caltech water polo golden age lives on in the south
The Coronado Bridge spans San Diego Bay, the picturesque body of water that provides a playground for tourists. SAN DIEGO For Paris, it was the 1920s, London had the Swinging ’60s, and Hong Kong revelled in the 1990s.
California’s golden age was the ’50s, when surf culture was burgeoning, crime was low, innocence was high, freeways were relatively empty and optimism rose each day with the sun in the coastal cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.
I travelled to the state a half dozen times last year and saw little to dissuade that rather dark view of a once bright place, though admittedly every now and then I would catch a fleeting glimpse of that once glittering promise.
Then came a New Year’s family holiday to San Diego.
Not only did I rediscover my perceived long lost notion of California that of a laid back, optimistic and beautiful land and people but I also discovered an ideal place for Vancouver families to kick back in the warm sun and spend more time having fun than steaming in crosstown traffic.
Despite being the second largest city in the state, and eighth largest in the United States, San Diego has a small city feel about it, from its downtown International airport to its diverse downtown community makeup and its proximity to small town surf meccas and world class family attractions. or even San Francisco, where traffic jams tax your patience, high prices your wallet and cool attitudes your psyche.
Instead, San Diego proved to be easy to get around, had very reasonable restaurant and attraction prices and put out a friendly vibe I figured had all but vanished in big city California. We split our time at two hotels: the first, Paradise Point Resort, an oasis of an island in Mission Bay and just minutes from the airport and downtown; then the Manchester Grand Hyatt, a massive twin towered edifice in the heart of the action in San Diego Bay.
From these prime locations, we struck out each morning with appetites for excitement, animals and great local food and returned each night fully satisfied, and often with energy to spare.
Arriving from Vancouver at the San Diego airport before noon, we were at Paradise Point in time for lunch at an outdoor resort restaurant, with tropical birds, warm breezes and live music immediately transporting us into our happy places. It was hard to believe that just four hours earlier we were driving through the dark gloomy wet to YVR.
After lunch, we hopped in our Grand Caravan R/T for the 15 minute drive to Harbor Drive and the wonderful waterfront boardwalk that runs the length of downtown San Diego.
From there it was on board a Flagship boat for a one hour harbour tour that quickly acquainted us with the landmarks of the city and brought us within camera range of a navel air station, a navel submarine base, the maritime museum, Point Loma Lighthouse and lazy sea lions of marina docks. We even saw a navy team training a dolphin used to patrol the sea bottom and keep the many navy ships and aircraft carriers out of harm’s way.
Back on terra firma, it wasn’t long before we were on the water again, though this time we stayed tied to the dock for a fascinating tour of the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier commissioned right after the Second World War and turned into a floating museum a few years ago.
Then it was a short walk along the vibrant boardwalk to the Maritime Museum, where a Russian sub, the Star of India tall ship and a tall ship used in the movies (Master and Commander, Pirates of the Caribbean) were ready to be boarded and explored.
With the sun dipping below the lanyards, we hopped back in the van for a short drive over to Old Town for dinner at a Mexican place. Good thing we didn’t have reservations as once we parked and hit the sidewalks of Old Town, we found ourselves transported back in time and eager to explore. Originally a Spanish Fort and trading post, Old Town is San Diego’s first neighbourhood. Several historic building remain, and those that came later pay homage to those early days with period architecture and low slung facades. Shoppers and strollers alike will love the place. Capping our first day in San Diego, we toasted cervezas and soft drinks sitting in a courtyard patio enjoying a wonderful Mexican meal before heading back to Paradise Point for the night.
We set the alarm clock to get up with the sun for a barefoot walk on the beach, located right outside our bungalow, and following an outdoor breakfast enjoyed on our patio we’d bought cereal, milk and fruit on the way home the night before and a swim in one of the resort’s many pools, it was time to pack up the luggage, check out and hop in the van for a five minute drive to SeaWorld (once in the parking lot we recognized a family from Paradise Point who had rode their bikes over).
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to be wowed by what I’d see in this famous attraction frankly I’m not too keen on performing captive animals but for the sake of the kids we put it on the schedule. By the time we’d been delighted and thoroughly entertained by the penguin exhibit and blown away by the dolphin show, I’d had a change of heart. Next up was the killer whale show, which also did not disappoint, particularly since we weren’t sitting in the “splash zone” seating, where spectators had better have a change of clothes or a Visa card for the gift shop.
The better part of the day gone, it was onto our new hotel, the bayside Hyatt, to check in, change and head out to the Gaslamp Quarter for dinner, just a 15 minute walk from the hotel. Like Old Town, history looms large in this 16 square block district, with turn of the century Victorian, Western and Spanish revival buildings the norm, and gas lamp lined streets pulsing with tourists and locals alike each night. Many great dining choices, as we discovered, and make sure to get a sidewalk side table to take in the sights and sounds of the human parade coursing up and down the avenues.
A return walk home in the cooling night air was just the thing after a great meal, and it was back to our room to prepare for the next day’s excursion, which would see the longest drive of the trip a 30 minute ride north to the coastal town of Carlsbad and Legoland.
Once the novelty of everything made out of Lego wore off, it was apparent we’d missed the mark by a couple of years with Legoland. Our kids are 11 and nine, and I would say the real sweet spot would be five to eight year olds as most of the attractions are geared to that age. That said, the kids did get a real kick out of MiniLand, U. S. A, which features incredibly precise replicas in lego of cities, including San Francisco, Las Vegas and New York. The new Star Wars area proved worth a linger.
We ended up leaving earlier than we’d expected, so we decided to take the longer way back to San Diego, heading south on coastal Highway 101, which took us through a number of surf towns, Torrey Pines Recreation Area and finally the wonderful seaside town on La Jolla.
That night was New Year’s Eve and we spent a memorable one in a waterfront restaurant in Seaport Village, just steps from our hotel. Great food and friendly ambience sent us on our way, and by the stroke of midnight we were preparing for our last full day on holiday and one that we’d all looked forward to the San Diego Zoo.
My wife and I had been there before we had kids, and recalled it as being a great place to bring our gleam in the eye kids one day. That day would be New Year’s Day 2012. New Year’s morn for Balboa Park. Balboa Park is to San Diego what Stanley Park is to Vancouver, though with a number of excellent museums and the world famous zoo.
Our plan went like clockwork, and even better since it turned out that few others set their alarms this morning, giving us a 20 minute one on one with the pandas. In fact, their keeper was just ahead of us as we beelined to their area, and she ended up giving us a private talk about the cuddly creatures.
Amazingly, you’d think after that experience the rest of the animals would have been a letdown, but far from it. The zoo’s rolling and heavily vegetated terrain make it very un zoo like indeed, and each species enjoys a world onto its own that brilliantly mimics their natural environment. Plan to spend most of the day here, though we did manage to squeeze in a quick visit to the nearby San Diego Air Space Museum in Balboa Park before closing time.
Then it was back to the hotel for our last night.
With a noon flight home the next day, it was a lazy morning, though we did manage to get one last walk on the bayside boulevard in the morning sunshine in before heading to the airport.