San Diego, CA July 2015

San Diego is a beautiful city with lots to offer its guests. And the biggest impression we got from San Diego was the friendliness of its people – from the staff at our hotel, to the residents, to those who waited on us in restaurants and shops, to our fellow travelers. Maybe it’s the sunny skies or the military influence but we were so amazed by the welcoming hellos and kindness of all. People ask you how you are and wait for a response! Really impressive and we found ourselves constantly commenting on it!

Going to San Diego on the Fourth of July is more than a getaway! You are destined to becoming part of a happening! This city, so influenced by Navy presence beginning in the mid-1800s, is red, white and blue over the moon for this holiday. I was glad I got to be there!

It was an accident. I had no knowledge of the famous fireworks there and the city celebrations, made even more famous because of the mishap of 2012 when four barges of fireworks went off in 12 seconds! The day was randomly selected because my niece on an internship there had a long weekend to spend with us and her parents, my brother Paul and sister-in-law Gail. We made the reservation a month in advance – turns out just in time. It was a full house, not just our hotel but at every one on Shelter Island. And not just the hotels but the island itself! They closed it to traffic at 1pm on the Fourth of July…no more room to get a parking spot, but folks streamed onto the island until dusk to get a seat on the beach and park walk facing the city skyline. But I am ahead of myself.

I have traveled to San Diego three or four times and have a love of the city. It has a lot to offer a tourist. It is surrounded by water, has great weather, and offers a traveler many varied and interesting experiences including beautiful beaches, important history, great cultural venues and natural preserves of interest. The Pacific Ocean beaches, the earliest explorations of North America by the Spaniards, influences from Mexico south of its border, wonderful and eclectic museums at Balboa Park and points of interest such as the Hotel Del Coronado and Torrey Pines State Reserve provide lots for a visitor to enjoy.

We flew out of Seattle early in the morning (we each had Alaska Airlines $99 companion fares which made it a little over $300 round trip for two) and arrived at the first big adventure this city offers, landing at its historic one-runway airport situated smack-dab in downtown, San Diego International Airport, often referred to as Lindbergh Field.

This year is the centennial celebration of this event.

It is the busiest commercial single runway in the US and second in the world with 465 daily flights moving 48,000 passengers a day, even with a flying curfew of no flights between 11:30pm and 6:30am each day! This creates the effect of very noisy and busy skies close overhead during the approved flight hours if you are anywhere near downtown.

Named after the first flight of Charles Lindbergh, which occurred in 1927 very near this site in his Spirit of Saint Louis, in 1928 the people of San Diego passed the bond measure to build the airport. Lindbergh offered his name to the project, and the airport, dubbed San Diego Municipal Airport – Lindbergh Field, was completed on August 18, 1928. Flying into a downtown area has its excitements and jitters. This phenomenon results in a no-highrise downtown and large airplanes flying low and loud overhead in almost every area of the city at intervals of almost every 3-6 minutes, give or take. It takes a bit of getting used to, but residents are so used to it they hardly notice. I, on the other hand, was amazed by it. Since WWII there has been only one crash, in 1978.

We decided to rent a car for the trip. The airport has consolidated its rental car facilities in one area near the airport. So in January it will be even easier. The price was very reasonable for 5 days. Paul and Jon left us to get the luggage while they hopped on the shuttle to the rental car pick-up and returned within half an hour for us.

Because of the airport location everything in the downtown area is easily within 10-15 minutes by car. We had selected the Best Western Plus Island Palms on Shelter Island, based on what I had seen and researched on the internet – rave reviews. We wanted a location by water and a marina. This is a large and varied hotel complex with many types of units including some older sections and many different configurations. Little did we know what the location would offer for the Fourth of July celebrations!

Research and a phone call to the hotel revealed it offered a one bedroom suite with pull-out couch and two bathrooms in the newer section the Casa Del Mar building, which was recommended in the reviews and room tips section of Tripadvisor. Perfect for the four of us and room enough for a roll-away if my niece decided to stay with us, and reasonably priced at $350 a night.

