From the Mountains to the Ocean

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

After a late night in Orange County, Dan and I spent our last morning in California sleeping in a bit. Once we managed to get up and ready, we were off to spend a day with his uncle, aunt, and cousin Lauren. We all piled into their huge, lifted truck and took off towards the mountains.

About an hour's drive east of San Diego is an old mountain town called Julian. This humble town began back during the gold rush of the 1800's. Several old buildings still stand, like the original jail, and those plus new western-style buildings line the main street full of shops, sweets, and apple pie. And by full of apple pie, I mean seriously. Every window had a sign for apple pie. We had the best lunch at a local restaurant (but no apple pie) and I bought a huge bag of chocolate covered peanuts at a candy store.

Dan's aunt asked me if there was anything I wanted to see while we were there and hadn't had a chance to see. I mentioned that we'd wanted to watch the sun set in Laguna but didn't want to wait two hours to do so. She immediately went to his uncle and said, "She wants to see the sun set over the ocean! Can we make it!?" It was 4:50; sunset was at 5:50. We were an hour away, and would hit rush hour traffic... but it was immediately their goal.

Because of rush hour we did get stuck behind some slower drivers and didn't get to see the sun slip behind the waves, but we did get there in time to see the beautiful colors and enjoy one last night walking along the beach. It was a perfect ending to our wonderful trip.

Driving the 101

Monday, March 11, 2013

I still have to finish sharing all of our California adventures! Bear with me... we were only there for two more days! And while the first four days of our trip were scheduled, pre-planned and tour guided around, our last two days were very laid back and go-with-the-flow.

Dan had been speaking with a developer friend of his that he has worked on projects with for years who just happens to live in Orange County. We decided that after nearly six years of them communicating online, it was time for them to meet face-to-face. We got up early, rented a car online, packed a backpack, and headed out the door.

Let me admit right off hand... what happened next was completely my fault. When we arrived at Avis our rental confirmation didn't exist. Guess what day I had booked our car for? Friday! Whoops! Dan was so mad and I tried not to laugh at my silly mistake, and I was genuinely sorry, but why get all upset over something that can be fixed? Ohh, that's right... fees! Whoops! Eventually Dan talked his way through customer service (on the phone? because the agent at the desk couldn't change pre-paid rentals?) and managed to get our reservation changed, without the fee. Yes! We were off!

Dan hopped in the driver's seat of our little Chevy Cruze and I played navigator, and I immediately navigated us all the way west to the ocean. We hit the El Camino Real and headed north, the ocean by our side the whole way up. The views were breathtaking... popping over a hill could reveal these beautiful sights again and again.

We passed through Del Mar, Solana Beach, and Encintas before popping over a hill and revealing a beach we couldn't resist stopping for. With temperatures around 67˚ and a light breeze it was a bit chilly, but there were volleyball players, joggers, and sunbathers on the beach anyway. We were fascinated that the beach was covered in round, smooth stones with not a shell in sight.

After a little exploring we were back in the car and on our way north again. We passed through Carlsbad and came to Oceanside, where Dan saw a sign for a pier. We parked and walked a few blocks to the pier, where I'm pretty sure I've been before. (It's totally possible that this was the pier I ate lunch on back in 2005 during my first visit to California; the Ruby's restaurant at the end of the pier is what brought me to this realization, but I could be totally wrong. There's no way to ever know.) The water was a bit too cold for me, but surfers were out in large numbers anyway.

 Oh really, fortune cookie?
We had to hop on the highway to go through Camp Pendleton, a huge Marine base that takes up a 20-mile stretch of beach and separates San Diego County and Orange County. The untouched desert through the base was just beautiful and perfect. Afterwards it was right back to the 101 and ocean towns. You could already tell the difference between the two counties; the homes in OC were larger and more proud, taking up every inch of oceanfront or cliff space. I can't imagine living in one of those homes!

We pulled over again in South Laguna to explore the beach there. The water was so blue! The sand was so soft! And there were whales! Humpback whales could be seen surfacing about 100 yards out, incredibly close to two kayakers who quickly headed out of their way. We both called our parents to brag and catch them up on our trip as we walked along the beach.

We arrived at an outcropping of rocks that people were climbing all over and I couldn't resist. A man with a clipboard approached us to tell us that the tidepools in the rocks were a nature reserve and if we had any questions we could ask him. The pools were full of clams, sea urchins, minnows, crabs, and one huge red starfish. I was so excited.

