If you’re looking for an easy hike in San Diego that offers drop dead gorgeous views of the glistening coastline, look no further than the Torrey Pines Hike.
I lived in San Diego for 5 years and luckily had a chance to tackle quite a few hikes around and just outside the city.
The thing is, San Diego is full of beautiful hikes and opportunities to get outside. It has fantastic weather year-round, and the city itself is full of outdoorsy people who love to get outside and tackle a new challenge on the trail.
You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place. // Miriam Adeney
I’m currently on a train in Scotland, rolling through the lush green countryside. There are deep blue-grey lochs on my left and clean white light filtering through the many windows in my car.
This is my life, or at least it has been for the past 5 years. I somehow find myself in the most beautiful places, usually by myself, or all to myself, if you frame it that way.
It’s my 28th birthday this Saturday. The past years have been a whirlwind of travel memories, some of my strongest friendships, losses, and countless new beginnings.
Last week, to my excitement, I was nominated for the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award by Amy ofGlobetrotter Guru!
How it works
The Sisterhood is a way to show appreciation of other female travel bloggers, and to connect and discover some awesome new voices in the travel blogosphere. If you’re nominated, after thanking your fellow blogger, you answer the questions they present to you. You then have the chance to nominate up to 10 other blogs and ask 10 of your own questions. Pretty cool, right?
My Questions from Amy:
1. What do you love most about Travel Blogging?
I love the freedom. Now that I’m freelancing full time, I can take off for a weekend of galavanting around the Pacific Northwest if I want. I also love sharing anecdotes and keeping friends, family, and readers up to date in the form of a story. I love to write, be free, and travel so it has turned out to be the perfect career for me so far.
2. What drawbacks are there to travel blogging that many people don’t realise?
There’s the cliche idea that travel bloggers don’t really work, they just get to go on vacation all the time, write a few articles, and take some pretty pictures. The truth is, I’ve never worked harder in my life for a job. The pay is pretty horrible and after my 20+ hours of freelancing I use most of my free time promoting my blog on social media, planning press trips, or constructing content – all of which I don’t get paid for.
Surprisingly enough, I really enjoy being a travel blogger. It’s a career that would be hard to give up, and one that requires a lot of passion to keep at it.
3. Tell me about a place have you visited with the most diverse Wildlife?
Australia is up there in terms of the diverse range of animals that can kill you, but I think my favorite animal diversity has to come from Costa Rica. Every time I would go on a hike in the forest I would come across some exotic species I had never seen up close before. And, of course, you can’t go wrong with sloths.
4. What was the most amazing Religious Site that you have ever visited?
Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and the Bayon Temple were all remarkable in Cambodia. Dragging myself out of bed in the dark morning to take a tuk-tuk to watch the sunrise over the temples was something I’m not soon to forget. Even with the hoards of tourists, there was something special and breathtaking about such ancient sites. My favorite would have to be the Bayon Temple with all of its many faces.
5. What is the best local drink you have ever had and where?
I’m going to have to keep it close to home, and say the first time I ever tried Sculpin IPA by Ballast Point when I was at college in San Diego, my craft beer world was changed.
6. What was the most amazing train journey you have ever been on and why?
To be honest I haven’t explored that much via train travel, because it tends to be more expensive than the bus in most place I’ve been. With that said, it’s hard to beat the train ride along the Southern California coast from San Diego through San Clemente and finishing in Los Angeles.
7. Tell me about the worst ‘travel scam’ or situation while travelling that you have experienced?
I’ve been fairly lucky (knock on wood) with avoiding travel scams, but there was one time in Thailand where the majority of my cash was stolen on an overnight bus while I was sleeping. Apparently, it happens all the time, especially on the buses to and from the Full Moon Party, so make sure to watch your belongings and sleep with your valuables.
8. What is your motivation behind your travel blog?
My love of travel, simple as that. I love sharing stories and perspectives with others, of course, but that’s only possible through the passion I’ve always had for discovering new cultures.
9. Where is the next place that you will visit and why?
Well, I’m touring the Pacific Northwest at the moment with my base set in Portland. I have a trip back home to California next week (and another road trip!), a trip to Montana, Idaho, and Washington in September, and I’m flying to Florida for the TBEX Conference at the end of October.
Outside of the States, my next country will most likely be Canada.
10. How can travel bloggers earn on money on the road to sustain their nomadic lifestyle?
I just started monetizing my travel blogging lifestyle so I’m still pretty new at this, but I lucked out with right away finding two stable freelance jobs that are providing me with a fairly decent part-time income at the moment.
