As you may have guessed by now, our recent tour of the west coast was a whirlwind one. Read the rest of this gem…
Name that show.
There was a time, in the not-so-distant past, when hostels with shared dorm rooms, clothes stuffed into compartmentalized backpacks, cold showers, frizzy hair, and strangers serenading rooms with acoustic guitar and raspy voices was my idea of a dream vacation. Read the rest of this gem…
From post to prison to protest site to park, the island of Alcatraz has worn many hats. Read the rest of this gem…
In case you’re worried (which I’m thinking you’re probably not), I’m working on the mother of all instructional posts so that you, too, can build your very own closet organizer out of plumbing fixtures.
Because, you know, I’m pretty sure this is the kind of stuff that keeps you up at night.
It does for me.
In the meantime, Let me tell you a little more about my time in San Diego.
As you can tell from my ah-maz-ing view from a balcony at the Marriott Marquis & Marina, the city itself does not actually sit directly beside the Pacific Ocean.
Wait. That’s looking directly down. Let’s tilt her up a little.
There. If you follow my Facebook page, this shot might look familiar.
The water behind the American flag is actually a bay, which is protected from the rough oceanic elements by the spit of land you see beyond, known as Coronado.
Some people call Coronado an island, which gives my inner geoscience student a veritable eye twitch. It’s not an island. It’s technically a peninsula. The main part you see above is the widest — over a mile across — while further south (beyond the bridge in the photo), it narrows down to a small strip that eventually connects back with the main California coast just north of Mexico. So technically you could cross over to Coronado and walk to Tijuana, making this… not an island.
UPDATE: A marketing representative from the Hotel del Coronado (known to locals as the “Hotel Del,” according to Dennis) actually read this post on my blog (whoa!) and submitted the following comment: “To give you a bit of history, Coronado used to be an island … at high tide. The skinny strip of land now called Silver Strand that connects Coronado to Imperial Beach used to be a lot smaller. During high tide it would become submerged (thus turning Coronado into a true island). It was later filled in with sand, turning it into the peninsula we know today.” Thanks for the clarification! That definitely explains why it’s often referred to as “Coronado Island.”
The last time I was in San Diego, I took the Coronado bridge across the bay and rode directly to the beach. This time, my friend Angie and I opted for a ferry, since we didn’t have a car. There are a couple of ferry options, including the Coronado Ferry and the ferry operated by the Marriott. The Coronado Ferry is cheaper, costing $4.25 (I think) each way for an adult, while the Marriott ferry is $6.00 each way. We still opted for the Marriott ferry since it left from nearby and ran every half hour. Anyone can take it — you don’t have to be staying at the hotel.
The captain was exceedingly helpful, and the ride only lasted about 10 minutes (if that).
Of course, once we got to Coronado, we realized the Coronado ferry actually drops you a little closer to actual… stuff.
About half of the fat part of the “island” is occupied by a Naval base. The other half is a small town with shops, restaurants, pasty tourists, beautiful homes, and tanned Seals (not the kind with flippers). We decided to walk across the width, just to get a feel of the place and catch a glimpse of the ocean. If you’re wearing decent shoes, let me just say that a walking tour is the perfect way to appreciate the beauty of this place.
Flowers and fruits to smell along the way…
Cozy niches to wine and dine…
And finally, at long last, the Pacific.
The beach here was fairly crowded. Of course, we had to walk through the famous Hotel del Coronado and couldn’t help but gawk at the extravagant wood moldings and opulence dripping from the giant crystal chandelier.
I’m pretty sure I flipped out over this old school cage elevator.
Unfortunately, my iPhone could do nothing to capture the sheer size of the place. If you make it to Coronado, the hotel is definitely worth a look. We hiked back a different way from where we came. If you find yourself walking, take care when crossing some of the busier roads. We thought we were avoiding the hustle of tourism and commuters by walking through quiet neighborhood side streets. Unfortunately, those led to a major thoroughfare near the bridge, which is the only way by vehicle to cross the bay.
