I have a secret. A lot of my friends find this hard to believe, but I haven’t been away from my son for more than 1 night (outside of a hospital stay). He has gone nearly everywhere with me. He has been my constant travel companion for 8+ years starting at 3 months old (his inaugural journey was a road-trip to Whistler, BC). My sister asked if I would like to meet to meet her in San Diego as she was heading down for a conference and thought a couple of extra days exploring and soaking up the sun sounded fun. We planned to have my mom join us as well, making it a proper girls trip, which I hadn’t had since my kid-less days.
I will be honest – I think both my son and I had a few little jitters. I was planning for doomsday (what happens if the big one hits while I am away? What about the plane going down?) and he was having nightmares of his own. I think this was a super healthy exercise to show me I can do things without him, that my husband has it covered, and that they will survive me being gone a few days. It also taught my son that he really does love me, and it gave him a chance to miss me which hasn’t been an issue before! He hasn’t really had the chance. My husband travels all of the time on business, but this was the first time I was going to be gone, and we survived it just fine. I am already thinking about a few other trips I want to take on my own!
All of that said, we had a lot of fun on our little get away, and I thought I would share some of our activities! Many of these are great for traveling with kids and make up a perfect weekend get away!
San Diego Zoo
This is a special year for the San Diego Zoo! The Zoo opened in 1916 when Dr. Harry Wegeforth met a lion at the Balboa Park who had been left there after the Panama California Exposition which ended in 1916. The Lion was roaring and the good Doctor decided he would open a zoo for the animals who were left there. This September the Zoo turns 100 years old and has been a leader in animal conservation from the start. Doctor Wegeforth and the rest of the Zoological Society of San Diego rescued not only the lion but the rest of the animals who had been left behind and the Zoo has grown from there. And what a zoo it is!
The last time I visited was about 12 years ago. I remember a few things from that trip, but not too much of the zoo. I felt like I was seeing it for the first time again. I didn’t remember there being the bus system around the park, which was quite amazing. We started our day with the guided bus tour so we could get our bearings and find out where everything was. Our driver was Wendy and she was hilarious, which was great considering we brought the liquid sunshine with us! We are webfoots and although we were there to visit the sun, this was actually a great thing. California really needed it, and we have learned at our own Oregon Zoo the animals tend to be more active when it is raining. You get to see more! Even a few of the animals who don’t like rain where out having a look at it – like this little meerkat in the picture on the left!
There are several exhibits that really draw people in. The bus tour is one that can get very busy and you will wait in line for the Pandas for instance, so those are good ones to get to first thing. The koalas were quite sleepy by the time we got there, so I would suggest getting to them early too. The polar bears were really active when we drove by them on our tour, but were less so later. Checking for feeding times helps as well as animals are more active when food is involved! The zoo has special days where animals get special treats. We were there on a Thursday, which is bone day for the big cats. They get giant bones to chew on and they were really going at it!
One thing my son required of me was to stop at the Jaguars. He has had a life long infatuation with this special big cat and when he learned there was a baby at the zoo he made me promise to visit. The baby isn’t such a baby anymore! He just turned a year old in March and is already 5lbs heavier than his mama. We watched him play, climb and swim while mama hung out inside their den safe from the rain. When I got home my son was so jealous, but this was one of our highlights at the zoo. He was a lot of fun to watch romp around, and to see him swim was awesome. The jaguars are amazing swimmers and live close to water in the wild.
Another really interesting aspect of the zoo is their geriatric elephant care. The elephants they have at the zoo are ‘seniors’ and have a special care center in the zoo. That have both the Asian and African elephants, which are distinguishable by examining their ears (if the ear looks like Africa, it is an Africa Elephant!). The younger elephants, which are allowed to breed, are kept at the safari park. The elderly zoo elephants lead a life of leisure. One special thing about their area is that they never walk on concrete. They only walk on dirt, which is tilled every few days to keep it soft. They also stay outside at all times and do not have indoor quarters. The fake trees provide them the shade, support and food they need. The males are kept separately from the females and all receive exceptional care. You can learn all about it at their exhibit and might even get to watch some of the exams.