I’m hoping in the near future to make money in more passive ways through my blog – selling photos, writing a mini-book or E-book, perhaps a few advertisements on my blog – so that I can spend more time actually writing and traveling and less time working.
In the past, I’ve always taken on a myriad of jobs to keep my travels funded, so there’s always bartending too!
The Flower Fields in Carlsbad were the last stop out of San Diego on the Pacific Coast Highway. I had been wanting to see these famous Flower Fields since I started university in La Jolla, when I would constantly see the colorful and picturesque photos on my friends’ Instagram.
The Flower Fields are made up of 50 acres of every color of Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers imaginable. These flowers are part of the buttercup family, but I don’t think I have seen them before in the wild, or at least not in this way.
Ranunculus flowers need very little water – a good thing for dry and desert-like Southern California, a place that has endured an endless drought.
The Flower Fields are only open from early March to early May, which makes the experience just feel all the more special.
I can’t think of a happier way to spend an afternoon than frolicking through a colorful garden with a view of the Pacific Ocean as the backdrop.
It was a whimsical way to say a goodbye to the place I used to live. It gave me pause to be inspired by new growth, new beginnings, and a colorful outlook.
I have two new guest posts that are now published on two awesome websites! This is super exciting as they’re my first ever guest posts. I have quite a few more coming out this summer, but if you’d like to check out these two you can find them below.
I also want to say that today has truly been phenomenal. With the recent US Supreme Court Ruling, I can only express my most sincere congrats to all of my LGBQT friends and inspirational role models. I’m glad that I was able to witness this change in my lifetime. #lovewins
A sequel, 12 things to do in San Diego: Part II is a continuation of my last post. To see my first 6 recommendations and to get an introduction to San Diego, you can view Part I here.
I originally wanted to post part II just after part I, but alas, nature took its course and I’ve been in bed with a vicious fever for the last 4 days.
Yesterday, my first day well, instead of writing I spent it making a special non-animal by-product dinner for my vegan mom, and showing my boyfriend what an intoxicating treat key lime pie is from one of our local bakeries in Santa Cruz. They were small gestures to show thanks to those two for taking care of my sickly self for the past few days.
With that said, I’m back on track, feeling much better, and most importantly ready to tackle my 7-12 recommendations for what to do in San Diego.
So, let’s get right into it.
7. Find your wild side at the San Diego Zoo & Safari Park
If you love animals, San Diego is the place to see a wide variety. At 100 acres, the huge San Diego Zoo is seen by many as the best in America, and it’s ranked as one of the top zoos in the world.
It’s not surprising when you look at the figures. There are over 650 species and more than 3,700 different animals to be found at the zoo, more than enough to keep you happy for a whole day.
My favorite exhibits would have to include the panda bear family (be prepared to wait in line to see them), and the Polar Bear Plunge. The Polar Bear Plunge allows you to see these amazing creatures in their natural habitat, swimming playfully in the water or hamming it up on the ice.
I had never seen a polar bear swim underwater before visiting the zoo, and I must say it was one of the most magical animal encounters I’ve had.
The San Diego Zoo is located in Balboa Park and is open 365 days of the year, the hours vary depending on the season.
The sister San Diego Safari Park is similar to the zoo but on a smaller scale and on the opposite side of the county up in Esconido.
We made a visit to the Safari Park because it was included in our GoCard, but if you had to choose between the two I would definitely spend my time at the zoo.
The reason I find the zoo more enticing is because it offers a greater variety of animals by far. Even still, the Safari Park does offer a different animal experience with its many safaris, and I applaud them on the fact that the enclosures were much larger for a more comfortable animal living arrangement and daily roaming.
We only did the generic Africa Tram that’s included with the admission price, which was mediocre if you include the wait time, and how far away you were from the animals. All of the other safaris cost additional to the admission price, but I think if you are willing to splurge those would be well worth it.
We saw visitors feeding giraffes on their Caravan Safari, but if you want that experience it’s going to cost you upwards of $100.
So, if you’re willing to shell out the extra bucks for these amazing experiences the Safari Park offers a little something extra, but if you just want to pay the one time admission price, the San Diego Zoo takes the cake for me. Both attractions are a great day out and worth seeing if you have the time and money.
Note: the reason I didn’t include the famous SeaWorld San Diego as one of the best places to see animals is because I don’t agree with their practices. Although zoos don’t have a perfect rap, and enclosing animals in general is a sad thing, SeaWorld takes it to the next level with cramped living conditions and mistreated marine mammals.
