Friday, January 27, 2006

San Diego

Two weeks ago, I went on my first vacation in seven years. Sure, I’d taken time off before, but I’d never taken that time to go somewhere that might be considered a vacation spot. You may not consider January in San Diego a vacation spot per se, but baby steps, people. Baby steps.

Of course, I didn’t go alone. My beautiful girlfriend went with me. In fact, I bought the plane tickets for her birthday. Three months later she gets to redeem her birthday gift. We left on Monday the 9th early in the morning. We arrived in San Diego around 1pm and headed to Enterprise to get our rental car. The fine people at Enterprise outfitted us with a Kia Optima and we were on our way – but just barely. Don’t ever buy Kia, folks. Ours felt like it was about to fall apart at any second.

We managed to get the car back to the hotel. When we arrived the kind folks at the Hilton informed us that there was a problem with our room. Like all hotels, they didn’t actually take a reservation for what we paid for; they just kinda saved us a spot. So we were forced to take the room that they gave us. As it turned out they gave us a room with this view.

We decided that we would take the room so long as they didn’t charge us extra. They didn’t. Good people those Hiltons.

We liked the room so much that we decided to immediately take a nap. After our nap we set out about trying to find a good place for dinner. Unfortunately, the concierge was not available, but the doorman was more than happy to suggest a few places. He recommended a couple of Mexican restaurants as we decided that we were in the mood for Mexican. Apparently, I had forgotten that I’m not such a big fan of Mexican food. Personally, I think all food from all Mexican restaurants tastes exactly the same. I believe we went to a place that had “Mexican” and “Café” somewhere in its title. The food tasted exactly like every Mexican restaurant I’ve ever been to. Dee thought the food was great. Her tastes are more refined than mine.

The next day we decided to catch a handy little trolley that shuttles tourists like us around the sights in San Diego. We got up bright and early and stood outside waiting for our ride. The mornings were chilly and Dee donned her jean jacket and was looking downright sassy.

Eventually, our trolley found us and we swung around to a few other hotels to pick up other tourists who wanted to see the sights of San Diego from a green and orange trolley. Mostly, these were old people. Also there was one guy from Rhode Island who may have been a girl. I thought he was a guy, Dee thought she was a girl. Unfortunately, we didn’t get photos of the she man or the old people. However, they were all very nice. I think. I didn’t really talk to any of them.


Soon enough, the trolley was rolling towards downtown San Diego as we looked on in amazement. Of course the trolley driver was equipped with a microphone and sound system so we were treated to a host of outdated jokes and lame puns. We were even given safety tips by Richard Little doing his bad impressions of stars that everyone has forgotten.

We got off at the trolley’s first stop to check out the U.S.S. Midway – an aircraft carrier that is now permanently docked in San Diego. It’s done somewhere in the ballpark of 7 million missions but now they let schmucks like me on to poke around and take pictures. In fact, they even let Dee drive for a little bit.

Fortunately, she didn’t crash it.

We managed to kill about two hours on the aircraft carrier. You’ll be happy to know that they managed to find a place there to put a gift shop and an overpriced café. We did not get suckered in by the gift shop, though we did purchase two high-priced bottles of water. Good salesmen on that ship. They could sell water to people on a boat.

Luckily, the carrier wasn’t too far from a little area called Seaport Village. I would rename this area Tourist Trap Village. It’s your typical cheap tourist shop area with a few restaurants sprinkled in. They even have a store for lefthanders called Southpaw. Neither of us are left-handed so we didn’t go in. We still found a good place for lunch that looked out over the bay.

After lunch we caught a trolley out of Seaport Village and it took us across the bay to Coronado Island. I was told that the bridge across the bay offered a spectacular view of San Diego, unfortunately I’m afraid of heights and the bridge kinda freaked me out. I wasn’t able to look back towards San Diego, much less take a picture. If you want to see the view, watch Anchorman.

Once on Coronado Island they drove us down the main strip to the Hotel Del Coronado. You may have heard of it. Or not. It’s a famous and, of course, expensive hotel. We did not stay there. The rumor is that it is haunted. We didn’t actually go into the hotel but we managed to spend some time on the beach outside the hotel.

This is a shot of the hotel from the beach.

The trolley guides made a point of mentioning that the hotel was one of the most haunted spots in the world. We wanted to see proof. Of course we had our cameras close at hand in case any spirits showed themselves. With supernatural sightings you can never be sure but we think we captured a few shots of what can best be described as “unexplainable phenomenon.”

There are certainly some strange creatures roaming around on Coronado Island. There are even a couple of normal creatures.

After our harrowing experience on the beach, we roamed back into town . We had some time to kill before the final trolley picked us up and took us back to our hotel. We found a nice little gelato shop that served, well, gelato. I ordered the Vanilla Bean. Because I’m a risk-taker. Dee had something boring like Tiramisu or Peanut Butter Cup Swirl with Chocolate Chips and Cookie Dough. I tried it but thought it too bland.

The trolley picked us up as we finished our cones and it made the last stops on the rest of the tour to pick up the last of the stragglers. We swung by the museum campus and the famous San Diego Zoo. We kept all of these spots in mind for the rest of our week.

We got dropped off at our hotel and decided that the day was over for us. We settled in, changed our clothes and decided that room service was right up our alley. Boy, room service sure is convenient when you are worn out.

On Wednesday we decided that we’d let our all day tour sink in a little bit and just relax by the pool. We got up early and went for a run on Mission Beach and made our way up to Pacific Beach. After we wore ourselves out, we stopped and watched some surfers try to catch a few waves. Then we found a nice breakfast café that served us a couple of huge stacks of pancakes.

