Trip report--San Diego

Jun 14th, 2017, 04:11 AM
  #1  
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Trip report--San Diego

Went to San Diego recently and here's the trip report. The original suggested itinerary was posted here:

http://www.fodors.com/community/unit...-itinerary.cfm

and it was pretty much adhered to.

Day one:

Spent the day at Seaworld, a good-sized theme park attraction kind of like an aquatic Busch Gardens. They do have rides, almost all of them roller coaster or log flume types that are too jolting, but there was plenty to do regardless. Saw three shows, all worthwhile. One had dolphins and pilot whales that was showy and splashy (literally and figuratively, and believe me they’re not kidding when they say you'll get wet if you sit in the first 12 rows of seats, as the critters are trained to splash as part of their routine). Sat well back for this and let others get soaked. A second involved sea lions, an otter, and a particularly goofy human, all involved in various routines that spoofed movies and television shows. Very cute and funny, and the critters were very clever. The last featured a killer whale, and was rather more sedate but still pleasant. There were also various habitats that were most enjoyable: penguins, white whales, walruses, sharks, rays (mantas and not), flamingos, sea turtles, and various fish. The polar bears were not available, however.

Day two:

First of three days to explore the Balboa Park museums. The park itself is huge, home to about 20 museums and gardens plus various other venues. And the buildings are ornate and gorgeous, originally built in showy Spanish Colonial Revival style for an exposition/fair. It was great to walk the park grounds and see the buildings and fountains. Went first to the San Diego Museum of Man, of moderate size with anthropological/archaeological exhibits on everything from Mayan colossal stonework to beer making to Egyptian mummies to California Indians to evolution and early humanoids (including vivid casts of various pre-humans). The Mingei Museum is small and showcases folk art such as Japanese shop signs, toys, weathervanes, and string jewelry. The San Diego Art Institute space was closed for exhibit installation, but the San Diego Museum of Art more than made up for it, featuring solid work by no-name artists as well as paintings/sculpture by Dix, Barlach, Matisse, Stella, Delauney, Braque, Tanguy, De Chirico, Tintoretto, Hals, Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Veronese, Goya, Giotto, El Greco, Zurbaran, Fra Angelico, Courbet, Cassatt, O’Keeffe, and Benton. There was also a nice collection of Asian art and a decent temporary exhibit sculpture by Richard Deacon (no, not the actor who played Mel Cooley and Fred Rutherford). The small Museum of Photographic Art had a smattering of Ansel Adams and a nice collection of Colonial India photos. But perhaps the most impressive was the Timken Museum of Art, small but of very high quality with plenty of tapestries, Russian icons, and paintings by Hals, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, David, Rubens, Bruegel, Corot, Sargent, Veronese, Bierstadt, Innes, and West. They were also lithographs of the horrors of war by Goya and Bellows, with Shostakovich playing in the background.

Day three:

Could see Cabrillo National Monument from the hotel room, and miraculously it seemed to resist its frequent problems with fog. That held again today, so decided to make a visit there this morning. There's a large military cemetery leading into the park, which is high up on a peninsula west of downtown. This is where Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo became the first European to set foot on the United States West Coast, and there's a large monumental statue of him at a nice overlook spot. You can see much of San Diego from here, as well as several islands in the Pacific, plus parts of Mexico as well as mountains east of the city. There is a small exhibit telling about Cabrillo and his voyage, a lighthouse (where several rooms are furnished 1880s style), and the assistant's quarters now given over to an exhibit about Pacific lighthouses. But it's the views that make the place special. After that, decided to make the jaunt to La Jolla. First stop was the Birch Aquarium, containing plenty of tanks with marine life, mostly Pacific based. It's not as large as some aquariums, but still well worth seeing. Headed next to the Stuart Collection at UCSD. This is a large, very spread-out clutch of mostly outdoor sculpture, and given the heat, strong sun, hilliness, and long bus ride, decided to only sample a portion of it. Found the "Snake Path" (Alexis Smith), "Bear” (Tim Hawkinson), one of two "Trees" (Terry Allen), "Untitled" (a rather pedestrian drinking fountain by Michael Asher), the neon “Vices and Virtues” (Bruce Naumann), the clever window work “Read/Write/Think/Dream” (John Baldasseri), and best in show, Do Ho Suh’s “Fallen Star,” looking for all the world like Dorothy's "Wizard of Oz" house dropped on the edge of a campus building. Not bad in sum. The La Jolla Athenaeum was a modest faux adobe building with a tiny collection of art, mostly small sculpture. Also got to stroll around downtown La Jolla, a very ritzy neighborhood indeed.

