San Diego is less than an hour’s drive north of Mexico’s border and a reasonable two hours drive south of downtown Los Angeles. And there’s so much to do between the hours of 9 am and 8 pm, making it the perfect day trip for kids and adults.
Yes, SeaWorld was our first stop, not surprisingly. After two trips to Disney Land, we decided to mix it up. We got there when the gates opened. SeaWorld is what it is; a little cheaper than Disney, some interesting exhibits with the occasional tortoise out wandering across some very pretty, well-kept grounds. The turtle reef and shark exhibits were impressive. However, I think SeaWorld misses a big opportunity to really educate families about our environment and conservation. The “Pets Rule” show at the Pets Playhouse did a better job at this than the marine shows; the cats, dogs, pigs, ostriches and ducks running across the stage were a delight, the show was fun, and trainers took time to share some backstories about their pets and the importance of helping animals at rescue shelters. The show at Shamu stadium was disappointing; the whales get people wet while the sound system pumps out a tune about living in one ocean. Not exactly a call to action. Kids love animals and there’s a captive audience during these shows so in addition to pushing product, which is everywhere in classic middle American abundance (need a plastic dolphin sippy cup? There’s one every 25 yards), why not push some knowledge? It would have been far more interesting to have learned where the whales came from, were they born in captivity, what are the natural environments of orcas, what’s happening to their ecosystems now, and what do the orcas like to do during their downtime? Someone in a Shamu costume walks around the park hugging kids and posing for pictures but he didn’t seem to be taking questions.
After five-and-a-half hours at SeaWorld, which included a decent lunch at Pineapple Pete’s Island Eats where the coconut shrimp was not overly fried, we got back into the rental to head to downtown San Diego’s Maritime Museum. This was Mike’s favorite part of the day, and if you have been following his blog, it’s obvious why. For $14 per adult or $8 per kid ages six to 12 (children five and under are free) you can tour 19th century sailing ships, a replica used to film the 2003 Russell Crowe movie “Master and Commander” and board some rather aged-looking submarines that I absolutely refused to go on. The 19th century sailing ship that dominates the waterfront view is the Star of India, a cargo ship that frequently sailed between London and Auckland, New Zealand, and went around the world 21 times, transporting everything from families to fruit. It took approximately 100 days to sail from England to New Zealand, and after viewing the passenger cabins, I have great admiration for the determination and physical constitution of these individuals. A lovely surprise that was part of our Maritime Museum admission was the Paul Gauguin exhibit that went into detail about his travels to Tahiti. The exhibit is titled “Cook, Melville and Gauguin: Three Voyages to Paradise” and includes many original oil and watercolor paintings by the French artist, as well as woodblock prints and sculptures depicting plenty of naked ladies and flowers, which to most white males of the 19th century embodied the ideal of “paradise.”
Sculptures can be found inside and outside the Maritime Museum (which isn’t really a one-stop museum, but a series of ships and submarines). San Diego’s waterfront sculptures are now ranked among one of my favorite outdoor public art collections in the Western Hemisphere next to Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park and Isla Mujeres’ Sculpture Garden on the farthest eastern point of Mexico, which has a breathtaking view of the Caribbean. A stroll along these works of art under the Southern California sun will do anyone good. You can also purchase from street vendors palm leaves sculpted into roses.
We were told by a pedi-cabbie passing by that this fish sculpture would go on auction starting at $4,000. I would totally consider this for my front lawn as a way to get to know my neighbors better.
Art is everywhere along the San Diego waterfront, even on these benches made of tiles handpainted by children.
After about two hours along the waterfront, we were pushing 5:30 in the afternoon and decided to head to Old Town San Diego, allegedly the birthplace of California because the first permanent Spanish settlement took root in 1769 when Father Junipero Serra brought Catholicism to the natives, setting up a mission that would breed more missions, a move that helped launch California’s colonization.
Old Town is a series of blocks filled with old Colonial-style churches, shops selling painted skulls identical to the ones we saw in Isla Mujeres, and festive flags zig-zagging across strings of lights in red, orange, yellow, blue and green. We browsed, we shopped around Bazaar del Mundo, and then we enjoyed dinner at Casa Guadalajara where the party does not stop, not even on Sunday nights. The mariachi band was in full swing that night (and included a female violinist!) and the tequila was flowing! I ordered what was considered a “small” margarita, which seemed like a normal six-ounce glass to me until I saw the wading pools that waiters rolled out for customers who had ordered the “large” margarita (there’s a “medium” one too, for those who want to take their drinking to new heights, but want to remain upright during dinner). I was unable to capture a photo of these drinks simply because I could not get them to fit in the frame.
After enchiladas, margaritas and fried ice cream it was about 8 pm and time to make the two-hour drive back to LA. Our only regret was that the sun had set and it was too dark to enjoy the view from the Pacific Coast Highway. So we took I-5 back, which isn’t as exciting, but was a fine way to cap a perfect summer’s day.