Monday, 25 June 2012

California Dreaming: San Diego

Our West Coast USA road trip on iconic California State Route 1 took us from San Francisco (A) to Monterey (B), through the Big Sur and on to Santa Barbara (C), a stop in Venice Beach (D), a quick hop across the state boundary in to Las Vegas (E), back to Los Angeles (F) and on to San Diego (G), before saying goodbye to California and flying home. The final part, San Diego, is below click here for part one (San Francisco), here for part two (Monterey), part three (Big Sur and Santa Barbara) is here, part four (LA and Venice) is here and part five (Las Vegas) is here.

We flew back in to LA from Vegas, picked up a (slightly less impressive) car and headed back to the Pacific Coast Highway. After being out of the driving seat for a few days, Mr G got a bit, erm, let’s say “lost” (in actuality he thought he knew better than the instructions I was screaming from two maps and a satnav and took a few of his own turns) and we ended up driving through the exact places we were trying to avoid… the ‘hood. We managed to skirt around the outside, but anyone who’s seen Menace II Society will recognise the scenery and anyone that’s listened to a bit of Tupac will have been familiar with the names on the sign posts from his tunes. A little bit of swift navigation and we were back on our way towards San Diego. I’m not going to be fluffy about it, some of the neighbourhoods in the surrounding area of LA, en route to our final destination, did not look pretty. But equally, there are some lovely places. It was like driving through an entire evening of Channel 4, one minute fabled gangland territory, the next, affluent beach towns where girls with bouncy blond hair and Chanel 2.55 flap bags drive drop top white sports cars to beachside brunch with their interns-at-glossy-magazines friends... Laguna Beach and The OC, anyone?

San Diego old town state park
As with every other city on the trip, finding our hotel, The Bristol, was ridiculously easy (let's get rid of roundabouts and install the "block" system at home shall we?) we dropped off the car with the valet guys and I took the opportunity of our late afternoon arrival to have a (rather out of character) nap to ready ourselves for the San Diego nightlife while Mr G (also uncharacteristically) passed on the nap opportunity to explore the surrounding area.

Breakfast pizza...

Breakfast pancakes

I’ve mentioned before that I’m more of a bustling city, than a chillaxed beach town, girl and so San Diego was probably my favourite of the Californian cities on the trip. I felt like I was in a sunnier, friendlier, cleaner, compact New York City.

We chose to stay in the Gaslamp Quarter and so we spent our first night eating delicious food and drinking fancy cocktails in a busy, bustly city bar/restaurant a five minute walk from our hotel. This was the one thing I’d missed about San Francisco. I now had a real reason to put on some heels, some bling and a fancy frock and head out for the night. Hurrah for dressing up for cocktails…
Giant margaritas
Our first full day was spent in uber-exploration mode. We had a large breakfast, bought some hop-on-hop-off trolley passes and took a grand tour of the city incorporating the Gaslamp Quarter (bustling streets packed with bars and restaurants), Seaport Village (cute but felt a bit like Bicester village – we didn’t stay long), Coronado Island (pretty little seaside town feel, and a famous hotel, where we had beach-view cocktails – obvs), the Old Town State Historic Park (like a Disney frontier town crossed with “Mexicoland”, but friendly and fun, plus we found some great margarita stops) and various places in between (mainly related to Top Gun trivia!).

Getting in to the baseball spirit

That evening we made our way to the famous Petco Park to see some all American baseball. I hate sport. I really hate sport. But I do love a feeling of “go team!" and national or local pride, so that must explain why I have a mini obsession with American sport. I think it’s the wholesomeness of American sport (I know it’s just a veneer!) versus the nastiness I see related to things like football at home that sends me wild for things like American football, baseball and basketball. And also it’s integral to my love of vintage Americana – cheerleaders, pointy fingers, popcorn, that organ music (dan dan da daa dan dan da daa), the national anthem (caps off hands on hearts) the corn dogs. You know what I mean. I think my preference would have been for some football, but we were there out of season so we went for baseball instead. I loved it. We got burritos, beers and sodas, bought some branded baseballs for my friends little boys and got properly stuck in to our evening in the stadium! “Let’s go Padres, let’s go!”. Ghirardelli ice cream sundaes on the way home completed my American Dream of an evening!
Post baseball sundae!
The following day we got ourselves up early, grabbed another ridiculously large breakfast and made our way to the famous San Diego Zoo. We spent most of the day wandering amongst the animal enclosures, eating candy floss, watching Happy Feet in 4D (Don’t judge me - seeing as penguins are my second favourite animals and they have none at the zoo, watching that was the next best thing!) and taking tours on the open top discovery buses. It was a really great zoo, but after seeing most of these animals in the wild (on safari on our honeymoon back in 2010) no zoo is ever going to be as exciting as they were in the pre-safari days.
Welcome to the zoo!

Zoo-time snack!

When we were zoo-toured out we made our way back to the hotel, via a shopping mall where we picked up some Abercrombie treats, as no trip to the US is complete without a new Abercrombie hoody or four, and got ready for another night on the town.

Our flight back to the UK was in the evening of our last day so we got up early, had our last massive breakfast (are you seeing a theme here?), and spent the day wandering around on the USS Midway aircraft carrier and quoting lines from Top Gun at each other (“Negative Ghostrider”). The tour of the ship was pretty cool, with former marine aviators conducting small tours of all the areas of particular interest and a self-guided audio tour for the rest of the ship. We also met some former pilots who told us stories about their part in previous conflicts that made me cry. It really was a fascinating day, not least because my childhood dream (after watching Top Gun, of course) was to be a fighter pilot! On the way home I insisted on a quick pit stop at the Kansas City Barbeque for a drink to see the actual location of one of the Top Gun scenes before grabbing our bags and making our way to the airport for the long flight home.
Proud to be sleazy!

Playing the famous piano
Phew. What a trip.
It wasn’t relaxing in the way you do when you sit on a beach and read trashy novels for two weeks, but I truly can say that during the two weeks we spent exploring some of California’s greatest cities (and one in Nevada) I managed to barely think about house-moving stress, our “currently of no fixed abode” status and I definitely didn’t think about work. Let’s say it was mentally relaxing, as I came back physically exhausted!

Also, as much as I loved California, the sunshine, the happiness, the lifestyle, the buoyant attitude – I think, deep down, I’m an East Coast girl at heart. But don’t get me wrong… I’ll be heading back to the West Coast as soon as time and funds allow!

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