San Diego Adventure

My friend Krystina and I decided to take a weekend trip from our home in Phoenix to San Diego. We planned the trip for the last weekend in February, which was a Leap Day in 2016.

DAY ONE

Our trip began on a Friday night after work. We loaded up the car with our suitcases and drove from Phoenix to San Diego after dark. It’s a 366 mile (589 km) drive and takes about 5.5 – 6 hours to get there, depending on how long you stop for fuel and bathroom breaks. Before leaving town, we stopped at In-N-Out Burger in Avondale for dinner.

We arrived in San Diego late at night and checked in to our room at the Four Points by Sheraton, near the Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport.

DAY TWO

We woke up the following morning to beautiful, cool weather and fog! It was a really different experience compared to the dry desert air where we live. Our first full day in San Diego was going to be a busy one.

Cabrillo National Monument

We drove from the hotel to Cabrillo National Monument. The site has a monument to the Portuguese navigator Juan Rodrigues Cabrillo who was the first European explorer to arrive on the West Coast of the United States in 1542. The park has a visitor center, a large statue of Cabrillo and trails to hike. The site also offers spectacular views of Coronado Island and the Pacific Ocean.

Panoramic view of Coronado Island and San Diego from Cabrillo National Monument.

Another attraction within the park is the Old Point Loma lighthouse, which provided safe navigation for ships for 36 years. The light was completed in 1855 and was in service until 1891, when it was replaced by the New Point Loma lighthouse which is closer to the shoreline. The light originally used whale oil and was later converted to kerosene. The light was visible up to 28 miles (45 km) out to sea. The lighthouse and adjoining keeper’s cabin have been restored and turned into a museum.

The Old Point Loma Lighthouse was in use from 1855-1891.

Ocean Beach

After checking out Cabrillo Monument, we got back in the car and drove about 15 minutes to Ocean Beach. This is an artistic, bohemian neighborhood of San Diego. I was delighted by the brightly decorated pre-war and postwar cottages in the area. Unlike modern tract homes, each house in this neighborhood was unique and different. We parked the car in a neighborhood and walked almost a mile to get to the beach.

The Ocean Beach Pier has a unique T-shape that extends 1,971 feet (600 m) into the Pacific Ocean.

The Ocean Beach pier is the longest concrete pier on the West Coast at 1,971 feet (600 m). It is used for fishing and sightseeing. We visited the pier and took some pictures, then walked along the beach enjoying the atmosphere. The water was quite cold in February but we both removed our shoes and stuck our toes in the sand, which we enjoyed.

Coronado Island

For lunch we picked the Coronado Brewing Company, which is located on Coronado Island. It was a 20 minute drive from Ocean Beach to Coronado Island. The drive took us over the San Diego-Coronado Bridge, which is a famous local landmark. At 2.1 miles (3.4 km) in length, the bridge gracefully rises to a height of 200 feet (61 m) above the surface of San Diego Bay.

Krystina and I love brewpubs because of their casual atmosphere and comfort food. Coronado Brewing Company really hit the spot!

We enjoyed a delicious lunch at Coronado Brewing Co. After lunch we walked a short distance to Centennial Park. The park had a magnificent view of the downtown San Diego skyline and its tall buildings, with the bay in the foreground. We witnessed three or four different wedding parties taking photos in the park during our visit!

View of the San Diego skyline from Coronado Island’s Centennial Park.

After hanging out at the park for a while, we drove to the other side of Coronado Island. We were hoping to catch a glimpse of the SS Monte Carlo, a tanker ship that ran aground on Coronado Island in 1937. The shipwreck is almost complete buried in the sand, but is occasionally visible at low tide. Unfortunately the tide was high during our visit, and we were not able to see the wreck – though we did enjoy a great sunset.

Watching the sunset on Coronado Island was a wonderful experience. Unfortunately the tide was too high to view the wreck at the time of our visit.

Hotel Del Coronado

Just a few minutes’ walk from the SS Monte Carlo is another San Diego landmark: the Hotel Del Coronado. This historic beachfront hotel dates back to 1888. The property has expanded many times over the years and has more than 700 guest rooms today. We did a quick walk through of the grounds and admired the Victorian-era architecture. I would like to stay here someday, but it is quite expensive.

The historic Hotel Del Coronado opened in 1888 and is a world-renowned beachfront hotel from the Victorian era.

Seaport Village

After sunset, we returned to the car and drove over the bridge back to San Diego. While most people would be ready to rest after a long day of walking, Krystina and I were still going strong!

Our last stop of the day was Seaport Village. This is a shopping complex with restaurants and gift shops, and a place that Krystina remembered going with her family when she was younger. We were still pretty full from lunch, but we had some ice cream for dinner. Krystina and I set up our tripods on the Market Street Pier and spent about 30 minutes doing some night photography of the city skyline.

Trying some night photography on the pier at Seaport Village.