Outside the Casa Del Mar section where we stayed at The Best Western Plus Island Palms.

The pictures of this hotel on the web are spectacular. In real life the marina did not disappoint – the hotel itself did. Within 10 minutes, by 10:30am, we were at the hotel wondering if it would be possible to get in so early. A call a few days before had not resulted in assurance that would be possible but we were encouraged to ask upon our arrival. The lobby is small and nothing special. It smelled of chlorine and mildew which was off-putting.

But the reception staff was amazing and we were given a room right away. They had lots of recommendations for happy hours and restaurants. (NOTE: There are no elevators in this hotel and two levels and the walking distances to the two pools and upstairs may not be practical for some travelers. You may want to position yourself in a special location based on your mobility. I highly recommend you call the hotel, explain your wishes and select accordingly. The front desk can assist if need be.) We were fine. But we had a drive to the Casa del Mar Section, a walk up stairs with luggage and some long halls to get to our room. As our stay progressed we did learn shortcuts. Our room was a wonderful corner room, set apart from the others with a small deck overlooking the marina just outside our door which was an added bonus to our room’s deck.

Marina view from the hotel…so many boats!

But our introduction to the hotel was disappointing – a feeling that faded as the stay went on. The rug in the hallway was stained in several places and when we opened our door there was a used washcloth on the floor and loose change by the couch. The furniture was a bit dated and worn in the living room. The second bathroom had only a sink and toilet but was fairly large with attractive Mexican tile. There was a kitchen station with sink, microwave and refrigerator, not cleaned out…coffee pot and supplies for four people including a blender, handy in the land of Margaritas and Mojitos. We immediately called housekeeping and they responded quickly, but in cleaning up a spot on the floor near the couch the black residue on the rag put us all on edge. The next day a crew cleaned all the exterior hallways.

We did not have time to linger though, and we were off to visit our niece at her internship for a mechanical engineer at SPAWAR: the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) is an Echelon II organization and the Navy’s technical authority and acquisition command for C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance), business information technology and space systems. Echelon II means that the organization reports to someone who, in turn, reports directly to the Chief of Naval Operations. SPAWAR reports to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (RDA).

This was interesting and a good introduction to the leading industry of employment in this city. It is a secured facility so what we could see was limited but we got a good general introduction to some of the programs for military defense in research and development.

Photo courtesy of NCT Foundation.

We headed out for Liberty Station which is a lovely mixed-use project of old Navy headquarters with shops, eateries, museums, and living spaces all in traditional pink stucco and red tile. It is an art center of sorts with lots of art-related activities. Beautiful, clean and inviting, it is one of the best re-use of surplused military land and buildings I have seen. This was where we got our first and then constant thundering roar of airplanes overhead – so close it looked like you could touch them. Residents are blasé, but we could not help but look up!

Really close and really loud! Really exciting!

We were introduced here by my niece to one of the best bakeries I have ever experienced for our first lunch in San Diego, the Con Pane Rustic & Café at Point Loma. (Note: as of this writing Urbanspoon, a favorite website of mine that rated restaurants and had meaningful reviews of them, has been bought out by Zomato and is redesigned, not to my satisfaction. I will link to the best restaurant review site I can find for the restaurants we visit.)

Clean and pleasant outdoor area to eat.

Over 25 kinds of plump, yeasty artisan breads filled the case. Lots of wonderful baked goods were displayed behind glass where you walked in line to make your order. The array kept us distracted from the fairly vast and enticing menu items chalked in on blackboard positioned above several workers who were making sandwiches and drinks.

Pastries, breads and their Cherry Nut Granola – buy them all!

