Travel - San Diego, California Part One

March 24, 2015

I'm reposting the #sygmdoescali series that I wrote for So You're Getting Married on here over the next couple of days if you fancy a read of what we got up to in beautiful San Diego a couple of weeks ago. This is part one - 

Why had I never considered going to San Diego before now?? The traditional Californian road trip/fly drive has always been to start in San Francisco {as we did back in 2012 that I blogged about here and here}, possibly incorporate Las Vegas and then finish in Los Angeles. But if you go just a tiny bit further down the coast, around a two hour drive from LA and just before you get to the Mexican border, you'll reach San Diego. And wow, how worthwhile those extra two hours would be. We actually flew direct from Heathrow to and from San Diego, BA run a flight daily there. We had eight days, four of those were hosted by the San Diego Tourist Board to showcase La Jolla as a wedding destination but we figured it was a long way to fly for just four days {well that was our excuse anyway, really we just wanted as much time possible in the gorgeous Californian sunshine} so we booked four nights independently to explore a bit more.

We stayed at three different hotels in that time, independently {through Dial a Flight who I always find to be the most competitive on booking flights and a hotel} we booked four nights at The Holiday Inn San Diego Bayside which was a bargain £80 a night! And no it wasn't like any Holiday Inn we have over here, if you didn't see the sign on the outside you'd think you were staying in a Hyatt or similar chain. It's had a huge refurbishment recently and the rooms were amazing, the lobby even had a big display of real orchids in, it was a great location, they had bikes to use for free, a free airport shuttle, free wifi, a pool surrounded by palm trees so it was everything we needed and more. And all for the grand total of £80 a night it was ridiculous. We arrived in the evening and despite being super tired from the travelling we wanted to try and stay up to beat the jet lag so we wandered across the road to one of San Diego's many marinas, the whole city is full of boats. I loved it, we ordered a pizza from Nova's Pizza and sat eating it by the water, amazed at how warm it was on a February evening.

The jet lag thing didn't work as we were wide awake at 4am the next morning but excited to get up and go into downtown San Diego. We didn't hire a car out there, figuring that we'd be in La Jolla where you could walk everywhere for 4 days and valet parking can add up out there, plus they have crazy highways. San Diego has a good public transport system and we used the buses and trams to get everywhere we needed, one evening it was a pain when a bus stopped running and it took us an extra hour to get back to the hotel but for the money it was great. We bought our Compass cards, topped them up with a three day pass and off we went! It was a really good way to see the city too.

Downtown San Diego was so lovely to walk around, it seemed so quiet compared to the rest of America and has a cool mix of old historic buildings, palm trees and modern skyscrapers. Being such gorgeous weather and the city so calm, with the boats just a few blocks across it had a similar feel to some Australian cities that we'd been to. We wandered around, it's fairly small so you can cover everything on foot easily.

I loved the Gaslamp Quarter, it's the historic quarter with lots of old buildings that have been regenerated recently and now the area is full of cool bars with lightbulbs hanging from string, restaurants, hotels and shops. It felt like Soho in New York.

It comes alive at night too but is just as lovely for a wander in the sunshine.

From there we had a look round the Seaport Village, it was only 10am at this point but that warm sunshine was so heavenly. There were some cute shops and restaurants around with nautical styled buildings and lighthouses. The flowers around were gorgeous too, it had a really nice atmosphere with people having brunch in the sunshine by the water. We sat in the Embarcadero Park just behind the village watching all the boats, just soaking up the first of the sunshine after a cold winter in England.

I got a bit too excited when I spotted blossom for the first time this year! Against the blue sky it was so gorgeous.

After lunch {which was a chipotle burrito of course} we got the ferry over to Coronado Island to spend an afternoon at the beach. It's a fifteen minute crossing with views of the skyline from the boat.

I loved Coronado, it was like arriving onto a tropical paradise island. We walked up Orange Avenue from the ferry landing which goes right the way across the small island to the beach, stopping to admire the hibiscus en route, the cute villas and for a fro-yo. When I'm in America I have to have at least one frozen yogurt a day.

There were lively cafes with seats in the sunshine, a few grocery stores, some nice art galleries and boutiques all just minutes from one of the most beautiful beaches in America.

There were some gorgeous little gift and stationery shops just behind this old bank, I wanted to buy everything! The houses on the island were incredible too, huge villas overlooking the sea yet only fifteen minutes away from downtown San Diego, the prices were handsome too.. $$$. 

I guess the beach must get crowded in the summer but we were surprised at how quiet it was for the afternoon. It sits behind the famous Del Coronado Hotel, the white building with the terracotta roof you can see in the photo above.