Honestly, I’m surprised we didn’t end up tiny smears on the side of the road.
As you can tell from the photos, there are worse places to die.
So in my last post, I intimated — no, I bragged — that I had some of the best food and drinks in San Diego.
Now. I want you to read that as, “I thoroughly enjoyed the food and drinks I had at these places in San Diego” and not, “This is the absolute best stuff you could possibly get in San Diego” because frankly, I don’t know if it was the best in San Diego because I was only in San Diego for 3 days.
All I know is that what I consumed at the following choice establishments was phenomenal, as was the service and overall atmosphere.
*DISCLAIMER: Of course I inadvertently left my nice DSLR camera in my hotel room, along with my sunscreen, apparently, for the majority of my excursions, so you’ll have to settle for the dark, blurry images provided by my iPhone.
My friend Suzy, a lovely lady I used to work with during my cubicle days at Fort Bragg and who happened to be traveling to San Diego around the same time, was adamant about finding us a “craft cocktail” bar.
I have said it before, and I’ll say it again.
Traveling alone, while completely thrilling in a scary-adrenaline-pumping-whoa-I-just-had-sex-without-a-condom kind of way, is best when punctuated with familiar faces. Even better when those faces happen to be local.
See, when you have access to a local, and I mean more than a quick information exchange on an airplane or subway though that’s certainly helpful too, you have access to the heart of a place. The keys to the Camaro. The ear to its secrets.
And in San Diego, not only did I meet up with long-lost non-local friends, but I met a friend I’d never actually met — an online friend and someone whose words I’ve been reading for over two years, so really it seemed like we’d never not met because honesty, if you haven’t figured it out by now, is kind of hard for a blogger to avoid.
So it’s like we’re in each others’ heads.
Dennis Hong is the founder of Musings on Life and Love, as well as a new relationship advice site called Lemon Vibe, and a regular contributor to Cracked.com and Dear Wendy and probably another one or two or seven that I’m forgetting. He’s a molecular biologist-turned-high-school-teacher or something along those lines, the American kind of Asian, argumentative, wicked smart, swing dancer, lover of scotch and unwitting connoisseur of saki, has a lovely girlfriend named Melissa, and is an exceedingly talented and prolific writer.
See? Must mean I know him like the back of my hand.
Which doesn’t really mean much, when I think about it, because I doubt I could pick my hand out in a lineup.
Like I said. While exploring an unknown place on your own can be an incredible, mind opening experience, consulting with a local is, more often than not, the most efficient way to dig around its guts.
He showed me one of the best places for food.
(More on this place HERE.)
He told me one of the best places for drinks.
(More on this place HERE.)
He showed me his mad swing dancing skills at a place whose surface screamed I’m just a pub! by day but hiked up its poodle skirt by night.
He showed me saki. And made me drink it.
Uhh… Don’t remember the name of this restaurant.
And he left me with advice of other places to check out, like Kansas City Barbecue, the locale where Goose sings Great Balls of Fire to his kids and the lovely Meg Ryan in Top Gun:
And the Top of the Hyatt, which is a FREE — yes I said FREE — elevator excursion to arguably the best view in San Diego.
It took me no less than 3 elevator rides from the Hyatt’s impressive lobby to get into the correct one — the one that would take me to the top.
This is me. Bored in an elevator. You can’t tell, but I was really excited to get in the right one.
Are we there, yet?
Oh, yes. We are most certainly there.
There’s also a bar up there called — get this — Top of the Hyatt. I didn’t get a drink or even go inside because the place is über fancy which made my jean shorts feel a little Daisy Duke but not as sexy so I skipped it, but here’s my take: If you’re in San Diego, go to the top of the Hyatt (the floor). If you’re in San Diego and have money to spend on drinks and are wearing something nicer than Jean Shorts and don’t smell like Saki, go to the Top of the Hyatt (the bar). Even if they’re extra pricey (they probably are) and not that great (they’re probably not), the euphoric view more than makes up for it.
Since I have an intense aversion to travel research, I never would have known this existed if it weren’t for Dennis. It was kind of awesome, completely free, and kind of awesome.
