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  Posted July 22nd, 2014 by Zdenko  in Travel | 3 comments

Travel California

By Zdenko Kahlina

A tour of laid back San Diego
San Diego, the second-largest city in California, is a first-class place for a holiday. The city is spread out, and having a car is pretty essential. A week’s rental of an economy-size vehicle from San Diego airport with almost any company will costs you about $250.00 a week, including total damage excess waiver. Or, you may try Old Town Trolley Tours a hop-on, hop-off open-sided bus service linking tourist areas, with insightful commentary.

I was attending IBM System Storage and Networking conference in July 2008 when I was there. My first impressions were that city was very clean and hot! San Diego has very warm summers and I loved it!

Panorama of San Diego

West Inn hotel in San Diego

We were staying in San Diego’s West Inn. Located in the heart of beautiful downtown San Diego, the 25 floors of guest rooms feature panoramic views of the San Diego Bay, Coronado Island, and the downtown cityscape. The Westin San Diego’s spectacular crystalline design is a signature landmark in the city skyline. The sophisticated urban setting begins with the 100-foot high lobby atrium, creating a magnificent sense of arrival. The entire hotel offers a retreat from the rigors of travel combined with a stimulating sensory experience.

Get Yourself to the Beach!
Get your toes in the sand at any of San Diego’s fantastic beaches. All you need is a cheap cooler for those snacks you stole from the hotel breakfast buffet, a boogie board you picked up at Target, and that extra towel from the hotel swimming pool. And don’t worry if your abs of steel have turned to slabs of flab, no one really cares and besides, you’ll never see those people again anyway. Just put away that camera!

La Jolla
How can Wally describe La Jolla? Imagine one of the most dramatic and beautiful coastlines in the world. Add some palm trees swaying in the breeze, upscale restaurants, gorgeous beaches, and beautiful women in tiny bikinis all flocking to check out your tan. Ahhh, this is FANTASTIC! Earth to Wally, wake up! OK, so perhaps the women part doesn’t typically happen, but everything else you have heard about La Jolla is true. It’s the lifestyles of the rich and famous along the best beaches this side of Hawaii. Ultra cool and chic, you’ll feel like a millionaire pulling up to the valet in even though you’re driving a rented Hyundai Accent! “But I Don’t Want to Hang Around Rich People All Day!”

La Jolla “Baywatch” sort of beach

Upscale La Jolla

Hey, even Jed Clampett liked hanging around Beverly Hills and he was an actual hillbilly! If he can do it, so can you. The difference is La Jolla may be upscale, but it’s still San Diego and that means it’s still friendly and casual. For walking around in summer, shorts and flip flops are just fine (men, wear a shirt). Even at dinner, unless you are in the fanciest of restaurants you only need to add shoes and a nicer top and you’re set to go. Of course, you can also totally dress up and try to be one of the beautiful people. It’s your call.

La Jolla is many things, starting with the beaches. It’s home to La Jolla Shores, the ultimate big sandy “Baywatch” sort of beach that will have your eyes popping out as you gawk at the young, fit bodies soaking up the sun. Parking is a bitch there, but the Shores have never failed to impress. But La Jolla is also tiny coves where you can pretend the beach is all yours (WARNING: People can still see you so don’t get caught!) Want more options? How about sea caves that you can actually kayak into, or great tide pools at low tide where you can bother all the little trapped sea creatures? Still not impressed? Then head over to the Children’s Pool and the famous sea wall and you’ll most likely find LIVE SEALS hanging on the beach! Take a walk out on the seawall and plant a romantic kiss on that someone special. With sidewalks along the top of the bluffs, walking the shoreline has never been more “civilized”. Great for wheelchair access, also.

Now that you’ve seen the beaches, head up into the little town and visit some of the great shops. Browse through the upscale boutiques, the art galleries, perhaps even pretend you’re a local and have a martini at La Valencia, the landmark pink hotel. After all that walking, you’re probably hungry and there is only one place to eat for lunch when you are in La Jolla, and that’s George’s At The Cove’s Ocean Terrace Bistro. The Ocean Terrace is their outside al fresco dining. It’s elegant yet casual, with a view to knock your socks off. Go early to get a table next to the glass sides (you’ll know what I mean) and get ready for a fantastic dining experience. The food is excellent, reasonably priced, and the service is top notch. But the setting! It’s right out of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”, only YOU are in the picture! Cool, huh?

San Diego streets are very clean

Across the street is Alfonso’s, what used to be one of my favorite Mexican restaurants and one I have gone to since the mid-70′s Unfortunately, their son has taken it over and things have, well, changed. Their carne asada tacos are still great, but their tiny pitcher of margaritas for $22 is a bit of a rip off. Still, their carne asada is some of the best and worth a stop – just get a beer instead.

La Jolla is also home to the Torrey Pines Glider Port. (858 452-9858) If you ever wanted to jump off a cliff in a hang glider, this is the place! Yes, you can actually go out with an experienced pilot on a tandem flight if you wish. This must be where the bumper sticker “Get in, shut up and hang on” came from! $125, a 20 minute lesson, and you’re jumping off that cliff, baby! It’s also a great place to uncork a bottle of wine, listen to the jazz on Sunday afternoons, and watch the other lunatics risk their lives for your enjoyment.