Whales in captivity are not a pretty sight, especially when you look underneath the surface.
It has been brought up in the news time and time again that SeaWorld doesn’t care for its animals. There are horror stories of orcas being kidnapped and sent to SeaWorld, if they elude capture they’re killed. I would recommend watching the documentary Blackfish to get more of an insight into the issue.
If you want to view some amazing marine life, I would recommend heading to the Monterey Bay Aquarium up the coast. It’s considered the best aquarium in the world and it’s only a 45 minute drive from my hometown, Santa Cruz. Double bonus.
I used to go there on school field trips and I can personally vouch that it’s an outstanding look into life under the sea.
8. Spend a day on one of the many hiking trails
Although the complete opposite to the climate I grew up with in forest-lush Northern California, desert-like San Diego is where I started to get into hiking right before I left for overseas.
It’s a different style of hiking: dusty, hot, wide expanses of multicolored earth tones for miles and miles, but I grew to love the many hikes I took around the county.
The following are some of my favorites:
Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma (Bayside Trail) – In the same vein as Torrey Pines State Reserve, the Bayside trail in Point Loma in one of the prettiest coastal hikes I’ve been on. It’s a relatively easy hike to start off on, clocking in at 2.8 miles and a mild elevation gain of 400 ft, this hike takes around 2 hours to complete.
My favorite components of the hike are the Cabrillo National Monument, which is a statue dedicated to Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who discovered California in 1542. I also loved going inside the old Point Loma Lighthouse, and looking out over the ocean after climbing the winding staircase. The constant views of the blue Pacific Ocean only added to the good vibes of this trail.
Good if you just want to get outside, feel a little bit of a sea breeze, enjoy stunning scenery, but don’t want to break a sweat.
Mount Woodson (aka Potato Chip Rock) – The hardest hike I’ve accomplished in San Diego, if only because of its steep inclines and declines. Mount Woodson is a popular hike in Poway, and shows up on many an Instagram feed for the popular picture with the rock that looks like a potato chip.
Since Poway is inland, it gets very hot and dusty on the trail and there’s little to no shade. A lot of people don’t come properly prepared, thinking they’ll just get a shot of themselves with the famous rock and not realizing that the rock is well into the steep trail.
If you are willing to put in a little sweat, the views from the top are incredible.
If you’d like to do the full hike it’s 6.4 miles roundtrip and climbs to 2,000 feet. It takes about 5 hours to complete.
Torrey Pines State Reserve (Razor Point Trail and Yucca Point Trail) – One of my favorite hikes in San Diego, and not only because it was so close to my college campus. Torrey Pines Reserve is just north of La Jolla and has two easy trails. I’ve hiked around the reserve multiple times, and it was one of my favorite places to take friends when they were visiting or looking for a new spot in San Diego.
Between the golden cliffs and the perfect color of the breaking waves, this is one of those hikes that takes your breath away. It’s also a hike that has very little shade, but the ocean breeze is there to cool you down.
The Razor Point trail is 1.3 miles and the Yucca Point trail is 1.25 miles, both with no more than 200 feet change in elevation, and taking about 1 hour each to complete. The Yucca Point trail leads down to the beach, but both trails offer a breathtaking view over the majestic cliffs jutting out towards the ocean.
Cowles Mountain –Cowles Mountain is even steeper than Mount Woodson, but comes off as much easier due to it shorter duration. My calves and thighs were definitely feeling it after this hike, but the view at the top is well worth the struggle.
From the peak of the mountain you can look down on Lake Murray below, all the way out to downtown and the ocean, and even all the way to Mexico.
Similar to Mount Woodson, Cowles Mountain is inland (just west of El Cajon), so be prepared for heat and little to no shade during the hike.
The hike is about 3 miles altogether, and with an elevation gain of 950 feet, it takes around 2 hours to complete roundtrip.
Ones I haven’t tackled yet but are highly popular and recommended:
Three Sisters Falls – The trail to Three Sisters Falls is actually near Julian, just over in hour outside of San Diego, but since a lot of my friends have done this trail and loved it, I wanted to include it.
Another challenging hike, this trail is only recommended for experienced hikers who are in good shape. In addition to its steep nature, the trail also includes rope climbs and optional rock climbing. It’s only accessible from November to June, and it’s recommended to bring to a lot of water and proper hiking boots, as well as gloves for climbing the ropes.
The sight once you get to the falls is meant to be worth all the bumps and bruises you may have acclimated on the climb up.