We wandered into the main part of Laguna Beach and shopped a bit, then headed up through the canyon to Irvine to meet Austin. Along with his girlfriend and another developer Dan knew, we all headed to their favorite taco place for dinner, followed by a search for their favorite midget Elvis impersonator. (Sadly, we never found him.) We stayed late for drinks and then I sleepily drove highway 5 back down to San Diego. I regrettably didn't take a single picture while we were with our new friends, but we definitely have a lot of great memories.

Old Town San Diego

Saturday, March 9, 2013

I love history; I love learning the history of a place and I'm fascinated to see what has been preserved. When we pulled into a parking lot at Old Town last Wednesday, I hadn't really been sure where we were headed that day.

From Old Town's website:
Old Town San Diego is considered the "birthplace" of California. San Diego is the site of the first permanent Spanish settlement in California. It was here in 1769, that Father Junipero Serra came to establish the very first mission in a chain of 21 missions that were to be the cornerstone of California’s colonization. Father Serra’s mission and Presidio were built on a hillside overlooking what is currently known as Old Town San Diego. At the base of the hill in 1820’s, a small Mexican community of adobe buildings was formed and by 1835 had attained the status of El Pueblo de San Diego. In 1846, a U.S. Navy Lieutenant and a Marine Lieutenant, raised the American flag in the Old Town San Diego Plaza.
This little historical village reminded me a lot of Williamsburg, Virginia. (Just Spanish instead of English.) There were old buildings that had been restored to their original look and some that were actually original. Many little shops sold Mexican souvenirs and we had the best Mexican lunch outside in a little plaza. I can see myself revisiting Old Town on future trips to San Diego, even if only for the food!

The San Diego Zoo

Friday, March 8, 2013

We spent our Tuesday in San Diego at the San Diego Zoo. More animals! I learned so much about the history of the zoo and the different animals from Bill, who volunteers there.

We rushed to the panda exhibit before noon; the baby is only out to see until then, and we didn't want to miss! The pandas are on loan from China and the zoo actually pays an exorbitant amount of money to "rent" them each year. Crazy!

When we walked through "Cat Canyon" we had quite the scare. While looking into the mountain lion exhibit I made the mistake of making eye contact with one of them... he started stealthily walking towards me like he was hunting me. Creeped me out. When he heard G-ma's walker he started her direction; she said that they're attracted to strollers and must have thought that's what she was pushing. He stood by the fence for a while and stared us down, then spat at us while smacking the cage! I was so sure in that moment that this would be one of those cases where the animal comes through their fence and kills onlookers. But we lived to see another day.

I ignored my fear of heights and rode on the SkyFari. I'd been on similar lifts at Disney World when I was young, so I just told myself that. I won't even get on a ferris wheel... but somehow I survived this.

This is Janey the orangutan. She was raised by humans for the first 15 years of her life and loves human interaction. If you have a purse she will point and want to see inside. You can sift through and show her different items; if you have lipstick she pokes her lips out! I feel sad that she's in there with others of her own kind now instead of living the domesticated life she had grown accustomed to, but she seems to be doing pretty well. You can watch Janey and the other orangutans on the zoo's Ape Cam.

Point Loma

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Our day out exploring the coast really was a long one! After finishing up our adventuring in La Jolla, we were starving for some In & Out burgers. Delish!

Our final stop of the day was at Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma, a peninsula that wraps around the island of Coronado from downtown. We visited the monument, the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, and watched military ships navigate in and out of the bay. We had a great view of downtown San Diego and Mexico. I wanted to watch the sun set but it was getting chilly and we were all exhausted. I'm pretty sure I was falling asleep on the couch while we were up talking before bed!

I know I've written a whole bunch about this specific day, but we got in so much sightseeing it was too much to share in one post. I promise I'll talk about different Cali adventures in the coming days!

La Jolla & the San Diego Coast, part II

After visiting the bluffs near the Cave Store and seeing the seals down below, I was surprised that there was a part of the beach where you could get much closer! Just a little ways south was Scripps Park and La Jolla Cove. I wandered around on big rocks filled with tide pools full of sea life, especially hermit crabs. Dan and I have an inside joke about hermit crabs, and I'll leave it at that, but I was very entertained. There were also several tunnels and caves to explore, guarded by huge pelicans.

South of Scripps Park is an area that was created for kids to swim in called the Children's Pool. Because the wall that was put up to protect the beach did such a great job of creating a calm beach, the seals and sea lions made themselves right at home. Now the wall is an observation walkway, and kids can't play on the beach. You could walk down on the beach, but because the seals and their babies were present they had it roped off so you couldn't get too close.