Have you ever fallen in love? Remember those irregular palpitations? The rush of warm blood coursing throughout your body? That happened to me last week. I fell in love with San Diego. Let me tell you why I fell in love, but also allow me to share my many travel mistakes so that you don't make the same ones. It's okay if you laugh at me, because I already have.
Let's play word association! I say California, and you say the first thing that comes to mind! Go ahead, I'll wait. I bet you thought about beaches, the famous zoo, sunshine, delicious Mexican food, and countless other tourist magnets. You're not wrong, but what surprised me the most were the people.
Where I Stayed
I started my trip at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. It's located right in downtown San Diego, near the San Diego Convention Center - home of the mecca of Comic Con's. The service that the staff at the Hyatt provided, from the
bell hops to the front desk, was phenomenal.
I'm pretty sure that the idea of one day relocating my family to California was born in the seafood restaurant behind the Grand Hyatt. Sally's Fish House and Bar is nestled in a perfect little nook off the San Diego Bay. If you choose to be seated at a table outdoors - and trust me you'd want to since San Diego has gorgeous weather - you'll be facing the bay and the casual boardwalk strollers that pass by.
The San Diego Zoo
It would've been reprehensible to take a trip to San Diego and not pay a visit to the world renowned San Diego Zoo. I love going to zoos, and have visited many over the years. The San Diego Zoo is the most beautiful of all the zoos I have ever been to! It may very well have to do with the natural hilly environment that the zoo is built into; The Golden State is contoured by rocky cliffs, rolling hills, and winding roads.
I visited the zoo on a Friday morning, and had anticipated crowds, but it wasn't too bad. I did not expect all of the steep inclines that I would have to climb, but luckily I was wearing VERY comfortable sandals. Comfortable shoes are a must for this tourist hot spot! Speaking of hot, dress in airy and flowy clothing if you make the trip in July like I did; there are a few spots where you can find shade, like the Fern Canyon Trail that leads to the Aviary Trail, or the Hippo Trail which leads to the Gorilla enclosure, but most of the zoo is free from cover.
The Gaslamp Quarter
The Gaslamp Quarter - often referred to as the Gaslamp District, at least by some of the people that I spoke to - boasts a lively nightlife scene, enclosed by idyllic Victorian architecture.
There is something for everyone, so don't feel bad about bringing the kiddies out for a night on the town! There are pubs, restaurants, and shops; you should call ahead as some do not allow anyone in under twenty-one after a certain hour - I learned this the hard way when I showed up with my husband and daughter, only for her to get carded at the door. My eight-year-old forgot her fake ID at home, but as I said, there were many eatery options to choose from. One of my regrets was not taking one of the man-drawn carriages for a ride. They were pretty cool, with their lights and loud music.
I spent the second part of my trip in San Diego alone.
Well, obviously there were other people around, but my husband and daughter had to fly back home a couple days before me while I continued to attend my work conference. After the meetings concluded on the first day that they had left, I decided to be adventurous and purchased a ticket for the Old Town Trolley Tour bus - believe me that's adventurous for me, I am pretty much a paranoid scaredy-cat. Armed with my orange tour-bus-passenger sticker, I boarded the bus with no set plan. I figured I would make it up as I go; how bad could it be? The bus has designated stops and makes its rounds every thirty minutes. What could go wrong?
I didn't get off on any stops until I reached Coronado Island. There was no way I would return to NY without having dipped my toes in a California beach. The powdery sand scorched my feet, but I trekked along until I reached the refreshing cool waves. I only went in ankle-deep, but that was enough for me to enjoy the splashes of the Pacific. Maybe you're wondering why I would only choose to go up to my ankles, or maybe you're remembering my lack of planning and at times crippling paranoia. Funny enough, you would think that my paranoia would make me a better planner, but that isn't always the case for me. I didn't bring a bathing suit, and I am afraid of swimming in the ocean. So, there's that.