The trail comes out to 4 miles and climbs to an elevation of 1,000 feet, it takes about 3 hours to complete roundtrip. It’s recommended to avoid hiking it at the hottest parts of the day if possible.
Cedar Creek Falls to Devil’s Punchbowl – Considered the most dangerous hike in the country, one person a year dies on this trail.
The Devil’s Punchbowl is a big pool surrounded by 75-foot high cliffs and a magnificent waterfall. Some deaths happen from the popularity of hikers jumping from the slippery rocks into the shallow waters below, others from falling off the steep downhill part of the trail on the way to the waterfall.
Regardless of its dangers, I’ve been told that the Cedar Creek Falls trail and the Devil’s Punchbowl are a sight to behold. The most popular advice from avid hikers who use this trail is to bring a lot of water.
The Cedar Creek Falls trail is located in Ramona, and is 4.5 miles with an estimated duration of 3 hours. Obviously, add in more time if you want to spend time swimming at the Devil’s Punchbowl.
9. Drive up the Coast Highway
San Diego is blessed with miles and miles of elegant coastline. My favorite way to see the beauty of the North County beaches is along the Coast Hwy, also known as Hwy 101.
Starting around the Torrey Pines Reserve, the Coast Highway goes through some lovely scenery and suburbs, including Del Mar, Solana Beach, Leucadia, Carlsbad, and Oceanside. One of my favorite parts of the highway is a little further outside of San Diego, going past San Clemente.
Make sure to stop in at the local staple, Pizza Port, for its delicious pizza and beer. There’s a reason why it’s so popular with locals, the fare is mouthwatering and the vibe is very much surfer. When you get to Encinitas, Pannikin Coffee & Tea is one of my favorite coffee shops in San Diego, located in a cute cottage complete with a white picket fence and outside seating.
I would recommend stopping as much as possible in each little suburb as you go up the coast. The best way to drive the Coast Highway is slow and happy. Another stopover, just off the highway is the Flower Fields in Carlsbad, where you can go frolic in 50 acres of every color of Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers in the right season.
Also, if you keep going north, you’ll eventually come across duel nuke power towers on your left. Locals call them the San Onofre boobs. They’re not worth going out of your way for, but they still crack me up like I’m 10 again every time I pass by them.
If you don’t have a car or you don’t want to worry about driving, another good option for seeing this beautiful part of the coast is by taking the Amtrak Coaster train. I’ve taken it multiple times to go visit my sister in Los Angeles, and it is still the most beautiful train ride I’ve been on.
It’s the train ride that inspired me to write this when I was leaving San Diego for awhile on the way to my life abroad.
10. Have a least one Taco Tuesday in Pacific Beach
Taco Tuesday, it’s the San Diego version of college kids gone wild with cheap shots of tequila and lime, devoured Mexican food, sombreros here and there, and margaritas that are bigger than your head and hold more than your fair share of that liquid gold called TEQUILA!
It’s like Cinco de Mayo, but every Tuesday. During the winter months it quiets down a bit, and especially when the universities are out, it’s a whole different scene, but if you happen to stumble upon a Taco Tuesday in the Fall or Spring, get ready to party.
It’s a whole lot of fun while you’re a student in San Diego, especially for those newly 21 year olds, because everything is cheap and there’s a lot of craziness, dancing, and shots.
The nice thing about going out in Pacific Beach is that it’s so easy to do a bar crawl. Most of the bars line Garnet Street side by side, or are close by off the side streets. Garnet Street virtually turns into a party block, where you meet a random assortment of people on your walk to the next bar.
There are the loud bars turned clubs in the back with stripper poles/cages (I’m talking to you Typhoon Saloon), but then there’s also those bars for the slightly older crowd to be found at Miller’s Field, Pacific Beach AleHouse, and Tavern. If you’re looking for more of the Mexican vibe go to the crazy Cabo Cantina that is overflowing on Taco Tuesdays.
If you’re after a nice dinner of cheap tacos before going out on the town, I would suggest getting to PB as early as possible as places fill up quickly during the busy months. My recommendations for tacos would include Cabo Cantina, Fred’s Mexican Cafe, World Famous, and the taqueria stands that always seem to pop up on the streets on Tuesdays.
If it’s dancing you want, Typhoon is a bit messy and sweaty but one of the best bars/clubs for dancing, other notables include PB Bar & Grill, Johnny V, and Tavern.
If you want to avoid the Coronas and have some nice beer, Bub’s Dive Bar is one of my favorites in Pacific Beach.
Again, it depends on what you’re after, but we used to say all good nights end at Typhoon Saloon – but maybe that was just due to the proximity of the McDonald’s next door.
