A Southern California Adventure  Map

This was a combined "business & pleasure" trip, as Celeste needed to be there for a technical conference at the San Diego Convention Center and I came along because I spent my first year in the Navy there (boot camp & Radioman "A" School) so naturally I was interested in visiting those places once more.

We flew into San Diego and took a taxi to our hotel. We did not plan to obtain a rental car until the next weekend, as we planned to restrict ourselves to those places we could get to by walking. In fact, we had selected the Homewood Suites by Hilton due to it's location near the harbor, close proximity to Balboa Park (and the zoo), adjacent to the Little Italy area, and reasonably near to the old Naval Training Center site. An added plus was that the San Diego Metro System was only a block away, so Celeste would be able to ride the Metro or take a taxi to the Convention Center each day.
For a fascinating look at the earliest days of San Diego & California, read the history of Saint Junípero Serra y Ferrer. He founded 21 Catholic Missions from San Diego to San Francisco, starting this process in 1768 at the age of 55.

NOTE: Click here to view the Wikipedia Article about San Diego.

Fun and/or Interesting facts about San Diego
  • The first ever drive-thru restaurant, Oscar’s, opened in San Diego in 1951. The restaurant owner later went on to found Jack in the Box.
  • The largest oceanographic museum in the USA is within the borders of San Diego. It’s the Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
  • The San Diego Zoo, located in Balboa Park, houses over 3,700 animals and more than 650 species. The zoo is one of the few zoos in the world that successfully breeds the giant panda.
  • San Diego produces more avocados than any other city in California.

Where to stay in San Diego
Homewood Suites by Hilton San Diego/Bayside

There is always a rise in hotel prices in most U.S. Cities when a major convention is taking place, and San Diego was no exception. We wanted to be near the harbor, and secondarily I wanted to be within hiking distance of the old Naval Training Center.

While planning this trip, we had decided upon the Homewood Suites by Hilton San Diego/Bayside. This was an easy decision, first because we have a lot of good experiences with Homewood Suites and secondly because it fit our requirements perfectly, ie; one block from the nearest Starbucks, two blocks from Little Italy (where numerous good restaurants can be found), one block from the Harbor and a 3.2 mile hike to the old Naval Training Center grounds. The fact that the hotel was relatively new was icing on the cake, as the rooms & facilities were good sized & very clean.

This particular hotel is a new concept that Hilton is trying - part of the hotel is a Homewood Suites with true suite setup and the other part of the hotel is a Hilton Garden Inn with standard hotel rooms. The hotel offers a small pool & fitness area, a complimentary breakfast and a small pub/restaurant.

While plotting our San Diego adventures, we discovered that Balboa Park & the San Diego Zoo were but a 2.1 mile hike from our Hotel - and since both of those sites were on our "to do list" that became our first outing.

With the hotel located on Hawthorne Street, our hike started with a stroll to 1st Avenue where we turned north to Laurel Street, then turned east (right) again and walked into Balboa Park over the Cabrillo Bridge.
NOTE: Both of these images are the property of Hilton Hotels

Balboa Park along El Prado   Map
Entering Balboa Park via Cabrillo Bridge

As I described previously, we entered via Laurel Street which brings you into the park on it's western side. The Cabrillo Bridge vista is very pretty, and there are large public park areas on both sides of the road - including a large dog park (Nate's Point Dog Park) on the southern side of the road.
The park is 1,200 acres in size, and in addition to open space areas, natural vegetation zones, green belts, gardens, and walking paths, it contains museums, several theaters, and the San Diego Zoo. There are also many recreational facilities and several gift shops and restaurants within the boundaries of the park.

Placed in reserve in 1835, the park's site is one of the oldest in the United States dedicated to public recreational use. Balboa Park is managed and maintained by the Parks and Recreation Department of the City of San Diego.
Laurel Street turns into El Prado once you walk into the Park entrance on Sixth Avenue. This is an interesting way to get to the Zoo, because you will walk through the Museums area, several restaurants and various other places of interest.

San Diego Zoo   Map

The Zoo houses more than 3,500 animals of more than 650 species and subspecies. Its parent organization, San Diego Zoo Global, is one of the largest zoological membership associations in the world, with more than 250,000 member households and 130,000 child memberships, representing more than a half million people.

The Zoo was a pioneer in the concept of open-air, cageless exhibits that re-create natural animal habitats. It is one of the few zoos in the world that houses, and successfully bred the giant panda, although the pandas have recently been repatriated to China. In 2013, the zoo added a new Australian Outback exhibit, providing an updated Australian animal experience. Another new exhibit, called Africa Rocks, opened in 2017.

San Diego Bay Area   Map

All of the above images were taken as we explored the Harbor Boulevard area from the hotel south to the Tuna Harbor Park - directly opposite the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum. The Fish Market Restaurant is located at the western edge (bay side) of the peninsula. We wound up having dinner there, and were glad we did.

For those of you who have visited Sarasota, FL - yes the Unconditional Surrender Statue in Sarasota is part of the Seward Johnson series. You too can own one, prices start at $542,500 for styrofoam, $980,000 for aluminum, and $1,140,000 for bronze. And just for the record, the Sarasota Statue was installed in 2005 and the San Diego Statue was installed in 2007.