It was hard to decide! The aroma was overpowering, adding to the hunger and urgency to decide on something. We tried half a veggie on sourdough and half of the Italian sandwich on a seeded bread. Arnold Palmers seemed fitting. You could eat indoors – maybe better for conversation because of the airplanes – but we opted for the clean outdoor deck with umbrellas, sunshine and birds flitting around the flowers and sometimes trespassing on the tables. Hearing the roar of plane engines and looking up to watch the immense planes close overhead was becoming a sport for me!

Simple and deceiving, one of the best sandwiches ever!

Get a whole one for yourself and do not share!

As it turned out conversation was not necessary as the sandwiches captured all our attention. (Why was this the time we used discretion and only ordered half a sandwich each???) The breads were excellent and the fillings simple but extraordinary! Most of our conversation was in groans of delights or knowing eye rolls! We absolutely loved the food. “This is a really, really good sandwich” became an instant cliché.

After we sat and savored every bite, forgetting at times to look up and witness the airshow because we were distracted by those deceptively simple sandwiches, we were primed to love San Diego immediately! The servers were so friendly and they took pride in presenting your orders, authentically telling you to “enjoy your lunch!” It was that San Diego hospitality we saw over and over on our trip.

It occurred to me that those incredible looking pastries would fit the bill for next morning’s in-room coffee. Gail and Jon quickly volunteered to select something – a tough job…really! They returned with a full box of interesting delights. The cherry nut granola was a bargain! The next morning we would see if the selections stood the taste test!

Our next stop was up the road to Point Loma’s Cabrillo National Monument. On your way there you pass a noteworthy attraction, Fort Rosecrans Cemetery : “Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery is a federal military cemetery in the city of San Diego, California. It is located on the grounds of the former Army coastal artillery station Fort Rosecrans and is administered by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. The cemetery is located approximately 10 miles west of Downtown San Diego, overlooking San Diego Bay and the city from one side, and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Fort Rosecrans is named after William Starke Rosecrans, a Union general in the American Civil War. The cemetery was registered as California National Landmark #55[3] on December 6, 1932. The cemetery is spread out over 77.5 acres located on both sides of Catalina Blvd.” Its rows and rows of pristinely white headstones are impressive. There are graves dating from the 1860s when the US declared war on Mexico….miles of them.

Entrance to the Cabrillo National Monument.

There are the best views of San Diego from here!

The Cabrillo National Monument takes a couple of hours’ time to explore adequately. The site offers the most spectacular views of San Diego you will encounter. The day was sunny, bright and windy. Do not be fooled, the breezes are no match for the sun – sunscreen is a must! This is the place where massive amounts of sky and water meet in sparkling shades of brilliant blue. The museum has a film worth watching, and is wonderful – a very good introduction to the history of the beginnings of San Diego. It is an amazing and mesmerizing place with lots to explore. The Point Loma Lighthouse has wonderful examples of lighthouse lights and history and the lighthouse itself is a wonder, well worth the small trek up to it. When you get there the view of the other side is equally awesome. The tidal pools are supposed to be wonderful, but we did not get to them. Views are everywhere you turn. This is a place I have visited often and it is still thrilling and educational. Here is where you realize San Diego is a city of boats like you probably have not experienced before, from massive Navy freighters to elegant sail boats , small water craft and historic ships all cutting their unique swaths creating their own wakes throughout the vast blue, blue waters below.

Rick Steves always encourages travelers to spend time with the locals and that was our next stop. Paul and Gail had planned a visit to the host family Elise was staying with in the suburb of Chula Vista. They were planning to bring dinner – the fixings for grilled pizza. I had never wandered much outside the city limits so the drive to Chula Vista was interesting. Traffic is like all the other big cities – terrible as a general rule, but that day it was fairly light. There are many, many strip malls all really quite lovely with a Spanish inspired architecture. Clean and appealing, there were the usual suspects of store brands and restaurants and a few new ones. We found a Trader Joe’s, one of our favorite stores, and got our ready-to-use fresh pizza dough and all the fixings we wanted plus their famous fairly great wines for reasonable prices. We found dessert in a local popular shop called Nothing Bundt Cakes (come to find out they are located here in Washington as well).