The interesting thing about Taco Tuesday is that although there are a lot of 21 and 22 year olds stumbling about, you also find a lot of marines that increase the standard age to around 27. And of course, if you choose specifically for what kind of bar you’re after, you can still find most age groups represented depending on the bar.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that although Taco Tuesday is geared for the newly bar legal, if you want to check it out and you’re a bit older, you won’t stick out like a sore thumb. It’s a very San Diego experience, and I can’t tell you how many ridiculously fun and unforgettable Taco Tuesdays I had in my college days.
11. Walk around the Gaslamp Quarter
Whether you’re after shopping, bar hopping, classy restaurants, architecture, or simply people watching, the Gaslamp Quarter is the heart of downtown. I would recommend seeing it during the day and also at night to see the difference, especially on Friday and Saturday nights when it really comes alive.
I used to work down in Gaslamp for an internship and our building was the coolest office I’ve ever been in. It was part of the old Louis Bank of Commerce built in 1888.
The Gaslamp Quarter’s beginnings go back to 1850 when William Heath Davis began developing land in the hopes of creating a town on the San Diego waterfront. You can still go visit his house in the Gaslamp as it has been turned into a museum.
The Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation is in place to make sure that those old buildings don’t lose their façade to more modern aesthetics.
And today, with a short walk down 5th Avenue, you can tell how their work has paid off.
12. Go paragliding at the Gliderport in La Jolla
This is something on the list that I sadly didn’t get to do with my time in San Diego. When I was in college, my friends and I would always comment on how we’d one day go paragliding off those cliffs next to campus. We watched the gliders out there enough from Black’s Cliffs, and it seemed like the perfect thing to do for graduation.
It never happened though, and I’ve been wanting to go paragliding ever since. I was originally planning on doing it in Maui but they were booked up months in advance, and then I decided to do it in Oahu but the guy who ran the company never got back to me.
Then it hit me, this was a perfect way to see San Diego again after 2 years abroad, to go paragliding over La Jolla.
Well, I never left the ground because I did things like buy a hippie van and go to Coachella Music Festival, which left very little wiggle room financially, but regardless, it’s still an activity in San Diego that I would whole heartedly recommend and one that I hope to do myself someday.
Torrey Pines Gliderport is located just off the UC San Diego campus, and allows you to glide out over the cliffs and beautiful Black’s Beach below, choosing your preference for hang gliding or paragliding.
It costs $175 to paraglide for 20-25 minutes, and you call the day of to book because it all depends on wind conditions.
If you’re unable to afford the cost of flying or would rather keep your feet on the ground but you’re still after a grand view, I would very much suggest going to the top of Mount Soledad. I’ve seen many a sunrise up there and eaten many a California burrito while shivering as the sun comes up, but let me tell you, it’s stunning.
Mount Soledad looks out over all of La Jolla and the ocean, and the sunrises I’ve seen there are some of the best. Of course, it’s beautiful anytime of day you choose to go up, so make your way up there whenever it suits you.
That’s about all I have for what I enjoy doing in San Diego. I’ll leave you with just two last lists of recommendations: one for eateries and coffeeshops to check out because San Diego is known for its big foodie scene, and one for my favorite weekend trips from the city by the sea.
Must Eats/Drinks (in no particular order)
Extraordinary Desserts (Little Italy)
Phil’s BBQ (Point Loma)
Brockton Villa (for brunch in La Jolla)
Pannikan Coffee & Tea (La Jolla/Encinitas)
Bird Rock Coffee Shop (Bird Rock)
Pizza Port (Solana Beach)
En Fuego Cantina (Del Mar)
Pacific Beach Ale House (Pacific Beach)
And the subgenre of my favorite taquerias….
Vallarta Express Mexican Eatery (Clairemont Mesa)
Cotixan Mexican Food (Clairemont Mesa)
Rigoberto’s Taco Shop (everywhere)
Lolita’s Taco Shop (Kearny Mesa)
Oscars Mexican Seafood (Pacific Beach)
Lucha Libre Taco Shop (Mission Hills)
Weekend Trips from San Diego
Salvation Mountain/The Salton Sea
Julian (best apple pie ever)
Have you been to San Diego or has this made you want to go? Any other recommendations are welcome, feel free to put them in the comments!
San Diaaago, Ron Burgandy’s place of work and considered to be the sunniest place in America – okay I made that last one up, but still it’s a pretty remarkable place…and very sunny.
I spent 5 years in San Diego, going to school, working at internships and a myriad of jobs to stay afloat during my time at university.
