Excited to be in San Diego, a new city for us, we strategically plotted how best to spend our limited time. With actual set reservations beginning on the 28th, we would only get to dip our metaphorical toes into all that San Diego has to offer. Plus, we desperately needed to do laundry so cracked that out at the hotel on our first morning.
After laundry and an indulgent brunch at the Original Pancake House (the veggie omelet and German pancake that Trey and I split could have easily fed four), we drove to La Jolla and strolled the upscale beachside community while awaiting 2:30 pm kayaking reservations. We were thrilled at the prospect of kayaking through an ecological reserve, alongside sea cliffs, and venturing into sea caves. As we walked the shoreline we noticed the ocean’s choppy waters and high waves, so headed to the kayak rental shop early. Yes, all tours were canceled for the day and, based on the marine forecast, they’d probably be canceled for the remaining week.
Plan B on the fly… we drove back to the hotel for our bikes and headed to Mission Bay’s Ocean Front Walk, a six-mile bustling stretch of concrete chock-full of walkers, joggers, skaters, and bicyclists.
With condos stacked on one side and the vast Pacific spread out on the other, this ride was another memorable one.
We peddled south to the path’s end and then north to it’s other end, stopping atop a seaside cliff to rest and enjoy the scenes below.
We struck up a conversation with a lovely woman who was originally from Rome but had lived in San Diego for going on twenty years. As her baby played around us, she offered suggestions for dinner and traveling into Mexico, which we had been contemplating.
One of our favorite aspects about traveling and living in we-will-figure-it-out mode is all the people that temporarily, and seemingly magically, enter our lives through shared moments. Strangers with perfect timing, uplifting the present with smiles, kindness, and guidance that always nudges us in the right direction.
This time, that guidance landed us in Old Town San Diego for an amazing Mexican dinner.
Darkness and fatigue prevented us from exploring Old Town as we would have liked, but we now know it’s worth revisiting.
A “Toe” in Tijuana
Having never visited Mexico, and being oh so close, we thought we’d make a quick walk across the border to look around and say we’d been there… you know, like our quick detour into Omaha so we can now say we’ve been to Nebraska. We’d already traveled in and out of Canada easily enough, and this was an opportunity to check another North American country off our list.
The next morning, and following the Italian woman’s advice on how to get to the border, we drove back to Old Town and caught the green-line trolley into downtown San Diego where we switched to the blue-line that delivered us, spot-on, at the border.
From the San Ysidro station the walk across the border is so quick and easy that I only realized we had traversed realities when buff, camo-wearing, AK-47 wielding Mexican soldiers began dotting the walkway. We moved swiftly with the crowd (because lingering to take in the moment didn’t seem prudent) until the bridge’s ramp deposited us into Tijuana.
[Sorry, no photos from Mexico, I think we wanted to avoid attention.]
Crowds, colors, eager taxi drivers, pharmacies, and street vendors overwhelmed our senses as we wandered, but kept in close proximity to the border. After about twenty minutes we were satisfied we’d been there long enough to legitimately state “we’ve been to Mexico.”
Earlier, we had noticed an exceedingly long line of people waiting to cross into the United States, and I assumed that the line for U.S. citizens must be close by and much shorter. Yes, that’s how naive we were. We were in Mexico; there’s no special express lines for Americans. We had no business venturing into Tijuana with that level of inexperience, and our proverbial “toe” became an all-day folly.
We were the only gringos standing in line, and that’s “gringo” in its fullest sense. There was one other obvious American, a 30-something guy who weirdly and suddenly appeared behind us, but he seemed to know what he was doing.
Four hours passed as we inched forward, evaded offers of “quick rides” across the border, and tried to appear less gringo-ish in our manner. Once inside the Customs House, the line divided and snaked through eight separate mazes toward an actual U.S. customs agent that would soon wave us through to home. Or so we hoped. The first two lines we were in closed just as we neared the customs booth. Forces seemed to be conspiring against us.
It was early evening before we re-boarded the blue-line trolley. Our departure from San Ysidro station was then delayed by a driver shift change and we watched as two other trolley’s pulled in and back out before we finally rolled northward.
Darkness was ascending by the time we returned to the hotel. The day, and our plans to visit the zoo and Balboa Park, were blown. Lesson learned.
San Diego Zoo
The next day’s drive over the Santa Rosa Mountains was to take two hours, allowing us time to first check out San Diego’s famous zoo.
Unlike our experience at the Toronto Zoo, the San Diego Zoo was full of happy, curious animals with a healthy, joyful vibe.
We explored every section of its 100 acres, including via the Skyfari Aerial Tram that provides bird-eye views of the animals.
The Reptile House is entrancing, and we spent a much of our time awestruck by all the snakes.
We were also amazed at the variety and vivid hues of their birds.
The gorgeous day made for both happy animals and tourists, and these tourists loved the playful orangutans, adorable pandas, colorful birds, and big cats.
The zoo is part of Balboa Park… 1,200 acres just northeast of downtown that also includes multiple museums, hike and bike trails, and large swaths of green spaces. We would have loved to have ridden our bikes through the park, but that would have cut short our time with the animals.
Next visit to San Diego we’ll know to forgo ventures into Tijuana.
Note: We have since visited Mexico on two occasions, exploring the jungles and Mayan ruins of the Yucatan Peninsula and enjoying white sand beaches along the Riviera Mayan. We fell in love with Mexico… its beauty, people, culture, and food!
Drive to Rancho Mirage…
Soon after leaving San Diego, we made our fourth (and last) official left turn on this six-month trek around the United States.