It was probably the most beautiful Calfornian beach we'd been too with the softest white sand. We had a nice afternoon sunbathing and watching the waves. I didn't realise quite how strong the sun was and realised later that I looked like rudolph for a day or so oops. 

We had dinner at The Islander restaurant, a popular spot on the street next to the beach. The fish was amazing, a really yummy dinner before going back to the beach to watch the sunset.

Walked out, we got the bus back to the ferry spot and looked out across the water to the glittering skyline. 

The next morning, a Friday, we had breakfast at good old Denny's diner before heading to Balboa Park.

Balboa was huge, you could spend a few days there and still not see everything. It's America's largest urban cultural park and has fifteen big museums, the world famous zoo and lots of pretty gardens to walk around. Our favourite was the cactus garden especially being so close to Mexico and the desert. 

Some of the cacti were huge! And who knew that they could be so pretty? 

All the buildings in the park are 100 years old this year, which is really old for American standards.

In the summer this pond in front of the Botanic Gardens is filled with huge lily pads. 

California has such good weather year round that the Botanical Greenhouse is open air, it doesn't even need glass or heaters like Kew Gardens does! 

After a lovely morning exploring the park we took the bus to Mission Beach, just round the bay from San Diego, stopping for an obligatory fro-yo again en route. In my element with self serve nutella flavour...

We walked the three mile boardwalk along Mission Beach to Pacific Beach, your typical Californian surfing beaches. 

There was a mix of interesting housing along the beach path, some cute little seaside cottages, some huge 70s style with huge curved glass windows looking out on the ocean. 

We ate at Surf Taco in Pacific Beach, a kind of surf shack style restaurant that we wouldn't have normally looked twice at but had heard from a few reviews that it offered some of the best Mexican food in all of America! People actually travel across the country for a burrito here. We went for fish tacos, San Diego is home to the fish taco so we felt we had to try them. They didn't disappoint either, blackened fish with fresh salsa, rice, beans and cheese. We love Mexican food and it's everywhere you go in Southern California being so close to the border. 

For dessert though, before we watched the sunset on the beach, we went to The Baked Bear. A custom made fresh cookie ice cream sandwich shop for just $3.25 {Less than £2!!}. America really has it all. The number of combinations was crazy as you could choose two cookies {or a brownie/waffle/doughnut} and then your ice cream flavour.

The cookies were so fresh as well, pulled out of the oven as we arrived. We watched the sky change colour on the beach and the surfers going in for one last wave then took the bus back to downtown San Diego ready for moving up to La Jolla in the morning. Too good California, too good.

The next few days of our trip were the best and will be in part 2 tomorrow but we then had one more day and night after La Jolla back in San Diego... Sorry it jumps around a bit.

Back in San Diego for our last day and night, we borrowed the hotel's bikes and cycled to Shelter Island just a mile down the road from the Holiday Inn. The views over the city were spectacular with the boats and sparkly water in front of the skyline.

Our last day was also the hottest so it was nice to be on the beach and by the water for a while.

The beach had fire pits too! If only we'd known earlier we would have cycled down with some s'mores supplies and watched the sunset... Next time for sure. {that's my new favourite saying, For sure said in an American accent to wind Ben up haha}

Holiday heaven, we soaked up the sunshine knowing we'd be home at that time the next day. It was such a quiet island to cycle around too with boats on both side of the roads. 

My memory card was full of photos of palm trees and blossom, all with the Californian trademark bright blue, cloudless skies behind. Obsessed.

We debated how to spend our last day, we'd seen most things in San Diego by this point. We should have really gone to visit some of the many famous museums around the town, the USS Midway for example. Or we could have gone whale watching at this time of year, we had loved Coronado Island so thought about another day on the beach, we were tempted with the zoo {I'm not usually a fan of zoo's and the thought of animals in cages but this one is supposed to be the best kind of zoo}. But in the end we had another faithful In n Out Burger before spending our last afternoon at Balboa Park again. At In n Out this time I did the 4 x 4 burger {from their secret menu, google it} and Ben tried their animal style fries. So so bad but so so good. We both vowed to give up red meat and go on a serious detox when we got home! But when in America...

Then we returned to Balboa Park for our last afternoon. 

Before flying back to Blighty that evening. {side note, San Diego airport is amazing, all the best places to eat and without the stress and craziness of LAX. Definitely consider flying home from here if you're doing a roadtrip}.

Next, and final instalment of #sygmdoescali coming right up. All about my favourite place La Jolla..

R <3 xx

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