However, when I came back this year I did something I’d never done before – I saw it as a tourist.
Geared with a week and a half of time to explore all the many attractions around the county, I came up with this list of how to enjoy San Diego – whether you have a few days or a couple of weeks.
Tip # 1 The Compass Card
The Compass Card is the transit card for the San Diego region. It allows you to use an unlimited amount of trips on trollies, trains and buses.
You can buy them at a variety of places, including the ticket kiosks at the trolley and train stations. You don’t load a certain amount of money on the card like a lot of other passes I’ve used, instead you buy it depending how many days you need it. You can buy it for 1, 2, 3, 4 days, or even for a month if you’ll be in the area for awhile.
When we had just arrived in San Diego, before we bought our hippie van, we purchased the 3 day card for something around $12, and it was so worth it for getting around a county that is connected by freeways.
Tip # 2 The Go San Diego Card
The Go Card is an attraction card that includes a long list of things to do in San Diego. It’s offered all over the nation in cities such as Los Angeles and Boston as well. It’s good for planning out what you’d like to see, and what there actually is to see in San Diego.
It’s not particularly cheap, but if you plan on having an action packed tourist fueled day, two, or three, it’s well worth it. We chose the two day pass, and I bought it from Groupon on special for $99.
We had an exhausting couple of days, but I was also glad that I had seen that side of San Diego. We ended up saving over $100 for all of the attractions we visited.
The one price that takes you unaware is the parking for a lot of these attractions. Although we still saved a lot of money, we did spend a decent amount of money on parking at attractions like the Safari Park and Legoland.
To get the most out of your Go Card, make sure you are willing to spend whole days sightseeing, and plan out the attractions by location because San Diego can be very spread out at times. Two days was more than enough time to get us tuckered out and not want to do another tourist attraction for a long time.
I would also recommend having a car to get to and from the attractions in a timely manner. Public transport is an inexpensive way to get around the city, but it’s slow in San Diego and the route coverage isn’t phenomenal.
The Go Card isn’t the type of fast sightseeing I normally enjoy doing, but while on a tight budget it was a practical way to see the best attractions on offer in San Diego.
Now for what I consider the best of the best in San Diego, combining both recommendations from when I lived there as a local and when I visited again as a tourist.
1. Spend an afternoon at Balboa Park
I had been to Balboa Park before I saw it again this trip, but I had never spent a whole day there. I would go to one of the many museums sometimes for an extra credit assignment for class, or dance in one of the historic buildings at night for a quarterly formal. I participated in the park’s annual Breast Cancer Walk two years in a row for my sorority.
Walking around the majority of the park in one day; however, makes you realize how many things there are to see and do in beautiful Balboa.
There are 16 museums in the park, some you can even get into for free on certain Tuesdays if you are a resident or in the military.
While we were there we visited the Air & Space Museum, in which you could easily spend a whole day.
There was so much history behind the first aircrafts, the air warfare prevalent in World War II, and the first space landings. As you go further into the museum you find more interactive exhibits, and even flight simulators, for a cost, that allow you to be a World War II pilot.
Even if you don’t want to spend money, the free lobby area of the museum has a ton of information and replicas of a few historical planes.
Besides the museums, Balboa Park holds 16 gardens and boasts a detailed architectural history that is best described as Spanish Colonial Revival.
There are countless caricature artists lining the park boulevards, balloon animals, and fair food such as cotton candy and popcorn.
The Spanish Village Artist Center is a colorful corner of the park that showcases every type of local art imaginable to drool over or purchase. The world famous San Diego Zoo is also housed here, and more often than not you’ll find some cool old cars (Chevy Impalas!) parked around the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.
One of my favorite parts of the park was the random carousel near the zoo, it felt like I was a kid again.
Balboa Park is one of the best ways to spend a day in San Diego, if even to just get lost and explore the options around the area.
2. Go on a microbrewery tour
It’s no secret that San Diego has one of the best microbrewery scenes in the States, there are breweries everywhere you look! You can find a brewery in just about any suburb, so no matter where you’re located you can get a taste for the San Diego beer scene.
We put on our own brewery tour with a combination of walking and using Uber, but if you’re after a more organized tour the Scavengers Beer Adventures are a good place to start.
With over 100 breweries in the greater San Diego county you’re spoiled for choice.
My personal favorites include Ballast Point (give me a Sculpin IPA any day), Green Flash, and Stone, if even just for their classy brewery and rock garden.
