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Trip Report: A happy (and carless) week in San Deigo

Trip Report: A happy (and carless) week in San Deigo

Old Jan 13th, 2011, 02:52 PM
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Join Date: Jul 2009
Posts: 112
Trip Report: A happy (and carless) week in San Deigo

Firstly, thank you to everyone who has given me advice and suggestions with various trips that I have considered and taken. Secondly, I want to apologize for the diminishing quality of my notes as the trip report progresses. I’ll do my best to recreate the trip here.
I begin this trip report in LA’s Union Station, Tuesday January 4th. While it was not the beginning of my vacation, it was the beginning of the part of my vacation which didn’t involve crashing on someone’s couch or eating in my family’s kitchen. For the week that this will detail, I was completely on my own.

Union Station is a little haphazard in its layout, but I manage to find the Amtrak section, scan my barcode, take my ticket and get in line for the 11:10 AM Pacific Surfliner to San Diego (cost: $31.00). I follow the horde of people to the track, and board to find that the train is relatively full, although I find a two-seater for myself and my luggage. As per instructions I had received here and from my aunt, I sat on the right side of the train (facing the direction of motion). For the first 90 minutes, there wasn’t a big distinction and I thought perhaps I had been misinformed (in fact, the snow-capped mountains are easier to see from the left side). But around 12:40 PM, we reached the coast.

There are rarely more than one row of buildings between you and the ocean for much of the coastal portion of the trip (often not even that) and so the expanse of the Pacific just stretches out before you. It is a breathtakingly lovely forty minutes of scenery; if I ever take the trip again, I think I will try to time it so that I reach the Pacific right before the sun begins to set….

The weather in San Diego, as I step off the train and admire my surroundings, feels a perfect 65 F. I got a little lost and twisted around, thanks to well-meant but unhelpful directions, however, getting to American Plaza Trolley Station is actually as simple to find as simply walking through the station, crossing the street and entering the building diagonally rightwards in front of me. I opted to buy a one day pass for $5.00, intending to tour San Diego a little bit via mass transit, but as soon as I board the trolley I realize that San Diego is much smaller and more walkable than I imagined, so I chalk up the extra $2.50 as a loss and enjoy the sights as we go.

I find the hostel quite easily. I am staying at the Hostelling International Hostel in the Gaslamp District, located roughly at the corner of Market and 5th (entrance on Market). The lobby is narrow but welcoming, and after a short confusion with my bill, everything is settled, I pay the $132 it will cost to stay there Tuesday through Saturday nights, and head to my room. The elevator up to the third floor is decorated in newspaper pages and feels a teeny bit sketchy –but then the door opens up on a well-lit, brightly colored, friendly hallway with helpful signs, and I know then that the hostel will be a wonderful place to stay for the week. I have opted to save money and sleep in a 10-person room, but not all of the beds are filled. I drop my stuff, make the bed and head out to explore.

I love the vibe of the Gaslamp. A block and a half from the hostel, while walking down 5th Avenue, I encounter Yogurt Escape: a self-serve frozen yogurt place that sells a swirl of pomegranate-raspberry and vanilla frozen yogurt. At 39c an ounce, I fill the container with as much as I want, roughly equivalent to a large anywhere else, maybe…. I pay less than $4. Now I really love the vibe of the Gaslamp district.

While strolling, I see a bunch of canvassers. They comment on my yogurt, and before I know it, I have been standing there, chatting with them for more than an hour. I decide to be virtuous and donate $12 to Save the Children. Then I stroll around some more.

I stop in at a Payless, drawn in by the sign of a sale though I know full well that I can find Payless on the East Coast as well. I am seduced by a cute pair of flats and a pair of beaded flip-flops. As I stand in line to pay, I am suddenly struck with the feeling of power and happiness that comes from getting to spend my days exactly as I wish to- train travel, frozen yogurt, new shoes, new people, city walks- and resolve to seek that feeling out for the remainder of my break. It will actually get harder and harder as I go along, both as I begin to guilt myself into playing tourist and also as I get more and more impatient to return to school, my life and my routine. But at that moment, I was certainly among the happier people of the world.

I continue to walk around, getting a feel for the neighborhood until about 5:30, when I suddenly realize that I’m hungry. I try to tell myself that I shouldn’t be, since I had frozen yogurt only a few hours before, but I figure I’m on vacation, and I’ll eat when I get hungry. I toy with the idea of buying from Subway because it’s cheap, but I decide to take myself out on a date, treat myself to dinner. As I walk past the row of restaurants, pan-seared salmon with garlic mashed potatoes catches my eye. Moments later, I am seated, watching the people pass by as I sip pink lemonade, waiting for my salmon to arrive from the chef’s at Henry’s Pub (5th Ave, two restaurants up from the corner of Market St.)

