Supersized San Diego – part 2
- The author explores a frozen daiquiri
As I’m not keen on shopping, Hannah is only able to drag me around shops she loves, like Victoria’s Secret and Macy’s, if the day also includes a few retro outlets, art galleries and book stores. Luckily San Diego fills this brief rather easily with many of the prettiest boutiques situated in the Gaslamp Quarter, just round the corner from Horton Plaza. From there it is a relatively easy walk through the clean-cut architectural delight of the Convention Center to Seaport Village; a nest of harbour-side tourist shops.
Be warned however; what guidebooks may describe as ‘hip’, ‘historic’ or ‘quaint’ can be perceived by the spoilt British eye as slightly plastic and Disneyland-esque. It’s a great day out though, and I recommend parking somewhere close to E street and 6th Avenue, strolling your way slowly from Horton to Seaport past the gaslamps, and grabbing a rickshaw ride (expect to pay around $10 dollars a head) back to the car. I also suggest saving an hour to peruse the mildly shocking, yet marvellous wares in the three-floor Hustler Hollywood store at 929 6th Avenue. Go on – I dare you!
“Oh ma Gad! Two reel lav Barbie dawls!”
If you choose to wear a summer dress in the city, don’t be surprised when you attract the attention of a few of the (far too many) homeless and unkempt. However, if you’re anything like Hannah and I, you will accept these shout outs as compliments and realise that the situation is most likely harmless.
When it comes to females attracting male attention in general, as a woman you should know up front; if you consider yourself a 6 in the UK, you are automatically an 8 in California! Despite being surrounded by overly fit, sun-browned beauties, your accent shoots you up by at least two points and will draw men to you like flies as soon as you speak. Love this idea, or hate it, you should at the very least remain aware of it.
As a 42 year old, my favourite was the young man who spotted us sitting outside a TFI Fridays having lunch and a daiquiri big enough to drown in (less than $12 all in): “I’m 23, I have all day, and I wanna get laid. Any takers?” he yelled.
Suburban sands and boulders
The San Diegan suburbs are as mind boggling as the city – perhaps more so – and I cannot stress how much I think you should go and take a look.
The land appears to be made from ocean-polished pebbles and boulders sucked smooth by Palaeolithic giants who simply discarded them in great heaps. Fused by sand and spit these were then raised aloft to magnificent heights as the Californian plate was pushed up over geological time.
San Diegans seem to have no concerns about building on this stuff, despite the obvious susceptibility to erosion. They appear to select the very peak of each giantific boulder pile and slap onto it one or more wooden boxes with windows facing front and brick buttocks just clinging to the fragile earth behind. Entire structures are held up by pins that reach down into the crumbling cliff-face anything from a few metres to many, many, frightening metres below.
When admiring these amazing feats of human faith I must assume that the views are worth it – even if I am looking up at them from a 12 lane highway…
Two hour’s drive North-East from San Diego brings you to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. On the way you will drive to elevations averaging 1,500 m (5,000 feet) through the stunning Cuyamaca Rancho State Park Address: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, along Japatul Valley road to Julian, and up through Yaqui Pass, before exiting out into Borrego valley. I defy you not to gulp as the great vistas of the Colorado Desert are presented to you from the heights of the Anza-Borrego Mountains.
Nestled near Borrego Springs you will find the underground visitors centre. Here you can ask a park ranger to recommend the best hike for the time of year. There are many trails to choose from, so a little bit of local knowledge can ensure you get the best from a day trip. Don’t forget to take plenty of water and, if going off road, do also consider the clearance your hire car offers. The last thing you want is to scrape out the bottom of your fuel tank!
In search of wildflowers, we were recommended a route through the Galleta Meadows, past the strange and wonderful sculptures among the Ocotillo plants, before going off road to follow the Calicite Mine trail. It was an exciting drive, followed by a hugely enjoyable trek which felt like a real adventure. We were rewarded with all the wildflowers we had wished for and the discovery of a small cave full of huge honey combs hanging from a rock ceiling buzzing with bees.
- On the route to Cedar Creek Falls (photograph by the author)
Hiking to great heights
For those who love walking, there are many fabulous hikes in and around the hills close to San Diego. Don’t let the warning signs about rattle snakes and mountain lions worry you. Hannah and I were in the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve in the heart of the Poway suburbs when we saw our rattle snake but it slithered away from us as quickly as it could. And, as for mountain lions, if you ever see one I’d love to hear about it!
One of the most famous hiking trails is from Ramona to Cedar Creek Falls. As many reviews state, you begin with a relatively easy trek downhill from Ramona to the waterfall which is a honey trap for other hikers, tourists, pot-smoking teenagers, and families complete with dogs. We didn’t stay long at the falls therefore but neither would we have wanted to miss out on seeing the almost picture perfect swim hole complete with cliff jumpers, rope swing and 30 m (100 ft) waterfall. Watch out though. It’s the hike home that will get you! Expect a very steep, exposed climb. Wear good walking shoes or boots, but also take a pair of flip-flops to ford the three streams you need to cross, sun protection and more drinking water than you would expect. Trust me, you’ll need it.
Hannah and I were also lucky enough to accidentally discover the far less well known Elfin Forest trails. It was the day we went in search of inland diving. Sadly, we quickly discovered that all potable water in the State is designated as non-contact; oddly, the authorities have no issue with motorboats whizzing up and down their freshwater lakes but refuse to allow any human bodies to dip themselves in! However, we did try out sit-on-top kayaking on Lake Hodges and I can now say with authority that, when compared to sit-in kayaks, trying to paddle those things is like trying to paddle a whale – great fun all the same though. On the way home, we spotted the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve which accommodates the spectacular Escondido Creek running through a valley at the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains and some fabulous treks up to the mountainside. This place is so beautiful and pristine that I’m tempted not to encourage you to visit for fear that it might end up as busy as Cedar Creek Falls!
And the rest…
Our stay in San Diego was superb. Other fun things we did that didn’t cost the earth were to: watch a movie at the Edwards Mira Mesa IMAX cinema (~$10); try out indoor rock climbing at the Solid Rock Gym (~$13); invest in a relaxing Thai massage (~$30 for the first visit); and, investigate an Asian supermarket (free unless you buy something).
On the reasonably healthy, budget culinary front I suggest you try: the salads offered by the fast food joints – a far cry from those served up in the UK; Japanese fast food (Oh my!); and frozen yoghurt (simply heaven).
So, finally I say, “San Diego: You can afford it. Go on… Do it!”
- Escondido Creek in the Elfin Valley