Back to California: The San Diego Obsession

Back to California: The San Diego Obsession

Contrary to popular belief… I am not moving to San Diego, as much as I may wish otherwise. After my annual pilgrimage to America’s Finest City last month, I reflected once again on why I fall more in love with California living each time I visit.

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There are some very obvious advantages: Near constant sunshine, + 25 ºC weather in February, an abundance of delicious Mexican food (mmm… fish tacos!), palm trees and beaches as far as the eye can see… I could go on and on.

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I love the laid back lifestyle and I love that after six visits, I am still discovering (and re-discovering) favourite places, eateries, and activities.

Balboa Park

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I can’t believe that it’s taken me this long to finally explore Balboa Park. If you want to get technical, I did visit the famous San Diego Zoo back in 2009 which is located in the area of Balboa Park. But, I have never spent time touring the park itself, which is gigantic and lovely. I could have easily spent the entire day marveling at the Spanish architecture, watching street performers, and admiring the manicured gardens. I’m already itching to return.

Pacific Beach Boardwalk

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There is something so lovely about returning to the same familiar spot year after year. My best friend Jennie just so happens to live in Pacific Beach, and the first thing we do every time I visit is take a walk down to the PB Boardwalk. This area is quintessential California. You’ve got surfers, roller skaters, cyclists, and everyone from retirees to families on vacation. I love the endless beach, the waves crashing on the outstretched pier, the palm tree lined sidewalks… This never gets old.

La Jolla

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No trip to San Diego would be complete without brunch and a stroll along the cliffs in La Jolla. There’s always a new place to sample or an angle that I haven’t photographed yet (although that seems impossible!). There’s just something soothing and revitalizing about this seaside community that instantly relaxes me. These are the moments that I store up and savour to keep me going long after I’ve returned home.

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 Do you have a favourite state?

Do you ever return to the same place again and again?

 

 

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Vitamin D Days in San Diego

Vitamin D Days in San Diego

I am quite fond of Southern California and have made it an annual winter retreat since my best friend Jennie took up residence back in 2012. The older I get, the more I enjoy returning to places that I love. San Diego is one of these places. I love the laid-back atmosphere, the abundance of delicious Mexican food, and of course the gorgeous beaches. It’s so fun returning to familiar neighbourhoods and at the same time knowing that there is still so much to explore.

My latest long weekend getaway was filled with rejuvenating beach walks in the sun, delicious meals at local hot spots, and a ferry ride to one of my favourite islands. My time in San Diego is never quite long enough but I know that I’ll be back again soon.

Palm Tree lined streets on the way to Jennie's apartment

Palm Tree lined streets on the way to Jennie’s apartment

Beautiful walk along Pacific Beach

Beautiful walk along Pacific Beach

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Gaslamp Quarter: The Historic Heart of San Diego

Gaslamp Quarter: The Historic Heart of San Diego

The view of the San Diego skyline from Coronado Island

The view of the San Diego skyline from Coronado Island

Cute shops and restaurants at the Ferry Landing on Coronado

Cute shops and restaurants at the Ferry Landing on Coronado

Trip Journal: A Whirlwind Weekend in San Francisco!

Trip Journal: A Whirlwind Weekend in San Francisco!

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my last trip (okay – my only trip) to San Francisco in August 2008. I’m thinking about heading back before the end of the year so I thought it might be the perfect opportunity to revisit a place that steals so many hearts around the world.

I definitely wouldn’t call myself an expert when it comes to the city by the bay – but I do know how to jam pack a lot of activity into a weekend getaway. And, that’s exactly what I did when I decided to take my mom on a mother/daughter birthday trip. Don’t go handing out daughter of the year awards just yet (unless you feel compelled of course)… I really just wanted an excuse to go away and to see the Full House in person ;)

FRIDAY

I found us some insanely cheap flights (If I remember correctly, we both flew round trip for less than $100) on Allegiant Air departing from Bellingham, WA direct to San Fran. I am going to take a gamble and say that 75% of the flyers out of that airport are actually Canadian because it saves us SO much money. We arrived in the late afternoon and took the easy and convenient BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) from the airport straight downtown to our swanky hotel in the financial district. At the time I was working at a travel agency and scored us a really good rate. So why not stay at the 4 star Hyatt Regency?