Day four:

Plenty of good sightseeing downtown today. Begin at the USS Midway Museum, a huge aircraft carrier filled with planes and exhibits on shipboard life and battles (the boat is named after a major World War II sea battle). Plenty of walking (spent 2-1/2 hours here) but very informative. The Santa Fe train station is an attractive building with two domes atop and tasteful decoration inside. Visited the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art, which was given over to student work -- one by San Diego State University students and fairly forgettable, the other a fresh installation of items by students of the museum's outreach program that had a few nice nuggets (the La Jolla outpost of this museum is closed for extended renovation). Went next to the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum -- small, but featuring a nice little Chinese garden (complete with carp pond) and artifacts ranging from archaeological dig fragments to information on Chinese laundries, Chinese-American war veterans, currency, sculpture, shoes, and large items such as a bed, bridal cart, herb cabinet, and wheelbarrow. There are even models of a Chinese San Diego fishing enclave and the old historic Chinatown (located near this museum many years ago). Surprisingly interesting. Nearby is the Davis-Horton House, seen via self-guided tour. This is a New England style saltbox, furnished nicely if not in an overly flashy manner, featuring artifacts like a homemade still and two stoves in the kitchen, one gas, the other coal/wood-burning. Tasteful wallpaper and ornament as well. There was a small historic exhibit of old local newspapers in the basement. Finished up at the Maritime Museum. This is a collection of boats (some are replicas), featuring three large sailing ships, a huge passenger ferry (which saved a number of people from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake fire), two submarines (didn't go into these), and several smaller yachts, fishing boats, and sloops. All were in good shape and quite different from each other. There are also things like ship models and seafaring photos.

More to come.
bachslunch is offline  
Jun 14th, 2017, 04:46 AM
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Bachslunch, enjoying your report. We spent a week in So Cal in April. Love the area. We'll stay tuned for more.
tomarkot is offline  
Jun 14th, 2017, 06:14 AM
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Day five:

Balboa Park museums, take two, which was a mix of excellent, non-essential, and everything in between. The highlight was the Japanese Friendship Garden, a lovely, peaceful spot in two tiers with a slow winding path between. Both levels had carp ponds, the upper nice and compact, the lower more extensive with waterfalls, crossing bridges, and crossing stone walkways. There's a Japanese style house on each level, well-windowed and porched. And the landscaping was meticulous and tasteful, featuring an additional porch with several bonsai trees. A must. The San Diego Automotive Museum was modest but not bad. There were lots of motorcycles of all vintages, both US (Harley-Davidson, Indian) and British (Triumph). There are several emergency service vehicles (ambulances, fire trucks, police cars), as well as multiple years’ worth of Cadillacs and Studebakers and Italian sports cars, plus a Ford Model T, Dodge Viper, Cord, Porsche, Chevrolet, and a DeLorean straight out of "Back to the Future." The San Diego Air and Space Museum was the best such entity seen, with planes (many originals, some replicas) ranging from the Wright Brothers to today, including some from the two world wars and between, plus a couple space capsules and a replica of the Spirit of St. Louis to boot. There were lots of small model planes, engines, and videos about the history of flight. Quite good. The rest were pretty inessential. The San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum had a lot of empty space and was actually kind of a sad little place given their histories with sports teams. It had minimal information on the Padres (PCL and MLB versions), Chargers (now gone), Clippers (ditto), and a minor-league hockey team, as well as a taste of yachting, surfing, skateboarding, and a swim club. On the top floor, there's a Hall of Fame for those in sports who have some connection locally (everyone from Ted Williams to Tony Gwynn). The World Beat Center and Centro Cultural de la Raza, both housed in former storage tanks, proved to be primarily performance venues respectively for African-American and Latino music, though each have a tiny space set aside for local art. The former had paintings and sculpture depicting Black civil rights figures, while the latter’s exhibit showed border fences from around the globe. The Veterans’ Museum and Memorial Center was essentially a chapel-like auditorium with tiny exhibits showing Korean War soldiers and how Balboa Park figured in the military during the 20th century (for one, the park was formerly a military hospital site).