During our time in San Diego we also visited Karl Strauss Brewery, which has multiple locations around San Diego, Half Door Brewing, which is a brand new Irish style brewery, and Mission Brewery.
Other recommendations would have to include Coronado, Lost Abbey, Latitude 33, Modern Times and Mother Earth.
We also stopped in at Monkey Paw, near Mission Brewery, but with the abominable service by the bartender on a quiet night we left before ordering a drink.
3. Release your inner kid at Belmont Park
Belmont Park is the subdued version of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, it even includes an old wooden roller coaster like my hometown’s park.
Even though a small amusement park, Belmont is reminiscent of a summer fair and has a few unique rides with the 11 to choose from.
My favorite and most terrifying rides were comprised of the following:
Giant Dipper Roller Coaster – Built in 1925, a wooden coaster that rivals the Giant Dipper in Santa Cruz, we rode this one twice once the park was all lit up at night.
Beach Blaster – a very tall spinning swing where the chest bar felt considerably more loose at the height of the g-force than when the ride first started.
Octotron – Another spinning ride, but this time there’s a joystick in the middle of two riders, you fight over who has control of the joystick to decide if you’ll go upside down, frontwards, backwards, or both while spinning in a circle.
Control Freak – Okay, I don’t know if I would call this one enjoyable but it was an experience. It didn’t help that the seats seemed like they were made for toddlers. Only 4 riders go on at once, in two separate pairs and ends of the ride. The pairs take turns and decide how many times the other pair flips over backwards or frontwards, while the ride is spinning in a vertical loop.
We had an evil mother and daughter duo that basically just decided to put us on a continual loop forwards than backwards for what seemed like a good 5 minutes. I felt a little sick after that one.
Since we were using our Go Card pass for this attraction, I was also able to do my first ever zip line, and have free reign of the climbing rock wall – which was probably the scariest part of the whole park, unsure if that flimsy rope was actually going to catch me on the way down. It looked like it was just waiting to fail.
4. Grab lunch on the water and see the USS Midway
The USS Midway is in the top 5 coolest museums I’ve visited, and the history behind the vessel and its purpose is just as intriguing.
There are over 60 exhibits on the huge ship and 29 restored aircrafts, including everything from fighter jets to rescue helicopters. The informative free movie near the entrance that goes through the history of the Battle of Midway, the battle for which the ship was named, is worth a watch.
What I loved about the museum was how interactive it was, and how much its history was brought to life because of that.
Touring multiple levels of the carrier, viewing old living quarters and pilots’ ready rooms, and stepping inside World War II fighter jets or a Huey helicopter used in the Vietnam War, it was a thought-provoking experience.
Similar to the Air & Space Museum at Balboa Park, the USS Midway Museum also has flight simulators for an additional cost.
Before heading into the museum, we grabbed lunch at the Fish Market Restaurant where I devoured mouthwatering fish tacos. Looking out over the harbor, with military helicopters flying overhead now and then and a view of the USS Midway, the day was already made before stepping foot inside the museum.
Walking underneath the Unconditional Surrender statue on our way to the museum only made it better.
5. Have a night out in North Park
Although my Pacific Beach nights out are mostly over now, North Park is the place for those young professional or artistic types that still enjoy going out – but with less 21 year olds.
North Park, considered to be on the hipster side of life also has a fun and quirky side that I can’t help but love. If I ever move back to San Diego, I’ve always been convinced I would move there.
I saw one of my favorite concerts ever in North Park (The Tallest Man on Earth) at the wonderfully old Birch North Park Theatre, and the bars offer a little bit of everything for whatever style of nightlife you’re going for.
My personal favorite in the North Park bar scene is Seven Grand, a whiskey bar that hosts live music, has black and white movies playing on a loop, and bartenders that look like they just stepped out of the 1920s. Dare I say, Seven Grand is where I first started enjoying bourbon and where I tried my first ever whiskey sour.
They have a full wall of whiskey – taking up 15 pages on their drinks menu, and the top shelf they reach by a rolling ladder.
A close runner up, if even just to go see all the hipsters simultaneously drinking their Pabst Blue Ribbons, is Bar Pink. They also host heaps of live music and DJs, and the times I’ve been there, they’ve created a playful R&B/Hip Hop vibe.
As to be expected, there is a lot of pink around the bar and tipsy elephants in martini glasses keeping it classy.
A new bar I discovered in North Park this time around is The Office. Half bar, half club as are many San Diego establishments, The Office gives off the feel of a smoky cocktail lounge that’s lively with a bit of an older crowd. The decent beer list was just an added bonus.