The salmon is quite good- a little bit more peppery that I anticipated, but not overcooked. The accompanying vegetables are tasty, the garlic mashed potatoes are incredibly creamy, the tarter sauce was tasty and the portion was generous, but not too much for one person. Total Bill: $20.21, not including the tip for my friendly waitress. To complete the date, I end up at an over-priced movie theater to see The Social Network (which I didn’t realize was still playing anywhere), but it was exactly what was needed to complete the evening. I quite enjoyed the movie, which left much food for thought, and returned to my hostel invigorated with the day. I met my roommates and went to sleep thinking eagerly of the free pancakes that awaited me the next morning.

(to be continued below)
Hannah_reads_for_fun is offline  
Old Jan 13th, 2011, 07:28 PM
Join Date: Aug 2005
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Great start...looking forward to reading more!
kansasmom is offline  
Old Jan 13th, 2011, 09:54 PM
Join Date: May 2003
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Love your report so far - I'm also looking forward to more.
Carrabella is offline  
Old Jan 14th, 2011, 03:12 PM
Join Date: Feb 2009
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What a great start! And thank you for breaking it up in paragraphs, makes it easier to read.
Dayenu is offline  
Old Jan 14th, 2011, 06:32 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,107
Great beginning! I too look forward to more, and to boot it's particularly useful to me as I like travelling just the same way (no car, so I love the public transit/walking info and there's almost nothing I enjoy more than a train ride and this one you describe, with the ocean so close, sounds like a real beauty of a ride!).

Thank you so much for sharing this! Daniel
Daniel_Williams is online now  
Old Jan 15th, 2011, 06:54 AM
Join Date: Sep 2009
Posts: 584
Hannah writes for fun, too.
I'll be waiting to hear in your words what " guilt myself into playing tourist " means.
Hopefully, during your visit there was a break in the crazy weather we were having. They are predicting 80's along the coast today...
f i n a l l y some SoCal weather.
You're a fun read Hannah- thanks for sharing!
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Old Jan 15th, 2011, 07:53 PM
Join Date: Aug 2005
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Hope you did have nice weather while you were there. We were just in San Diego between Xmas and New Year's, and there was a day of rain and temps each day in the mid-50s or so -- not what I was hoping for. Still a great place to visit though and we enjoyed it very much!!!
kansasmom is offline  
Old Jan 18th, 2011, 05:19 AM
Join Date: Oct 2010
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Glad to hear that you had such a great time..... Thanks for sharing lovely trip report...........
daneryland is offline  
Old Jan 18th, 2011, 05:53 AM
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 2,627

This is a enjoyable read thru the eyes of someone without a car. Please carry on with your report.

Thank you.

SandyBrit is offline  
Old Jan 25th, 2011, 06:36 PM
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Join Date: Jul 2009
Posts: 112
Sorry for the long delay between posts! The semester has started off with a huge wave of work…

I woke up Wednesday morning and walked down the hall to the kitchen for breakfast. There were plenty of really interesting people to talk to of a wide variety of ages. The kitchen itself was clean and colorful with lots of room for eating. The staff prepares the batter, and leaves batter, a spatula and oil next to the cooking surface, as well as setting out breads, jellies and butter. (There’s a fridge available for guests if you want to buy milk or snacks; otherwise, there’s free hot water, coffee, tea and hot cocoa) You enter the kitchen, walk past the computers available for public use (codes available for purchase at the front desk for $1 for 12 minutes, $5 for 60 minutes; wireless for your own computer is free) and help yourself to the utensils and silverware, pour yourself pancake batter and wait for it to cook, then sit down and eat with whomever you want. Afterwards, you do your own dishes. It’s very civilized and friendly; very little makes a day start off as good as fresh pancakes do…

I had been planning on visiting the Zoo’s new Animal Park, since I’d heard good things about it—but Wednesday morning it suddenly dawned up me that it is difficult to access by public transit, being rather from from downtown, and that the tour which might have made it possible to go didn’t operate on Wednesday. I was a little disappointed, but I opted to go back to the zoo and walk around there. After all, it’s been a long time since I’ve visited a zoo….. I did toy with going to Seaworld instead, but decided against it in the end.

I walked a few blocks and caught the 7 towards the zoo. Make sure you have quarters on you—the buses don’t give change, and $2.25 per ride adds up! The bus ride was longer than I’d guessed (glad I didn’t try walking!) but easy- they announce the stop name at each stop. I was a little disoriented when I got off the bus, because I had anticipated being on the same side of the street as the zoo, but once I figured out that I needed to cross, I got my mental map all straightened out. I had bought my entrance ticket already, seeing as the hostel front desk sells discount tickets, so I walked right in.

I began at the koalas, and started to work my way around; although the zoo is teeming with animals, it wasn’t until my camera battery began to die that I put it away and was struck by the incredible variety and beauty of the natural world.