Day six:

Got up early to do the Frommer’s Gaslamp Quarter architecture walk, which the Davis-Horton House and Chinese Museum are part of. Most of the buildings are commercial ones from the Victorian 19th century, very ornate and interesting. Especially liked the Louis Bank Building with its heavy detail work and turrets, the Yuma Building with its ornate façade and steeple-like spires, the heavily wrought-iron covered Horton Grand Hotel, and the multi-face clock at Horton Plaza. Finished Balboa Park's museums with various less-than-stellar entries. Best was the Botanical Building and Lily Pond, a nice open slat-wood edifice filled with ferns, palms, orchids, and more. The San Diego Model Railroad Museum would likely have been more fun if I were ten years old -- or Sheldon Cooper. There were six huge, very detailed landscapes through which model trains ran, plus a limited amount of choo-choo-based paraphernalia, train cars and engines, and yet more train cars stuffed with miniature Disney film character passengers. The San Diego History Center had limited space devoted to the zoo, architect Irving Gill, Jews in San Diego, and a few miscellaneous topics (there were also a stagecoach and Model T). While okay in some ways, the San Diego Natural History Museum doesn't approach the best such spots elsewhere. There were photos of the Baja desert and seashore, a collection of skulls, several fossils (though mostly casts), and stuffed fauna from California habitats. There actually were some nicely-done exhibits at the Fleet Science Center, besides the usual kiddie hands-on scientific stuff -- sections on cells and stem cells, water and water supply, and energy (plus conservation issues for the last two of these) were interesting and thoughtfully presented. The rest proved less interesting, though. Also found the Miniature Railroad (which runs through an enclosed area carrying cars that kids can fit in), a nice enough carousel, and extensive rose gardens (mostly in bloom) and cactus gardens.
bachslunch is offline  
Jun 14th, 2017, 06:33 AM
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Wow! You've seen quite a bit! Excellent report. I plan to print it out and keep it handy for when we have guests. You know more about SD than most locals

Very nice report.

I have never been to the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum and never even knew it existed!

Did you go on the Carousel? Across from the Miniature Train. It was built in 1910 and is still operating.
https://www.balboapark.org/attractions/carousel
nanabee is offline  
Jun 14th, 2017, 09:28 AM
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Day seven:

Today was a mix of things, but mostly Old Town based. Started off, however, by heading out to Mission San Diego de Alcala. This turned out to be a peaceful spot with a church, small chapel, garden, several statues, a tile-lined fountain, and a miniature Native American hut replica. There's also a tiny museum on-site that has Native American, church, and military artifacts, historic information, and restoration information on the mission (which was nearly in ruins at one point several years ago). A sweet little place. Headed back to Old Town and began rather inauspiciously at the Junipero Serra Museum, located on a steep hill reached by a twistingly narrow road with no sidewalks running through seedy Presidio Park. Built in the 1920's to resemble a mission, it boasts a moderately nice view from the top but little else -- its tiny collection consists of a few historic artifacts (both European and Native American) and a minimal amount of historic information. Not the best, and no fun to walk to. Probably the most interesting thing to see today was the Whaley House, a two-story Greek Revival brick structure that had rooms filled with furniture and knickknacks. Most unusual were rooms given over to a general store, courtroom, and small theater. And there were three other old buildings on the grounds, one serving as the gift and admissions center. Heritage Park turned out to be a dead-end street up a hill lined with nice Victorian era homes and a synagogue (there were seven structures total, two of which one could go inside). Another of these was also in theory open to the public, a spot called the Coral Tree Tea House. But in practice, it was anything but – my request to take a look inside was met with startling hostility, capped by a shove on the shoulder by a waitress standing at the door (yes, I was unfailingly polite, and no, I have no idea why the women running the place were so shockingly rude and nasty -- never experienced such a thing before). El Campo Santo was a small but for these parts old graveyard. There are very few stone tombstones here, mostly wooden crosses without identification (though a few had a separate plate identifying the person buried there). Some were even marked off only by a simple oval on the ground traced by bricks, a few of these further containing crosses marked inside with bricks. A haunting place despite its ramshackle appearance. The Old Town State Historic Park is an open-air site studded with several replica and some original structures. Many contain shops, eateries, and little museums. Best was the Casa de Estudillo, with numerous rooms furnished in artifacts and furniture flanking a dusty courtyard dotted with plants. Turned out there was plenty of time to go to Mission Beach, loaded with honky-tonk shops, bars, and restaurants, thoroughly crowded with people on such a nice, hot day. Fun to walk.