We did not make it to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park on this trip, but have heard amazing things about it. We also heard the best time to visit is late fall through early spring. It gets pretty hot out there and that can make it tougher to enjoy. It is a drive through park so if you have AC that can help! We have been to other Safari Parks a little closer to home, so we have an idea of what to expect. Knowing the work the Zoo does I can only imagine that it is a wonderful place and we will try to get there on the next trip! On the next trip we will also check out the area of the zoo that was under construction. I can’t wait to see what goes in!
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park
I wasn’t really sure what to expect before visiting Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. I guess I was thinking it would be more in keeping with history as it is a California State Park. Most of the state parks I have visited have been in nature also, so seeing one in a bigger city was a bit different too. This left me just a bit confused, but it was fun.
We started at the main visitor center at Robinson-Rose House, and that felt like a state park usually does. They tell you all about the area, have a diorama to show you where everything was and explained how life was back then. There are folks dressed in period wear which was pretty cool.
The rest of the site was quite interesting. It sort of felt like history mixed with a shopping mall. Our first stop was a small building to the right as you came out of main office. It was formerly an old house built 170 years ago. It even had an old stove that was 150 years old. The nice men in the building told us all about the layout, and about the paintings and jewelry they had for sale. The next house over was a tea shop. I loved the teas, but it just felt a little funny that this was something I was experiencing in a State Park. The old bank housed an old Wells Fargo Wagon and talked about gold and the gold rush. The Judge/court house paid homage to the law of the west and you could have a look at the old jail cell out back.
Next door was a candy story that carried all sorts of old favorites and hand pulled and cut taffy. There were gem stores and stores selling all sorts of “Day of the Dead” paraphernalia. We had a quick look around Albert Seeley’s Cosmopolitan Hotel, which was beautifully restored and looked like a really amazing place to have a special occasion. The restaurant looked crowded and the food smelled amazing. Next to the hotel was Seeley Stables which housed several wagons on the main floor. They showed various tack and where stable boys would sleep. Upstairs in the loft they had saddles on display as well as various household items, kachina dolls, native earth ware and baskets, and historic items from peoples homes. It was interesting to learn how they loaded wagons to deliver good and how wagons changed over time.
There was one museum (La Casa de Estudillo) that we missed. But we had a wander around Fiesta de Reyes Shops and Restaurants before calling it a day. They had some delicious smelling restaurants, nice little shops and a nice oilery where you could sample lots of different oils and vinegars.
I had really high hopes for the Birch Aquarium, especially as it is attached to UCSD and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. I have been to aquariums all over the world and have seen the good and the bad. The Oregon Coast Aquarium is a great one for instance. I have to say I was quite disappointed and really felt depressed by the time we left the Birch Aquarium.
Walking through I was underwhelmed with the exhibits. Many were not functional. Information seemed to presented in really large chunks, which left children just passing right by them rather than engaging them. The Climate Change exhibit was difficult even for adults to focus on (and I love learning about that stuff). I found the exhibit about coral the most interesting and learned a bit about why it was dying but that was a fairly small piece of the large puzzle that is our climate and what is going on. There was some amazing photography as you enter the exhibit and we spent a good amount of our time in the exhibit there.
Outside there is a little play area and the water table was packed, but nothing else was really being used. The sharks were out there in a tank with a few different rays. They just laid on the floor, in a line, just looking at us, which seemed so strange to me. One ray was swimming around, but the others all seemed so inactive. There is a nice view of the sea from here and the beaches bordering La Jolla.
On another patio you can find a “touch tank” with a few animals and we waited to be able to have a look and touch them, but it felt like it was really lacking compared to what we are used to at other aquariums. They were featuring a couple of sea stars, 2 sea cucumbers, a few urchins and a couple of anemones.
