July 27, 2017

A Non-Planner's Guide to San Diego

Because I despise travel research, I did the bare minimum and this is what we came up with.
There was a ton of on-the-spot Googling and I may have run out of data on my phone at one point.

Here's the route:

We started in Colorado Springs, went north to Denver, into the deserts of Utah, spent the night there, then drove south through Las Vegas, went through a sliver of Arizona, sat in a lot of California traffic, and ended up in San Diego. 

On the way back, we drove along the Mexican border, through much of Arizona, into New Mexico, spent the night in Albuquerque (which I still can't spell), and then went north into Colorado.
The way back was a MILLION TIMES better than the way there, so if you're in this part of the country, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND the southern route. There were no worries about running out of gas or anything because it was much more populated as well. Utah and the stretch from Vegas to the L.A. area was slightly terrifying. 

Part of the reason why we drove is because I like seeing how places turn into those places. Understanding the land and geography around a place is as interesting as the place itself. I have a thing for maps too, so I like seeing how one kind of topography bleeds into the next. 
Also, we didn't want to rent a car because that'd cost as much as two plane tickets. Being able to get where we wanted to go, when we wanted to go there is important (as we are rural folks at heart), so hanging around a city without a car for a week wasn't for us.

First, we dropped off the dogs and headed to Denver. We got caught in all kinds of construction traffic and the city of Vail really doesn't plan these things well...in the 5 states we've been to in the last two weeks, Colorado is the only one that doesn't know how to organize road construction efficiently. 
We stopped for lunch in Grand Junction and this black bean burger was delicious.

Scott had the IPA too

However, after hearing so much about the town of Grand Junction over the years, I couldn't believe what a depressing little place it was. Hot in July and plopped down in the middle of nowhere. I really don't think we'll ever go back. 

Speaking of depressing...onto Utah.

We had pipe dreams of getting to St. George that first day but that wasn't happening. I called the Holiday Inn Express in Richfield, UT and they were booked up (???) so we ended up staying at the Fairfield Marriott and that was fine. It was just to sleep. 

The next day, we headed toward Vegas. 

Vegas in the distance

I had plans of spending a night in Vegas and doing something fun. I was going to book a room at the Excalibur and then we weren't positive of our exact travel plans...the only thing set in stone was the room I booked in San Diego...so we ended up just driving through Vegas. We stopped for breakfast at The Original Sunrise Cafe and this wrap was delicious. 

We found Vegas to be hot and slightly depressing, though I'm sure it's pretty all lit up at night. I can't get over how it's just plopped in the middle of the desert and the WATER ISSUES practically advertise themselves. It's pretty fascinating.

Onward to California...

Yes, that time estimation says that it will take an hour and a half to go 50 miles.

Three important facts about San Diego: 
YOU WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO FIND A PARKING SPOT. Though most parking is absolutely free when you do. 
 L.A. was 100+ degrees and San Diego was much more temperate so dress accordingly. Mornings were cool and humid and foggy. Afternoons were hot and sunny. Evenings were cool and humid. It is the very opposite of the climate we live in and very opposite from what I thought California would be at this time of year (this is where research would've come in handy). Honestly, it's probably the perfect climate. But I need seasons, so I could never live there. 
EVERYTHING IS REALLY CLOSE TOGETHER. Driving from one of these places to another rarely took more than 10 or 20 minutes. I highly recommend taking or renting a car for that reason alone. If you can handle searching for parking, it's absolutely worth your while. 


But anyway. The traffic in California is unreal.

We eventually got to our hotel around 6pm. 

Taken later than 6pm

We stayed on Shelter Island, which is very near Point Loma, at the Best Western Island Palms. I wanted to be on water but not necessarily on a beach. I don't usually swim in the ocean anyway.  This was on a marina and near all the yacht clubs. I really don't have anything negative to say about the place. It was expensive but not as expensive as most places I checked out online and the room was nice and cool and there was always parking and it had a bar and restaurant that we went to more than once. It was a mile walk to other restaurants and coffee shops and there was a walking path right along the marina. There was a fishing pier and bar right there too. Very kid and dog-friendly with playgrounds and plenty of grass around. 
Since it backed up to the marina, we could just sit and watch the boats in the evening. There were multiple pools and hot tubs on the property too. 
So I booked the hotel completely sight unseen after just reading reviews on booking.com. I suppose we got lucky in that regard. 

Pinot grigio at the hotel


The view of downtown and Coronado Island (which isn't really an island, but a peninsula)

On our first full day, we had breakfast at Humphrey's, the resort next door to our hotel. 

Chilaquiles. Tostadas, chorizo, pico, avocado, and eggs.

Then, we went to the Point Loma Lighthouse and Cabrillo National Monument. This is on a naval base and was just a few minutes from our hotel. However, Saturday tourist traffic meant it took a very long time to get there. Because it's a national park, we got in for free with a military ID and parking was also free. 

After that, we headed into the city to check out the sights along the harbor. We looked for parking for a very long time and then finally found a 3-hour spot. We did pay for that, but I think it was about $12 so not completely unrealistic. 

We looked at the kissing statue of which I'm not impressed really because of the actual history behind it, but those foreign tourists ate it right up. Scott said he saw the same statue in Germany and yes, it is there too

Then we went to the USS Midway. It's normally a $20/ticket tour but Scott got in for free with a military ID and I got a discount at $14. 

