The trip to San Diego has been in the works for a couple of months. My younger son is living here and working in Tijuana, Mexico.  He’ll be here only for a couple more months, so the excuse to see him, and someplace new … What more would “Jetsy” need to pack her bags and reserve her flights?

The flight from San Juan to San Diego makes for an extremely long day.  In my excitement, I hardly slept the night before, so my day was that much longer.  I did get upgraded between San Juan and DFW so I was able to snooze a bit (but that only made up for the sleeplessness caused by the text message informing us of the upgrade in the middle of the night). Why was I disturbed by a text message in the middle of the night when my cell phone was on “do not disturb” (as it is every night!)?  Because my husband does not believe in that!

My husband also does not believe that he’ll make it to the airport in time to get on the plane. Result: We always need to leave at some ungodly hour in advance to be sure we make it. We were there, through security and sitting in the Admirals Club, with (literally) hours to spare ahead of our 8:20 am departure.

I stopped in the ladies’ before leaving the Admirals Club, and in one of those “Did I miss something?” moments, while washing my hands, the woman next to me says “I hope your flight arrives okay.”  S*&t!  So do I!!    She was worried about the weather, the big storm in the eastern coastal states.  But we’re flying to TX and then CA, so I wasn’t thinking about winter storms. I was imagining something far more dramatic…

As always, I was glued to the window as we approached California.  I love to look at everything from the air and, especially in this case, try to guess what I am looking at down below.  As we approached San Diego, the view got very intriguing.  Mountains loomed up at the plane as we sank down for the approach.  The airport is right in the city so buildings were looming up at us, too. Since I have been here, I have been able to watch those planes as they fly into the airport. How frightening it must have been right after 9-11 to watch the same flights come in so low over the habited areas of the city.  It is convenient though!

I took these two pictures a couple of days later because I knew I would like you to see what planes landing at this airport look like.

I took these two pictures a couple of days later because I knew I would like you to see what planes landing at this airport look like.

This is the same flight - first in the air and then as it touches down.

This is the same flight – first in the air and then as it touches down.

Looking down I could see these brilliant areas of fuchsia, which turned out to be flowers, so vibrant and in such densely packed clusters that they could be seen from the sky.

We arrived at 2:30 PST (6:30 pm for us) so after checking in at the hotel we wanted to nap so that we could at least stay awake until Oscar returned from his daily trip to Mexico at around 7:15.  As is usual for me, I was so intent on getting out and seeing the lay of the land, that I was not able to fall asleep.  (Or was it the funky, perfume-y smell in our hotel room? That continues to plague us even two days later as I am writing this.)

Our first evening, tired, but unable to nap, we set out for Ocean Beach to watch the sunset. Boy was it cold when we got out of the car – quite a wind coming off the ocean.  We were all bundled up, but the locals were wearing everything from shorts and spaghetti straps to down jackets! Everyone seemed to be accompanying a dog or two, or three! People were clustered around fires built in specially designated pits right on the beach, some with the proverbial guitars … The neighborhood was a typical beach community, small houses growing vertically to get the view, and a gorgeous sunset over the Pacific Ocean. I can imagine enjoying that spectacle night after night.  Our exploration took us southward along the coast.  Everything was quite dramatic in the darkening, evening light.  We finally ended up in a place called Shelter Island, before turning around and heading back to the hotel.

Our dinner that night was at Joe’s Crab Shack – a chain restaurant. The food was good, the place was fun, and despite the reviews we read, we had no complaints about the service.

Dawn in San Diego - Near Mission Bay

Dawn in San Diego – Near Mission Bay

Thursday, Feb. 13

Still on Atlantic time, we were awake super early and left the hotel about 5:45 am looking for the sunrise.  We made an impromptu stop near Sea World where we had a beautiful view of the sky reflected in a lagoon, fringed with tall palms.

Beautiful morning on the Pacific Ocean!

Beautiful morning on the Pacific Ocean!

From there we drove to Pacific Beach. The morning was gorgeous, all pink and grey. We found Crystal Pier and Kono’s, where we got breakfast (thanks to the recommendation of a friend).  We were surprised at the number of surfers already out in the early morning. It was still pretty chilly! The sun was just coming up from behind us.  We watched the light as it moved in toward the shore from the ocean as the sun rose in the sky.

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Crystal Pier is an interesting place.  There is a hotel on the pier…little cottages with porches perfect for sunrise and sunset, I imagine.  I think it would be a cool place to stay.  I’ll have to look it up and see the rates.

One of many suffers out in the early morning chill, at Pacific Beach.

One of many suffers out in the early morning chill, at Pacific Beach.