Once my toes were sufficiently kissed by the ocean, I walked back to the local shops. I bought myself a little memento, at a little shop called Treasures From the Heart, to memorialize this trip. This has been my favorite vacation thus far, and the handcrafted clay toggle-bracelet screamed California to me! After a bit of credit-card-swipe indulgence, it was time to grab a bite to eat. If you go to Coronado Island, take a lunch break at McP's Pub. I enjoyed a juicy Swiss and Avocado burger with fried Calamari in this Irish pub owned and run by a former US Navy Seal. I wasn't the only conference member that had found this little establishment, and I definitely wasn't the only one to rave about the food! It was conveniently located at the trolley stop, so when I finished my meal I waited for the next bus. This is when my second burst of spontaneity hit. At the bus stop was a ticket booth affiliated with the tour company; a poster, plastered on the front of the booth, advertised tickets for a different tour - the Ghosts and Gravestones Tour. Without much thought at all, I walked over and bought a ticket for the 7:30pm tour that left from Old Town, San Diego.
Ah, Old Town, a little village plucked right out of the 1800's.
Old Town is the wild west meets Mexico. From the vendors selling colorful ponchos and tapestries to the thoughtfully placed pioneer wagons, Old Town feels like you've stepped into another time and place. You would have thought that I too had come from another time in the past, as unprepared as I was for this second part of my trip. If you are going to be out all day, in an area that you are unfamiliar with, what do you suppose should be at the top of your must have items? A cell phone you say? Correct, and I had mine. But, what use is a phone with a dead battery? None! Now, mind you, I packed a portable charger for this trip, but didn't bother remembering to stuff it into my purse before I left the hotel room.
I had a little bit of time before the second tour started, so I had to think quick. At this point, the temperatures outside were cooling, but not inside my body - I was freaking out. What was I going to do? I was too far from the hotel to consider walking back after the tour, and with a dead phone an UBER ride was out of the question. I was by myself, in unfamiliar territory, and without the safety net of my trusty cell phone. In hindsight, I could have hailed a cab, but I don't remember seeing any around me. I grew hungry so I stopped at Barra Barra - a very Mexican looking restaurant. I asked the hostess for a table for one, and in a hushed whisper I said, "I am so sorry to ask you this, but my phone is dead and I didn't bring my portable charger, do you know if anyone working at this restaurant has a charger that I can borrow while I eat?" She didn't look taken aback by my request, more so like she was already calculating who she would ask, still I felt compelled to plead my case further, so I continued, "It's just that I don't know how to get back to my hotel and my only plan was to get an UBER after my second tour bus trip."
She looked stressed. She sat me down at a table near an outlet and said, "I think I have mine in my purse, wait here and let me check."
When she came back, her face was drawn. She was so apologetic as she explained that she had left her charger at home. She said it was the first time she had ever done that. Just my luck, right?
Of course I thanked her for trying, and within no time I began to sweat again. Now what?
My waitress came and took my order. She paused and looked me over a moment before walking away. I think maybe she read the pathetic despair on my face and my distant interest in the menu. I couldn't concentrate on the food options when I had no idea how I would get back to my hotel.
A few minutes later, the hostess returned and asked me, "Which hotel are you staying at?" At this point several questions jumped into my New York - and paranoia driven - brain. Is it safe to tell her? Why is she asking? But, I told her anyways. She walked away without a word, and I wondered if I had made a mistake. Why did she want to know what hotel I was staying at? I'm so stupid for giving this type of information to a stranger! After a few more slaps of blame that I gave myself, the hostess with the mostest returned with a piece of paper in her hand. She had written down exact instructions for the local train service that runs throughout San Diego, including walking directions to the near by train station. The train would stop right in front of the San Diego Convention Center next to my hotel! How sweet! Here I was thinking that I was being set up like Liam Neeson's daughter in the movie Taken, without a hero declaring his mission to save me in a raspy and threatening tone! Instead, she turned out to be the first of my four hero's in San Diego. Did you think I was exaggerating about my paranoia earlier? You don't think so anymore, right?