Jose at the grill…Olga and Carlos inside making their own pizzas.

We spent the evening hours making grilled pizzas – everyone made their own (which provided much entertainment) – and sipping sparkling water or Margaritas, a specialty of the hosts. We were with public school teachers and workers of SPAWAR. It was an enjoyable evening. We learned about San Diego and the food was great, as were the Margaritas. I was very glad we did it. Our hosts confirmed our constant remarks on how impressed we were with San Diego folks. The ride back to the city was fairly simple although the on-board GPS on proved to be a necessity.

We were sort of dreading the return to the hotel because of our shaky introduction to the room, but we soldiered on. And the hide-a-bed was actually not uncomfortable to sleep on…a huge bonus for all who have had that experience in reverse! The bed and hide-a-bed had nice linens but there was not an extra blanket in the room. When we called down to get some for the hide-a-bed only more sheets arrived. Odd…San Diegans are warmer than we are. It’s all that sun!

Day Two of Away:

We all slept well and cheerfully brewed morning coffee – and noticed no tea in the room, which was quickly remedied with a wide and interesting assortment of herbal varieties delivered to the door. We sampled our pastry bounty from Con Pane Rustic & Cafe. The orange sugared rolls were so light and lightly flavored they melted in your mouth and left behind the perfect citrus notes – so California! I could have eaten a baker’s dozen of them. The cinnamon rolls were yeasty and light and the ones with raisins placed a little higher in the taste test but not much! The almond French bread pastry looked better than it tasted but still not bad. It lacked the super almond flavor I crave in anything pastry, almond and sweet. The granola with large nuts, almonds and cashews, all varieties of seeds and cherries was the best I have had. It was all filling and fun and so delicious! Sugared up, we were rearing to go!

One of the bonuses of our hotel (and there are others who have this service as well) is a free shuttle pick-up and delivery to and from the Old Town Trolley Tours , a hop-on hop-off experience – another reason this hotel qualified for us. San Diego is a large and sprawling city, so a new introduction and update on the attractions and locations seemed smart, using the well-reputed Old Town Trolley. San Diego also has a Metropolitan System of Transportation that uses buses and trolleys that by all reports is quite good. The trolley part is usually called the San Diego Trolley.

The shuttle picked us about 10 minutes late. (We ran back to the hotel desk and had them call to find out we had not missed it). It took us to Seaport Village to board. We arrived just in time to board a trolley and, sporting the sticker we got on the shuttle, were allowed on without getting our tickets because departure was imminent. We were happy about that and as it turned out you can hop on at any stop but you will have to pay when you reach the end of the line at Old Town to board for the return. We paid — for two for an all-day pass. Multiple day passes are usually an even better deal.

Clean and cute cars…easy way to see it all…Old Town Trolley Tours.

We rode for about an hour and a half enjoying our driver Vanessa’s commentary and corny riddles and just about the time we wanted off for an adventure and lunch Little Italy appeared. This was ideal for us because my brother and Jon wanted to visit the Maritime Museum, a few blocks away on the water, and we girls wanted to explore and shop. First was Filippi’s Pizza Grotto – walk in and get hit in the head with your grandmother’s Italian kitchen.

Pungent cheeses and salamis grab you by the nose and lure you deep into the skinny and deep shop. Pastas, sauces, a full deli…shelves and shelves of Italian imports line the store. It is a small space and you are constantly having to get out of the way of others but there was so much to look at I did not mind. We bought salami, tapenade and bread for appetizer hour back at the hotel. We explored the café and it was busy. We had more exploring to do before we decided where to eat so we walked the streets ducking into boutique shops including one all things from Venice, particularly masks, and passing interesting and wonderful looking restaurants from the most modern to an old fashioned Italian deli, Mona Lisa’s. There we grabbed some wine, and along the way in a fresh pasta shop I bought some smoked mozzarella and a sharp cheese with pepperoncini embedded in it. Because it was July 3rd, everyone was at Mona Lisa’s Italian Foods getting picnic supplies and deli sandwiches, another reminder that the 4th is a big day in San Diego. The museum-goers were gone for two hours and nowhere in sight, so we made a hard decision, settled for Trattoria Fantastico, and ordered salads.

