‘Good morning, San Diegooo!’ is the main thing that once sprung to mind when thinking of the Southern-most city on the coast of California. (If you haven’t watched Anchorman, I apologise as that will be lost on you) Now that I’ve visited, that is still the first thing that springs to my mind. Followed by…the following.
Arriving there from L.A. was quite a contrast as the whole city seemed so much more laid-back- and generally speaking, way cleaner- in fact it was rather a welcome break from the hubbub. The people are welcoming, they say hello, in fact they might even give you a smile as you pass them by in the street. The guy who built a lot of the Downtown area in the early days of San Diego’s existence was named Alonzo Horton…at one time he was a full on big-time-rich-from-digging-up-gold kind of a guy, but he was also very generous and trustworthy from the sounds of it. His life principal was, in his own words, “to be as happy as I can every day; to try to make everyone else as happy as I can, and to try to make no one unhappy.” Maybe that philosophy has just kept going through the generations of the city so that they’re all just happy-go-lucky, chilled out kind of people. Or it could just be that everyone is happier in the sunshine and San Diego has one of the most consistently awesome set of weather conditions in America, I don’t know. What I do know is that by the time of his death, ol’ Horton was but a poor man once again- rumour has it he was actually homeless. But did he care?? Did he HELL. There is more to life than money people, and Horton knew it. Plus, people loved him so much they named a shopping mall after him. You are a fully-respected member of society if people care about you enough to name a mall after you, money or no money.
Here, in no particular order are some interesting and awesome things I recommend getting up to if you ever happen to be in what is one of the most relaxed cities in North America.
Explore the Glorious Gardens of Balboa Park (and learn some stuff while you’re at it)
Balboa Park is a Serious Stunner, my friends. The park is filled with beautifully designed gardens-the Rose Garden, the Cactus Garden and the Desert Garden being a few of them- which are incredibly peaceful considering it’s technically all located within a city. It also houses a zillion museums for you to explore and get your learn-on, all spectacular buildings in their own right. Just. Plain. Beaut.
Say hi to the animals of the San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo is actually within Balboa Park, and in terms of size it basically seems to be infinite. We arrived very early in the morning and left exhausted, an hour before closing time, having not even seen everything there was to see. For some reason which in hindsight I cannot fathom, I was convinced that this zoo housed an actual real live two-headed snake. And let me tell you now guys, the fact that I even thought that a two-headed snake might be an actual thing, concerns me greatly. I have a brain, and I don’t consider myself to be a particularly gullible person, but we spent the whole day looking for that mythological creature and obviously were not rewarded. We did however, see pandas and polar bears and rhinos and all manner of other amazing animals so I left tired but happy.
There’s a little cable car that takes you over the treetops from one end of the park to the other if your legs start to feel like they might drop off, which I was extremely grateful for and it gives you some awesome views over the trees and out to the rest of the city. They call it the ‘Skyfari.’ See what they did there?
Spend an evening or two in the Gaslamp District
The Gas Lamp District is where good old Alonso Horton began to build the fair city of San Diego all those years ago, and although it’s still full of Victorian-era buildings I’m pretty sure there actually aren’t any gas lamps here to light the way these days. Sorry about that.
It does however have a lot of awesome restaurants and bars, and in the evening is a nice lively location to have some fun times. We happened to be here around the time of St Patrick’s day, which they take incredibly seriously as apparently there are a great deal of San Diegans with Irish roots (also a great deal of general Americans with Irish roots, from the sound of it). Part of the streets are closed off for a festival where everyone dresses in green and drinks large quantities of Guiness; we found a little Irish bar where some old folk were doing a tribute to Riverdance on the stage. I was fully crying with laughter as during a sort of gardener-themed routine (the men were gardeners, the ladies were flowers), I noticed that one of the gardener-dancers looked bizarrely similar to my grandad in a shirt and tie, so for sheer comedy value it was one of the best theatrical performances I’d seen in months.
Eat Italian in Little Italy
The first hostel we stayed at was in Little Italy, right opposite a deli which was one of the main highlights for me of the entire time I was there. The smell of olives and basil and Parmesan as we entered that place was just downright glorious, and although San Diego’s Italian area isn’t massive, it’s downright cute and downright Italian. If you’re not staying in a hostel and desperately in search of actual fresh ingredients to cook actual real food with like I was, I still highly recommend checking out the restaurants in this area as they tend to be owned by actual real Italian families who really know how to make good food.
Swim in the Pacific Ocean, yo
We were kind of dingbats whilst in San Diego as despite the whole city having this chilled out surfer-vibe, we did not make good use of the beaches that it has to offer. SEVENTY MILES OF BEAUTIFUL CALIFORNIAN BEACHES, YOU GUYS!! I love a good beach I do, and clearly this area is abundant in white sandy portions of paradise.
Go see some boats and stuff
…because there is a wide selection of boats to be viewed around these parts.
Before we go on let me get one thing straight with you here. Maybe this is controversial but I’m just not sure how I feel about the fascination people have with weapons of war. In England for example, we regularly have air shows where thousands of people gather to watch our nation’s warplanes zoom around overhead; as awe-inspiring as it is, and as amazing technological feats of engineering they are, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m watching a parade of killing machines. And that makes me feel a little uncomfortable, ok!?
That is kind of how I felt about the USS Midway. Technically it’s an aircraft carrier- a pretty bloody colossal one at that- which is now a museum, permanently docked in San Diego. It is astonishing, and gargantuan, and if I’m honest also made me feel a little uncomfortable. But that is just the kind of lass I am and I can appreciate that other people would be totally fine with it and that is also fine! At the time we visited, there seemed to be some kind of US Navy convention occurring so the centre of the city and all along the boardwalk was filled with officers in white bell bottoms and hats. The Americans I met are just so proud of their military, they sing its praises at all stages of the day!
Further along from there is the San Diego Marina, home to many non-military (and far smaller) privately-owned boats, plus restaurants and bars and little shops, taking you away from the warfare and back to that chilled out vibe which I appreciated so very much!
I.e. Not at Seaworld. Have you seen Blackfish??
If you want to see whales, or Dolphins, book yourself onto a whale watching tour and go and see them in the big wide open ocean where they’re not being forced to splash for their supper.