The Sea Dragons were my favorite thing. I find them amazing and this was one case where I felt like the tanks were large enough. For the rest of the animals, the tanks just seemed so small. The moray eel didn’t look as though it could even turn around in its tank, the octopus took up most of its tank, and the tank with the Alaskan King Crab didn’t have enough floor space for the 5 crab and the 2 flounders (the flounders stacked on top of each other because they had nowhere else to go).
I will say I found the staff very friendly and helpful, however for $17 per adult I was expecting so much more and was really hoping the fish would have habitats that would be more fitting of their needs. The Aquarium is also quite small and you can get through easily in 2 or so hours or less. Because of all of this, I would say proceed with low expectations or by-pass it all together.
Mission Beach Boardwalk
We enjoy getting out for a nice walk as often as possible. The condo we rented was steps from the beach and from the Mission Beach Boardwalk. One morning we walked north and the next morning we walked south. It was a great way to stretch our legs, take in the sea, watch surfers and people playing volleyball and having a bit of fresh sea air. There were lots of others exercising here too, especially when the sun came out! With the weather being what it was, we didn’t venture into the sea or hang out too much on the beach, but we enjoyed being in the environment and enjoying it for what it was. It also helped us reach our Fitbit goals and work off some of those cinnamon rolls and french toast breakfasts! Definitely recommend getting out for a walk here!
Coming from Portland, we have pretty high expectations when it comes to food and we were not disappointed while we were there! We found lots of great options!
We were staying in Mission Beach and found 2 really great breakfast places. Olive Bakery (735 Santa Clara Pl) had the most delicious freshly baked cinnamon rolls and great coffee. We also bought some great paninis to take with us for lunch at the zoo. They have a sister-cafe across Mission Street (805 Santa Clara Pl). I wasn’t as excited about my meal there, but it was good (good price and decent food, just didn’t really wow me). Seems popular enough though and the service was great.
The Mission Restaurant on the other hand was incredible and also a very good value for money. They serve breakfast and lunch and it is all wonderful. I had a huge french toast breakfast that was absolutely delicious. My sister had an egg scramble and my mom had the chicken sausage with eggs. We took other’s advice and made sure to get there before 9:00a. Only 10 minutes after we arrived (at 8:30) there was a line out the door. It is super popular and for very good reason! We came away with very full and happy bellies!
We had 2 really wonderful dinners as well. Our first dinner out was at Nobu which is located in the Hard Rock Hotel downtown. We originally had reservations for the dining room area but changed course after checking out their happy hour menu. We switched to the bar (where we could still order off the main menu) and ordered several dishes that we shared (this is something we love to do so we can try a little of everything!). I have a new love affair with their spicy crab and spicy tuna and crispy rice (neither were very spicy in my opinion, so go for it and that crispy rice…oh my!!). It was amazing! We also enjoyed a nice warm mushroom salad, a miso soup, salt & pepper squid, and edamame. I was less impressed with their sushi rolls however. I might just be picky, but there were so many other really good things, these just didn’t stand up. My mom and sister really enjoyed their cocktails (pina martini) and their sake was also very good.
Our second amazing dinner was at an Italian restaurant in Hillside called Parma Cucina Italiana. My friend said it was the best Italian food she has ever had, and while that is a pretty big claim, we were all in heaven with what we ordered. The wait-staff was incredibly helpful and friendly and made the experience so much more. We almost felt like family at the end. They are a very traditional Italian restaurant, which is what I prefer, but were very accommodating with my allergies and I came away so full and happy. We will definitely be going back here on the next trip to San Diego and I will be telling all of my friends about it. It was the perfect end to our trip!
We had a great weekend away and I will tell you that nothing feels quite as good as those first hugs from your kid when they have missed you, and you them. Our hearts swelled 3 sizes, I am pretty sure!