Around 11:30, after a full morning of walking around, I broke
for lunch—and realized that I’d forgotten to bring some with me, as my family is accustomed to doing when we visit parks. I ate the veggie burger at Sydney’s--- don’t. Aside from being overpriced ($9.02 for a veggie burger and fries?), which I’d expected, it was also absolutely terrible, but being a hungry vegetarian at the zoo hadn’t presented many options….

After lunch, I took the guided bus tour (included with admission), and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it! Leslie really knew what she was talking about and it was nice to be able to sit and take in more of the zoo. Afterwards, I went back to find the monkeys and the tigers, browsed the gift shops (I love seeing the kitschy things that some people buy), and then left to go back to the hostel around 4:30 PM. The 7 comes every 15 minutes, and once again, I had no problems.

On my way back, I saw RA Sushi while walking, decided to indulge. I ordered two rolls as take-out; it took a while, but at $12, it felt fair. I also grabbed an Iced Tea from the 7-11 across the street. (Not only did I stay in an international hostel, but I had sushi and iced tea for dinner….)

After eating dinner in the hostel kitchen, I noticed that my phone wouldn’t turn on. Nothing like a little technology failure while on vacation…. But luckily, there was a Verizon store pretty close by. However, by the time it was settled and I’d set up my new phone to my liking, it was bedtime.
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Old Jan 25th, 2011, 07:21 PM
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I meant to wake up early Thursday morning, but that didn’t happen. I ended up taking a Very Brisk 20 minute walk to the pier to go whale-watching (3 ½ hour tour with Hornblower Cruises; $32 after $2 coupon, although the same discount is available to AAA members) because I needed an ocean fix. I’d never been whale-watching before on the West Coast, and in retrospect, I think I’ve been spoiled by East Coast whales, since Humpbacks easier to see than California Grays because their spout is larger, their backs are easier to spot in the water, their tail fluke is pretty big and they get a little closer to the boats….. but still, I had such a lovely morning.

We saw a number of whales as they migrated to Mexico, and I got some much-needed thinking space on the ocean. The water was lovely and the sky was a gorgeous blue. I saw people board the ship in winter coats, which at first seemed very extreme, but as we returned to the pier I found myself shivering a little and my fingers felt a little stiff, though I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and a sweatshirt. It was the Pacific in January, after all.

Back on land, four or so blocks from the pier (and the train station) was a small, unassuming café on the corner of Broadway and India (whose name I forgot to write down). I had a sandwich of battered cod and a very small cup of tomato soup for $9.50, including tax. Neither was outstanding, but both were what I was in the mood for and quite acceptable.

From there, I began my allotted tasks: First, to buy a ticket for Saturday night’s performance of West Side Story at the San Diego Civic Center, then to the Post Office to mail back some books and shoes and other things that really weren’t going to fit in my suitcase. Luckily, both were within walking distance. Actually, I’d expected to be sort of limited in what could be done in San Diego without a car, but I found that if I was willing to walk 20 minutes in any direction (and ride the 7) I wasn’t really hindered at all, which was nice to know.

I had planned to go up to Balboa Park and walk around there Thursday afternoon, but I wasn’t feeling museum-y, and darn it if I wasn’t going to do what I wanted on my vacation. I ended up going back to the hostel, curling up on a couch and began immersing myself in Middlemarch.

I didn’t get nearly as immersed as I’d planned to be, but that’s because I was drawn into conversation with a few of my fellow guests, and before I knew it, it was dinner time. The hostel has Thursday Night Spaghetti Nights, and although they request a $5 donation/person, they didn’t limit it to people who paid. Spaghetti, meat sauce, bread etc.—nothing fancy, but a really enjoyable way to eat cheaply and socialize easily.

After dinner, I went downstairs to the lobby, as the hostel had acquired 10 free tickets to that night’s performance at the San Diego Symphony, and I couldn’t imagine anything better for the evening. It was *phenomenal*. They began by doing a brief, informative (and funny) historical impersonation of Richard Strauss, including pointing out various themes in the piece they would play that night. Then after they’d educated us and entertained us, they played for us. I had the best time. A free hour of fantastic music? Sign me up, always. Heck, I'd recommend going to see them even if you do have to pay for it

After the concert, I ended up in the Ghirardelli Store (along 5th Ave), having an ice cream milkshake and a really great conversation with one of the fellow hostellers/ concert goers. By 11 PM, though, it was really bedtime, so we walked back to the hostel and I promptly fell asleep.
Hannah_reads_for_fun is offline  
Old Jan 25th, 2011, 08:07 PM
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Posts: 112
I just realized that every post thus far has ended with some variant of “It was bedtime”, and that strikes me as a wonderful description of vacation

Friday brought with it lovely blue (if slightly nippy) skies and another opportunity for tourism, which I again abandoned in favor of curling up with Middlemarch. Although I had every intention of going outside for hours to read, I was once again drawn into conversation with another guest, and when it was done, I decided what I wanted more than anything (despite the incredibly lazy morning) was a short nap.

