Staying Classy in San Diego and Other California Adventures

I’m writing this quite retrospectively, because I’ve been ungodly busy with wrapping up grad school and beginning the process of professional school applications, but I must get this down before memories escape me.

After a hellish winter quarter and the single worst test I’ve ever taken in my life (it was micro), Steven and I hopped into the car and drove a six hour drive to the coast (which actually took us seven hours) to visit our long-time friend Blake in San Diego. We arrived at his driveway at about 8:00 p.m. Pacific Time on a Thursday night and, after saying our hellos, immediately went to a cute little tavern, The Regal Beagle, for a late dinner of pub grub and craft beer. Sitting on the patio catching up with friends and enjoying the electric California air was exactly what I needed after a grind of an academic quarter and a grueling four-hour test followed by a six-but-actually-seven-hour hot car ride hugging the beige Sonoran sand dunes. My dampened spirits were cured immediately with good food and even greater company.

Friday morning we awoke early to get grocery shopping out of the way for the weekend. Blake took us to Trader Joe’s. Ashamedly, it was my first time ever stepping foot into a Trader Joe’s. I can definitely see why people rate it so highly, but Wegmans still holds a special place in my heart. Yes, I hold places in my heart for grocery stores. No, I don’t think that’s weird. Following our grocery adventure, Blake took us to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve to check out the sand cliffs overlooking the beach and then the beaches that lined the shore. It was only my second time in the Pacific Ocean after being on the Oregon Coast with my parents at 15 months old, and incredibly I still have snippets of memories from that time. The shapes of weather-worn sand cliffs at Torrey Pines are reminiscent of the innumerable orange and brown hoodoos at Bryce Canyon. The sand cliffs hold imprints of weather-worn patterns that curve downward to kiss the ground and spill into the sea. I’ve not seen a more unique seascape.

After our morning at Torrey Pines scoping out the nude beaches (just kidding!), our wanderings lead us to La Jolla cove to enjoy the sights (and smells) of sea lions. Dozens of fat floppy mermaid-pigs lined the cliffs of La Jolla cove and infused the misty sea air with their putrid odor. There were even little fat floppy mermaid-pigs babies! It was glorious! We basked in sea lion stank for as long as our nostrils would allow before we ventured to a hidden surfer trail somewhere in the middle of a swanky residential neighborhood. The narrow trail wound down through the sandy knolls until its end seaside. Our day wrapped up with the three of us making dinner at Blake’s followed by several drunken rounds of Bananagrams. The perfect end to a fantastic day.

We spent Saturday morning browsing the vendor stands at the Little Italy Mercato Farmer’s Market. Naturally, we took full advantage of free food samples. I had to abstain from buying every big bright flower bouquet, and Steven purchased beard oil for his scruff. We made our way to Mission Bay to explore. It was kind of like a floating museum of sorts. Several ships and submarines were on display for passersby to peer at while they enjoyed the warm California sun. Seaport village had all the normal tourist-trap shops to get lost in. We opted to steer clear of those and instead enjoy the uniqueness of the bay. Mission Bay in its energy and vibrancy brought back fond memories of Circular Quay in Sydney. I had flashbacks to Sydney Harbor with views of the boardwalk wrapping around the bay and restaurants straddling the boarder of land and sea. We enjoyed a late lunch of pizza and pino noir at a quaint street-side pizzeria of which the name escapes me.

Balboa Park was next on our itinerary. The 1,200 acre park was a welcome oasis in the middle of the hurriedness of the city. As we wound our way through the park, stopping along the way to admire the architecture, the music, the occasional art piece, and the landscaping, I felt very European. Balboa Park is what cities should aspire to recreate. The people and the atmosphere reminded me very much of certain parts of the French Riviera where people walked along the narrow cobblestone streets, the sounds of stringed instruments ringing in their ears while lovers laid on blankets spread out under the shade.

Our night continued with drinks and comedy at Finest City Improv. Steven somehow ended up on stage with mic in hand, providing sound effects for one of their skits. I can’t remember the last time I laughed as hard as I did that night. I never thought voicing over terrible B movies could be so damn hilarious, but it absolutely was! After taking a rideshare lift back to Blake’s, we staggered over to Lucha Libre Taco Shop across the street and gorged ourselves with Mexican food before calling it quits and letting our bodies rest for the night.

Sunday Funday: a lazy day at Mission Beach watching passersby on the boardwalk and tossing around the ol’ pigskin with the boys. We packed a picnic lunch and laid on the beach listening to the waves crash on the shore, and then I took a solitary walk along the shoreline looking for any treasures the ocean could offer. The Pacific Beach boardwalk stretched 3.5 miles from South Mission Beach to North Pacific Beach. People walked, ran, cycled, and skated endlessly from North to South and back again. The pier had shops and bars to offer, but we ended up making our own fun and reveling each other’s company. Once the sun started going down, we headed to Sunset Cliffs hoping to catch a glimpse of the sun disappearing behind the horizon. Unfortunately the view was obscured by thick clouds. The view of the ocean and the sounds of waves splashing against the cliffs was no less spectacular, however.

Monday was our final day to soak in San Diego, so Blake took us to the San Diego Zoo where we enjoyed a day marveling at the animals from around the globe. We first took a bus tour around the zoo to scope out which animals we wanted to see most. The tour guide was very informative, and I learned that koalas in the Australia exhibit were gifted from the Taronga Zoo in Sydney! I remember sitting in one of the Taronga Zoo classrooms while a zookeeper introduced us to Australia’s unique fauna. I even got to meet a quokka at the Taronga Zoo, which is by far the cutest and friendliest marsupial. One of my favorite parts of the San Diego Zoo was the pandas. I had never seen a panda before! Not only were we gifted with the amazing opportunity of enjoying the many fruits of millions of years of evolution in these beautiful animals, but we could also rest assured that the San Diego Zoo used its profits to combat extinction of many species of animals. Dinner that night consisted of craft sushi at The Joint in Ocean Beach which Blake’s roommate had recommended to us. The place was a fun little place to get unique rolls and a great beer selection. I would definitely go back if not just for the quirky atmosphere.

Tuesday morning Steven and I left for Joshua Tree National Park . We went in through the West Entrance and camped one night at Belle Campground at the base of some glorious boulders. The sunset was spectacular that night. Steven and I scrambled up some rocks surrounding our camp site to catch the pinks, oranges, purples, and blues the sun painted for us in the sky. I was extremely grateful for our quiet neighbors and the secluded space.The next morning, we ventured out into the park to view some of the rock formations–from Skull Rock to the Arch and several other little trails in between. The landscape was surreal, like something out of a science fiction novel. The strange shapes of the Joshua Trees contrasted with the clumps of sandstone formations scattered around a desolate landscape was oddly calming. There’s nothing like a new landscape to refresh one’s perspective! Before living in the Southwest, my idea of a desert was an endless expanse of sand dunes dotted with the occasional cactus and animal skull. I now know that the desert landscape is so much more interesting and weirder than I ever thought.

Our adventures in California sparked an insatiable desire to explore the state in its entirety. I loved San Diego and Joshua Tree and will definitely be back to love them some more in the future.

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