Once we were fortified with breakfast burritos containing at least a

Kono's - the go-to breakfast place in Pacific Beach.

Kono’s – the go-to breakfast place in Pacific Beach.

half dozen eggs each (no, we couldn’t eat it all!) we headed north towards Torrey Pines. The drive took us through La Jolla (very nice!).  We made another impromptu stop to look at the view. From our cliff perch, the water below was crashing against the rocks, and we espied our first seal! But, looking down at the beach, we realized there were lots of seals sunning on the sand of a little cove beach below, accessible by stairs.  We decided to go down and check them out (there were other people doing the same thing.)  Oh, but on the way down, we were stopped by the sight of a mother seal protecting the carcass of her dead pup from the predations of nearby gulls.  It was so incredibly sad.  Talking with some of the other people there, they told us that the pup had been fine the day before, though the gulls were bullying it even then.

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Harbor seals

Harbor seals on the beach near La Jolla

Harbor seals on the beach near La Jolla

We continued northward along the coast until we reached Torrey Pines beach.  We couldn’t really find the  entrance (off a very busy road that is under construction) and so ended up parking on the marsh side of the highway.  We walked out to the beach, but it was high tide, and not particularly pretty.  Far more interesting was the tidal marsh. Our intended destination was up on the bluffs above the ocean, but our parking permit did not permit time for that.

Tidal estuary at Torrey Pines

Tidal estuary at Torrey Pines

Beach at Torrey Pines

Beach at Torrey Pines

Another view towards the tidal marsh

Another view towards the tidal marsh

When you get up and out at 6:45 am you can really see a lot in a morning, and by this time it was barely 10:00!  So we decided to go on a scouting trip for Oscar, heading down to Imperial Beach, way in south San Diego, hoping to find him a hotel that would cut his commute down.

There was nothing in that area for him though, so we drove on the Silver Strand to Coronado. Coronado is famous for the naval station there, but half of this bulge in the peninsula is civilian, and very nice, too!  Dominating the view as you drive in from the strand is the Hotel del Coronado.  Very large, very old-fashioned and super cool looking.  I checked out the reviews though and they were not good.  Seems the place is plagued by the “old-fashioned” aspect which for recent guests translated into small rooms, no hot water, musty smells and the like.  Still… all that has its appeal.

This is why I think the name "Silver Strand" seemed so fitting for this strip of land connecting Coronado to the mainland...the silvery quality of the marsh in the sunlight.

This is why I think the name “Silver Strand” seemed so fitting for this strip of land connecting Coronado to the mainland…the silvery quality of the marsh in the sunlight.

The town was also very nice, definitely a resort community. There were lots of shops and street cafes, beautiful plants and trees, nice people, too. (A fellow walked by while we were parking and feed the meter for us!) We crossed the toll bridge to return to our hotel about noon for shower and a nap before lunch.

View of downtown San Diego as we were walking across the Cabrillo Bridge in Balboa Park (It is undergoing renovations to make it more earthquake proof).

View of downtown San Diego as we were walking across the Cabrillo Bridge in Balboa Park (It is undergoing renovations to make it more earthquake proof).

Our afternoon destination was Balboa Park. We got our lunch there, in a restaurant called The Prado.  We really enjoyed the park.  The architecture is fascinating and the weather was gorgeous.  By now it was almost hot in the sun, but still cool in the shade, and most pleasant. The architecture in the park is noteworthy, though I cannot speak to the style without doing some research.  It is certainly photogenic, especially in the beautiful weather. We walked quite a bit, enjoying being outdoors, and found ourselves in something called the “Artists’ Village” where there were shops and shops of wares made by local artists and artisans.  We decided to leave the museums and the zoo for other days, but these are all in the park too.  Balboa Park is billed as the largest urban cultural park in the United States.

Balboa Park, San Diego

Balboa Park, San Diego

One of the things I like best about San Diego is how close everything is and how accessible.  It is really fast to get anywhere you want to be – perhaps because there isn’t as much traffic as you would expect from a city that has about 1.1 million residents.

Enjoy this gallery of photos of the park!

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After the park, we went back to the hotel to clean up before dinner and wait for Oscar to make it back from Mexico.  That evening we went to a French restaurant called Café Bleu in the Mission Hills area for dinner.

Loving the contrast of the bucolic sail boats in the foreground and the hard war ships in the background - but failing to capture the right mood!

Loving the contrast of the bucolic sail boats in the foreground and the hard war ships in the background – but failing to capture the right mood!

A view of the entire waterfront with downtown san Diego on the left.

A view of the entire waterfront with downtown San Diego on the left. (See the cruise ship?)