Great lunch….Tritata and Giardino salads at Trattoria Fantastico in Little Italy!

We ordered the Caesar salad, the grilled vegetable Giardino and what I would have called a chop-chop but what they call Tritata. We ate outside listening for the planes overhead, and they were there. We enjoyed the generous portions, crisp and fresh ingredients and wonderfully done dressings. Excellent! There was salad envy at the table over my Tritata! There are 6 restaurants in the city owned by the Busalacchi Family and I most certainly would have given them all a try after my experience here.

Little Italy is known for its growing modern eateries. It is really more a restaurant scene than a traditional Italian District and the Saturday Market Little Italy Mercato is always listed as a “to do” and talked about as a great experience. The guys caught up and also had a tasty lunch: another Tritata and a Panini Italiano…molto, molto bene! Then we were off to hop-on, meeting our connection in a matter of minutes. It pays to pay attention to timing so waits are minimized.

Filippi’s Pizza Grotto and Mona Lisa’s Italian Foods in Little Italy. Go in!

The tour ended in Old Town. We paid our fares and had little time to explore before our connection back to Seaport and the shuttle back to the hotel was ready to leave. We had every intention of coming back for the all you could eat Friday night Mexican feast at Fiesta De Reyes. Old Town is a commercial tourist area that has expanded since I was last there and has been redone. This restaurant is like a Mexican cantina known for its Margaritas and festive Mexican-themed events and shops. By the time we got back to Seaport and on the shuttle back to our hotel it felt like we’d put in a whole day of touring and we were ready to head back and get in some pool time. Getting back to Old town was not in the cards for this trip. Really wanted to see the redone area attractions and historic sights…next time!

The crowds at the pool were another 4th of July phenom…kids galore and lots of folks booked at the hotel jostling for lounge chairs. Jon and I escaped to the outside deck of the hotel restaurant Blue Wave Bar and Grill ($5 coupon on line) just overlooking the pool for some really well-done fish tacos (it was the tortillas! Mexico has a great influence on restaurants here) and drinks. I stuck mostly to their perfect Arnold Palmers (half iced tea and half lemonade with free refills) but we all sampled some mighty fine tropical versions of alcoholic drinks in our visits to the pool throughout our stay. My favorite was one called A Red Lava Flow.

By this time the weather had turned to significant cloud cover and mugginess – a big change. It remained pretty much the same for the rest of the trip. So many folks commented on the weird weather for that time of year and it was not the San Diego weather I remembered…or wanted. We never again really saw the clear, crisp sun and deep blue sky and water we had experienced at the first day of the trip. Oh well…the vacation must go on.

After refreshments and a long dip in the pool and hot tub and a short rest, we headed out for dinner close by to one of the legendary restaurant spots of San Diego, Mitch’s. It is a seafood shack of great reputation because it sits on a pier close to where local fisherman can sell their fresh fish catch and sports fishermen are coming and going day and night.

You wait in line and many, many folks we waited with were more than happy to do so. For us – being from Seattle, another port city with fresh seafood galore – it was not. Everything was ho-hum, mostly deep fried. There was an extensive chalk board menu which helped pass the time as we waited to place our orders and get our numbers. This town loves mussels and calamari; we saw it in lots of places. These are two of my least favorite seafoods so the fish stew (a specialty) was not appealing to me, but I can see how folks may love it. We got the grilled halibut and a Crab Louie, another non-compete with Seattle. They had a limeade with raspberry that was really good! But the fried dishes arrived cold or just were not that great. The chowder got fair to good reviews by our group. Really, to be honest the view is why you go to Mitch’s.

