Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sunny San Diego!

Fish tacos at the Prado! 
I'd heard for years that San Diego was one of the top family vacation destinations in the United States. And now I know why. With amazing weather, tons of beaches and outdoor activities, a world-class zoo and theme parks, I can't imagine ever running out of stuff for the smaller set to do! PLUS, October is Kids Free in San Diego Month, which means that tons of A-list attractions all over town don't charge admission for the shorties.

Our little crew went out for a week last fall, and we had a blast!! Here's the skinny:

Model railroad heaven!
We've learned that when we're planning to stay anywhere for a while, we'd rather have an apartment than a hotel room. You get more space, more options for private bedrooms, a full kitchen, and a washer dryer. This trip was no exception. We found Rental with a View online via, and we fell in love with a centrally located upstairs apartment. It was really close to the airport, and I initially worried about noise, but the apartment was incredibly well-insulated and had really thick windows. When you went to bed, you couldn't hear anything. (Plus, from the little balcony, we could watch the planes land up close! My son LOVED this feature, as you can imagine.)

On our first day, we flew in, picked up our rental car, and headed straight for Balboa Park. The park is HUGE and amazing! There are tons of things to see inside, including several museums, a visitors center, dining options and more. Famished, we started with lunch at the Prado Terrace. We were seated outside, with a lovely view of the park. We feasted on fish tacos and mojitos and congratulated ourselves on our good fortune. It was a lovely way to begin our trip!

Inside the botanical building
Afterwards, we stopped by the visitors center and then headed on to the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. This place was so fun! There were tons of trains running through tons of distinct little worlds - small towns, mountains, bridges through canyons, and the whole place just seems to go on and on and on! We loved peering in and seeing all of the painstaking details in each environment. Near the end, there was a big, themed room that I think they must decorate for every holiday. We loved this space, as it showed a real sense of fun! Plus, some of the train operators were there, and you could talk to them about their creations and learn about model railroads.

After the railroad museum, we checked out the botanical building and surrounding gardens. Lovely! The historical building, with its lily pond lagoon, was built 100 years ago, and it's still gorgeous! Inside, we marveled at huge palms, ferns, orchids and other tropical plants.

Our dogs barking, we decided to dip our toes into the Bea Evanson Fountain. There are some shady spots to cool off near the fountain, so after getting our legs a little wet, we relaxed in the shade with a lemonade and enjoyed the afternoon a bit.

The Japanese Friendship Garden
Then, it was on to the Japanese Friendship Garden. This attraction packs a lot of beauty into a compact space, primarily through the use of vertical design. You start the tour at a beautiful little tea house featuring exhibits on the history of the garden, then move past a bright koi pond. After that, it's through a tall Japanese gate and down, down into the garden proper. The garden is really a wide crevice, planted on both sides and accessible via sturdy paths, with a winding brook at the bottom. Views are gorgeous. Plantings are everywhere, and they are very well cared for. Little bridges and wide stepping stones provide passage across the water. At the far end, a serene building that can be rented out for special occasions offers wonderful views through the garden.

Beat from our day in the sun, we rested back at the apartment for a bit before venturing out to rustle up some food. We chose Cucina Urbana for our first dinner in the city, and I couldn't have been more pleased! We entered and were seated in the sunken dining room, then ate pasta, pizza and small plates to our hearts' delight, washed down with red wine. They have a kids' menu, and our 8-year-old was welcomed with open arms! (He loved being able to build his own pizza. The ice cream sundae afterwards didn't hurt, either.)

Then, it was off to bed to rest up for another day of adventuring. I had BIG plans for our first full day in San Diego!

The Hotel del Coronado
In the morning, we loaded into the car and headed for Coronado Island. I'd made us reservations for breakfast at the Hotel del Coronado's Sheerwater Restaurant, and I was stoked!! The buffet-style breakfast is pricey but amazing, and the location can't be beat - right on the beach. We loaded up our plates, scored a table on the back patio and pretended we were part of the 1 percent for a while. The food is varied and abundant; you can choose from almost any breakfast food you can think of. Servers keep the hot coffee coming, and the views of the water are lovely!! (A note - If you do this, plan extra time for parking. Parking in a lot at the hotel is $30. Give yourself time to park further away and walk in unless you're a hotel guest.)

Coronado Beach is magical!
After breakfast, we hit the water, and it was such an iconic California experience. The sky was picture-perfect blue, the waves crashing. The sand on Coronado Island has little flecks of gold in it, so it sparkles up at you. Clay had the time of his life playing in the waves, and I had the time of my life watching him and taking it all in. We made friends with others on the beach, chatting and marveling at our good luck to be in such a perfect place on a perfect day. An amazing morning.

When we started feeling like some lunch, we washed off in the beach showers and headed for Puesto, in Seaport Village. We loaded up on taco trios (because we like to try different things) and aqua frescas. So good! We sat outside and enjoyed live music in the courtyard as we ate. When we were finished, we noticed a nearby Geppetto's toy store. We ambled over to pick up some Lego mini figures for later in our trip, then got a gelato to share as we poked through the old jail at Seaport Village.

Not much personal space on the USS Midway!
Then, it was off to the USS Midway, one of the must-sees of our trip. This vast aircraft carrier offers all kinds of educational nooks and crannies: sailors'  bunks, officers' quarters, the brig, the huge hangar deck, the boiler room, the ready room and the incredible flight deck, which is home to a variety of planes. This place is crazy-cool. We tried on bunks for size, marveled at the ship's huge anchors, tried our hand at some of the wheels and dials, and chatted with the veterans placed strategically throughout the ship to learn more about their stories. We easily stayed here 3 hours. In hotter months, you'll want to dress for the weather and pack or buy some bottled water, as it can get warm and stuffy inside. We loved this place!

Afterwards, we went to the apartment to rest and relax for a while before popping back out to Bencotto in Little Italy for dinner. After a full day of running around San Diego, I didn't even feel guilty carb-loading on tortelli di zucca - a rich concoction of pumpkin ravioli, sage cream sauce and bacon crumbles. (OMG. I could eat this every day.)

Stay tuned for more . . .

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