Now that's what I call a lobby!!

Now that’s what I call a lobby!!

After checking in, we set off to find the oldest restaurant in San Francisco, the Tadich Grill! First started during the Gold Rush in 1849, this restaurant mainly known for its seafood (mmm…) is one of the city’s top restaurants. We agree!

Tadich Grill

We wrapped up our first night with an evening walk along the Embarcadero to get some lovely views of the Bay Bridge. I wasn’t quite prepared for August in San Francisco… the weather is crazy! Among major U.S. cities, San Francisco has the coldest daily mean, maximum, and minimum temperatures for June, July, and August… not exactly the California heat I was expecting. During the summer, rising hot air in California’s interior valleys creates a low pressure area that draws winds from the North Pacific High through the Golden Gate, which creates the city’s famous fog. A popular quote (incorrectly attributed to Mark Twain) explains it well. “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” I couldn’t agree more… whoever you are.

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Brr… I can’t feel my toes…

SATURDAY

We woke up bright and early Saturday morning after a restful night on our Grand Hyatt beds and set off to explore the city with a bus tour of the very unique neighbourhoods. I think we saw nine in total but some of our favourites (or the ones I can remember) were China Town, Nob Hill, Union square, and North Beach. We made three stops during the tour… all places that you should definitely take the time to visit.

Stop #1 – Golden Gate Bridge

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Obviously I don’t need to say much about this one but I will because blog. The Golden Gate Bridge is arguably the most famous bridge in the world and heralded as one of the top ten construction achievements of the 20th Century. Other adjectives used to describe it… most beautiful, most photographed… basically you should see it and walk across it too if you have the time.

Stop #2 – Twin Peaks

The Twin Peaks are two hills near the center of the city that provide great views of San Fran and the bay area. Frankly, I was just happy to get above the fog and feel the sun on my skin. Did I mention that San Francisco is chilly in summer?

Look mom... the sky is still blue above the fog!

Look mom… the sky is still blue above the fog!

Stop #3 – The Painted Ladies

Everywhere you look, Everywhere you go...

Everywhere you look, Everywhere you go…

You will recognize these well-known Victorian houses from the opening credits of the widely popular 90s television series Full House and numerous other media programs. Built in the late 1800s, these colorful homes across from Alamo Park are also often referred to as “Postcard Row.” I waited around for a while, but it was next to impossible to get a photo without any people in it… so I ended up buying a postcard as well.

We left our bus at Pier 33 where we quickly jumped on a ferry to Alcatraz Island. I normally love ferry rides and the views were certainly beautiful, but I was not (I repeat NOT) dressed warm enough for the open air seating. I’m starting to sound like a broken record here but seriously wear lots of layers.

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We spent about two hours in total touring “The Rock” and the abandoned prison site, which also includes the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast, a military fort, and lots of wildlife. The isolated island was the perfect spot to house war prisoners and was eventually used as a federal penitentiary for 29 years. Most of the prisoners were notorious bank robbers and murderers, even housing some of the most famous criminals in history such as Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and James “Whitey” Bulger, to name a few.

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It was a very interesting trip and admittedly a bit creepy stepping inside those cells. I shutter to think about being incarcerated way out there, but I have to say, those prisoners had some prime real estate with vistas like this…

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We ended our very busy day at Pier 39, a famous shopping centre and tourist attraction located at the edge of Fisherman’s Wharf. It was a really fun spot to people watch, enjoy street entertainers, stock up on souvenirs, and grab a bite to eat. We stuck with our seafood theme and dined at the Crab House. When in San Fran…

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SUNDAY

On our last day we decided to relax a bit and basically spent the whole day shopping in Union Square and enjoying the sights and sounds of downtown.

We didn’t have time to accomplish everything on my list, like riding a cable car or taking a stroll in Golden Gate park, but I was sure I’d be back again someday. And hopefully that day is soon! The chilly temperatures won’t keep me away… I’ll just bring a warmer jacket next time.