Find yourself a local.
And if your local happens to be a swing dancin’ Asian, consider yourself extra lucky.
When I travel, I continuously make one of the biggest, most common, most ludicrous mistakes over and over and over again.
Almost every time.
You’d think that I’d learn. You’d think I’d realize the pattern. But no. I do it every time, never expecting. Never thinking it will happen to me. Doing the same thing, expecting different results.
Kids, this is my #1 travel tip of all time.
It’s my #1 tip of all time, and it applies whether you’re traveling or not.
Yes, I just ripped off Mary Schmich.
But I still feel it’s important.
My arms, they’re en fuego.
And my ego?
That burns a little, too.
I have this feeling.
I’m sitting here, on a city street corner in a room surrounded by glass, and a salty breath of ocean breeze has found its way inside. It kissed my cheek and made me smile and reminded me of where I am.
I have a giant cup filled with the best chai latte I’ve ever had, which doesn’t hurt.
My mood is impeccable and I feel, maybe for the first time since Justin left, like I can breathe again.
I’m in a coffee shop, of course, and I realize now more than ever that this atmosphere is not conducive to writing. Especially this particular coffee shop, with its eclectic music, colorful street traffic, and sailor-mouthed old man sitting across the room.
The staff here at LION Coffee are friendly, the windows are open, and I know I’d come here again and again if I lived in this town. They’d know my name, and they’d know my drink, and I think I could probably be happy.
Until I’d want to move again.
Next time, I wouldn’t order the breakfast burrito.
With its cheese, potatoes, and bacon, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t awesome. The spicy salsa made the difference.
I would, however, order the acai bowl with yogurt, fruit, and granola. It looks incredible.
And the coffee? I could drink this all day. I could drink this all day and develop chronic shakes and totally not care because it’s just. That. Good.
And San Diego?
(That’s where I am, by the way.)
I could learn to love San Diego. I’ve been here before, and I’m happy to see that it sill makes me smile. With its people and its restaurants and its ocean and its perfect, perfect weather, it’s hard to be unhappy.
In fact, I don’t think I could ever get SAD.
And that, I think, is exactly what I need.
I have this feeling.
And I kind of want to keep it.
When I was little, I used to ask my mom to drive really, really fast down this hill with a dip at the bottom on our way to daycare. I got such a thrill from that tiny uprising in my stomach – that flutter that happens when your body is thrown off-kilter from gravity.
Why don’t we get the same happy rush when the same thing happens with our emotions?
Today was a helluva day. You see, the airline on which Erin and I booked our tickets to Costa Rica is having some financial troubles, so they decided to cut back on their flights. They decided to cut back on our flight just over a week ago. The online booking agency through which we booked our flight *cough*CheapTickets*cough* did not notify us of this fun fact until a couple of days ago.
It was not until today that we were able to negotiate an itinerary change and get ourselves on another flight. Because as much fun as it would be to get stuck in Cancun with unlimited funds, our funds are not, to say the least, unlimited.
Just a minute ago I received another call telling me the new flight has been canceled. That fluttery, uprising thing happened with my emotions. The guy from Cheap Tickets might have heard me cry.
In 2004 it took me over 27 straight hours to get from Valdosta, Georgia to Strasbourg, France. I traveled by car, plane, subway, another subway, train, and another car to get there.
So it’s really no surprise to me that this happened.
The thing is, cliché as it sounds, I’ve learned to try to make the trip itself part of the fun. I know it can be a pain in the ass to get somewhere – especially when I really, really, really want to just be there. So I have to do what I can to enjoy the ride.
Even if what I really want to do is punch someone in the face.
After all, 27 hours is 27 hours. That’s more than a full day of my life that I can never get back.
It took me a month to get from Omaha, Nebraska to Omaha, Nebraska (by way of Washington, California, Arizona, and Colorado, to name a few). I traveled by Tracker.
