Supersized San Diego – part 1
Everyone knows that everything in America is supersized and San Diego is no different. From the expansive highways to the restaurant portions, everything grabbed my British imagination and stretched it until I was primed to multiply my expectations by three yet still kept being shocked by the reality of it all.
Nothing and no-one in California does anything by halves. The ocean is mighty, the vegetation is big, bold and brassy, the meals are massive in both size and flavour and along nearly every 12 lane highway there is a vast expanse of mountains, forests and desert to explore. As for those San Diegans, rest assured that behind every high pitched nasal twang, there is a heart that is so huge and warm that even the meanest Brit would be hard pushed not to melt.
As two middle-aged, cost-conscious females travelling from the UK without our partners, my friend Hannah and I felt completely safe while discovering the adventure San Diego had to offer.
A route to suit
When travelling to San Diego from the UK it is possible to fly direct to Los Angeles, LAX, bus it across to Union Station using the airport’s Flyaway service, and take the famous Pacific Surfliner Amtrak train down the coast. An alternative is to fly to the east coast and transfer, arriving directly into San Diego airport.
I elected to take the former option which enabled me to use my husband’s hard earned frequent flier miles. My best buddy Hannah, freedive instructor and holiday companion, chose the latter as it was the cheapest option without using air-miles at her time of booking.
As it turns out, having left the UK only an hour apart, we actually arrived in San Diego at around the same time – although Hannah had time to pick up the hire car and come and collect me from the train station.
You do need a car. You’re in America!
Arrival: brain off
Los Angeles’ (LAX) airport is not the most exciting in the world (Copenhagen airport is – but that’s another story). When you arrive I suggest you switch your brain off before you are subjected to the long queue of human beings trying desperately to get admitted into the country. Preserve your sanity I say. Don’t even try to imagine getting out within three hours and certainly don’t pre-book onward journey tickets. This will just create stress.
Keep a loose schedule and, if you arrive in LAX around 14:00, be prepared not to get to San Diego before midnight. That way you can simply kick back and enjoy the journey. You will be riding the train in the dark so won’t see any of the famous coastal views, but don’t fret; you can see it all on the way home. For now, simply conserve your energy (the travelling does begin to hurt a bit at this point) and observe the locals. They are well worth your attention!
Like many travellers visiting San Diego, Hannah and I originally planned to stay close to the beach and city. However, we discovered that simply by moving away from the coast into the suburbs, we could stay in a luxurious two-bed, self-catering hotel apartment for vastly reduced rates!
We therefore transported ourselves and our belongings to the Residence Inn San Diego Scripps Poway. Once there, we found crisp sheets, high pressure showers, fully fitted kitchen, dining and living area, and a flat screen TV each. Couple this with complimentary breakfast and weekday dinners, laundry room, gym, Jacuzzi, pool, and the most helpful staff you’ve ever met and we were in heaven.
Driving the distance
Now, you may think that by placing ourselves so far outside of the city, we missed out. But, trust me. In a city the size of San Diego you quickly find yourself electing to hop in the car and drive everywhere anyway, just like the Americans themselves. Additionally, staying in the Poway district meant we were half an hour closer to the deserts, mountains and forests. In the end therefore, we probably spent less time in the car than if we had stayed in the city.
Driving around California is, in fact, a joy in itself and a few road trips should be built into every visitor’s itinerary. I never ceased to be amazed by the roadside vegetation. During April and May, the verges are simply slathered in deliciously scented herbs, terrifyingly robust cacti, and flowers that claim their chosen colour with absolute pride. Wind down your window and breathe in the fennel as the aloes bristle hugely and the swathes of planted flowers practically slap you in the face as they scream: ‘pink’, ‘crimson’, ‘orange’, ‘yellow’! And that’s before you get close to the wilderness, where the even more stunning indigenous flora is just waiting to hide a rattle snake from you.
There is so much to do and explore in San Diego and its surrounds you will need to be clever with your planning.
Make it your Mission
Situated between the Atlantic shore and Mission Bay, the Mission Beach peninsula is an obvious must see. You can chose to walk, run, roller skate, skateboard, bike or even Segway down the boardwalk and eggs Benedict for breakfast in the Green Flash restaurant is glorious.
Make sure you also take the opportunity to watch the pelicans glide in formation like strings of pearls above your head – we were informed by a local that the birds we saw were actually Cormorants, but to Hannah and I the idea that they were Pelicans seemed far more romantic, so we stuck with it!
Under and over the ocean waves
Despite what the Americans consider to be cold waters, San Diego has some of the best diving on the West coast and both La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores are top dive spots. Most days at the Shores you can join a river of people sporting masks, flippers and scuba tanks, to wend your way across the sand to the surf, before disappearing under the waves. Most will be aiming for the underwater canyon just offshore.
As a non-diver, I enjoy sitting watching my freedive friends kit up in the car park and walk out among the scuba folk. Unhindered by air tanks they draw a great deal of attention. Hannah in particular, looks stunning in her made-to-measure wetsuit and has the confidence to gracefully stroll straight into the water, swim out and dive down deep like a dolphin. Sadly, there isn’t a single insurance company willing to cover non-resident freedive instructors to teach in the US, so she is unable to pass on her skills and experience. The local spear fishermen are worse off in my opinion and may never learn how to duck dive efficiently.
Although I don’t dive, I do love to kayak and looked forward to exploring the famous caves along the La Jolla coast. However, all the hire kayaks seem to be sit-on-tops and, having never paddled this type before, I spent the first morning simply watching others being rolled over into the surf. It wasn’t until the following day that we realised the ocean had already begun its struggle against the tail winds from the tornadoes which were sweeping through Middle America at the time.
News of the windswept death and destruction being suffered by so many in other parts of the country rapidly swamped out the joyous coverage of Princess Catherine’s Royal Wedding. Against this dark backdrop, the Santa Ana winds also began to sweep across California, bringing sweltering temperatures close to 38 degrees C (100 degrees F) and ocean turbulence that put paid to any further thoughts of either diving or sea kayaking.
Our attention was therefore drawn inland to the city and the countryside.