mom and I both enjoyed the petite filet, oscar style with a baked potato and Dad had a giant 16oz rib eye that he actually managed to eat all my himself (not to mention the salad and side he had with it).

The view of the sunset here is wonderful, if you are lucky enough to be in the right spot to see it. I had to turn all the way around in my chair and lean out as far as I could, but I held the awkward position long enough to see the sun set from the very corner of the building. No green flash. Still watching for that green flash!

Back to the hotel, checked email, then nighty-night.

Day 6 – 8/30/12 Thursday

I finally made it to the beach!! Can’t believe I lasted 6 days without walking in the sand or sticking my feet in the water! There were several surfers out, a guy fishing and lots of runners, but other than that I had the beach to myself. I always seem to be one of the few people in the water without a wetsuit, but I have salt water running through my veins, so the cold never bothers me. I played in the waves a bit, dried off and sat to read a book for a while. It was still pretty early in the morning but as the sun got higher, it started to get pretty toasty on the sand so I decided to pack it in and head back to the hotel.

The only thing on our agenda that day was the Harbor Cruise. Mom and I had done it the last time we were there and really enjoyed it and knew that Dad would too. Just getting to the boat was an adventure all its own.

There was a TON of construction happening along the Embarcadero and waterfront and wherever we parked the last time was no longer accessible. Per the cruise line’s website, they said the best place for parking was down at Pier Best (not what it was called, but a fitting name for this story). Alas, Pier Best only had metered parking, max of 2 hours. Well the cruise was exactly 2 hours. That won’t work, unless they give you a 10-15 minute window because they know you have to embark and disembark. Nah, better not risk getting a ticket. Or, let’s see, you could park for free at the San Diego County Administration Building if you had “county business.” Fine, who was there to say we didn’t. We parked, we walked across the street, we saw a cruise boat with the name of the cruise line, but people were getting off and we didn’t see a line to board. I asked the person in the cruise line uniform, where was the line to board? “Oh, no, you don’t board here for that cruise, that one is boarding down on Pier Crazy Far.”

There was now only about 15 minutes left before the cruise left the dock. Not enough time to walk back to the car, sit through massive traffic AND circle aimlessly looking for a spot. Our best option was to “hoof it.” If you know me then you know I’m never late if I can help it. NEVER. So of course I was panicking thinking we were going to miss the boat (and we prepaid online, of course, no refunds!), so I ran ahead, got our tickets and waited for the ‘rents to catch up, with of course, plenty of time to spare. We boarded the boat, picked out a good spot, and waited for the tour to begin. Oh, but look, now that we had an upper level view of the docks and the bay, we could see there was a giant, massive parking lot RIGHT next to Pier Crazy Far. Why would the website tell you to go to Pier Best when Pier Best was almost a mile away from Pier Crazy Far and Crazy Far was right next to the boat you needed to be on? Not going to worry about it anymore, on to the fun stuff!

They started with the south route of the cruise which took us past the naval docks where we saw coast guard boats, subs, destroyers, and well, honestly I wasn’t paying much attention because I was too busy watching the dolphins!!

I heard the narration but obviously didn’t retainer much of it. But we did pass under the San Diego-Coronado bridge which is always cool to see. And the San Diego skyline was very pretty.

That was our hotel, we stayed in the left side tower.

The north route took us past the naval base and just to the edge of the bay where we saw the open waters of the Pacific. We also saw Point Loma and the top of Cabrillo where we had been just a couple of days prior. We then turned around and headed back and the views of the city skyline were even better on the way back! Never thought buildings could look so “pretty” but the use of colored glass was just downright cool!

After the cruise was over it was time to hoof it back to the car. Dad is not as spry as he used to be so he found a bench and sat down to wait for me to pick up the car. Mom lasted a few more blocks but then also succumbed to the heat and distance and found a bench as well. It was up to me to power walk back to the car before they melted in the hot, beating sun. The only thing I could think of the whole way there was “please let the car be there and not booted!’ Car was there, tires were untouched, no ticket on the windshield and thankfully the A/C was working perfectly!

We had dinner reservations in Coronado so we decided to head across bridge and check out what there was to see before dinner. We decided to stop and check out the Hotel del Coronado, or “The Del” as it’s more notably called. Never fails, the “lot full” sign was up and we didn’t feel like valeting the car, so we headed to dinner a little early at Candelas on the Bay.