Liberty Station   Map
Naval Training Center Site

I described earlier on this page how one of the "hotel selection criteria" was to be within walking distance of the Training Center site. It turns out that I picked perhaps "not the best day" of the week to hike over there from the hotel, as the high that day reached 90 degrees! What made the hike much easier, is that there are two parks along the way; "Cancer Survivors Park" and "Spanish Landing Park East" and both parks have frequent water fountains and rest rooms. I otherwise might have abandoned the hike and called an Uber to get back to the hotel, as the 90 degree day made it a sweaty walk!

One of the very few "Navy things" that remain on the old Naval Training Center Site is the USS Recruit, a cement & steel replica of a (a 2/3 scale model of a Dealey-class destroyer escort) WW2 era ship. New Recruits were brought here to learn various skills and to become familiar with what "port & starboard" meant. The rest of the site (over 550 acres) was acquired by the city of San Diego (through a master lease agreement) and is now a multi-purpose area. The site is now called "Liberty Station".

For anyone interested in the history of the Naval Training Center San Diego, a good decade by decade timeline can found here. The short version is that the base was authorized in 1921, took two years to construct and the opening ceremy took place on June 1, 1923. The base was included in the "Base Realignment and Closure Act" base closings announced on July 5, 1991. The city of San Diego began public discussions in 1996 to determine what the future of the base should be - and the result was "Liberty Station" as described above.

Aliso Viejo California Area   Map
Aliso Viejo Homewood Suites

Part of the reason for visiting this area, was that we were on the way back from visiting some very good friends of mine in Manhattan Beach, CA. I had made arrangements to visit them once the technical conference concluded in San Diego, so on Friday morning we checked out of the hotel and drove north to the Los Angeles area. Although it was great to see old friends once again, I have to admit that the Los Angeles traffic is just as bad as it was when I lived there!
We had reservations at the Aliso Viejo Homewood Suites (another very comfortable hotel Mr. Hilton !) because it was adjacent to an area full of restaurants and 6.6 miles from Laguna Beach where we planned on doing some hiking and some nostalgia exploring.
So even though this hotel was very comfortable, it really just became a place for us to spend the night, as we had a lot of things we wanted to see and do while we were in this area.
NOTE: Both of these images are the property of Hilton Hotels

Crystal Cove State Park   Map

Crystal Cove State Park is located 2.8 miles north of Laguna Beach on the Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1). The hiking area is on the right side of the highway, and the beach area can be entered just a 1/2 mile further north on the left side of the highway. There is a good sized public parking area on the beach side, but the hiking side has limited parking - so you have to arrive early if you want to park there.

The hiking area of the park is 2,400 acres with a total of 17 different hiking trails that branch off of 3 centralized routes, and visitors are allowed to use them for hiking as well as cycling and horseback riding. The “Perimeter of the Park” trail rises to over 1,000 feet above sea level from the parking lot at 35 feet above sea level.

Our plan was to trek the "moderate loop trail" because at 2.85 miles and a rise from 35 feet above sea level to 550 feet above sea level we could enjoy the hike and not expend an entire day's worth of energy there! The rise in elevation was indeed moderate but continous, and we enjoyed the scenic views of the surrounding area as well as the Pacific Ocean.

We initially thought that we could just walk down from the hiking parking area and cross the highway to reach the beach. Nope, no way to cross over. So we went back and got the car and drove 1/2 mile to the beach area parking lot. As you can see in the above images, the walk down to the beach is very steep but California thoughtfully provides a stout hand-rail all the way down.

Beach Access from the Parking Lot

Remember above where I described getting to the beach as "steep"? I do not know what this elevation is and admittedly the walk is only perhaps 100 yards long, but the descent is continuous and the hand-railing is very useful!

I could not locate any information regarding the height of the parking lot above the beach, but it had to have been perhaps 200 feet or so above sea level. This is the kind of beach that makes people want to visit California; edged by cliffs, beautiful view out over the Pacific Ocean and the occasional pile of rocks along the water's edge.

Laguna Beach   Map

After our hike and beach exploration, we felt that we had earned a snack or maybe even an early lunch. Since our game plan was to next explore Laguna Beach, we decided to lookup where we might get a coffee and a light lunch and we found the Blk Dot Coffee Shop. This was a great choice, the owner himself brought our food to our table and everything we had was excellent. When I decided to file a Trip Advisor review of this nice shop, I discovered that they did not yet have an entry, so I created one for them and sent them a message to let them know of what I did.

Laguna Beach is a small city, the population estimate in 2017 was 23,174. As the city is located right on the shores of the Pacific Ocean with the coastal hills rising away from the shoreline, most homes are built either on the sides of the hills or on top of them. There are a number of artist businesses along Laguna Canyon Road, where the famous "Sawdust Art Festival" is held.

Our return route to Aliso Viejo required us to transit Laguna Canyon Road to El Toro Road, where we could return to the hotel. Our return flight to Florida was early Sunday morning, requiring us to depart Aliso Viejo very early so we could return the rental car and get checked in with United Airlines.

Some Useful Links
Suggested Further Reading for Southern California

California has a wide range of geographic diversity; deserts, mountains, miles of beaches, coastal hills, several very large cities and lets not forget that the agriculture industry is very large, ie; California grows over 200 different crops, some grown nowhere else in the nation. Crops include grapes, almonds, strawberries, oranges and walnuts.

The State changes culturally as you move north from the Mexico Border to northern California. It would be impossible to suggest that any single book could help you understand what California is all about, however some of these books will help you understand what California is comprised of, and how it came to be like it is today.

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