We walked back to the hotel, showered and headed down to the pool. The day was sunny and a little cool when the breeze was blowing. Dee napped and read her magazines about famous people that I don’t recognize. I read The Chronicles of Narnia. I hear the movie is good.

Once our sun was gone we headed inside to clean up for dinner and drinks. We had noticed a nice seafood place when we were in Seaport Village, so we decided to make that our dinner destination. Because we were still living on Chicago time, we got to the restaurant very early and were one of three couples in the entire restaurant. Regardless, we had some delicious seafood while watching the ships come into the bay. Dee had her first taste of swordfish and I had a seared ahi tuna steak that was delicious.

For our post-dinner drinks we headed to the downtown Hyatt for a few drinks. This Hyatt has a bar much like the 95th floor of the Hancock building. Only this bar is on the 40th floor. This pretty much put us at the top of the city with views all around. We enjoyed the view and Dee tasted my scotch. She didn’t enjoy that so much.

We had a couple of drinks before it got to be about 9:30pm and we started to run out of steam. Maybe it was that I just turned 30 a few days before, or maybe it was that my body thought it was 11:30pm. Regardless, we hung around for another half hour and then made our way back to the hotel for some well deserved sleep.

Everyone knows about the San Diego Zoo, but we were told that we should go see the Wild Animal Park just outside of San Diego. That was at the top of our list for Thursday. We hopped in our super-sweet Kia and made our way north to Escondido. We arrived at the Wild Animal Park around the time they opened the gates. We grabbed a map and immediately looked for the area to feed the giraffes. We had been told that the ONE thing we needed to do while in San Diego was feed the giraffes. We found the giraffe feeding area and realized that it was quite a long walk away. The train tour of the wild animal area was much closer to where we were, so we decided to do that first.

The train ride was very impressive. We skirted around a very large area where the non-predatory animals were. There were elephants, rhinos, giraffes, gazelles, impalas and some other small deer-like creatures that could hop 10 feet straight up from a dead standstill. I think they are relatives of Spud Webb.

Here are a few shots of the area.



In case you were wondering, that’s a baby rhino nursing in the middle. It’s not as dirty as it looks you sicko. The last one is the super-jumping baby deer.

While the wide open land afforded to these animals was impressive, we were captivated by the gorillas. Yes, we were captivated by the captive gorillas. At first they just kinda lounged about, but soon enough a troublemaker started picking on the other gorillas and there was lots of running about and wrestling. I now consider them my friends.

The big silverback that was the alpha male of the group spent most of the time hiding in the shade behind a rock. Suddenly, a group of loud and rowdy school children showed up and were laughing and pointing and generally making noise about the smaller gorillas. Upon hearing the noise, the silverback came out from behind his rock and chose a spot where he could be seen. At this, the children suddenly became quiet. He was an impressive sight. He’s also a good friend of mine.

After watching the gorillas for nearly 40 minutes, we wandered through the rest of the park. It was pretty amazing how free the animals were to move around. The birds were not caged in and could move anywhere in the park they wanted. I’m sure they could have even left the park, but food wasn’t quite as easy to come by out there. By about 1pm we decided that we had our fill of the animals and headed back to San Diego.

We were quite hungry so we decided to head to the Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego. If the Gaslamp Quarter was in Chicago it would be Old Town or Lincoln Park. We found a bar that served some decent food and stuffed ourselves full. Then we walked around and checked out some of the shops in the area and generally enjoyed the downtown area. Then once again back to our hotel for some sleep.

All week we heard that we needed to make our way up to La Jolla (pronounced La Hoy-a). So we did. We went up around lunch time and found a nice place to eat lunch and overlook the ocean. That was the running theme for the week when we looked for a place to dine. You see, we don’t have an ocean here in Chicago, so when we’re near the ocean we like to see it.

After lunch we went down to the beach in La Jolla. We walked a little ways south and found a beach where seals like to come and rest their weary flippers. They weren’t really much to look at because the pretty much just napped the whole time. We were told that would be the case, but we don’t have seals in Chicago, so when we have the chance we like to go see them. We came at the right time, though, because we got to see this little guy make his way out of the ocean. He waddled his way onto the beach, found a nice dry spot on the beach and proceeded to do absolutely nothing. It was thrilling. The crowd cheered.

We walked back north a bit and found a little outcropping of rocks near a cave on the beach. We went down and climbed on the rocks for a while. We got to watch a surfer up close as he caught a few waves and did some exploring in the cave.

Dee was pretty excited about the cave.

By this time the day was starting to slip away and we had yet to see a sunset over the ocean. Dee suggested that we walk back towards the seal beach to see the sunset. I was in no position to disagree. We found a nice bench with a clear view and settled in to see our last sunset in San Diego.

I’ll tell you what, that sun was in no big hurry to set. We sat there for much longer than I had expected as the sun slowly crept down towards the ocean. Man, you’d think we were watching video over a dial-up connection. Eventually, the sun finally set and Dee managed to snap a picture as it happened. I mean, she had plenty of time. It wasn’t like it was going anywhere.

As you can see, it was a decent sunset. Certainly not as spectacular as I had hoped. I expected to be blown away by a sunset that we had waited so long for. I was not. I still had my breath, but Dee thought it was romantic. We made out. Hey, who am I to turn down a good make out session?

After the disappointing sun set we walked back to our car and made our way back towards our hotel. Again, we ordered room service and relaxed by watching Starsky and Hutch. That was as disappointing as the sunset. The picture below pretty much sums up how I felt about both the sunset and Starsky and Hutch.

All in all it was a good trip and would definitely recommend San Diego as a place to vacation if you’re looking. I’ve got all sorts of good tips on where to go.

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