Day eight:

Took the long bus ride out to Escondido to visit the San Diego Safari Park. This was excellent, a combination zoo, preserve, and breeding ground for animals. There are two huge habitat areas, one each for African and Asian herbivores (giraffes, wildebeest, goats, antelope, deer, rhinos, water buffalo, and wild cattle primarily -- there's tons of room for the critters to stretch out and feel as close to home as possible). Took tram tours through both, and they were excellent. There were also sizable separate enclosures for lions, elephants, gorillas, lemurs, tigers, cheetahs, and birds of all types and sizes (including flamingos and California condors), plus a home for bats and some outdoor plant holdings such as bonsai trees and epiphytes. It's hot, it's vast, and it’s great, well worth the jaunt, one of the best things experienced in the city.

Day nine:

Last day for San Diego, and spent it at the zoo. It's one of the oldest and best in the country from all reports. And it is very good, if maybe not quite as good as the Bronx Zoo. There's a narrated tram ride that runs through the park which saved a lot of walking, as the polar bears, jaguars, elephants, lions, llamas, camels, koalas, giraffes, zebras, and California condors were conspicuously out and about. Being an extremely hilly place, this was much appreciated. On foot, was able to find the pandas and sun bear (both sleeping and just visible), hippos, tigers, gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, tapirs, and monkeys, as well as Australian critters such as a red kangaroo, Tasmanian devil, parma wallaby, and brush-tailed bettong.
bachslunch is offline  
Jun 14th, 2017, 09:29 AM
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nanabee, thanks for the kind words. I actually only saw the carousel, didn't ride it.
bachslunch is offline  
Jun 14th, 2017, 09:40 AM
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Too bad! The best thing about this carousel is the gold ring . There is a gold ring dispenser, and rIders on the outside ring grab rings as the circle around. Most are silver, which you toss at the clown. The lucky one or two passengers who snag a gold (actually brass) ring get another free ride!.
I was sad when the old steam calliope gave out, but the music is fun and the animals and decorations are a good example of an early 1900's beach carousel.

You really did cover a lot of San Diego's museums. As nanabe said, I'll keep a copy of your list for inspiration on my next trip back!
lcuy is offline  
Jun 14th, 2017, 01:10 PM
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A few other things:

--did use public transportation (trolley and buses), though the hotel (Holiday Inn Express Old Town/Airport) had a shuttle which went to the zoo, Seaworld, Balboa Park, Old Town, the airport, and the Santa Fe train depot. The staff was really nice and extremely helpful, the free breakfast was good, and the shuttle proved very convenient. A piece of advice: if possible, request a room facing away from the highway that runs along one side, though fortunately those rooms do have an extra plastic soundproofing curtain which keeps the road sounds to a minimum.

--given the nice climate, it's perhaps not surprising that this city (as well as San Francisco and Los Angeles) is crawling with homeless people. They mostly keep to themselves, fortunately, and are generally not a nuisance, though they occasionally cause problems on public transportation.

--did go to a Padres baseball game, won by the home team who beat the Milwaukee Brewers 6-5 in extra innings. It was especially surprising to see practically no one in the stands at game time, though the park became about half full by about the third inning. Clearly, this is one fashionably late fandom. It also got progressively colder as the game wore on, to the point where vendors were selling hot coffee and cocoa to a most grateful fan base. The stadium is relatively new and quite nice, easy to reach via trolley.

--speaking of weather, San Diego was surprisingly chilly during this nine day stretch. Had brought a short sleeved shirt, but found myself routinely wearing a thin jacket over it. But the sun was still very potent (more so than back home) and sunscreen proved to be a must, as it proved easy to burn here.
bachslunch is offline  
Jun 14th, 2017, 03:36 PM
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Excellent trip report! I'm glad you enjoyed our city.
Barbara is online now  
Mar 31st, 2019, 04:18 AM
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Bumping to keep on site.
bachslunch is offline  
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