I know I complain about the weather a lot in Syracuse, but according to my very scientific internet research, we actually only get, on average, 63 sunny days, and 98 partially sunny days per year. We have 161 total days per year without any sun. If you are not from this part of the country, picture your gloomiest, cloudiest, greyest day. That’s our “normal” weather.
The many benefits of living in Upstate NY outweigh this one crappy downside (I’ll write a post this summer just about all the amazing things I love about Syracuse and the surrounding area), but in order to compensate for the downside I have only come across a few things that help me from spiraling into total despair during the long winter: Vitamin D supplements, lots of outdoor time (no matter what the weather), hot yoga, and traveling! It’s essential for my mental health to travel to sunny places throughout the long winter (October through April).
Florida is an obvious choice from the east coast but that can get old. So this year for April break I thought about taking myself and the kids to sunny Southern California. I also had some Alaska Airlines miles and an Alaska Airlines companion pass to use, and they fly primarily to the west coast. Out of all the potential West Coast destinations to travel to in April, San Diego promised the most sun and warm weather. I had been to California before but never San Diego, and it had been on my bucket list for years. Unfortunately, my husband could not join us because of his teaching schedule (but he is actually going to go to San Diego with friends for a conference in a few months).
The kids and I had a 7 am flight out of Newark on Saturday morning. We got in the car right after school and drove down to NJ. Unfortunately the drive was very rainy and so took longer than expected. We got to the airport Hampton Inn around 9pm and went right to sleep. In the morning we took an Uber to the airport since there were at least 40 people waiting for the shuttle which would only fit maybe 12 (but at least this was covered due to my Amex platinum Uber credit). The airport was insanely busy due to it being spring break, however we got on our flight on time and took off to San Francisco. At SFO we only had about 45 minutes to quickly eat something and get on our next flight to San Diego. That was a quick flight and pretty soon we were in sunny San Diego getting our rental car. We drove over to our quirky Airbnb and checked in. The space was a former art gallery and decorated very artsy. It was also bright and sunny and had plenty of space and amenities for us to feel comfortable.
We decided to walk around the neighborhood we were in, North Park, and we stopped at Target to get some supplies and then Hammond’s ice cream which was awesome. North Park is one of those neighborhoods that became gentrified and “hipsterized” recently. In fact it shows up on the “Where is Williamsburg” app (google it – it’s pretty funny) as ground zero for San Diego. The good thing about this is there were a lot of great little restaurants for us to try, right outside our door. We had dinner at a taco restaurant, Lucha Libre, which was decorated with luchador and Ron Burgundy memorabilia.
The next day we were up early due to the time change so we got in the rental car and drove out to Coronado Island. The beach there was beautiful and the kids ran around and we took pictures. We got to see and walk around the famous Hotel del Coronado. After that we drove down to Imperial Beach which my friend who grew up in SD had recommended and walked out to the end of the pier for some fish and chips at the Tin Fish. It was so beautiful to see the ocean and the houses lining the shore.
Next we drove over to the Barrio Logan neighborhood and Chicano Park. My friend also told me about this and a great little coffee shop (Por Vida), where we got some awesome iced coffee and then walked over to the park, which is under the Coronado bridge. There is a community garden and the pillars holding up the bridge are all painted in these amazing murals inspired by Mexican-American culture and history. We took some pictures of the murals and then headed home to rest for a bit.
Later that day we drove over to Old Town San Diego. This is part historical site, part tourist-trap but overall pretty fun to walk around. There are lots of Mexican themed shops and restaurants and a historic section with old-timey shops and exhibits. Since we went later in the day we were only able to visit a few places before they closed; the Sheriff’s museum and the historic Whaley House. The kids had a blast playing around in the Sherriff’s museum where they could go in an old cruiser, a helicopter, a jail cell, and more. The Whaley House was one of the first houses in San Diego and my son had heard it is one of the most haunted houses in the country. We didn’t see any ghosts but it was fun to tour the house and hear a bit more about the history. After that we walked around a bit more and had some Mexican food for dinner. Later I was able to meet a friend of mine from college who recently relocated to the area.
The next day we had a delicious breakfast at a very cool place called Breakfast Republic near our Airbnb, and then we hit the zoo! The San Diego zoo is truly the most incredible zoo I have ever been to. It is like the “Disney World” of zoos. The exhibits are just so well constructed with great attention to detail. Plus they have over 5,000 animals! The kids and I looked at the zoo map that morning and decided we would try to conquer the entire thing. And we did! We made it through every single exhibit and had minimal meltdowns along the way. We did have to wait in line over an hour for lunch though, so I would recommend brining in your own food. We got there around 9:30am and left around 5, so we were pretty exhausted that evening. We went to a little sushi restaurant in our neighborhood and crashed.
The following morning we headed over to Balboa Park, which was very close to our Airbnb. This is a beautiful park that houses many of San Diego’s museums. We started by walking around the park a bit since we arrived at 9:30 and the museums don’t open until 10. Our first stop was the Museum of Man, since they had an exhibit on cannibalism and my older son had just read a book on the Donner Party. They had some other cool exhibits but many were under construction and they also had some school field trips visiting so we left after about an hour and headed over to the automotive museum, which my car-obsessed son had been waiting for. This one was a real treat to see some classic cars and motorcycles from all decades in mint condition. My son was so happy to just look around and read about the cars.
Since our Airbnb was so close we headed back home for lunch, and afterwards returned to do the Science Center and Natural History Museum, both of which we got into for free with our local Science Center membership (they have reciprocal admission). The science center did not “wow” us, as it had some of the same exhibits that we have seen at many other ones, but we loved the Natural History museum. We especially liked the exhibit called “Unshelved” where they are displaying items that they usually keep in storage.
Once we were museum-ed out, we drove downtown and walked around the gaslamp quarter, and then went over the Petco park to see a Padres game! We first had a snack of some Carne Asada fries at Lolita’s, next to the ballpark) since one of my friends had recommended that. The stadium was really nice and we had pretty good seats. The boys were super excited and we stayed until the 8th inning ended, once it was clear that the Padres were going to lose.
On our fifth day, we went to a gourmet donut shop for breakfast and “fueled up” for a trip out to La Jolla. First we drove to Torrey Pines State Reserve, which is a gorgeous natural reserve on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. We took a hike out to one of the bluffs and took pictures of all the breathtaking views and cool desert plants and flowers. My older son and I wanted to hike down to the beach but my younger son had had enough. so we left to get some lunch.
The boys had been wanting to try “In and Out Burger” since they had heard about it as being a California “must.” I have never been there myself and was always curious, so we actually drove about 20 minutes south to get to the closest one. The burgers and fries were pretty good, although I learned later I should have ordered “animal style” (secret menu) where they fry the onions in mustard. Next time!
After this we drove back up to La Jolla cove to see the seals and sea lions. This was absolutely one of the highlights of the trip (if somewhat stinky!). They were so cool just lounging around on the rocks near the beach and we even saw a young sea lion walk around (poor guy had a fish hook stuck in his mouth). We stayed there for a while watching them and then we headed up the coast to the Birch Aquarium. This is a small but lovely aquarium with a gorgeous outside patio with a touch tank overlooking the ocean.
After the aquarium we drove up the coast a little more to the town of Solana Beach where we were meeting some of my travel hacking internet friends for a meet-up! It was so much fun to meet them and their kids over pizza and beer. We had a blast.
The next day was our last and we were determined to hit everything that was still on our list. We woke up super early and went back to the fancy donut place for Montreal-style (wood fired) bagels, and then drove inland about 45 minutes to the Safari Park, which is a whole different place also run by the San Diego Zoo. This one is equally well done but has a tram going through an open area for some of the animals to roam, and other exhibits that are a bit more open. It actually got pretty hot mid-day since we were further from the ocean, so we decided to leave and head back to San Diego. We wanted to check out the USS Midway so we went and toured that famous Aircraft Carrier.
Then we drove over to Point Loma to see Cabrillo National Monument. The views of the bay and city were incredible and it was cool to see the historic lighthouse.
After that we met up with a few of our travel friends in the hippie/surfer town of Ocean Beach, where they live, and had dinner at an awesome burger place called Hodad’s. Finally we walked over to the famous “Sunset Cliffs” area to watch the sun go down as our final activity in SD. It was very beautiful (there were actually two couples taking wedding photos) and we felt satisfied that we had wrung so many fun activities out of our trip.
The next morning we woke up super early to make our 6:30am flight. Fortunately they had a nice lounge at the San Diego airport for us to eat breakfast, and we had a direct flight back to Newark. We were so pleased with our flights on Alaska. Everything took off early or on time and the flight attendants were great. I would definitely fly them again. And we were supper happy with our trip! We got to see many fun sites, saw thousands of animals, met up with friends old and new, ate great food, and soaked in that amazing Southern California sunshine. Mission accomplished!!!