What a change we had from Lone Pine to San Diego! As you may have noticed, the area around Tuttle Creek Campground was pretty desolate, beautiful country, but still desolate. In San Diego, we camped at the Admiral Baker RV Park, a facility of the San Diego Naval Station. We were in a small valley, a couple miles from the Qualcomm Stadium. The RV spaces surround a playground and picnic area, and it was a big change from the desert!
The San Diego area is blessed with an extensive public transportation network. We immediately saw the value of not driving our one-ton, dual rear wheel, long-bed pickup truck through downtown traffic and purchased monthly passes. Between the trolley and bus lines, you can go almost anywhere with little hassle.
San Diego is one of the busiest seaports on the west coast. Not only is there a lot of commercial activity, but San Diego is home to the Navy’s Pacific Fleet. We took a two-hour tour of the harbor and saw the submarine pens, the Naval Hospital Ship – USNS Mercy, the Naval Air Station at North Island (almost the size of San Diego International Airport), and dry dock and repair facilities (the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was in port for repair). We were able to watch planes landing at San Diego International and what made this particularly interesting was the landing approach brought them in at low altitudes right over the downtown – not a sight you see in too many cities. In the harbor there is a live bait facility where fishing boats can pick up live bait before they head out to sea. It is a favorite spot for sea lions to hang out! After the cruise we had lunch at a restaurant right on the harbor, where we could watch ships coming in and out. On the dock next to us was the Star of India, the world’s most active sailing ship and HMS Surprise, the ship used in “Master and Commander, Far Side of the World,” starring Russell Crowe.
We were only a few miles from Mexico, so took the trolley to the border. We spent an afternoon wandering around Tijuana. We explored some shops and bought some vanilla, and one of the shop owners was able to convince Pat that she just had to buy a silver bracelet. We stopped for an authentic Mexican Margarita and watched the street entertainers. It was a very relaxing afternoon. The only downside was the long line to return back to the U.S. Between the vendors and the panhandlers, it was a depressing end to the day. It certainly made us glad to be U.S. citizens.
La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya) was our first experience kayaking in the Pacific Ocean. It was a great day, warm enough for swimming. Just south of the beach are a series of caves that have been cut into the cliffs by the surf. We paddled through one of them and found a group of sea lions relaxing on a shelf inside the cave. There were sea lions swimming and sunning themselves all along the shoreline cliffs. We had lunch on the beach, enjoying the sun. Not too bad for November 3rd!
Bob flew out on Monday to spend most of the week in Pittsburgh for work. Pat relaxed and visited Balboa Park. Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre urban cultural park. In addition to open space areas, natural vegetation green belts, gardens and walking paths, it contains museums, several theaters, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.
When Bob returned we went out to Point Loma, home of the Cabrillo National Monument. We walked down to the shoreline to see the tidal pools. Because the tide was rising we didn’t see much of the pools but the cliffs and rock formations along the shore were an interesting sight. From the top of Point Loma we could see almost all of San Diego and the harbor, even the northernmost point of Mexico. Point Loma is packed with history. It is the site of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s landing at San Diego Bay in 1542, the first recorded discovery by a European. It is also the site of the first lighthouse in San Diego, and the coast artillery post for the defense of San Diego harbor in WW I and WW II. There was more history than you can absorb in one visit. Afterwards we drove to a nearby winery’s tasting room. We had been in California since the middle of October and hadn’t sampled any California wine yet. We found the San Pasqual Winery to have several wines that we liked and took home a few bottles to enjoy later.
We spent the next afternoon touring Old Town San Diego. We wondered why Old Town was so far away from downtown San Diego. In San Diego’s early days, as with any settlement, a source of drinking water was the first priority and while the San Diego River provided that, it was not near the natural harbor. Later in the area’s development, fresh water was pumped to the harbor area and a downtown commercial area was created resulting in the population migrating to that area. Old Town was a major way station and layover stop for the stage coach routes as well as a destination for raw materials and finished goods. Much of Old Town is operated by the State of California as a state park with museums and interpretive guides. It was interesting to relive the bygone eras of San Diego as a settlement of New Spain, as a state of the country of Mexico, and finally as a part of the United States. Our guide told us the story of San Diego as though she was living that history and her stories made the history more real for us.
Veterans Day was spent exploring Balboa Park. Between the gardens and Mexican era buildings, it was a delightful way to spend a pleasant afternoon. Although the weather was chilly (temperatures around 600 – the locals said winter had arrived), we listened to an outdoor organ concert. The organ is a huge instrument and the sound was incredible. That evening we went to a local Applebee’s for Bob’s free Veterans Day dinner.
The San Diego Zoo is supposed to be one of the best zoos in the country. We started by taking a bus tour to see the highlights, then we walked through to see the animals in more detail. The benefit of taking the bus first was that we were able to see a lot of the animals while they were up and active early in the day. Later, many of the areas appeared to be empty or the animals were laying down in the back corners. The zoo lived up to its reputation. The exhibits were some of the best we have ever seen and the layout was like taking a walk through the woods. There were more animals, bigger ones, and in nicer settings than we had seen in other zoos.
Bob loves museums, especially military and maritime museums, with the aircraft carrier, USS Midway he got two for one. Pat, on the other hand, had other interests, so we split up. Bob toured the Midway and he said it is probably the best run military museum he has ever visited. When you come on board you can pick up a free audio tour, keyed to a map of the ship. On the video you hear a description of the areas of the ship and personal clips recorded by veterans who served on the Midway. Volunteer docents led tours of the bridge and Combat Information Center (CIC). There were also docents who were retired naval aviators who described what it was like to be launched by catapult and to land (or trap) on a carrier. These personal touches made this a special experience.
While Bob toured the Midway, Pat and her bicycle took the ferry across the bay to Coronado, where she enjoyed visiting the shops and beaches. It was a great day to ride around the peninsula. The beach went on forever with beautiful, dark, sparkly sand. It looked like someone had mixed gallons of gold glitter into it. The numerous shops were interesting to explore, but she was able to resist souvenirs and bought only lunch.
On Thursday, Nov 16th we departed for Phoenix, AZ.