Friday morning we were out about 6:30 am, and we went down to the harbor to shoot ships as sun rose.  We took a long walk along the waterfront, making it all the way to the USS Midway.  Next to the ship there is a park with a memorial to Bob Hope and a huge,

Bob Hope Memorial (there is even a sound track with jokes!).

Bob Hope Memorial (there is even a sound track with jokes!).

sculptural version of the iconic image of the sailor kissing the nurse embodying the joy of the end of the war. Though I had mixed feelings about the statue when placed in the context of the hope created by the surrender, I had to admit that the image does convey that quite succinctly.

I found myself fascinated by the real naval ships out in the bay, and time and again, I tried to get decent pictures of them.  They are just too big and too far away to photograph the way I felt them.

The navy ships the way they really look...barely discernible!

The navy ships the way they really look…barely discernible!

Next, We went to the Gas Lamp Quarter, where we eschewed the Starbucks for a local place called the St. Tropez Bistro for breakfast, and then we walked up to the area where Oscar had rented an apartment before Christmas. It was a quick walk because we had to be back to our parking meter by 10 am.

These are the famous mission bells.  The bottom two, the biggest ones, actually have names.  One is Madre Purisima and the other is La Dolorosa.

These are the famous mission bells. The bottom two, the biggest ones, actually have names. One is Madre Purisima and the other is La Dolorosa.

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The front of the San Diego de Alcala Mission.

On the spur of the moment, I convinced Gerry to go to visit the San Diego de Alcala Mission.  What a beautiful place, so peaceful with birds singing, flowers everywhere, and fabulous sunshine. This mission is the first one of the famous mission trail in southern California – first as in “first ion the trail” and first as in “first one built.”  It was not however, the original location.  That turned out to be a place called “the Presidio” which is right near our hotel.

The San Diego de Alcala Mission courtyard.

The San Diego de Alcala Mission courtyard.

After lunch at the hotel, we decided to check out the Presidio.  We see it every time we drive in or out of the hotel, so it only seemed natural that we would go check it out.  The building is up on the crest of a hill, making the views spectacular.  Interestingly you can hear the traffic on the expressways all around it, so the calm and peace of the mission was not evident here.  The hill also dictates the landscape of the park, with very steep ups and downs, lots of green areas filled with lovers (It is Valentines’ Day!)  The site is the actual site of the first settlement in “Alta California.”

This is the Presidio, the site of the first settlement in Alta California.  A mission was part of the site but it later moved to the pictures you saw earlier.

This is the Presidio, the site of the first settlement in Alta California. A mission was part of the site but it later moved to the pictures you saw earlier.

Since we were on a theme here – a sort of back to the roots of California’s history our next stop was at the bottom of the Presidio hill in “Old Town”.  The “tourist trap” aspect is hard to avoid, but boiled down to its essence, it is not so different from Old San Juan.  There are lots of historic buildings inhabited by modern shops.  It is fun, and the historic aspects were quite edifying, too, causing me to give it a positive rating on the “things to do in San Diego” list.

After our visit, we took a car stroll through the nearby neighborhoods.  We saw so many nice old houses. This area is also called Mission Hills and it is quite close to our hotel.

Being Valentine’s Day it was pretty hard to get a reservation for dinner that night, but we ended up going to a prix fixe dinner at an Indian place, Masala, in the Gas Lamp Quarter. The food was good, but some wild cocktail I decided to try really knocked me out!

Panorama shot of the USS Midway.  (See the Sailor/Nurse statue on the far left?)

Panorama shot of the USS Midway. (See the Sailor/Nurse statue on the far left?)

Saturday morning our plan was to visit the USS Midway in the morning, because we had booked a whale watching cruise for the afternoon.  As it turned out we had to do an abbreviated tour of the aircraft carrier: It requires far more than a two hour visit.

Oscar tries his hand at the controls of a fighter plane ...

Oscar tries his hand at the controls of a fighter plane …

Because it was Presidents’ Weekend, there were lots of people.  The lines to pay were long well in advance of the 10:00 am opening time, but they were also well-manned once open and went quite quickly.  However, you can buy your tickets online or, better yet, get the San Diego Pass, and then you go to the head of the line and are the first to board the ship when it opens.  While we waited, there were volunteers, mostly retired Navy, who would talk to the people in line and answer questions.  That was really helpful and a good way to pass the wait.  There is parking right next to the ship.  The parking worked out perfectly for us because our afternoon cruise left from the other side of the parking lot, so we could leave the car all day in the same place (and it was a flat fee lot).

