01/04/2019 - 01/05/2019
We kicked off our last full day in San Diego with another awesome breakfast, this time in the resort town of Coronado across the bay from San Diego. Whether Coronado is an island or not remains the subject of debate, since the town is connected to the city of Imperial Beach to the south by a long strip of sand called a tombolo. This technically makes Coronado a "tied island" but some locals refuse to consider it an island because one can drive there over land without a bridge. We arrived via the Coronado Bridge, which provides amazing views of the San Diego Marina and downtown.
More than half of Coronado is given over to a naval base. The remainder is a fairly sleepy resort town with pretty residential neighborhoods and lots of beaches. The main commercial area is Orange Avenue which has a lot of upscale boutiques and the occasional chain store. Our breakfast place was a crowded, old-fashioned diner style restaurant with a long counter and bright crimson vinyl upholstery. Each booth had a personalized jukebox, and once again the food was outstanding. Southern California seems to be one of those places, like Vermont and Napa Valley, that's just great for breakfast.
The only actual sight on Coronado Island is the historic Hotel del Coronado. This enormous 19th century wooden hotel was a frequent hangout for Hollywood celebrities in the 1920's and 30's. We had a lot more to see that day so we were satisfied with a close look at the exterior of the building.
One of our quirks when we travel is that we're more likely to visit an ethnic or specialty food store than a museum. Such was the case with our next destination in San Diego, Catalina Offshore Products. Mei Ling had put this wholesale seafood market on our schedule without even realizing that they are the origin of our regular shipments of California sea urchin. Catalina is considered one of California's premier online seafood retailers, and they also have a commanding physical presence in San Diego's industrial Morena neighborhood.
Aside from the seafood counters, there were a lot of interesting products on display including cuttlefish ink and a variety of fish eggs. The smell wasn't as bad as the kids seemed to think.
Although there weren't many retail customers in the store, one of the fishmongers was busy preparing sashimi samples at a small kitchen in the back of the store. We were curious about whether the Pacific fish opah could be eaten sashimi and he generously cut us a few delicious slices. Opah is almost unknown as a food fish in the US outside of Hawaii, but it's gradually making inroads thanks to the efforts of the fishmongers at Catalina and other California seafood promoters.
Just south of Catalina Offshore, Old Town San Diego is a miniature theme park that celebrates San Diego's colonial history and Mexican heritage. It is built on the site of the first Spanish settlement in California. There are a few historic homes and churches but most of the buildings are reconstructions. There's a large central square with majestic trees and picnic tables surrounded by small museums and stores selling local and Mexican goods and souvenirs. The kids got a kick out of dyeing candles at a crafts station we encountered. There's nothing like hot wax to keep kids entertained.
At one corner of the complex is an enclosed area designed to look like a Mexican hacienda, with an open central area for musical performances. In the periphery were a number of restaurants as well as stores selling Mexican art and ceramics. I was surprised by the high quality of the handmade ceramics on display after seeing all the souvenir shops around the square.
Overall we were happy with our visit to Old San Diego. It was touristy and just a little cheesy but also very pretty and pleasant to walk around in. We still had plenty of daylight for our next destination, La Jolla Cove. One of the great things about travel is the opportunity to see different animals in their natural habitats, and La Jolla Cove is one of the best and most accessible places to see seals and sea lions in the United States. Fortunately my interminable search for a parking spot in the commercial district of La Jolla Village coincided with the kids' naps, so they were fresh and ready to go once someone finally pulled out right in front of me. Just before the cove there's a beautiful, grassy park with great views over the Pacific.
I was expecting to see a lot of sea lions but I was still surprised at their abundance and how easy it was to approach them. There were a number of tourists on the rocks but there could have been far more, and no one was getting too close or bothering the animals.
I didn't want all three kids out on the rocks together so I brought them out one at a time to get close to the sea lions. Ian was the only one who seemed to mind the strong smell of animal waste. Fortunately there was a stiff breeze to keep the worst of it flowing away from us.
