Ernesto, the young, cheerful clerk at the
Paradise Point Resort & Spa grins, and asks if we have ever been to paradise before, immediately conjuring up memories of poet
John Milton for me. Our room faces
Mission Bay sunsets, directly outside the back door with a sandy beach, where, ensconced in two Adirondack chairs, we watch a father and daughter making castles. Driven in a golf cart to our room, it's spacious, nicely appointed with two queen-sized beds, tropical decor, four chairs, a table and a large desk.
We are provided with a fire-starter kit, lighter and firewood including kindling for a bonfire on the beach as well as a smores do-it-yourself kit to take to the nearby "lagoon pool" at night where more fires enliven the dark. There are five heated pools and accompanying hot tubs on 44 acres encircled by white, sandy beach, close to San Diego's
Pacific beaches. Fifteen bonfire pits allow everyone to be kids at heart with an 18-hole putting course, marina and market, all close to Sea World. But first, it's dinner at Tidal, the restaurant which features delicious seafood in a gorgeous setting overlooking the bay. Paradise is OK so far.
Next morning, we take public transit (bus number #9) at $1.10 each, seniors rate, versus the $25 cab fare from the airport - to
Old Town, California's birthplace, the first permanent Spanish settlement. We stop at the Congress Café for breakfast, then take the Old Town Trolley tour on a 32.8C (91F) sweltering day. Drivers Richard and Poncho cover most of the city, playing amusing music geared to each area. ex
Little Italy - Dean Martin, the
Navy yards - US Marine Corps song,
Petco Park - Take Me Out To The Ballgame etc.; it's a good overview that includes history lessons, San Diego evolving from
missions each mission located a one-day horse ride away, the Camino Real. Railroad and real estate development by
Alonzo Horton from San Francisco helped propel further growth.
Other factoids: the U.S. Navy is the biggest economic actor here followed by manufacturing which includes bio-technology, then tourism. Snowbirds take note: the average temperature is 21.7C (71F); when it gets to 15.6C (60F), natives wear winter coats. The best time to visit is January-February. There are two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers anchored here.
Coronado is swanky; inhabitants demand to be known as "islanders," but really live on a peninsula. Orange St. is misnamed because no trees remain thanks to jack rabbits that ate them, so residents planted palms. Little Italy boasts flags imprinted with notable Italian visages including John Travolta.
San Diego International Airport is also known as Lindbergh Field, 4.8 km (3 miles) northwest of the downtown, where the
Spirit of St. Louis was built. It's the busiest single-runway commercial airport in the United States, the second-busiest in the world after London Gatwick, carrying 48,000 passengers each day. There are 93 golf courses in the area;
QUALCOMM Stadium is home to the
NFL Chargers and
Petco Park in the
Gaslamp District, the
We head to
Balboa Park, turning 100 this year, a 1,200-acre urban cultural park, San Diego's answer to Washington's Smithsonian with gardens, walking paths, multiple museums, theaters, and the world-famous
San Diego Zoo. We walk through a funky commune area featuring 21 artists, where I chat with Victoria Johnson, a sculptor, on our way to the zoo. We take the sky ride twice and the bus ride, spotting the larger creatures - giraffes, elephants and a rhino. The zoo is enormous as is Balboa Park - the biggest urban park in the US.
Tired and hot, we head to the Coyote Café in Old Town, a large operation with both open and enclosed areas. We enjoy wonderful Mexican food - fish tacos, battered, deep-fried fish, burritos with chicken, salad and fried ice cream topped with honey and corn flakes. So much for the waistline.
We return to Paradise Point by bus and sit outside, watching the red sunset. On the water - kayaks, rowers, stand-up paddlers compete for space. The moon slowly descends into the distant palm tree silhouettes far across Mission Bay as a well-lit ferry drifts by, and overhead, there's a steady procession of planes leaving San Diego's unique downtown airport. Soon, campfires light up the beach.
Next morning, we wake and enjoy coffee on the sand with a wonderful view, the tide ebbing in with rowers gliding by. A few birds dot the water while some terrestrial gulls strut on the beach.
Our guide, Joe Timko, drives us to
La Jolla - up hills and past fashionable homes to the
Mount Soledad War Memorial with a panoramic 360 degree overview of the landscape below. Joe tells us that Del Mar, further north, is actually more affluent than La Jolla; he describes the size of San Diego with its multi-ethnic inhabitants, and we lunch at the
Karl Strauss Brewing Company surrounded by walled glass that showcases the shiny stainless steel craft brewing equipment.
Mount Soledad War Memorial
After lunch, we check into the
Grande Colonial Hotel, a huge room in tans and light greens, a ceiling fan over a king bed with windows facing the ocean. We head out along the beach with its rocky cliffs above the sea wall for spectacular views. It's hot again - 32.2C (90F)!