The food looks better than it was!

The view of the fishing charters and their parading hopefuls, the herons and birds, sunset and salt water smells were worth the trip. Getting a seat at the outside bar took some doing…the inside is crowded and cramped. Mitch’s could invest in quite a few more outdoor stools. We were vigilant and managed to nab four and had quite a wait till we got our fifth. When we did, we lingered over the view if not the food (sorry to the folks waiting…)

We headed back to the hotel marveling at the action on that pier!

Day Three of Away:

This was the day we planned to stay on Shelter Island because of the fireworks and celebrations going on there. We had a pass to get on and off the island but had been forewarned that the hotel itself had 220 rooms and only 200 hundred parking spaces so to leave would be not a good idea. We were amazed as the population outside doubled and tripled through the day. Several walks out into the crowds revealed a diverse and friendly scene. All had tents with barbeques, games and boom boxes. They were playing badminton, bean bag toss and making skewers of various foods reflecting many ethnic backgrounds. There were lots of children, elders, dogs and decorations. Boats were launching and jet skiers were on the scene. Parking lot and tent space was quickly filling up and there was not a sign of distress. It was good clean fun all around. We loved the scene and spent several hours that day walking and people watching.

Red, white and blue…as the walkway and beach fill up on Shelter Island on the Fourth of July mid-morning.

Paul and Gail had gotten up early and made a trek up-island to Marvelous Muffins for breakfast sandwiches and, yes, marvelous muffins! We had quite an assortment and I loved them though they get mixed reviews. The bagel breakfast sandwiches were adequate and nothing special.

The pool was a zoo but we swam and relaxed, hot-tubbed, rested and read most of the day. We always went to the larger pool but the other pool, a bit smaller and just as crowded, has a fireplace to sit by as well as pool, hot tub and marina view. Food and beverage service at both pools was provided by waitresses jogging back and forth from the kitchen and bar. Great service for how busy they were!

We had decided to go for Mexican food for dinner and Miguel’s Cocina, a San Diego chain started by a local, was recommended and a short walk away. We headed out at about 6:15 for 7 o’clock reservations. The streams of people walking onto the island continued as we headed in the other direction.

The place was busy and we were overlooked and left waiting though we found out our table was ready for us. A pitcher of strawberry-basil Margaritas was refreshing if not spectacular. One of the things folks raved about was the cheese dip that came with the fresh salsa and chips. It was creamy and nothing special. My brother loves Mexican food so this was something he was looking forward to…it was a colossal disappointment. Perhaps the kitchen was stretched to its limits because of the holiday crowds – the wait staff seemed so. The menu is extensive and perhaps we did not order well but almost all our dishes were left behind half-eaten. It was typical beans and rice platters. I had the mole, and it simply had an off-putting taste. The service, Margaritas and mole at the family-owned Mexican restaurant in my Seattle neighborhood, El Ranchon, far outdid this! Maybe an off night? The reviews seem to disagree with us.

Appetizing but less than good Mexican meals at Miguel’s Cocina Shelter Island this night.

It was dark for the return walk and we fell into line with the crowds still streaming in to see the fireworks. We arrived at a spot across from our hotel where a rocky section of beach off the walkway provided seating. Jon and Gail went to get coffee from the hotel lobby as we waited for the show to start.

It may be corny, and environmental concerns make fireworks sort of passé, I know, but this was a thrilling 15 minute show. A great culmination for the family Fourth we had seen being celebrated all around us. There are four barges in various locations around San Diego. Shelter Island is one where consecutive fireworks are set off. We could see all four, with the fireworks of Shelter Island looming closely overhead. A nearby boom box provided the Sousa and a punk rock Star Spangled Banner synched for the show.