Zdenko in San Diego

La Jolla Shores is the top tourist beach, and for good reason. There’s plenty of hot, young bodies, tons of perfect sand, great waves, and a Summer vibe that’s hard to beat. Fire pits offer up ambiance once the sun goes down, you can pretty much start and end the day here. Nearby is La Jolla Cove, perfect for snorkeling and kayaking.

La Jolla – top tourist beach

But don’t overlook the other beaches, many with distinct personalities. Mission Beach is the college hangout, a bit more “urban” and home to the killer Giant Dipper roller coaster, an old woodie ride that offers up one of the best views in town before it hurls you to the ground at 45 mph! Travel up north a bit to Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, a true locals beach with fire pits, BBQ’s, surf lessons, and plenty of free parking. And for the adventurous, check out Blacks Beach, San Diego’s famous nude beach. Don’t forget the sunscreen! (map)

Vera walking along Mission beach

During low tide, check out the tidepool scene where the poor defenseless sea creatures are stuck in the small pools praying you don’t see them. You can’t keep them (come on, what would you do with a live starfish anyway?) but you can torment them! Go ahead, poke your finger into a sea anemone and watch it close up! La Jolla’s Shell Beach and the Cabrillo Monument area have some of the best tidepools. Check the tide timetable for low tide. And you won’t want to miss the live seals on the beach at the Children’s Pool (map). Don’t mess with these guys. They might look cuddly enough to kiss but they can bite if you get too close and often have very bad fish breath.

And when the sun goes down there’s no reason to hurry back to your hotel. Stay at the beach and make a bonfire, skewer a hotdog on a stick and roast it until the skin is burned and crispy and you’ll soon forget you’re not at a 5 star restaurant. Those in the know claim their fire pits by tossing some wood and their chairs around them early in the day, but most people don’t mind sharing the flames to grill some dogs. Fire pits can be found at La Jolla Shores, Moonlight Beach, and scattered around Mission Bay. Remember, no open fires and no booze on the beach.

Gaslamp Quarter
San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter is the place where flashy locals, carousing Chargers and rowdy tourists break out the sausage-casing frocks and hair gel for a weekend of pricey dining and adventures in nightclub debauchery.

Gaslamp Quarter has lots of restaurants

The Gaslamp still has the aura of its historic past

The Gaslamp Quarter dates back to 1867 when development began. Originally known as “New San Diego”, in contrast to “Old San Diego” which was the first Spanish colonial settlement of San Diego a few miles away. Today, this sixteen square block historic area in downtown San Diego is the most active part of the city. The name “Gaslamp” is derived from the gas lamps that were common in the late 19th century to light the streets. The Gaslamp District is located just a block from the San Diego Convention Center and Petco Ballpark. The historic area extends from Broadway to Harbor Drive and from 4th to 6th Avenue.

The Gaslamp still has the aura of its historic past.Some modern changes have been made but there are still 94 buildings still standing from the Victorian Era. What was once the redlight district lined with saloons and bawdy houses is now a thriving nightlife area. Today, the historic buildings house restaurants, night clubs, pubs, bars, boutique shops, art galleries and even condos and lofts. When the sun sets, residents, tourists and conventioneers head to the Gaslamp for an evening of socializing, fine dining, dancing and entertainment.

The sidewalks are lined with trees and are well kept with city enforced guidelines that require building owners and tenants to keep their area of sidewalks clean and well-maintained at all times. Some people just enjoy strolling around the Gaslamp people-watching and street entertainers. Others make reservations at some of the finest restaurants in the city. Outside patios are in abundance along the sidewalks where you can eat, have some drink and socialize. It’s an ideal environment for those that still smoke.

Gaslamp Quarter has lots of restaurants

Historic building in the Gaslamp Quarter

True to its cheeky name, the evening “Brothels, Bites and Booze” walking tour combined juicy bits of red-light district lore with stops at five Gaslamp restaurants. Under the cheery supervision of my wife, our party of four learned about ladies of the evening and politicians of ill repute while consuming enough small bites and not-so-small drinks to make me glad my evening accessories included stretchy jeans and a designated driver.

Eat, drink, and don’t worry
More Gaslamp Anxiety Relief waited at the restaurants, where we were spared the indignity of the Uncool Order because food and drinks had been ordered for us. Somewhere on Fifth Avenue, a snobby waiter was weeping.

Best Eats: Plump oysters Rockefeller (Donovan’s Circle of Fifths), pork tacos and black bean soup (Tequila 100), thin-crust pizza (Krust Pizzeria), shrimp ceviche and popcorn brussels sprouts (Analog).

Best Drinks: Circle of Fifths’ fizzy Moscow Mule and Tequila 100’s skinny margarita.

The verdict
Is it possible for the non-fabulous among us to enjoy San Diego’s glitziest historical district without feeling like a pauper or looking like a dweeb? It is. And if you don’t stay there into wee morning hours, you’ll be back in your hotel before your sweatpants start wrinkling with worry.

Vera by the Harbor house in San Diego

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