San Diego: Wow!

We don't have much longer in California, so we've been taking advantage of each free day. During the last month we've visited and re-visted a number of California's cities and national parks. I'll do some catch-up posts on each trip before we head out.

Last weekend we went went to San Diego for the first time and were very impressed! Their slogan should be "San Diego: Wow!". The city was immaculately clean without being corporate. It felt safe even without heavy patrols and cameras. We found so many great restaurants, hangouts, and parks without even trying. And, traffic, despite spring break, was completely tolerable. It's hard to accurately judge a city from one weekend, but research proved that San Diego really is one of the safest, most-liked cities in the country. The major complaint from residents besides cost of living is....wait for it.... potholes! I can deal with potholes.

We started the weekend with an early morning kayak cave tour at La Jolla. La Jolla is a few minutes drive north of the city and home to a nice mix of cliffs and beaches, shopping and outdoor activities,  art and wildlife. The bay has been made into a protected underwater park with man-made reefs for animals, divers and snorklers. Instead of tacky stores, the waterfront is left to parks and trails.  The San Diego's Museum of Conteemporary Art is in La Jolla (with a satellite location downtown). Hoards of sea lions dot the cliffs.

Despite jokes about conflict and marital counseling, we decided to share a kayak. We watched nervously as couples capsized in the surf and were flipped by big ocean waves, but team Barnett held strong! We had a great time and managed to coordinate our paddling. Marriage was saved!

For lunch we headed to the less touristy North Park area. If you see a large cluster of vegetarian restaurants on a map, it usually means that area is pretty cool. This is how we stumbled upon North Park. Definitely worth checking out if you want to get away from the artifice of Old Town or the bustle of the Gas Lamp District. North Park is home to interesting shops, cafes and restaurants mixed with gyms and local hardware stores.

Photo: Wikimedia
For a beautiful view of San Diego, the Pacific, and down toward Mexico, we drove to Point Loma. Here, we hiked, looked for rattlesnakes and whales, watched military jets take off, and climbed around on the rocks by the Pacific. The visitor center, lighthouse, and Cabrillo National Monument were a little crowded, but a short hike down the trail and we had the whole place to ourselves.

That night we had dinner in the Gas Lamp District. Despite its eclectic old-sounding name, the Gas Lamp District is one of San Diego's main tourist destinations. We found plenty to keep us interested other than the t-shirt shops and chain restaurants, but it wasn't the dark and historic environment the name brought to mind. We stopped at the Knotty Barrel, a small bar that offered $8 flights and after, hiked over the "Mount San Diego Convention Center" to Embarcadero Marine Park for views of Coronado and the sunset.

Day two, we returned to La Jolla for early morning exploration of the cliff trails. We walked down the 145 stairs to Sunny Jim Cave where bootleg liquor was stored illegally during prohibition. The hole to the cave was dug by a man who started digging in his living room and finished in the cave. The cave was about as exciting as it sounds (not much) but it was neat to see, and for $4-- why not? It was nice seeing the cave from a perspective opposite the one we had seen the day before from the kayak.

On one of the cliffs overlooking the ocean we watched the sea lions and chatted with a man from Colorado Springs who gave us tips on things to do in Denver and politely implied what an improvement we'd be making in moving there from Fresno. 

We got lunch near Little Italy at El Camino, a mexican restaurant with an outdoor patio and exciting views of jets passing directly overhead. This place has great food and personality with graffiti, art, and community tables that keep you engaged will waiting on food.

Later we drove around the city in a GoCar with quick stops at Balboa Park and Old Town. Balboa Park with its fifteen museums, eight gardens, and other attractions, is so large it can't be fully explored in a weekend. Maybe another time. Old Town is what it sounds like. It's kind of like the wild west area of Six Flags Great Adventure. It's not something we'd do again without friends or family to add to the amusement, but we had to take a peek since it's one of the cities major tourist attractions. We got some rootbeer floats and headed back to Fresno.

We need to revisit the city before handing out awards. Maybe it was just a relief to get out of LA unscathed (more on this later), but San Diego now has a place on the list of potential long-term living choices.

Free parking downtown on Sundays! It was great not having to fight for $10 meter parking or paying $40 for a garage (talking to you, San Fran and Chicago).

Despite the reputation San Diego has for being expensive, food and drinks really weren't that bad, especially compared to other cities. Maybe food has to be inexpensive to compensate for the housing to income gap?

Tourism is spread out with certain attractions like the aquarium and safari being miles apart. This relieves traffic and pedestrian congestion.