We slipped away easily before the crowd dispersed and were back at our room in no time. My niece, however, had to head back to Chula Vista and she braved the traffic. Getting off the island was a major consumption of time and it took her about two hours. Staying on the island had its benefits! We were glad we had done it.

Day Four of Away:

We had planned a visit to Balboa Park, a visit to the Torrey Pines hang glide park, and a visit to La Jolla and were hoping for a great dining experience to end our last night in San Diego. This day was all we hoped!

Balboa Park is the largest urban cultural park in the US and the location of the famous San Diego Zoo. This site was initially the fairgrounds for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition which celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal when Teddy Roosevelt took on the project after France had failed, and which created San Diego as the first North American port on the Canal route. 2015 is the special centennial celebration of this event. This park is like Central Park, Golden Gate and Stanley Park only larger- there is so much to do and see it could take 2 or 3 days to fully explore all its offerings, including many great museums dedicated to natural history, the history of man, art and aerospace. Gardens, The Spanish Artist’s Village, International Cottages exhibitions and so much more cover the 1,200 acres. For tours there are a lot of options.

Our first move was to park and catch the tram that takes you around and gives you a sense of Balboa Park and its attractions. We split up to view the highlights we wanted. It may be wise to read about the park
plan your visit ahead of time and to check out the park pass as admissions to museums can be costly. Other directions and other transportation methods to get to the park are outlined here. The tram was convenient and simple but the noise of the engine completely drowned out the narration.

We went to the stop by the Botanical Building, described on the Balboa Park site as “a “must-see” destination in San Diego. Built for the 1915-16 Exposition, along with the adjacent Lily Pond and Lagoon, the historic building is one of the largest lath structures in the world.  The Botanical Building plantings include more than 2,100 permanent plants, featuring fascinating collections of cycads, ferns, orchids, other tropical plants and palms. The Botanical Building also presents some of the park’s vibrant seasonal flower displays.” All of the major parks boast of a key landscape/horticulturist responsible for the design of park grounds and landscaping, and Balboa Park is indebted to a woman, Kate Sessions.

The structure is impressive as are the plant exhibits, particularly the masses of orchids. The grounds and reflection pond create a stunning landscape in semi-arid plantings.

We wandered from there to the San Diego History Center to find out that at 1pm a film of the history of the Park would be shown. The center also featured a whimsical and wonderful Dr. Seuss exhibit celebrating the work of Theodore Geisel, a long-time resident of nearby La Jolla, including his famous Cat in the Hat stuff and his secret art. We bought our admission, got our commemorative 1915 Exposition ticket sticker and headed out to explore other things until time for the show and a look at the Ingenious! The World of Dr. Seuss exhibit and San Diego Invites the World: The 1915 Expo.

We went to the Timkin Museum. Heralded “as one of the great small museums in the world” (they left out “free museums”) and I agreed. The history of it is fascinating. On display, one of the centennial special attractions and in a rare appearance outside of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, was the Women in Blue Reading a Letter by Johannes Vermeer. We had just seen the very interesting documentary Tim’s Vermeer in which the amazingly detailed and realistic painting techniques of Vermeer are replicated. So we were excited to get a glimpse of one of only 34 paintings attributed this master, whose works look photographic in detail. It is a small painting that mesmerizes. The color and lighting are typical Vermeer and stunning. The subject matter is skillfully left to speculation as the thoughtful (is she pregnant?) young women (wife?) reads the letter with the map in the background (implying word from an exotic afar? or a possible homecoming in time for baby?) Fun to ponder and look for clues. He painted with mica mixed in the paint so the tiniest sparks of glitter are seen all over the canvas.

The small and wonderful icon collection, the other rooms – one boasting a Rembrandt as well – and the history of the museum were well worth an hour’s time.