(I apologize that I do not have more pictures of the ship.  Once on it, the scale is so large that it is hard to get good pictures.  Most of the pictures I like of the ship were taken from off of it!)

This is a picture of the midway taken from the whale watching boat on our way back into the harbor.  From the ship itself, the pictures fail to show how big everything is!

This is a picture of the midway taken from the whale watching boat on our way back into the harbor. From the ship itself, the pictures fail to show how big everything is!

On the Midway, the most interesting part to me was the main deck.  In line, I heard how the deck layout was changed, information that was elaborated upon in the two talks we stopped to hear.  The talks, one on launching the planes via catapult, and the other on landing the planes on the deck were both very good, delivered with humor and intelligence! The fellow who gave the landing talk was so informative that it surprised me that he admitted that he had never landed a plane on an aircraft carrier!  However, he did have a buddy in the presentation who had!  It was very neat to hear directly from one of the pilots.

In the interest of time we had our lunch on the ship and then did a quick spin around the lower decks to see the laundry, sick bay, dining areas, etc. Ii was very crowded by then, and the lines moved frustratingly slowly.  It was not as interesting as the main deck (where there were also lots of planes to see).

Next up was whale watching in the afternoon.  I chose the Flagship Cruise because of the Scripps Aquarium guide who would accompany us.   I also chose the 3 1/2 hours trip because the reviews all showed that everyone had seen plenty of wildlife without having to spend the entire day, time we really did not have.

Despite the beautiful day, once the boat was underway the wind was cold.  I was glad to have my jacket. Before we were even fully out of the harbor, a group of dolphins began to play with our boat.  I was up in the front, and looking over the side, I could see them playing in the spray right in front of the bow.  When I say “right in front” imagine that I am in the bow, looking over the edge, straight down into the water.  The dolphins were just below me and disappeared UNDER the boat.  Out they would dive again, jumping over each other and streaking through the spray.  It was unforgettable the way the water would outline them in blue as it flowed over their skin.

Once out into the open ocean, the water was rougher.  The boat pitched quite a bit but we were so intent upon scanning the horizon for the whales that there wasn’t much opportunity to worry about sea sickness.  Spotting the whales is a matter of looking for blows.  In fact, the first whale was spotted by Oscar!  We were expecting to see 40 foot gray whales, as these animals are migrating at this time of year.  Technically, we should have been watching for whales migrating northward, but the guide told us they were still seeing whales headed south towards the breeding grounds off the coast of Baja California.

Once a whale was spotted, the boat slowed down considerably and headed in the direction that we thought the whale was traveling.  In this case our whale was a fin whale – a very fast whale known as the “greyhound of the sea”.  We were not sure where he/she would show up again.  A fin whale can be 80-90 feet long, and is not commonly seen, so our guide was quite excited. We did get close enough to it to hear the blow, but it was really hard to get a feeling for its size because it did not come very far out of the water. When I looked at the picture (that I linked to above) I realized that the fin is way towards the tail.  We didn’t actually see a tail, but that explains why my impression was of a long, skinny animal.

Fortunately it came up several times so everyone was able to see it at least once. Remember, you have to be looking in the right place at the right time, or capable of whipping your head around and focusing super-fast if you want to see it.  Most of the time you are staring at a big, blank ocean!

We did see another blow way out in the distance, distinctly different from the blow of the fin whale.  The guide told us that that was a gray whale, but we weren’t going to chase it because the fin whale was a much better sighting.  Again, sorry for the no photos situation.  I made a conscientious decision to try to see the whales with my eyes and not miss everything trying to capture the elusive photo!

Water birds on the bait dock...How many can you name?

Water birds on the bait dock…How many can you name?

On the way back in to the harbor, we saw tons of sea lions sunning on the bait dock, as well as cormorants and other water birds.  Though I would do this again, and I am glad we went, the experience was underwhelming.  My expectation was too see more whales and to see them closer up, neither of which made much sense when I read that the gray whales are pretty solitary travelers. Go prepared for both a lot of sun (sunscreen) and a cold wind (jacket). Maybe closer to the end of March would prove a better time to go.  Certainly, if you want to see mothers and calves you should go late in the season as they are the last of the whale groups to migrate north.

Sea lions on the bait dock...They really are quite distinctly different from seals.

Sea lions on the bait dock…They really are quite distinctly different from seals.

Even though it was not Valentines’ Day today, dinner reservations were hard to get.  Our first choice had a 45 minute wait.  On a recommendation from a friend of Oscar’s we drove out to Solana Beach to a place called Fidel’s, a Mexican restaurant.  The restaurant was like a rabbit warren of little rooms, but our food was good.

There’s still more!  Click here to continue reading this journal.

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