We left Seaport Village around 9:00 PM and headed back to the hotel for the night. It was a busy day and I recorded more than 20,000 steps on my FitBit tracker. I fell asleep tired but happy.

DAY THREE

The next day was Sunday morning. We slept in a little bit and took our time getting ready. At around 10 AM, we arrived at Hash House A Go-Go on Fifth Avenue for breakfast. We were able to avoid the long wait for a table because we opted to sit at the bar. The portions were enormous and the food was very good!

Balboa Park

Feeling completely stuffed, we planned to walk off our meal, starting with the Japanese Garden at Balboa Park. I love visiting Japanese gardens and the Japanese Friendship Garden of San Diego did not disappoint! The cherry blossoms were in full bloom, bringing bright pink color all over the garden. We spent about 50 minutes meandering through the garden and soaking up some tranquility.

The Japanese Friendship Garden of San Diego is located inside of Balboa Park. During our visit, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom!

We walked around Balboa Park and admired the historic buildings. The park has large, pedestrian-friendly boulevards and plazas with decorative plants, fountains, and seating throughout.

The Museum of Art, opened in 1926, has an ornate facade at the building’s entrance.

Automotive Museum

At my request, we made a pass through the San Diego Automotive Museum. I love anything to do with cars and was excited to see the collection.

On the day of our visit, there was a special exhibit called “British Invasion” featuring British automotive brands such as Jaguar, Rolls-Royce, TVR, Austin, Jowett-Jupiter, Jensen, and others. While the British cars were cool, my favorite was the Italian-made 1966 Bizzarrini P538 Spider. The museum is small and we were able to see everything in about 30-40 minutes.

This 1966 Bizzarrini P538 is one of only three built in a “spider” or open top configuration.

The Gaslamp Quarter

After the car museum, we hopped back in the car for a short drive to the Gaslamp Quarter – San Diego’s historic downtown district. This area features nearly 100 architecturally significant buildings, most of which were constructed during the Victorian Era, between about 1850 to 1900. San Diego has a very walkable downtown, and the temperature was excellent compared to Phoenix.

The Yuma Building (3 story red brick) was completed in 1888. It is one of 94 historic properties in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter neighborhood.

The Gaslamp is home to many fine restaurants and bars. We chose a restaurant called The Hopping Pig, which offered American fare with lots of barbeque and bacon-themed dishes. Lunch really hit the spot and we were refueled and ready for our next stop.

Torrey Pines

A short drive north of San Diego is the neighborhood of La Jolla and the Torrey Pines State Preserve area. We visited the southern tip of the Preserve, near Black’s Beach. Krystina and I watched the sun set on the colorful cliffs overlooking the ocean. It was a perfect end to our day of adventure!

Looking south from Torrey Pines, the Scripps Memorial Pier is faintly visible in the distance.

Back at the hotel, Krystina stayed in the room while I went to go relax in the hot tub. In the pool area, I met a guy who worked as a pilot for a private jet charter company. For over an hour, we had a great conversation about aviation and travel, and I never even asked his name! While I am not a pilot, I have more than a casual interest in aviation and he was happy to talk about his work and experiences.

DAY FOUR

Monday, February 29th was the final day of our trip. We packed our bags and checked out of the Four Points, having enjoyed our stay. Before we headed back to Phoenix, we had a few stops to make.

Donut Bar

First on the list was Donut Bar in downtown San Diego’s business district. This small shop specializes in crazy, novelty donuts and baked goods. We each bought a small box of assorted donuts. I had a red velvet donut and a “Homer Simpson” donut that was easily 3x larger than a standard donut, with pink frosting and sprinkles. They had so many great flavors to choose from!

Trying some gourmet donuts from Donut Bar in downtown San Diego.

Balboa Park Gardens

We both agreed it would be a good idea to do some walking after all of that sugar. We circled back to Balboa Park to check out the Botanical Building, which we had missed on our previous visit.

The Botanical Building is an icon of San Diego and one of its most photographed places. It consists of a large wooden building filled with more than 2,000 plants and a large reflecting pool and lily pond out front. The building and surrounding gardens made for a calm and serene place to explore and photograph early in the morning.

The Botanical Building is an open air structure that is home to more than 2,000 plants.

Heading Home

Shortly after 11:00 AM, we were in the car heading back towards Phoenix. We made a pit stop for lunch in Yuma and found a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant along the way.

While it sounds like a very busy trip, I found our San Diego adventure to be very relaxing and low key. We enjoyed a lot of outdoor activities due to the perfect weather and cool temperatures in the area. We also made time to explore some great restaurants! All in all, it was a very memorable way to spend the Leap Day weekend.

About the author

Trevor Freeman

Trevor Freeman is a writer, photographer, and maker who loves learning new things. His favorite food is pizza. He received a Bachelor's Degree in Business Management from Grand Canyon University. He lives and works in Phoenix.

You can follow Trevor on Twitter @TrevorFreemanAZ, on Instagram at @arizona.dreamin, and on YouTube: TheRealTrevorland.

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