San Diego Notebook

Our summer trip is already in the books.

After C and L wrapped up their school year last Tuesday, we set early alarms and headed off to the airport at 5:30 Wednesday morning to get our flight to San Diego. It was the girls’ first trip to California, and the first visit to San Diego for S and I. Other than normal teenage sister bullshit and a few too many clouds, it was a good trip.

Thanks to that early flight – we had an hour layover in Las Vegas – we landed in California around 11:00 AM. After getting our bags and picking up our car, we had the whole day in front of us.

Our first stop was La Jolla and a walk along the beach. This was the grayest, chilliest morning of our visit. San Diego is in the midst of its “June Gloom” phase, when the marine layer rolls in and blocks the sun most of the day. Yet the beach was pretty busy. M did stick her feet into the water so she could say she’s been in the Pacific, but it was not a hang out at the beach kind of day for us Midwesterners. We strolled through some shops near the beach and had our first round of tacos.

Then it was off to our hotel. We were staying at the Hilton that was set against the southern half of Torrey Pines golf course. We were so close you could hear what people on the course were saying from the pool. I spent a lot of time watching golfers come up the 18th fairway, of which we had a clear view of the from our entire hotel. I even snagged a handful of Pro V1’s that had been hit onto hotel property. One day I walked up to the clubhouse and golf shop. Part of our Hilton visit included a 15% coupon that was good for items in the golf shop. Two problems: most of the Torrey Pines gear is ugly and the coupon did not cover anything that was US Open related. Even though TP isn’t hosting the Open for two more years, I’m guessing 75% of the items in the store had the Open logo on it. Even if the coupon was good, I would feel a little silly walking around with a shirt or hat that said “US Open 2021” on it.


After freshening up we went back to La Jolla and stopped by both the gliderport, where hang gliders jump off of cliffs to sail the air currents, and another beach and see the seals that have taken over.

Between the very early alarm and the time change, we kept things chill in the evening. I think we were all in bed and asleep by 7:30 PDT. And, amazingly, we all slept until around 6:30 the next morning.

Day two we got serious. We went to Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo. Both lived up to the hype. I did make an observation in the zoo, though. For people our age, the San Diego Zoo was the greatest zoo in the world. Mostly because we saw Joan Embery on the Tonight Show. It was also light years ahead of other zoos in how it presented its animals. I realized that while the San Diego Zoo is still awesome, zoos in other cities have all followed its lead. The Indianapolis Zoo is much smaller and constrained by climate conditions, but it really looks like a mini-SD Zoo. 30–40 years ago, I think most mid or small city zoos were primarily steel and concrete pens with little to make you think you were seeing the animals in their native state. You can debate whether zoos are ethical enterprises or not, but the San Diego Zoo’s influence has clearly been a good thing for animals in zoos everywhere.


After the zoo we took the girls for another first: lunch at In N Out Burger. I believe it had been 15 years since my last In N Out visit. Oh man was it good! And the girls all loved it. They all said it was their favorite burger ever. That night it was back to La Jolla – our hotel was just 10–15 minutes from much of the cool stuff in LJ – for sushi for dinner. You would think getting sushi in California would be magical. I have to say, though, that only one thing we got was t better than the couple sushi places we frequent here.

Friday we drove up to Torrey Pines State Park, which was just beyond the golf course, for a few hours of hiking. We started with an easy loop trail and then tried the more challenging beach trail that included a 350 foot drop. It was another gray, cool morning but we worked up quite the sweat on the beach trail and then climbing back to our parking spot. Looking down at the Pacific from the cliffs of Torrey Pines was an amazing view and made it worth it.


For lunch we went, shocker, back to La Jolla to a little spot called Girard Gourmet. It is a Belgian-style eatery that has a huge, wonderful menu of deli items. I had the single best breakfast sandwich I’ve ever had; simply eggs, turkey, cheese, and avocado on a croissant. We walked in when they were prepping a big order for carry out and although they got our food together fairly quickly, they couldn’t get us our bill until we were done eating. When the lady apologized for the wait when I went to pay, I told her that it was totally worth it. Another older woman behind the counter, who we guessed was the owner, turned her head and said, “That’s nice to hear, thank you!” Made my day.

We strolled around LJ for a bit and when we walked by the restaurant later there was a line at least 10 people deep to order. This is a key part of our trip: we tended to be early and just barely avoid crowds. It seemed like everywhere we went we’d be among the first to arrive and soon after there would be a huge line. One exception to that in a moment…

Friday evening we drove a few miles inland to have dinner at S’s cousin’s home. He and his wife are 10–12 years younger than us and have three kids under five. When we asked for advice for places to go over the weekend, they sheepishly admitted that they don’t get out much. Ahhh, traveling with moody teen girls is a pain in the ass but at least we can get out of the house!

Saturday we went into the city to explore Little Italy and the Gaslamp Quarter. We had brunch at a wonderful place called the Farmer’s Table in Little Italy and then strolled through the farmer’s market. The sun was finally out so the girls were discovering why San Diego weather is so great. We also went into the Padres’ team store where L got a hat and I got a pretty dope Swingin’ Friar Ale shirt. On our way back north we drove by the USS Midway – lines were long and we figured the girls wouldn’t be into it so we did not stop – and then through the Liberty Station district.