The restaurant was actually located directly across the bay from where we stayed, I think something like, only half a mile away. We watched the ferry shuttle people back and forth from Coronado to San Diego, watched people playing in the water and also watched a fisherman reel in a sting ray which he, thankfully after showing it off, threw it back into the water. I had carne asada with a guacamole and cactus salad, Mom had Sea Bass with a grape puree and Dad had the catch of the day which I believe was Sole.

We walked around the little shopping center for a few minutes then headed back to the hotel. This time, I didn’t mind calling it an early night!

Day 7 – 8/31/12 Friday

We all slept in this morning, running out of things to do so we weren’t in much of a hurry. I wanted to stop back in Old Towne and at the Presidio to take some pictures so we headed that way. I hopped out of the car and did just that.

We decided to go back to “the Del” to try to look around so we drove across the bridge and to the hotel. The Lot Full sign was out again, but I figured we drove all the way over there so I was going to give it a shot. And wouldn’t you know it, I found a spot!

We walked around outside along the viewing trail then headed inside to the gift shop. I bought a magnet, Mom bought a Christmas ornament and Dad bought a Del polo shirt. We walked around outside a little bit, saw the beach, walked in a few more shops then headed back to the car.

We drove up the coast to La Jolla and stopped for lunch. We then turned around and drove lazily back down the coast along Pacific Coast Highway. Mom and I dropped Dad off at the hotel and drove to a nearby mall to look around and window shop. I dropped Mom off back at the hotel afterward and drove around a little bit longer. I picked them up and they told me we were going to eat dinner at El Pollo Loco. Used to be a family favorite ;-) Not as good as I remembered, I personally think Del Taco is better (not at all the same caliber of fast food, but if I’m going to eat fast “Mexican” food, it’s Del Taco all the way).

We dropped Dad back off at the hotel after dinner and Mom and I headed to Sunset Cliffs to watch the sunset. We didn’t actually end up at Sunset cliffs, but at some cliffs above the water, the sunset was pretty nonetheless.

We drove around a little while longer and did end up finding the actual Sunset Cliffs. We watched the water a little while longer then headed back to the hotel.

Day 8 – 9/1/12 Saturday

We all slept in again! We had breakfast in the coffee shop in the lobby then drove to Balboa Park to the Spanish Village Art Center to look at the artists. Mom stayed in the car while Dad and I walked around. One of the last vendors I saw was a woman who hand-painted bird feathers and she had a bookmark with a flamingo, so of course I had to buy it!

Mom wanted to go to San Clemente to see how much it had changed so we drove up there. We drove up to the first place I lived when I was a baby and it had not changed a bit. We drove to one of the beaches, no parking so we headed back to the 5. There was a ton of Labor Day weekend traffic so we thought we would try the PCH so we could at least enjoy the view. Lots of traffic there too so we got back on the freeway and back to the hotel.

Again, I didn’t want to waste a good afternoon sitting in the hotel room so I walked around Seaport Village for a while, people watched and watched the water. I walked in some of the shops, killed time before dinner and then headed back up to the room to freshen up.

Dinner reservations were at Tom Ham’s Lighthouse on Harbor Island, which on an interesting side note is still an active working lighthouse. I had Sea Bass steamed in paper, Mom had fried prawns and Dad had Cajun Swordfish. The actual sunset was behind us, but we had a wonderful view of the cityscape and the reflection of the sunset on the buildings was just beautiful.

We also saw the moonrise which was also really spectacular.

We had a delicious dessert, a white chocolate macadamia ice cream mud pie that was TO DIE FOR! We had to waddle to the car we were so full. But it was a very good last meal on our last night in San Diego.

Back to the hotel to start packing. I don’t know if it’s year round or just in the summer, or just around holiday weekends, but they had fireworks Friday and Saturday nights on the bay, so Mom and I went down to the pool area, sat around the fire pits and waited for the fireworks. They didn’t last very long but we love fireworks! We went back up to the room to finish packing.

I had a wonderful vacation “at home.” Sun and salt water truly do run in my veins. I have to find a way to move back there permanently. It’s not just the beach, it’s the pace, the culture, the attitude. There just isn’t any other place that compares to Southern California.

West side!