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My Top 10 Favourite Cities

According to my Trip Advisor travel map, I’ve been to 265 cities and counting! I believe that this stat gives me a bit of credibility in listing some of my favourites thus far. I wholeheartedly recommend all of these cities and have visited half of them more than once. As always, I reserve the right to update this list whenever I like because I’m constantly visiting fabulous new destinations. But, for now at least, here are my top 10 favourite cities.

My Top 10 Favourite Cities

San Diego, California

La Jolla

I first visited San Diego on a family vacation when I was 10 years old. We did the typical touristy activities like SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo. I loved them both and even got called up on stage during two of the shows (my 15 minutes of fame). Flash forward a decade and my views have certainly changed. I may no longer support animal captivity but fortunately SD still has a plethora of amazing (cruelty free) things to do – try whale watching or surfing instead. When one of my best friends moved to the city in 2012 I was beyond excited about frequently visiting (and I have!). With blissful temperatures year-round, stunning cliffs and beaches, and amazing restaurants, San Diego is my favourite winter getaway. I could even see myself living here someday – Hello Vitamin D!

Paris, France

Paris

A wise woman once said, “Paris is always a good idea” and I couldn’t agree more. If you were to visit my apartment, one thing would quickly become apparent, and that is that J’adore Paris! I can’t possibly think of a city with more class and culture. Just imagine perusing the markets in Montmartre, strolling the grounds of les Jardins du Luxembourg, or savouring a crepe on the Champs-Élysées. An exemplary model of urban planning, this world-class city has so many unique neighbourhoods to explore. Not to mention being home to some of the world’s most famous sights; L’arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Le Louvre, and La Tour Eifel, to name a few. Now if only I could remember my 8 years of French lessons…

Rome, Italy

Rome

Ah Roma… a textbook example of why you sometimes need to revisit a city to truly appreciate it. Ten years after my first visit, I went back to the eternal city to discover what I had missed back in my teenage years. Yes, I remembered that the monuments were impressive and that the gelato was tasty but I couldn’t seem to understand what the fuss was all about. Well, let me tell you – Rome is simply magical. The entire city is like an open air museum with rich history spanning more than 2,500 years and amazing architecture around every corner. You could easily spend years in Rome and still not discover it all. I’ve thrown my coin in the Trevi Fountain twice and I’m sure I’ll be back again!

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik

My inaugural trip to the pearl of the Adriatic was almost ruined by a missed train and a spiral of lost connections. Fortunately, I pushed passed the roadblocks with the lovely premonition that I was about to fall in love. Most of the cities on this list are places that I’ve courted over several trips but Dubrovnik is my only one night stand. So, you can imagine how intoxicating a city it must be to have such power over me so quickly. Well let me tell you that one walk around the old city walls is all it took to have me spouting off grand declarations and adding Croatia to every list in my book. Dubrovnik is quite simply the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen and even though our time together was brief, it left a lasting impression on me. I hope I won’t have to call her The One that Got Away for long.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh

Edinburgh was one of the very last stops on my 8 month European backpacking adventure in 2005/2006. I arrived there feeling a bit of travel burnout and was definitely looking forward to heading home. Fortunately I arrived to perfect spring weather and a gorgeous city dripping with classic European charm. Edinburgh has a distinctly medieval feel with cobblestone streets, Gothic architecture, and a castle resting on an extinct volcano. But, it’s also a great city for young people and maybe even a place to find love… I mean if it worked for Will & Kate! I have yet to hear a negative review of this Scottish gem so if it isn’t on your bucket list yet… you know what to do.

Bogota, Colombia

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This is one that may raise some eyebrows. Bogota is a very unconventional choice and probably won’t make many top ten lists (unless you’re looking at the negative side). But, I don’t care what the critics say – I have my own opinions and my own experiences and Bogota won me over big time. It likely had a lot to do with my personal tour guide / travel agent friend who hosted and entertained me the entire 5 days, but that also proves that there is plenty to love about Colombia’s capital. The historic district La Candelaria (pictured above) has lovely Spanish Colonial and Baroque architecture with a wealth of churches and squares to fill your camera. The city has great shopping and dining options plus Monserrate, one of the most beautiful mountain top attractions I’ve ever seen – the funicular ride to the top is a must-do for all tourists. Transportation may not be super easy (although I was kind of taxi fairy) and English still isn’t widely spoken (if at all) but the effort was definitely worth it to discover the inner beauty of this very misunderstood city.

Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg

Visiting Salzburg was the realization of a childhood dream – to step into the world of Fräulein Maria and the Von Trapp children. After growing up with an obsessive passion for the Sound of Music I knew I had to do the official SOM tour when I finally made it to the famous city – and it did not disappoint. Even in the fall, the Mirabell Gardens (pictured above) with views of Hohensalzburg Castle were enchanting. The nearby palaces, abbey, and Lake District easily appeased the fan girl in me and proved that my adoration of Austria was well deserved. But, the city has even more to offer. As the birth place of Mozart, culture in the way of museums and music is at a premium and the lovely riverside hosts one of my favourite little Christmas markets in the winter. Although it is much smaller than Vienna and harder to avoid tourist groups (sorry – that was me), it is worth your time and will always hold a very special place in my heart.

Florence, Italy

Florence

Tuscany. That’s probably the only descriptive word that I need to use to explain why I love Florence so much, but this is a blog, so I will elaborate. Firenze is another city with a medieval feel. Often considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, it is so easy to get swept away with the impressive art (Michelangelo’s statue of David), gorgeous churches (Duomo and Santa Croce), and unique bridges (Ponte Vecchio). I loved exploring the winding streets and discovering epic views (see above) from the Piazzale Michelangelo. And to top it all off, Florence is where I first discovered gelato (Tiramisu flavoured nonetheless)! There’s something dreamlike about this part of the world and it’s orange roof tops – it easily makes my list.

New Orleans, Louisiana

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Welcome to Nawlins y’all! There is just something special about the South that makes me want to slow my speech and eat something fried… but maybe that’s just the Bourban talking. Joking aside, New Orleans is a truly amazing city that in many ways doesn’t even feel like part of America. With buildings dating back to the 1700s and a unique French influence, Louisiana is easily one of the most interesting of the 50 states. Known for its delicious Cajun food, amazing jazz music, beautiful colonial architecture, and the wild and crazy Mardi Gras – NOLA has something for everyone. You can party in the street all night long or step back in time on a beautiful antebellum or creole plantation. The city has faced a lot of adversity with its history of slavery and recent tragedies like the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. But, what I saw here was beautiful resilience, hope, and a whole lot of fun! Do your part to help and make New Orleans your next vacation stop.

Vancouver, BC, Canada

Vancouver

My city. My home. My happy place! The past two years of living in Vancouver have been some of the very best of my life. I still pinch myself every time I cross the Burrard Street Bridge (which is usually twice per day) because I can’t believe that this is my real life. Vancouver is by far my favourite place on earth. Wherever you look you see water or mountains or both! You can ski, golf, bike, sail and kayak– all on the same day. Not only is this city breathtakingly beautiful but it is bursting with activity, diversity, and general awesomeness (that’s a technical term)! In Vancity we know all about living well – we are clean and green. We love yoga and craft beer and playing outside all year long. If you’re not planning a visit to the magnificent Pacific Northwest – then you should be!

Honourable Mention:

My Top 5 Favourite Beaches

I decided to finally take the time to reflect on my travel past and document some of my absolute favourite finds over the past twenty-something years.

This is the first post in a new series on my travel Favourites (yes – I am Canadian, and this is how we spell favourite!)

Since it is summer, I thought it would be apropos to begin with the best beaches I’ve been blessed to sink my toes into.

 

Top 5 Favourite Beaches

 

Bai Dai Beach, Nha Trang, Vietnam

This gorgeous beach on the South China Sea had everything: White Sand, Warm Waters, and No one around. Touted as the best beach in a country with over 3000 km of coastline… it is easy to see why people love Southeast Asia.

Bai Dai Beach

Muchavista Beach, El Campello, Spain

I was incredibly lucky to spend 3 months living just a mere 5 minutes from this expansive beach north of Alicante. The entire length of the beach is lined with a boardwalk and a tram so that even getting groceries became an exciting event.