I still had a little time before the Ghost's and Gravestone's tour bus set off, so I thought I'd check out the directions the girl gave me while it was still light out. With the tour bus returning around 9:30pm later that evening, I didn't want to risk having trouble finding the train station in the dark. Smart, right?
I took the path behind the restaurant that the girl pointed out to me. I made a left turn down a busy road, and I was no longer in the nostalgic old world village of Old Town. I quieted the scaredy-cat inside of me (she was beginning to freak out), and kept following my hand-drawn map. About a hundred feet further into my little scope-out trip, my heart beat tripled in speed, and my sweat glands hit double time. The train station was in stark contrast to the storybook-like look of Old Town; it was packed with several characters that seemed a little shady. When you add up my paranoia, an unknown territory, a dead phone, and a station of questionable figures, you'd understand why my mind transformed the image into a horde of walkers straight out of The Walking Dead. (Aside: either I watch way too many movies and my imagination runs wild, or I need therapy to deal with my paranoia situation) I'll let you mull that over and decide for yourselves. Needless to say, I booked it out of there, perspiring all the way back to the little village.
It's an interesting day when you find yourself thinking that you are on safer ground when you reach a bus that has loud ghoulish music playing from it. The tour bus driver/guide greeted me with a top hat donned on his head, and a skeleton cane in his hand. I asked him if he had a charger on the bus, and I explained my dilemma, but he did not. He did kindly make an almost-offer when he told me that had I chosen the 9:30pm tour, which was the last tour, he would have dropped me off at my hotel at no charge. It was a very kind offer, but not one that did me much good. However, a mom and daughter team sitting nearby - also waiting for the tour - heard my situation (cue hero number two). They had come down to San Diego from Sacramento, California, visiting UCSD, where the daughter would be attending this coming Fall. The mother, in a chipper tone, said, "I have a portable charger, you can use it. Here take it, keep it during the tour."
I was floored. "Really?"
"Yeah, no worries," she said; a common mantra in California. "Use it as long as you need to, and just give it back at the end of the tour."
Within no time, my phone was charged, I thanked my hero, and congratulated her daughter for her acceptance into the Human Bio program at UCSD (a hero in the making after med school).
The Ghost's and Gravestone's Tour was pretty cool. It was a perfect blend of history and ghost stories. I recommend it, but maybe if your child is over ten or eleven; I wouldn't take my eight year old, not if I want to keep her out of my bed at night.
At the conclusion of the tour, I used my now fully charged phone and requested an UBER. My UBER driver, Kristie, was the cutest! She was my first female UBER driver, and that alone excited me, but she was also adorable and very personable. She reminded me of my aunt Yvette, who lives in California too by the way. Are you noting the trend of awesome Cali personalities?
I schlepped up to my room, exhausted from my day-long adventure. I would be flying back home the next morning, so it was time to make sure by bags were all set and organized.
My Last Night in San Diego
A shot of Seaport Village, just behind my hotel the Manchester Grand Hyatt.
Photo Credit: seaportvillage.com
So, my suitcase is packed tight, so tight that I literally had to sit on it in order to get it to zip close. I had a carry-on bag that contained all of my hair styling contraptions, and a garment bag that I thought had a little more room to hold the few things that couldn't make it into my swelling suitcase. I shove the items into the garment bag, clap my hands like a job well done, and lift it off of the bed so that I could place it on the little couch in the room. The bottom of the garment bag ripped open, and all of the items cascaded out of it. Are you kidding me right now? It's almost 10pm, what was I going to do?
I left the room and ran down to the shopping village behind the hotel, called Seaport Village. I walked as fast as I could (these little legs got some serious work out during this trip). I just needed a bag, any bag. The shops were closing up as I sped through the winding paths. A guy, in his mid-twenties, must have seen the panic stricken look on my face, because he asked me if I needed help. He was packing up a display of flags outside of his shop. I told him that I needed a bag, a large one, because my garment bag broke and I flew out the next morning. He told me that just around the next bend was a store that sold travel accessories and he was pretty sure it had travel bags. "Come with me, I will ask him to open back up for you," he said.