After I woke up, I left the hostel to look for food, and realized that there was a Pizza place right across the street (on Market). I don’t know why this didn’t impress itself on my memory before that, because I had delicious pizza. $3.75 bought me the best slice of thin-crust pizza I’ve had in recent memory, as well as two garlic knots.

After I ate, I decided to stroll a little bit more in the Gaslamp Quarter (including a quick stop for dessert at my favorite frozen yogurt place). I found a small store along Broadway somewhere which was selling accessories for 99 c, and I went in and browsed for a while. I mention this only because I eventually picked up a pair of mock-peacock feather earrings, which I really can’t understand how I’ve lived without for so long I wish I remembered more precisely where it was, but I think part of the fun in any new city is strolling around and finding those boutique-y places for oneself.

After my food and jewelry purchases, I returned to the hostel to take a shower and prepare myself for Sabbath. I was really fortunate to have picked a hostel only three blocks from the San Diego Chabad (something I hadn’t realized when I booked) and since I felt so comfortable walking in the Gaslamp at all hours, I decided to attend services Friday Night and Saturday Morning both. The walk to the Chabad building is very easy: you walk down fifth for a few blocks, and the entrance to the building is on Island, at the intersection of Island and Third.

[In case it’s relevant to anyone, I’m going to summarize my experiences, but I’d be happy to talk about them more in depth later….. Although the Rabbi’s wife was sick and wasn’t able to host me for Shabbat Dinner, there ended up being a wonderful family who were also visiting San Diego who offered me the opportunity to eat with them. Everything really worked out fantastically. Saturday Morning, though at first there weren’t many women, by the time lunch came around (a hot lunch, provided once a month for the Chabad participants. What fortune, to have picked the week with the free communal lunch!) there were quite a number. Each person I met there was genuinely excited to meet all of the guests, and it was a great introduction to the practical side of Chabad’s work.]

After services, a handful of us went on a walk to Marina Park, past the Convention Center where all of my roommates were learning how to be a librarian (which is a neat building to see on its own right) and past dozens of hotels. It was nice to just stroll and talk, to look at the boats and see how people in the area use it as their very own outdoor gym.

Afterwards, we completed the loop by walking through Seaport Village. We ended the Sabbath with services back at Chabad, exchanged emails and phone numbers and I set off to the hostel to get my ticket for that night’s performance of West Side Story.

I had a seat in row E of the Upper Loge, and I loved it. I felt on top of the stage, able to see much of the actor’s faces, although the right of the stage was a little bit cut off. No worries. I had a delightful time (although I’d completely forgotten how sad the ending is) ; the Shark’s portion of the opening number was particularly spectacular, and although the mikes sometimes started to squeak loudly, most of the time the sound was just right. The theater, too, is beautiful (interior chandelier!) and they let you eat in the theater, which meant that I got to sit there and people watch while eating some Vienna Fingers (purchased right before the show at Rite-Aid) during intermission. Over all, I’d say I did pretty well for “culture” that week.
After the show, I returned to the hostel for my last night of sleep.

I woke up to perfect blue skies and somehow got everything I’d brought with me packed into my suitcase (from now on, if I can’t fit it all haphazardly into my suitcase, I’m not taking it) and ate breakfast. I ended up eating with a charming Swede who was also on his way back to the airport; rather than both hauling all of our stuff onto the bus, we decided to split a taxi ($12 fare from the hostel + tip) to San Diego Airport. We left around 10:35 AM, and I had no problem making my 12:05 PM flight.

The airport was easy to navigate (but wow was the Southwest baggage line long), went through the full body scanner, and sat in the airport reading –you guessed it- Middlemarch before my flight. We were about twenty minutes delayed taking off, but the pilot made up for it flying somewhere over the Midwest. After what felt like forever, we landed at BWI, then waited even longer for our bags. At that point, it was almost 9 PM. Thankfully, my best friend arrived shortly after, transporting me back to the land of homework and collegiate activities.

Over all, I had a great time. I think if I were to do it again, I would get myself a map of San Diego and plot out what was near to what, since I definitely did a lot of duplicate walking. The weather could have been warmer, but seeing as my fingers didn’t freeze off while walking at night (though I can’t even really remember what that feels like anymore), I’m not complaining.
Again, I’m sorry that I’ve posted this in such a haphazard way, but I hope it will be helpful to others! Thanks to everyone for your great suggestions!
Hannah_reads_for_fun is offline  
Old Jan 25th, 2011, 11:34 PM
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 3,293
A thoroughly enjoyable report. Thanks very much. Loved Middlemarch, but it does take some concentration to get into it!
annetti is offline  
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