El Campello

Lanikai Beach, Kailua, Oahu

On my second trip to Oahu, I decided to do my research and find a beach, ANY BEACH, other than Waikiki. My search landed me on lovely Lanikai in the sleepy town of Kailua where public access is restricted to pedestrians only, making it the perfect island escape. It’s also made quite a few top 10 lists so this one is a no-brainer.

lanikai

Coronado Beach, San Diego, California

Whenever I go to San Diego (which is fortunately quite often) I always look forward to spending time on the island of Coronado. I can’t believe that people actually live there all the time because it is almost too lovely to be real.

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Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver, BC

No top 5 list would be complete without the place that makes me happier than any other. I live about 1 minute from the Pacific Ocean and it is a frequent stomping ground for me all year long. Vancouver has a lot of great beaches that I could include on this list (English Bay, Jericho Beach, Spanish Banks, Wreck Beach) but Kits beach is home. With breathtaking views of the North Shore mountains, Stanley Park, and the Vancouver skyline, it’s my favourite walk in the city! Our version of Venice Beach is also great for people watching, dog walking, bike riding, or playing some beach volleyball all year long.

Kits

 

What is your favourite beach?

The Happiest Place on Earth

What could possibly be better than visiting the happiest place on earth at the most wonderful time of the year?

After 15+ years since my last Disneyland adventure, I eagerly coerced my new SoCal resident, best friend into a day trip to remember!

Early on a mid-November morning we made the 75ish minute drive from San Diego to Anaheim. Upon arrival we quickly parked our car (FREE), stored our bags (FREE) and loaded up at the breakfast buffet (FREE) at our awesome hotel, the Residence Inn Anaheim Maingate, conveniently located just across the street from the park. We were off to a great start!

After the mandatory photo-stop at the entrance we quickly joined the throngs of people lining the sidelines of Main Street, U.S.A. for the filming of the Disneyland Christmas Parade special, which airs Christmas Day on ABC. It was great to see the park all decked out for the holidays, but the filming meant that the Parade was not running like normal. Sorry to burst your bubble, but Disney magic takes a lot of rehearsing, resetting, and rewinding. Instead of waiting around all day, we opted to take advantage of the minimal crowds and cross off a few of the big name attractions: Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, and the Haunted Mansion (with a spooktacular Nightmare Before Christmas dressing)!

For lunch we enjoyed a sit-down meal in New Orleans square – preparation for my upcoming trip to the Big Easy this December! The jambalaya was good, but I’m sure the real deal will taste even better.

The afternoon crowds were a bit bigger but we still managed to spot one of my childhood icons, Joey Fatone of N’Sync fame! A trip to California wouldn’t be complete without spotting at least one celebrity. We also managed to squeeze in a holiday cruise on the iconic it’s a small world ride, followed by the Storybook Canal ride where our tour operator sounded so robotic in her high-pitched Disney voice that I thought her head might explode. Kudos to all the ride operators at Disneyland for performing such a monotonous job while wearing those ridiculous fun costumes in the hot sun every day.

We capped off the day with the Matterhorn (my first time in 3 visits!) and my personal favourite Space Mountain. By 4:00pm we were ready for some adult time at the bar in Downtown Disney – something I certainly couldn’t have enjoyed 15 years ago. All in all it was an enjoyable day if not slightly less magical as an adult. The rides seemed less impressive while the attention to detail surpassed my previous recollection. November truly is a great time to visit – the weather was perfect and the crowds, totally manageable. I wish I could say that I’m dying to go back, but I think this travelista has come to appreciate a more mature way of travel. And, I hope this evolution takes me to some far off corner of the globe in the very near future.

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Sun, Sand, and Surf in San Diego

On the most depressing weekend of the year (statistically), I decided to take a quick trip to the beautiful west coast city of San Diego, CA to attempt to beat the winter blues. What I got was perfect weather, gorgeous vistas, and delicious food. I spent 3 days gallivanting around Pacific Beach, La Jolla, and Coronado and having a marvellous time! I even went on my first whale watching tour with San Diego Whale Watch where I saw 7 grey whales and a pod of dolphins. It was a bit chilly out on the water but it was a beautiful day and way more impressive to see these animals in their natural habitat instead of at neighbouring Sea World. I wish I could have extended my winter getaway, but I’m sure SD and I will meet again soon.

Pacific Beach Boardwalk

Pacific Beach Boardwalk

Palm Trees

La Jolla

La Jolla

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