I kept close behind him. We reached the store where another guy was closing up shop. The second guy had just shut the lights when the flag-guy grabbed his attention. This time someone was going give me an attitude right? I used to work in retail, I remember how annoying it was when somebody barged in to shop when I was ready to close and go home. But, travel-shop-guy never batted an eye. By now his register had to have been closed, but he didn't fuss. I apologized, and his answer was, "No worries, take your time."
He had quite a few decent carry-on sized suitcases, so I took a quick look and selected the sturdiest one. I didn't care about the price, I just needed to get out of his way and back to my room to repack.
Armed with my suitcase, I thanked my third and fourth hero's, and marched back to my room.
I promise that that was the end of my mishaps, unless you consider my five hour flight delay another mishap, but at least that one isn't on me.
Lessons I learned
Never leave my hotel room without a portable charger, preferably pre-charged.
Travel with durable luggage.
Plan ahead (spontaneity and I don't always synch)
The day that we decided to turn my work trip into a family trip, we also decided that we needed to take Victoria to Disney.
Why not take advantage of the proximity of Anaheim from San Diego? We don't get away as a family often, so we wanted to pack this trip with as many joys as possible.
Before my solo adventure in Old Town, and before my work conference began, we hit Disneyland. It was a Thursday, and we showed up just after the gates opened. We thought that getting there early was the best idea - you know, get there before the crowds and lines formed. However, in hindsight I now wish that we would have shown up around 2pm, or even later. The sun was so hot on our backs all day as we walked, and as we waited on lines. No amount of water saved me from my dehydration headache.
We were restricted from taking any rides that were too high. Let me rephrase that, I was in Disneyland with two people that were afraid of heights. With Splash Mountain and the Matterhorn Bobsled rides out of the question, we lined up for Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and I wasn't even allowed to raise the lever to the highest point. My husband likes to act like he's brave and not afraid of the higher rides, but I am pretty sure he was hiding behind Victoria's fear as an easy excuse to avoid them himself.
By happenstance, we ended up on a ride called Star Tours. It simulated soaring through space with C-3PO at the wheel. Victoria loved it so much that when the ride ended she was on a hunt for another simulator. We found Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: Breakout.
"It's a simulator," they said; "she meets the height requirement," they said; what they didn't say is that this simulator is also a free-fall ride. The safety bar locked in place over our laps as we patiently waited for the ride to kick off. None the wiser, we settled back into our seats and the ride lifted us like an elevator. Suddenly, the elevator dropped us what felt like twenty feet. Neither of us had expected it. Victoria trembled from head to toe. Her eyes interchanged between bug-eyed to shut tight as she gripped her seat belt for a sense of security. The elevator rose again, and all the while my husband and I tried to calm Victoria down. I will confess that I laughed the entire time. I felt bad because I had never seen Victoria so scared before, but it was hilarious at the same time! The next free fall felt like a hundred foot drop! I don't know the exact height of each death drop, even though I have been googling it since, but I'm sticking to my guesstimate. There was no chance to break for a breather; even when the lift wasn't dropping, it was either shaking or jolting about. At the climax of the video simulation sequence, the doors opened up giving all of us passengers a birds eye view of Disneyland. Gasps echoed through the lift; Victoria released the tension in her eyes, and opened them. The moment she saw the expanse of land, and ant-sized people before her, she shut her eyes and didn't open them again until the ride ended. For a girl that wanted no part of rides that go high, she ended up on the highest of them all.
Comforting Tori, lower right hand corner.
The moment that Tori's eyes opened at the sound of gasps; see me laughing?
Lessons I Learned
Give Disney a try in the late afternoon into the evening next time.
Check out the rides on the Disneyland website for disclaimers prior to queuing up for them.
If you haven't already visited San Diego, I heartily urge you to do so. We are definitely returning in the near future. A few weeks ago, San Diego was another major city in America, today it is a place burrowed in my heart.
Here's to more adventure's!