Back to the hotel for some chill time before we made a second trip to Balboa Park. We were in search of the Japanese Gardens, however they appeared to be roped off for a wedding. We wondered how much that cost. Then back to Petco Park for the Padres-Nationals game. We had seats in the second deck in left field which were pretty solid. Petco is a really nice stadium and feels perfectly San Diego. The turf looked more like a putting green than a big league outfield. It was a typically modest crowd and the game was not that memorable. L wore her Alex Gordon jersey. I had a couple Swingin’ Friar Ales, which I really enjoyed. Sadly this was only my ninth Major League stadium.

Sunday we drove down to Coronado Island and spent most of the day there. This was an important stop for me. My mom and stepdad stayed at the Hotel Del Coronado on their honeymoon in 1985 and he always told me I needed to go there some day. We did walk around the grounds, but when we saw how much it would cost to take our family there – roughly $1200 a night! – we decided for now a tour would have to do. The girls were being extra shitty during this part of the trip so, unfortunately, my mood was a little clouded during our time on the island as well. We rented a golf cart and puttered around a little bit. We realized after the fact that I had twice driven where I was not supposed to be. And in an area that was totally golf cart friendly a woman almost ran a stop sign and hit us. That would have been a bummer.


Sunday was the warmest day of our visit. As S’s cousin told us, even on days when the air temperature is only in the 70s, the sun is very hot because SD is so far south. Sunday was one of those days. Walk through the shade and it is the absolute perfect temperature. Get in the sun for a few minutes and you start roasting. The plan was to take the girls back to the hotel so they could swim. They had enjoyed the pool on cloudy days when it was deserted. For some reason they all decided that they were too tired to swim Sunday. So S and I sat near it and read for awhile.

For dinner we tried to go to a place S had found called The Taco Stand in La Jolla. We knew that it can get very busy and there are often long lines, but Google said Sunday evenings were the best time to go. When we arrived there was a line maybe 20 people deep but we figured, “How long can it take to make tacos?” After about 15 minutes in line and having only moved up a few feet, we decided tacos take longer than we could deal with. So we quickly found the nearest In N Out and made our second stop of the trip. Seriously, how could I forget how good In N Out is? I told the girls back when I traveled for work, I remember once driving 90 minutes round trip just to get In N Out. Back at the hotel, as the marine layer drifted back in, M and I tried to get some sunset pics as the last few groups of the day finished up on the 18th hole in front of us. Unfortunately the photo opps were not great due to the clouds.

Monday we packed up and headed to the North Park area, which was funky and cool and fun. We perused a few shops, I took some pictures, and we cruised into the North Park Taco Stand location just after opening and had zero wait to get our tacos and burritos. A perfect end to a very good trip. We all understood why the lines are so long; these were good fucking tacos!

And that’s it. In all my trips to California, I had never been south of LA. I certainly had a mental image of San Diego but I really enjoyed finally getting to see the city for myself. It is hillier than I thought. In fact, it feels more Bay Area than SoCal to me because of the hills and the June Gloom. I imagine the ten months of the year that aren’t dominated by the marine layer might give me a different impression. But with my year of NoCal living, I connected quickly with the feeling of San Diego in June. As much as I love San Francisco, San Diego doesn’t feel as crowded, is certainly cleaner, and the weather is definitely better. Although we’re trying to branch out and go to new places when we are able to travel, I would love to give San Diego another visit at some point.


Some other things I forgot to jam in above:
* Man are the Las Vegas and San Diego airports cramped messes! It really makes me appreciate how new and spacious the Indy airport is. Tax money well spent!
* I got my first driver’s license in California. I used to travel to Cali for work about once a month. I know California traffic. So I was shocked at how little traffic there was in San Diego. We only ran into one slow down, and that was just a few miles on our drive to S’s cousin’s home, which came right at 5:00. We sailed from Torrey Pines to anywhere we wanted to go on the freeways. Traffic in La Jolla was often congested, but that was city traffic with intersections and lights. I was expected LA-style slowdowns on the freeways every time we used them.
* My one big disappointment from the trip was not being able to see the Marine jets that roared over our hotel. Every 15–20 minutes they would come shrieking right above our heads from the Miramar base just a few miles away. But the marine layer was so thick that even though the jets were still very low, we couldn’t see them. Saturday and Sunday, when it cleared, there were no jets flying. Apparently being a Marine pilot is a Monday-through-Friday gig. Sunday on Coronado we heard some jets taking off from the Navy base there, but were too far away to see them.
* I laughed at one point when I realized that when I think of Southern California, my mental image is still based on late 1970s pop culture. CHiPs, Charlie’s Angels, Three’s Company, etc. That was over 40 years ago and things have changed massively, but I still had that vibe in my head the entire time.
* After every trip there’s a part of me that wants to go Cliff Clavin after his visit to Florida. Become an annoying expert on all things about my destination, adopt all their sports teams, act like I am from there, etc. There are worse places to adopt than San Diego.