Thursday, June 28, 2012

Stay Classy, San Diego

Las Vegas to San Diego - 511 miles.

Tuesday June 26, 2012

The drive from Las Vegas to San Diego was mostly uneventful.  The scenery was absolutely amazing.  I especially loved the joshua trees in the high desert, as well as the more lush mountains the closer I got to the Pacific coast.  While I was driving I came up with a Road Trip Manifesto:

  1. (1)     If I see something that I want to do, I will do it.  I am on no one’s schedule and will not rush from point A to point B.  Money may only play a small role in any decision.  I have saved up money for two years in Belize and if I blow a little on this trip, then so be it.
  2. (2)    Corrolary to (1) – If I do not want to do something, I will not do it.  If I get tired of driving the Pacific Coast Highway and want to skip ahead on the interstate, then I will.  This is my roadtrip and I am not going to be beholden to some advance idea of what it should be. 
  3. (3)    Eat and drink local – Whenever possible, I will eat at local restaurants – not chain restaurants.  I hope to avoid the Olive Gardens, Red Lobsters, and Chilis of America.  I plan to ask locals where their favorite restaurants and bars are in town and then ask the waiter for the specialty of the house.  (Please note that (1) supersedes this rule)
  4. (4)    If the World’s biggest/smallest/tallest/fattest/tiniest/largest whatever is within five miles of the route, I MUST stop to see it.  Anything that is more than five miles off the route is optional.
  5. (5)    Whenever I see one of those machines that will flatten a penny into a small coin with a kitschy design on it, I must do it.  The kitschier the better.

Additional points may be added in the future.

June 27, 2012

I love zoos.  When I was a kid, Aunt Kathy would take me to the Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo almost weekly during the summers.  I knew that zoo like the back of my hand.  So, whenever I am in a new place, I always love visiting the local zoo.  I have been to zoos in half a dozen countries and probably a third of all U.S. states.  Of course, I had to visit the world famous San Diego Zoo.
The zoo is fantastic, but I don’t think it justifies its extraordinarily high price tag of $42 per person.  The zoo is expansive and has world class exhibits for bears, elephants, gorillas, pandas and giraffes.  The bus tour (which I oddly remember taking when I was 5 years old) was disappointing, as was the skyfari air tram.  The big cat exhibits were not very impressive (this may be due to the San Diego Zoo safari park which exhibits many of its African big game animals in a more rugged setting).  I still had a good time, but I don’t think the park justified its price tag.   (I was also miffed by the numerous signs thanking donors for the bench or the various animal exhibits. Not a single sign thanked all of the tourists for forking over $42 a person, which I am sure can buy a few benches).

The worst part about the zoo  was that someone keyed my rental car while I was visited there.  There is a slight chance it happened at my hotel (not staying in the best neighborhood), but the damage is so noticeable I can’t imagine that I didn’t see it in the morning if it happened overnight.  Hopefully, either my car insurance (which I specifically didn’t cancel yet) or my credit card will cover the cost of the damage, but it definitely put a damper on my day.

For dinner, I headed over to Little Italy to meet my Belize colleague Ashley.  She was my “work wife” in Belize – the person I could complain to about all the stupid shit my other co-workers were doing.  She left Belize in February and started her second tour in Tijuana last month.  It was great to see her and catch her up on all the latest gossip from Belize and hear how things are different in TJ (turns out we had it pretty easy in Belmopan).

After dinner, I was walking around Little Italy and stopped in a local art gallery.  I struck up a conversation with the proprietor about my trip up the Pacific Coast Highway.  He recommended a few places to stop along the route.  When he realized I was only in San Diego for a few days, he said I should head out to Sunset Cliffs right away to catch the sunset and then head over to Ocean Beach to see the hippies around the Farmer’s Market.

I followed his suggestion and had a great evening watching the sun set over the Pacific.  There was a bit of low cloud cover, so I didn’t get to see the sun drop directly into the sea but the view was still gorgeous as the waves beat against the cliffs.  The Ocean Beach Farmer’s Market was just as great as he suggested – surfers trying to catch one more wave, siblings racing each other on the beach, hippies in a hacky-sack circle, and at least three head shops that may or may not dispense medical marijuana.  I stopped at a local ice cream shop and asked if they had any specialties (see the manifesto above).  She suggested I try the “hot waffle ice cream sandwich.”  I did and it was delicious.

June 28, 2012

I started the morning by heading to Coronado beach.  I originally planned to spend a few hours at the beach, but it wasn't as great as I hoped.  The water was so freezing that I didn't do more than wade in the shallow waves for a few minutes.  I tried to relax on the beach for a bit, but the sand was covered with swarms of small flies.  These are not the obnoxious noseeums of Belize that bite like crazy, but they annoyed me enough to abandon my plan to read on the beach all morning.  Instead, I took a long stroll along the beach.  The variety of beach culture always astounds me.  Here were mostly surfers in their wetsuits, families with kids playing in the sand (it was fantastic sand, except for the flies), and what appeared to be a lifeguard summer camp with several dozen young teens racing in and out of the water.  While watching the junior lifeguards, I saw about a half dozen dolphins swimming in the shallows waters off the beach.  After my stroll, I drove my car down along the scenic coast almost to the Mexican border.  (For a variety of reasons, I cannot actually cross into Mexico on the trip).

After a pit stop at my hotel to watch the Germany-Italy Euro 2012 semi-final, I headed out to the cliffs at Torrey Pines.  This was another suggestion by the friendly art dealer in Little Italy.  When I got there, I discovered dozens of parachutes sailing off the cliffs 350 feet above the water.  I learned that these cliffs are great for paragliding because the strong regular winds blow into the cliffs and then shoot up, allowing the gliders to ride the wind up and land in the same place they take off from.  For $150, I could partake in a tandem paraglide.  I hemmed and hawed for a few minutes before I remembered rule #1 of the manifesto.  I checked with the office and I fit within the weight restrictions (a problem I have had with skydiving), so I signed up.  Unfortunately, after waiting about 40 minutes for my turn, the wind began to die down.  Although they were still sending people out, the lower wind made it harder for heavier parachutes (ME) to land back on the cliffs.  We'd likely have to land on the beach below and climb the stairs back up.  Obviously, no one wanted to do this, so we canceled my flight.  I'm a bit disappointed, but it was still awesome to watch all of the paragliders.

I then made my way down the coast to La Jolla (pronounced like the Georgetown Hoya) where I stopped along the sea again.  Here, the cliffs were much smaller and they had several small beaches just below the sidewalk.  One of the beaches, known as the children's pool, had a number of harbor seals swimming in the calm water.  They regularly rest in the area, though they didn't seem to be getting any rest today with all the swimmers around.  Further down, I saw a sea lion pull himself onto some rocks to sun bathe for a few moments.

I ended my evening in the lovely Gaslamp Quarter, which is the dining and drinking area in downtown San Diego.  It was really a nice area and I wished that I were not exploring it by myself.  Dining alone is never much fun, but I saddled myself up to the bar and ordered the San Diego home fries skillet (a specialty of the house - see rule #3), which was delicious.

Overall, San Diego is a fantastic city, which I will have to visit again in the future.  The city was not exactly what I expected - the landscape was hillier, for example - but each part of the city has its own vibe.  You can feel the extensive military presence here, but it is not overbearing like it can sometimes be in DC.  Many of the best views of the city are commanded by huge glorious houses up in hills, but along the beach are small one story bungalows that seem directly out of a Beach Boys song.  I explored a few bits and pieces of the city but I barely scratched the surface of what the city has to offer.  One day, I will return for a longer trip.

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