Museum of Contemporary Art features a Mexican exhibit, but I am more happy with the wonderful air conditioning. Back at the hotel, we try the restaurant,
Nine-Ten, where we exchange a few pleasantries in French with our waiter, Thierry from Lyons. The menu features food from local farmers just this side of Mexico where there are many start-up farms. Great service, attractive decor, and an intimate setting yet with an open effect - it's casually elegant like the city!
The next day is busy, but first some leisure. Down the street from La Jolla's Grande Colonial Hotel, we breakfast in the Living Room restaurant, funky and outfitted with old furniture and big mirrors. Afterwards, we split up. My spouse checks out the up-scale shopping and myriad artsy shops with luxurious cars parked outside; I walk to the ocean with its dramatic view of waves crashing in, spraying against large rocks. A nice breeze coerces people to sit on the long guard wall, observing nature. I also spot many lounging sea lions.
Our guide, Joe, picks us up at noon and drives us down the coast, and we check out the inviting, expansive beaches -
South Mission, all congested with sun worshippers. Our car climbs steeply to the
Cabrillo Monument and National Park for an incredible panoramic view of greater San Diego and the bay which includes multi-US Military areas - submarine pens, vast Navy ship piers, a training area for
Navy Seals, the city itself, airplanes constantly arriving and leaving from its central hub and the bountiful bay and ocean, ideal for sailors and fishermen.
We try Point Loma Seafoods for a quick lunch, and I seem addicted to fish tacos! Later, we are dropped off at the Wyndham San Diego Bayside, our room facing the ocean, a terrific location with a shuttle to the airport. It's spacious, modern and clean. Just outside along the waterfront across from the hotel is a sand sculpture contest and an assembly of tall ships. Just beyond the
USS Midway (an enormous aircraft carrier museum), the boardwalk guides us to
Seaport Village with 50 diverse shops, 17 unique eateries and outdoor entertainment, the latter rather passive - as in getting your picture taken beside a colorful parrot.
The next day is spent along the hectic waterfront. We start with a two-hour
Hornblower cruise of the entire harbour area with close up views of billions of dollars worth of US Navy ships, a submarine area, lounging seals gathered along a bait area, the
USS Ronald Reagan, one of two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, many helicopters, Cabrillo Point, La Jolla and other landmarks. The harbour is active with myriad-sized craft and traffic. The south bay portion of tour is devoted to a seemingly endless array of Navy piers servicing active-duty destroyers, cruisers, and other specialized craft such as hospital ships, helicopter carriers (2), and bizarre-looking vessels geared to high-end electronic surveillance.
We lunch at Anthony's Restaurant, opened in 1946, a landmark waterfront eatery directly across from our hotel, pleased that we waited for window seats with tremendous views of the water craft, a steady supply of boats parading close by and a submarine exhibit anchored adjacent to the
Tall Ships; we watch a chap test out self-propelled water skis that often lift him high up into the air.
Back to the hotel for a quick refresher then off to the USS Midway which began service after WWII. Enormous! Three football fields long. We cover the entire gargantuan flight deck as well as below where all sorts of simulator exhibits for kids large and small are offered. The flight deck showcases a large fleet of jet fighters and helicopters with helpful signage. Some stats are staggering: 4,300 men crewed for the 200 aviators serving on board; their daily food consumption: 10 tons, 13,500 meals, 10,500 cups of coffee, 4,500 pounds of beef, 3,000 pounds of potatoes, 1,000 loaves of bread and 500 pies. Wow! Fuel requirements - 3.5 million gallons of ship & aviation fuel, 100,000 gallons consumed daily, approximately 260 gallons to the mile (20 feet per gallon)!
Only 26.7C (80F) today, we casually walk through the Seaport Village area down the boardwalk amid countless bicycle taxis, each equipped with unique decor, past the huge Convention Center to impressive Petco Park to watch the hometown Padres beat the
LA Dodgers for the second night in a row with a walk-off run in the 10th inning. The stadium is jam-packed, fans equally divided in allegiance between the two Californian teams. And hungry! I have never seen so much food eaten at a baseball game. We check out the
Tony Gwinn statue on a congested grassy centrefield berm well behind the bleachers. Home plate is FAR away. We taxi back to hotel. Tired and hot, we watch the movie, "Catch Me If You Can" with Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio. A busy day, and sadly we leave in the morning on the hotel's convenient airport shuttle. Would we return to San Diego? You bet! It's an exciting, city, and for Canadians - warm and inviting in the winter months.
San Diego Travel Tips
San Diego Vacation Travel Guide
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune, Niagara Falls Review and Seniors Review, Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine.