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Trip Report Mostly San Diego County for Two Weeks

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Some up front info:
Dates: March 10-25, 2014
Places stayed:
3 nights, Glorietta Bay Inn, Coronado
3 nights Borrego Valley Inn, Borrego Springs
3 nights Embassy Suites, Palm Desert
3 nights Embassy Suites, Temecula
3 nights Torrey Pines Hilton, Torrey Pines

About us:
Despite many trips to central and northern CA, we had never been in southern CA except to pass through LAX. Wanted to discover a new environment. Usually prefer quiet, natural, scenic places over commercialized areas, lively nightlife and crowds. So our preferences and feelings about various areas may be quite different from other readers.

March 10-13: Glorietta Bay Inn: 4.5* Good location, clean, well kept, nice breakfast, $10/day parking
Arriving at SAN late morning, we were a bit surprised how easy it was to reach Coronado via Rt 5 or THE 5 as all roads seem to be referred to in CA. Leaving 6 inches of snow on the ground behind in NJ, it was wonderful to see and feel the thick, bright green grass at the Del. Ahh, warmth.

Glorietta Bay Inn was so comfortable and the staff seemed to go out of their way to be friendly and helpful. Our room wasn't ready with our early arrival, but we didn't care. It was just great to sit out in the sun drinking lemonade and munching cookies. Breakfasts out on the patio each morning were also a treat. Wondered why we had what looked like an upside down strainer on each table, but soon realized it was to protect food from the birds. One seagull swooped right down and grabbed a whole, unprotected pastry at the table next to us.

When we asked where/how we could get on the beach near the Del, the hotel clerk said "Well, just walk on." He couldn't believe it when we said that would be impossible in NJ without paying or having a beach badge. Took a long walk one morning until I reached the navy base property. My tax dollars at work wouldn't allow me to use the beach.

Day Two:
Visited zoo for most of day. Since DH has walking problems, we started with free (well, it was part of the $84 Sr admission for two) tram tour. Even if walking isn't a problem, I'd recommend this tour as we had a great, very informative driver who regaled us with amusing facts. Felt food/drink prices absurdly high, and we're used to NYC and DC prices. $5 for any drink. Enjoyed the zoo and particularly learning about the elephants' care. Of course, the pandas were a treat.

Day Three:
Drove out to Point Loma and Cabrillo Nat Monument. Windy, but great views back to Coronado and SD. Tide pools disappointing. Despite some recs. by fellow Fodorites, we were very glad we chose Coronado over Sunset Cliffs as it seemed much more convenient and easy to navigate.
Now our meal selections may seem totally boring, but chose to do easy walk to Brigantine's each night and take advantage of their outside patio. Great fish selections, which is what we wanted given the location. Lots more places to try next time.

March 13-16: 5* Borrego Valley Inn: Absolutely fantastic! Blended right into desert environment, spacious, clean room, private patio behind room and courtyard seating in front, excellent breakfast, friendly, helpful staff, close to park and town. www.borregovalleyinn.com

Day Four:
Before heading out of town, spent half day at Balboa Park. Could definitely picture myself visiting here often, if I lived in the area, or serving as a volunteer docent both here and at zoo. Sadly Botanical Garden was closed on Tuesday and outside flowers were just coming up. While DH waited on bench in park, I did a quick run through adjoining craft and art center with many galleries. Again, could spend more time there.
Headed east on The 8 and into Julian, which I believe is at over 4,000'. After "summer" in SD, desolate rocks along 8, we hit what we called, "Spring in NJ" in Julian. Daffodils, lilacs, azaleas and those tender, bright green leaves on trees. Had thought of staying here one night, but did take this Fodorite rec and moved on to Borrego Springs instead.

Day Five:
This is the desert! Or a desert, as we found out during our our next 6 days of exploration. Wow! The early morning light had me searching around the inn for the "perfect" shot of sun and shadows. After a hearty breakfast of frittata, yogurt parfait, assorted breads and juices, we headed to Anza Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center. Since we met many Californians who had never heard of this park, just an FYI note: The acreage of this park is about half of the entire CA state park system. It surrounds the town of Borrego Springs.

Prepared with water, hats and sunscreen, we set off on the Palm Canyon Trail, which led 1.5 miles to a Fan Palm (the only native palm in CA) oasis. DH just went a short distance before realizing that it would be too difficult for him, but I journeyed on over a fairly easy trail. Looking around at the rocks and scrubby, drab plants, I thought to myself, "WHATEVER made you want to hike in the desert?" However, the further I walked, the more absorbed and fascinated I became in what I was experiencing. No, due to the drought, we didn't encounter the masses of wild flowers, we had hoped for when making our original plans. However, when viewed closely, almost every plant had some kind of flower. Some very small or nearly the same color as the plant, but still fun to discover. The ocotillo plants amazed me the whole time. To think they can bloom and grow/drop leaves up to 6 times a year was crazy.

Since the outside atmosphere of the inn was so lovely and peaceful, we enjoyed takeout salad suppers for the three nights we were there along with our wine relaxing overlooking the courtyard. Even had a visit from the only road runner we saw on the trip while sitting there.

Day Six:
I had become addicted to desert hiking! Took off through Hellhole Canyon today. DH again did a short distance before turning back, but although we had agreed on a time I would return, I luckily and surprisingly could call him to extend my return by a half hour several times. Easy, almost flat hiking. Temps mid 80's and of course comfortably dry.

Lots of art in town, including an art show that filled Christmas Circle, the main crossroads in town and SkyArt mentioned on Day Seven. They seem to have many cultural events scattered throughout the year. So glad I didn't heed the advice to spend less time here. Hiking was great, but even if not doing that, for us anyway, it was a different environment and would be a wonderful place to just relax if we had had more time. Borrego Springs is an International Dark Sky Town, but unfortunately, there was a wonderful full moon out during our visit, so the millions of stars that I saw on photos were not visible.

To be continued:

  • Report Abuse

    I love your trip report! Very informative.

    I agree with you about staying in Coronado. I often recommend it for Fodorite's over staying in Pt. Loma, La Jolla, or Pacific Beach. But often people will question the convenience of being in Coronado (across the bridge from San Diego) vs being in San Diego. What most people don't realize is it is far easier to hit the freeways from Coronado than other areas of San Diego. For example it takes a few minutes to leave Coronado and be on the freeway while if you are in La Jolla it takes a good 10 minutes to connect with the freeway.

  • Report Abuse

    continuing.....

    March 16-19: 3* Embassy Suites, Palm Desert. Certainly not a shining star in the Embassy family. Room dark and dank; not made up one day; crowded with large groups.

    Day Seven:
    Of course we hated to leave Borrego Springs so spent morning finding and viewing amazing metal sculptures commissioned by the Avery family and called Sky Art. On their land, but public is welcome to explore. Many are of prehistoric creatures that roamed the area, but also include migrant workers tending grapes, Jeep and cross. Giant serpent in sections on both sides of road.

    Whoever gave us advice to avoid Salton Sea was correct. Just passed it by on our way to better things which we found at Shields Dates. Yum, yum. All the samples you want plus their thick date shakes. Never really a fan of dates only having had the dry, hard type that come in a rather small box, but these were delish. Also watched interesting movie there, "The Romance and Sex Life of Dates.'' Bought several pounds to bring home, contributing to my bag being overweight at the airport!

    Palm Desert didn't impress us. Stayed there because I was behind on planning and really didn't check other areas closer to Joshua Tree NP out enough. Just heard of a wonderful B&B in Twentynine Palms. Also only planned to visit the park one day, about 50 miles, but did I already say I became addicted to the desert? Went there two days and by passed the Palm Springs Tram and even Palm Springs itself. Actually the day we tried to get there, the main road in from The 15 was closed due to blowing sand.

    Day Eight:
    Off early to Joshua Tree. Besides the great trees, I was blown away by the fabulous rock formations. Could take picture after picture. One great view I took was between Joshua Trees looking up at a snow covered mt. Knew the name at the time. Lots of fun to explore. Both of us did short loop trail at Hidden Valley, which was originally used by cattle rustlers. Lots of climbers on rocks.

    Learned that the northern part of park is in Mohave Desert, therefore reason for Joshua Trees and different plants than we had seen in Anza Borrego. AB and southern part are in Colorado Desert and on Day 9, when we went there, saw the same plants, including the nifty ocotillo again.

    From high point of Keys Point, I looked down the valley at what some people were saying was smog pouring in from LA, but then realized it was blowing sand. At gas station in Twentynine Palms, DH could hardly open car door. I was feeling a bit nervous about having to drive through the sand, but it wasn't as bad as expected, but the road was closed to Palm Springs. Full moon had a definite sand-blasted look that night.

    Day Nine:
    Today we took the southern route through Cottonwood Springs to enter park. Not as many what I called "Bubble Boulders" in this section, but soon found them at Arch Rock. Great fun seeing so many imaginary creatures in the rocks formations. Great nature path, with identified plants, at Skull Rock. Both of us did 1 mile walk at Barker Dam to view a desert pond. Great reflections. Would have loved to be in park at dawn or dusk when I'm sure it's truly magical. May be planning same trip next year and will definitely stay near park to visit then.

    March 19-22: 3.5* Embassy Suites, Temecula Definitely better than previous Embassy, but reception and breakfast area both crowded with large, very loud groups; very long walk to room; breakfast station slow.

    Day Ten:
    Took wild switchbacks up, up, up on Palms to Pines Highway. Great view over valley from top. Then on to mile high Idyllwild. Mmmm, smelled like the CA areas I've always visited. Guess it was the cedars and Ponderosa Pines. Told they would normally have lots of snow on the ground at this time, but didn't have enough to plow that winter. Very worried about fire season, especially after getting so close in summer of 2012. Nice lunch at Gastrognome; quite cool eating outside.

    Down the mountain to Temecula and yuck, TRAFFIC JAMS! Any state of serenity was immediately gone.

    Day Eleven:
    Discovered Santa Rosa Ecological Plateau Preserve with wonderful walking paths and a few actual wildflowers. Poppies--have never been to CA in the spring when poppies are blooming. So pretty. Also have always loved seeing the huge Engelmann Oaks in the middle of fields and here we could walk right up to them. Did a 1.5 mile loop to Vernal Pools and then a bit more near visitor's center.

    Headed to the other side of the interstate towards winery area. Didn't know if we'd be able to eat (our late lunch) at any of them at 3:30, but found Cafe Champagne at Thornton Winery served an in between type meal. Read great reviews of Cafe, but not overly impressed, but then we only had a burger and fries for $17 and a flight of red wines, which we also didn't care for very much.

    Day Twelve:
    DH ill so he stayed at hotel while I wandered Old Town Temecula. Best place I found was a tea and spice shop (sorry no name) To go with my tea, she said I could get cookies next door at Robin's Nest Desserts. Yummy fresh (while you wait) baked chocolate chip, rosemary, pine nut cookie. Robin shares space with Chef Antoine Marengo, the owner of Parea. So impressed speaking with him and some of his friendly staff that we made a reservation for that evening. Menu consists of "Meze," Greek for separate dishes meant for sharing. We shared Brie with caramelized pears, roasted walnuts and apricot sauce served sizzling in an iron pan. Yum! Horiatiki, typical Greek salad. Melt in your mouth Beef Tenderloin, Parmesan herbed new potatoes/black truffle butter and creme fraiche served with a cherry wine reduction. Perfection! During the meal, Antoine spoke with each table about his restaurant and his desire to meet his customers preferences in what he serves. Definitely a good experience this evening.

    Oops, forgot I went out to South Coast Winery in the afternoon for wine tasting. Even though I was alone, I met up with another couple and a very personable pourer, who made it a fun tasting. As much as I disliked the reds the day before, I liked most of the whites I had here.

    March 22-25: 4.5* Torrey Pines Hilton. Nice location overlooking golf course, clean, wonderful large shower, pay for internet and parking. So glad we stayed in this quiet area rather than right in La Jolla.

    Day Thirteen:
    Started at beautiful Temecula Farmers Market. The bright colored, fresh produce was oh was wonderful to see. I try to use our local markets in the summer, but they've been closed since October at home. Where ever I travel, I love to visit markets and see the different foods that are available. How I wanted fresh asparagus (they've been delayed in NJ due to the cold spring, but are promised in a week or two) but with no way to cook them, settled for sweet strawberries and sour, at least at first, kumquats. Oh, and non-bitter red walnuts.

    Drove through Fallbrook hoping to see something avocado related, but were disappointed not to find anything. Sure we missed something there.

    On to Oceanside to discover what I felt (others in the know may disagree) was my idea of a southern CA beach town. Just had a "Yah, this is what I expected to see," moment. Walked out the Saturday crowded pier, watched the surfers (with little surf) and took in the view. A brand new restaurant, Hello Betty's, had been highly recommended by someone at the welcome center, and we weren't disappointed. Lots of fresh veggies were served with our grilled fish.

    Day Fourteen:
    After a great visit to the Temecula Farmers market, I was looking forward to the one in La Jolla, but not as good. Lots of people/traffic in town, drove in circles looking for parking spots. Figured it was a Sunday, but man at visitor center said it was quite light for a weekend. Would hate to see it busy. Beautiful walk above beach; perhaps we should have just hung out there, but headed to Scripps Aquarium, which was quite interesting and informative.

    Nice birthday dinner at George's on the Cove Terrace, which had been recommended by both friends at home and on Fodors. Received a bottle of olive oil as a birthday gift.

    Day Fifteen:
    Last day in warm, sunny CA. No rain on entire trip. Walked at Torrey Pines State Reserve. Short Guy Fleming Trail above beach very pleasant and scenic with some flowers, too. Then drove down and walked along beach beneath the towering, colorful sandstone cliffs. Once again, a peaceful place.

    Very nice early (in anticipation of 3 AM wakeup call) supper at Torrey Pines Golfers Grill.

    Day Sixteen:
    Only took 15 minutes to get to car return place near airport; everyone predicted 30 minutes. Had to wait outside gate til place opened at 4:30. Found this interesting, too. On runway, pilot said we were #3 for take off but had to wait a few minutes until the airport opened at 6:30. Have never heard that before, and I've had some early flights.

    Excellent trip. Thanks to everyone for offering suggestions.

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    clousie, really enjoyed your report. Glad you enjoyed most of your time in Southern CA. I have a feeling that San Diego Airport has reduced hours due to the fact they land and take off right over the city. John Wayne Airport has a cut-off time at night and for starting in the a.m. due to the same reasons.

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    Thanks for the good report. Guess you really like desert hiking - and good for ye.

    Myself - I don't find anything particularly inticeing about Temecula - more of a place to go trough on the way to somewhere else. It's really only built up in about the last 25 or so years./SD

    And as for Farmer's Markets - the one in Little Italy is fun with some good selection.

    If you come again - you might also try Safari Park - where I also volunteer once in a while. They have a small tram for the walking challenged - that will take you to where the
    bigger ones tour around the park. Great views of animals in larger enclosures - exhibiting more of their natural behavior.

  • Report Abuse

    Yes, we did really enjoy the desert, probably for two reasons. It was very different and much easier than the hikes we've done previously, which is important for DH.

    We would consider Safari Park on our next trip out. You are so fortunate to have wonderful places to volunteer. Enjoyed talking with avolunteer at Cabrillo, who said he also volunteers at the zoo. Keeps everyone out of trouble.

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