San Diego from LA in a Day

Some days we sit at home, and recover from whatever we did the day before, which will usually have included driving, in one of the most congested cities we have ever visited. Other days we’re “up and at ’em” squeezing more into a single day that even we think possible, or sensible anyway. Our day-trip to San Diego was definitely the latter!

We join in travel forums on Facebook, and talk to friends, and San Diego is one of the most recommended cities to visit in California, and even in the entire USA. When I ask why though, I am met with vague comments such as “because it’s beautiful” and when I ask for specifics, people mention the zoo, or Sea World. I am very anti the existence of places like Sea World, as I feel those beautiful animals would have a much better life living in the ocean, rather than in a swimming pool in a big city. The fact that Sea World exists in San Diego is, for me, a very good reason not to visit the city. Anyway, by popular consent San Diego is a must visit place, so we thought the best way to find out if that’s true or not was to make the 2 hour journey south of LA and see for ourselves.

We were on our way by 8am, and an hour later we had made it to San Clemente where we stopped for a Subway breakfast, a Starbucks coffee and a picnic for later in the day from Ralph’s.

An hour later we stopped at Las Flores Viewpoint, where our attention was grabbed by a US Navy aircraft carrier anchored just off shore, with 3 or 4 helicopters carrying goods to and from it from a site on the nearby shore.

Again, our viewpoint rewarded us with some wildlife sightings, this time the incredibly cute ground squirrels we had seen previously on the Pacific Coast Highway. Maybe not as cute as the tiny Chipmunks we saw at The Joshua Tree national park, but still cute, especially the ones I saw kissing 😘

The wildlife was fun, the military manoeuvres impressive, and we would have stayed longer if it wasn’t for the half dozen or so tanks that whizzed past us kicking up an almighty dust storm. We may well be far from the desert here, but trust me, almost the entire state is dry and dusty.

La Jolla

When we had asked people for specific reasons to visit San Diego, one place that I was interested to see, is La Jolla Cove (pronounced La Hoya if anyone is interested). This is a very popular spot, so much so that we struggled to find a parking spot. When we did, we immediately saw why it was such a draw. A beautiful stretch of coastline featuring beaches, picnic spots, rocky coves and wildlife!

We saw seals, they’re the ones with earholes, and short front flippers which are too weak to support them when they move on land, and sea lions, the ones with external ears and longer, stronger front flippers that can support them and help them move on land.

We had quite a walk, and our sense of smell immediately virtually transported us back to The Galápagos Islands as we approached the sea lions. Californian Sea Lions are technically a different species to those found in Ecuador, with different shaped faces for one thing, and I am not sure if the Californian ones are as used to human interaction, and nothing will beat our experience at Cerro Tijeretas, San Cristóbal, but it was still a pleasure to see ‘the boys’ again.

We also saw some surprisingly sweet baby seagulls, such a shame they grow up 😉

We had arrived prepared with costumes, masks, snorkels and towels, but did not get in the water, primarily because most of the people who did deemed it necessary to wear wetsuits. California has some very famous beaches, but we’ve seen much better in Antigua for one place, and the water here is really not very inviting in terms of temperature, appearance, or cleanliness. Anyway, with our limited parking time up, we had to move on.

The Gaslamp Quarter

This comes under the heading of “Nice place, visited at the wrong time” According to Google, “The Gaslamp Quarter is a lively downtown neighborhood, known for its nightlife. Clubs, dive bars and cocktail lounges draw a young crowd, while the Spreckels and Balboa theaters have diverse programs of music, comedy and drama. There’s a mix of chain and independent restaurants in the area, with many global options. Horton Plaza Park has grassy lawns, ice cream and coffee vendors, and an interactive fountain.” So, great for a weekend night out, not so impressive on an early Thursday afternoon. On a plus parking only cost one dollar here, and we did have a nice walk in the scorching hot sun.

Balboa Park

After the mild disappointment of the Gaslamp Quarter, we headed to Balboa Park, and this place is definitely worth a visit! We were first struck by an open theatre, which turns out to be Spreckels Organ Pavilion. Well, there was an impressive structure, a stage and lots of seating erected, but to be honest we weren’t really sure what it was, or what kind of event it was used for. We took some shade, sat on a bench, ate our picnic and did some people watching. There was a guy sat on the stage, guitar in hand, and you just knew he was imagining the seats were full, but none of them visible as everyone stood up, chanting his name and calling for yet another encore. His daydream (or was it mine?) only interrupted by an on-stage skateboarder losing control and nearly crashing into him…

There is plenty else to see in Balboa Park, for example a beautiful Japanese Garden. We didn’t pay the entry fee or take the walk, but we did get some photos from a high view point.

Balboa Gardens is home to 16 museums, multiple performing arts venues, lovely gardens, trails, and many other creative and recreational attractions, including the San Diego Zoo. We gave the zoo a miss, but we did take a (free) tram ride around the entire park, and saw some beautiful clock towers, buildings and some very colourful flowers. All in all this park is worthy of a day at least, of anyone’s time.

Mount Soledad

What else could we squeeze into a non-stop city tour? We had time for one more visit, and we chose to drive to the top of Mount Soledad. In the grand scale of things this may be classed as more of a hill than a mountain at 822 feet high, but again we found it to be a worthwhile visit. It offers a 360° panoramic view of San Diego’s coastline, city centre and nearby mountains. We even saw Mexico from there!

All that remained now was a 191km drive back to Los Angeles which took very nearly 3 1/2 hours due to the heavy traffic, and a well earned night’s sleep.

Personally I don’t think I’ll be visiting Los Angeles again, but San Diego is a definite possibility, it is beautiful and was well worth our all-too-brief visit.

Nigel & Carol xx

What do you think? let us know :)