I shot a lot of flower photos for photography project I am working on and we wandered back to the San Diego History Center. Turned out we had lost track of time and the movie was about over. The woman at the desk said “no worries”, she would start it again for us at 1:30, and we had a private showing of this very interesting documentary relating to the making of Balboa Park. (This just reinforced our impression of the friendliness of the San Diego people!) The buildings built for the Exposition in 1915 by Bertram Goodhue are an architectural wonder (this link brings you to a PDF of an article in the Architectural Review he wrote in April 1914 on the buildings he designed for Balboa and the architectural drawings). According to the film, the Exposition buildings were more made up and blended from several inspirations than a real reproduction of any typical “Spanish style”, but they came to influence the stucco and red tile houses in the area. While many of the exhibition buildings were made with the foresight to last, many others were chicken wire and stucco facades and to this day upkeep and maintenance of them is a constant fundraising challenge.

The California Building with its resounding iconic bell tower is supposedly the most photographed building in San Diego. We were told by the wonderful and helpful Visitor Center volunteers that tours of the bell tower were being allowed for a small admission fee and that the view was spectacular. Sadly, we never got there. (Do absolutely stop there and chat with them for classic and special ideas of “to-do’s” on the particular day you visit.)

The exhibit on Dr. Seuss was fun and interesting. While it captured all the whimsy and rhyming wisdom of the man it also told the story of a different artist within who loved to explore surrealism.

We made our way to the parking lot within view and earshot of the free Sunday concert at the Speckles Organ Pavilion.

We headed for the Torrey Pines Gliderport. Off the grid and spectacular to watch, this is a place to watch or learn hang-gliding. Fascinating fun! Just the watching…There is a snack shack serving grilled burgers and hot dogs, but we spent an hour just watching lift off and landings of the experts and new initiates.

Our next stop was La Jolla. We walked the streets, looked in the upscale shops and visited the lobby of the famous Valencia Hotel. But the “not to be missed” and by some reports the number one attraction to see when visiting San Diego is the La Jolla cove, beautiful shoreline where caves, sea lions, beaches, snorkeling, swimming, kayaks and tours are all part of the amazing scene. We spent an hour just watching from afar the sea lions slip in and out of the water barking loudly and preening in the sun. Black cormorant birds co-exist on the cliffs, and little ones and large ones provide quite a show. The people on the shore swimming and snorkeling and above snapping pictures amongst them is also a sight.

We finally got back to the hotel late in the afternoon, rested and headed out for a fancy dinner at Bali Hai on Shelter Island. On the San Diego Bay with wonderful views of downtown, the Polynesian menu and tropical drinks were perfect for our last night. We dressed up and spent a leisurely time dining and drinking. All the dishes were very good: my honey cashew shrimp and Jon’s porterhouse were standouts! The reviews coincided with our opinions. Service was friendly and attentive.

Appetizers of coconut shrimp and egg rolls with delicious dipping sauces…my entrée: the honey cashew shrimp…the warm chocolate cake and coconut crème brulee made for an excellent and memorable dinner.

We watched the sunset fade and the city lights appear and headed back to our hotel happy and satisfied. A perfect ending to a great trip.

Day Five of Away:

We had a little time before we had to head to the airport and we had souvenirs to buy so we headed to Seaport Village. On the waterfront of San Diego, it is a touristy little place with shops and more fantastic San Diego views. Pleasant and inviting. We spent our time browsing and getting our last impressions of this beautiful city. On the way out, I heard the most lyical sound of the theme for the Titanic and backtracked to see where it was coming from. The sounds eminated from a small man dressed in native garb playing a wooden pipe organ. It was haunting and mezmerizingly beautiful. Behind him was an assorment of large and small instruments at his disposal. He was backed up by a synthesized intrumental sound track. And that is where I found the souvenir I had been looking for – his $15 CD of traditional and modern songs. It is excellently done and whenever I hear it, I will be reminded that San Diego is a short-stay that makes the best kind of get away!

Pablo Cayambe

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