A little further east along the shoreline was a small beach and a few hardy souls were even swimming in the frigid ocean. Hundreds of cormorants were clustered along the rocks and cliffs behind the beach, as well as a few seagulls and pelicans.
The Friday evening market was in the inland suburb of La Mesa. The size and energy level were about midway between the two previous evening markets, and we concluded that Ocean Beach was the best of the bunch. That didn't stop the kids from breaking out some moves to a spirited bluegrass performance.
We sampled a few things at La Mesa, but we saved most of our room to eat at San Diego's outpost of the Korean supermarket chain Zion. There were three or four small restaurants in the supermarket's food court, and we had our second highly authentic Korean meal of the trip.
One very smart thing I did when I planned this trip was to schedule our return flight home from Los Angeles at 11 PM. That meant that we could take our time getting back to Los Angeles on Saturday and have a good dinner before going to the airport. It also meant the kids would be sleeping most of the flight and would get a jump on adjusting to the time change before school started Monday. We still had the Saturday morning market in Little Italy, which was gorgeous in the overcast morning. The streets were lined with colorful and sleek modern townhouses, with San Diego's attractive skyline providing the background to the south.
The market turned out to be the best of all the ones we had visited in Southern California. It was as big as the one in Santa Monica, but had a more local vibe and better crafts and artisanal food.
The highlight of the morning was a seafood stall which was stocked with enormous live purple sea urchins that they were splitting open and filling with ceviche. There's nothing more fulfilling for us when we travel than this kind of unique and exotic food experience.
We'd seen a little of San Diego's amazing Balboa Park two days earlier when we'd visited the zoo, but I didn't want to leave without a closer look. Aside from the sixteen museums, the park houses countless gardens and performance venues. We couldn't find a parking space when we arrived, so Cleo and I struck out on our own to explore the beautiful Alcazar Garden, which was like being transported to a palace courtyard in Granada or Seville.
Behind the Alcazar Garden is the majestic California Tower, constructed a hundred years ago for an exposition in a whimsical blend of architectural styles. The tower and the building it is attached to house the anthropologic Museum of Man.
We were able to find temporary parking long enough to explore the Palm Canyon together. A wooden walkway and staircase lead down to a narrow canyon with a distinct prehistoric vibe. Afterwards we walked as far as the Japanese Friendship Garden but decided we didn't have enough time to justify the price of admission.
Our last stop in San Diego was Liberty Public Market, where we put together our final food hall meal of our California road trip. After the exhausting zoo trip, we'd never summoned the motivation to go to SeaWorld but we didn't have any regrets. We'd found more than enough in San Diego in three days to entertain and amaze us. On our way back north towards Los Angeles, we eschewed the interstate for the coastal Highway 101. We slowly made our way through all the small seaside communities all the way back to Oceanside, detouring frequently into residential neighborhoods to admire the Southern California architectural styles.
We made it back to Los Angeles in time to spend an hour or so at the Museum of Jurassic Technology. I'd been warned it wasn't a good museum for kids but the descriptions I'd seen had made me very curious so we went for it. Naturally, the warnings were correct. The museum was a dark labyrinth of small rooms connected by narrow hallways and it was very crowded. The kids could barely understand any of the displays and honestly I couldn't figure out why most of the things I was seeing were worth exhibiting. The few things I found interesting I was unable to focus on because I was too busy keeping the kids from touching the stuff they weren't supposed to touch. So perhaps we'll go back when the kids are teenagers, or maybe not. Photographs were not permitted.
Our final task in California was to stuff ourselves before the flight back to Miami. We still hadn't seen Little Tokyo and I had a craving for authentic shabu shabu. Unfortunately, Little Tokyo was absolutely packed even at 6 PM and every restaurant we inquired at had a wait of over an hour. In the end, we drove back downtown to a Japanese restaurant we'd seen next to Grand Central Market which was practically empty and had excellent shabu shabu. Mission accomplished for dinner, but Little Tokyo would have to wait for the next visit. We carried onward to the airport, thoroughly exhausted and exhilarated after our whirlwind tour through Southern California.