When people ask what we’ll be doing during our free time in Costa Rica (if we ever get there), they seem surprised when I tell them we don’t know. But it’s like the Gin Blossoms said, “If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down.”
The same holds true, I believe, for a trip. Too much planning can only lead to disappointment and missed opportunities. We won’t be lethargic in our off-time – but we’ll always be open to something we didn’t plan – especially because we didn’t plan anything.
For the Tracker’s Wild Western Extravaganza road trip, I didn’t even know I’d be traveling with anyone until a couple of days prior. I had just given notice to one of the restaurants that employed me, and a fellow server thought my trip sounded fun and asked to come along.
We had never really hung out, but Lizeth was a 5 foot-nothing feisty Latina who shared my freestyle travel philosophy. She ended up coming with me all the way to San Francisco before flying home (she actually had to go back to work – sucka!), and it ended up being much more fun than if I’d gone alone.
At our own leisurely pace, we were able to explore Seattle’s colorful, energy-packed Pike Place fish market…
…get a free bottle of whisky from a sketchy motel employee…
…hug a soldier…
..and even stumble across Seattle’s famous wall of gum one night when we became completely and utterly lost. We didn’t know it was famous. We just thought it was a gross (but cool) wall of gum.
It turned out getting lost on those downtown streets was a great way to learn our way around the city.
If we had been on an itinerary, we might not have climbed the Astoria Column and ruined our ability to walk without a limp for the next 2 days. (Lesson learned? Calves do not like spiral staircases.)
Nor would we have stopped for a tour of the cheese factory in Tillamook, Oregon, land of, “Cheese, trees and ocean breeze!” If we hadn’t stopped, I wouldn’t have been able to leave my souvenir brick of spoiling cheese under the mattress of that hotel in San Francisco. (That’s another story for another time, but trust me – they deserved it.)
Sure, you miss a couple of things when you don’t plan. We’d hoped to catch the famous sandcastle contest in Cannon Beach, but instead all Lizeth caught was soaking wet pants when we had to wade across the bay to get into town. All I caught was a kite to the back of the head. No joke.
The sandcastles had already washed away with the tide.
But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen.
And without a GPS, the excitement of seeing the unmistakable bright orange peaks of the Golden Gate Bridge rising behind a hillside caused us to stick our heads out the windows like a couple of terriers attempting to taste the wind.
And even though we didn’t plan, we were still able to hit many of the major tourist attractions.
We drove through the giant Redwood tree:
We embraced the culture of Fremont:
And we soaked in the famous San Francisco architecture:
It’s comforting to know that as long as I have my mind, I’ll never forget the barefoot, guitar-playing hippie who offered us pot not 3 minutes into our lunch stop in Arcata, California. Or getting lost on the BART and ending up in The Castro (where the look-but-can’t-touch eye candy was excruciatingly palpable). Or seeing Kurt Cobain’s old house in Seattle.
And after Lizeth flew home, I drove down the 101 to L.A. and absorbed the art and energy of Venice Beach. I crashed on a friend’s couch in Phoenix and climbed Camelback Mountain. (Okay, I only made it halfway – but it was Phoenix in July! I don’t care of it’s a “dry heat” – 111-degrees F is HOT.) I changed into shorts on the side of the road in the middle of the deserted desert when my a/c decided it’d had enough. I got food poisoning in Albuquerque and had to sleep it off in my car at noon with the windows cracked. I witnessed a red-hot sunset behind the Rockies, a lightning-riddled rainstorm between myself and the sun causing the colors to blur like a saturated watercolor painting. Fireworks welcomed me into Colorado Springs later that evening, and I watched more from the deck of my great-aunt and uncle’s home, cocktail in hand, overlooking the Garden of the Gods and the rest of the city far, far below.
These things – these things that happened by chance will always resonate because I remember them the way they were – not the way they should have been. And that’s why it’s okay that we still don’t have a flight. We will. When we do.
I’m not completely zen. If I could leave a brick of stinky cheese under the airline’s mattress, I would. But I can’t.
So, my friends, that is why I don’t plan. I happen to like being a terrier with my head out the window.