San Diego, California

Posted by on February 1, 2000

This is a first for this column. I’m on the road, and sending this column by computer enhanced technology. I hope you understand that that is like saying: “ I’ve just landed on the moon.”

I sort of hate to tell you all back there in Dutchess County that I’m sitting in the sun in San Diego.

But if you’re looking for a better climate in which to spend some of the winter, and get out of the cold and snow, you could do worse than Southern California.

There are several exceptional things about San Diego. It has a balanced year round climate, and very clean air. People say it’s the best in the United States. I cannot disagree. Although it is a big city, with all of the conveniences which that implies, it is easy to get around. It has the usual accoutrements: good art museums, a historic Gaslamp District, a historic Old Town, a huge Convention Center, all kinds of luxury hotels, a symphony orchestra, a variety of good restaurants and much more. (like the San Diego Chargers and the San Diego Padres)

It is a major port, so it is reminiscent of other seaside Pacific Rim cities, with the wide ocean lapping gently at the feet of the stunning contemporary downtown hotels and office buildings.

We arrived a few days ago to sun and breeze, and quickly got used to the 65 to 70 degree weather. By the way, the direct American Airlines flight from JFK Airport at 5:30 PM is a very good one. We got to San Diego at about 8:30.

I got up early the next morning to get out to the beach for a long walk. Very invigorating. I love the fact that the entire population of California seems to be out walking, jogging or biking very early in the morning. Misery loves company, I guess.

We are staying in Coronado, which is part of the City of San Diego, but separate in feeling and fact. It is largely a retirement community, and contains a large naval base. It has charming shops, excellent restaurants, a great independent bookstore, and the unique qualities of a quiet small town, within a large city. It is a peninsula, but seems like an island. It is also the home of the famous Del Coronado Hotel, one of the grand dames of that world, still going strong. (If I were planning your trip, however, I think I’d recommend the Glorietta Bay Inn, across the street: smaller, pristine, elegant.) (By the way, I’ve just discovered that the Nordstrom Shuttle comes to Coronado three times a day, to whisk you away to their wonderful department store in La Jolla, and the ride is free. What a life.)

On our first day, after the walk and a little breakfast, we started exploring the area. The Visitors Center is always a good beginning. However, an intriguing antique and decorating shop was in the way, next door, so I had to stop there first. I seem to be constitutionally unable to pass by such a shop. A few gifts later, we got the info from the Visitors Center, and were off to San Diego proper to seek out antiques and other goodies.

The best thing about any travel is the serendipity of the unexpected. After checking out a few shops in the Gaslamp district, we discovered that there was a very special one-day Print Show up in Balboa Park, with dealers from all over the West. We high-tailed it up there, and saw some absolutely fabulous works on paper. I couldn’t resist an old Japanese woodblock, which will go carefully in the bottom of the suitcase.

Back in Coronado, we’ve been exploring our options, which include a ferryboat to downtown San Diego, the Lamb’s Theatre(Local talent, doing great shows), a cheap movie theater, a huge variety of restaurants and coffee shops. (I love the coffee shops where you can sit outdoors in the sun in February.) We are both eating a lot of these California salads, and so far have avoided ice cream cones, but they are there for the asking.

If you are not in retirement mode, as we seem to be, (or even if you are) you can go hiking in the Anza-Borrego desert. We drove out there yesterday. It’s less than two hours away, into the mountains to the East.

If you go out to Borrego Springs, a true oasis in the desert, seek out a delightful inn called La Casa del Zorro. They pride themselves in being situated over an aquifer, and so they have a swimming pool and a fishpond, situated in beautifully landscaped grounds, dotted with separate casitas. We stopped for a pleasant lunch. Tres Chic.

We drove up to the desert through Julian, an old mining town, which is well worth a look around. It has been spiffed up and has antique shops, a couple of restaurants and at least two good-looking country inns.

Among our plans are a trip to San Diego on the aforementioned ferry, and a round trip on the Old Town Trolley. I know it sounds corny but it is actually an extremely easy and educational way to get an overview of the city, to check out the museums and other sights we want to return to.

We also plan to spend time at the Zoo, although I don’t think we’ll be allowed to see the baby panda yet.

Oh, and on the wild life scene, there are the whales off Point Loma. We’ll probably take a whale-watch boat trip from the excellent Birch Aquarium, part of the Scripps Institute.

Don’t think for a minute that we have failed to sample the trendy restaurants around the area. George’s at The Cove in La Jolla go tour lunch business on our first trip up there. We’ve also been to Rhinoceros here in Coronado. Both of these places have very sophisticated food, but are quite casual. It’s another California trademark, along with correct wine glasses. In fact, the whole attitude toward wine out here is fun and friendly, which is also true of the people. I used to marvel at how friendly people were in the mid-West, but these Californians are downright amazing in their helpful, friendly and interested manner. It is almost universal, and is the one of the major factors that makes life so pleasant here.

(Betsy Shequine is still trying to figure out how to be everywhere at once.)

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