I didn't really take pictures but it's quite impressive. I toured a ship like it in New York City once upon a time but this was much more interesting because they do self-paced audio tours where you walk from place to place and listen to the corresponding information on a headset. 
It's important to note that the Midway closes at 5:30pm and this is easily an all-day event so plan accordingly. We definitely didn't finish the tour but feel we got more than our $14 worth. 

After that, we drove back to the hotel and then eventually walked to Umi Sushi for dinner. 

The rolls in California are several times larger than what we're used to.

We ended the night watching boats at the bar. 

If it was cold, I drank it on this trip.

On Sunday, we started with breakfast at Point Break (recommended by a hotel clerk) and this was the least impressive meal of the trip. Still, it wasn't bad. We then walked to Coffee Hub for lattes and it was delicious. 

California omelette

We drove to Old Town and this was a favorite of mine. It's set up like what San Diego looked like hundreds of years ago and was a giant history museum. I could've spent all day there. 

Parking was a HUGE issue here but we found street parking a few blocks away and it was free. I think you just have to be willing to search in this town. 

We went to the Whaley House. It was a self-guided tour so wasn't as interesting as it could have been. I love real guided tours. It was $15 combined for the tickets.

This was a schoolhouse and it was closed because it was Sunday and that was depressing.

I wanted to sit in that chair. 

We stopped at a saloon to take a break and I had a Shock Top, which was delicious. At this point, I was definitely sunburnt. 

After spending some time waiting in line to see the Conestoga wagon (the dumb 2 year old wouldn't get out of my way...you can't see him because he wouldn'tgetoffofthewagon), we drove back to the hotel. 

Later, we took off for Mission Beach where, surprise, parking was a problem. After we found a spot, we walked the boardwalk and then had dinner at Draft. It was delicious. Scott had been in search of any craft beer he could find during this trip and was happy to see that they had Belgium sour beer, which he'd learned to love during his time in Germany. 

White wine sangria


There was ice cream and some shopping on the boardwalk after that but, alas, no pictures.

The next morning (Monday), we went to Better Buzz Coffee for breakfast and it was the best latte and breakfast sandwich I'd ever had. This was a mile or two from our hotel, but we drove because we were on our way to Coronado Island. 

It was bacon, egg, manchego, and spicy aioli on ciabatta. The latte was vanilla.

I'd booked a tour of the Hotel del Coronado, because what better way to see a place than to take a tour? 
The town of Coronado was cute and convenient and bigger than we thought it'd be. We walked around for a bit before going to the hotel for the tour. 

I honestly wasn't impressed with the hotel. I'm glad we got the full picture of it by taking the tour but it was kind of old and dark on the inside. The grounds were beautiful and the weather was, and always is, perfect there. 

The tour guide (a volunteer from the historical society in town) wasn't that great. She was too soft-spoken, in an overly confident way, and that bugs me a lot because I look at it from a teacher's viewpoint. 

So I don't know if I'd recommend the tour, but it was nice to see an in-depth look at the history of the island. Scott was terribly bored. 

After the tour, we drove over the bridge back to Shelter Island...after coming up with a plan for the evening, we went for Thai food at Seaside Pho and Grill...Scott had wanted pho but the dinner menu wasn't open yet so we ordered from the lunch menu and I had the best pad Thai of my life. He liked the curry too. 

Seriously, the best. 

Because we can't get enough of museums (me, I can't get enough of museums), we went back to the harbor to tour the Star of India and the rest of the boats in the maritime museum. It was like $13 a ticket but that got you onto 5 or 6 boats. The neatest one was the Russian Cold War submarine. 

Somewhere claustrophobic.

I took lots of pictures of the Star of India because it will align perfectly with my novel study of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and the sub will go well with teaching about the Cold War. 

Parking, on a Monday afternoon, was plentiful and it was amazing to pull into a spot and have dozens left over around us (all free of charge).  

From there, we drove out to La Jolla, which was about 20 minutes away. We drove by La Jolla Cove but everyone else was also there to see the sunset so we went to the Shores, which was a sort of boardwalk. We were able to get free residential parking pretty easily on a Monday night. After walking for a bit, we went to the Shore Rider, where I continued drinking my way across San Diego and we had the best nachos ever. (These drinks weren't very strong, I swear.) Scott had a Peanut Butter Milk Stout and that tasted like ice cream.

Times three.

The next day, we left bright and early with plans to make it to Albuquerque (still can barely spell that). We spent the night there and continued back to (hot and dry) Colorado Wednesday morning. We picked up the dogs and got back to life.

I was able to check 4 more states off the list, as I'd never been to Utah, Nevada, Arizona, or New Mexico, and we were able to get out of Colorado (together), so that was a nice change of pace. 


  1. Ive briefly been to LA but not San Diego, yet. I really want to - its just always seemed like such a fun city.

  2. The constant struggle to park would have my husband on edge the entire trip, so that's great to know. Glad it was a good trip with lots of drinks! I think that weather sounds amazing!

  3. I'm with you on the weird desert city's that complain about the lack of water. I felt like Southern California was like that too. We lived on the inland side when the husband was at Pendleton. They just keep building, but it's a desert. Of course there's a water shortage. We went to San Diego a lot when we lived there though. It was easier to go there than venture up towards LA.

  4. I absolutely love San Diego! I've been there several times.

  5. I'm so glad you guys were able to get out of town! Love all the pictures, you're making me want to go back. I love the weather there - not too hot, not too cold.

  6. I'm glad you two got to squeeze in an OUT of Colorado trip!

  7. I've not been to San Diego, no huge desire to go. I do want to get to New Mexico!

  8. That sounds like a great trip! And there's no shame in drinking your way through a vacation! Haha :)


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