While we were there on a Friday night, big band style street performers drew big crowds outside the bars. An idea of what kind of atmosphere North Park creates on the weekend, a place that’s trendy yet feel-good, a fun night out without the constant over intoxication found in Pacific Beach.
6. Spend every day at a different beach
What can I say about the beaches in San Diego, besides the fact that they rival any I found in Australia or Southeast Asia – although the Eastern Beaches of Sydney are hard to beat.
There are over 50 beaches in San Diego county and all offer a different impression depending on what suburb you find yourself in.
I spent a lot of time in North County for school, specifically La Jolla area, which is known for its manicured beaches. I used to “study” at La Jolla Shores on the weekends or watch the paragliders from the cliffs at Black’s Beach to take a break off campus.
Ocean Beach is a great place to watch the sunset from the pier and meet all of the old hippies and stoners walking around. It’s also a popular place for surfers and skaters alike.
Coronado and Solana beaches are openly stunning, Mission Beach has the Belmont Amusement Park touching the sand, Del Mar’s Dog Beach is a great place to take the pooch, and Torrey Pines State Reserve has one of the best hikes in view of the sunny coastline and golden cliffs.
The options are limitless, it would be a shame not to visit one of these beaches while you’re in San Diego.
This post was way too long to fit into one piece. To read the second half of my recommendations for what to do in San Diego check back in a few days for part II!
I’ve been off the radar a bit more than usual as of late, and you may be wondering what the heck I’ve been up to! Well, I’ve been a little bit everywhere, more specifically a little bit all over the desert.
I’m currently in a busy pizzeria in North Hollywood, overpowered by the hustle and bustle that comes with a city like L.A. that is constantly on the go.
I just spent the last 4 days exploring the Colorado and Mojave Deserts in Southern California, without a recent shower or run-in with civilization, I feel a little out of place. But hey, at least I have some great stories to tell.
I’ve actually spent a lot of time in the desert recently, with another Coachella Music Festival under my belt, and a week and a half of life in San Diego, I’ve again become accustomed to the dry, relentless heat that comes with Southern California.
After some temporary farewells (I’ll be back soon y’all!) to some close friends in San Diego, my boyfriend and I took off in our new home: a 1996 Dodge Cargo Van, having no smartphones and using an outdated map from the year before I was born: 1989.
We first drove up the 101 Hwy, stopping in at one of my favorite haunts in Solana Beach: Pizza Port.
Pizza Port is a little pizzeria that makes delectable pizza and brews their own beer. Oh, and it’s located in one of the most scenic areas of San Diego. What more could you ask for?
Without a doubt, go there if you are in San Diego.
After filling up on a spicy pie filled to the brim with jalapeños, we continued up the coast and reached The Flower Fields in Carlsbad.
The Flower Fields is a jubilant place filled with 50 acres of colorful Ranunculus flowers, a relative to the Buttercup. We had a grand time walking around the fields and taking pictures of the diverse colors on hand, and the perfect weather of Southern California.
With San Diego behind us, we hit the road properly, winding our way through the mountains and the town of Julian, famous for the BEST apple pie in the West.
Within a couple of hours we had successfully driven ourselves to the middle of nowhere, or in other words, right on track to where we wanted to be.
Think of that standard horror movie that includes a dive bar where everyone stares at you when you walk in, and directs you out of town for accommodation even though they call themselves an inn.
That in a sentence was the Salton Sea that we experienced.
We arrived around dusk and we were the only people camping along the entire eastern shoreline of the lake, so it had the serial killer vibe to begin with.
In the morning it was a nice view, but we also realized how our first instincts weren’t entirely wrong about being surrounded by death.
There were countless dead fish, and a even a few birds littered around the shoreline, increasing as you crept closer to the water. Also, the sand was made of crushed fish bones. Weird.
The water itself felt slimy, and had a greasy sheen to it.
I don’t know if I would recommend swimming close to shore, or even staying the night if you easily get the spooks, but it would be a scenic picnic spot on your way past.
It’s a favorite muse for many photographers due to its post-apocalyptic nature and desolation.
Day 2 – Salvation Mountain/Joshua Tree
Leaving the Salton Sea by mid-morning, we backtracked a little ways to see the famous Salvation Mountain in Niland, California, and it did not disappoint.
Salvation Mountain has a ton of colorful artwork that clearly took a lot of patience and perseverance to construct.
Made with adobe, straw, and paint, Salvation Mountain stands high with its cross and has bountiful bible passages and Jesus love everywhere you look.
Beside the mountain there is another section to walk through, with crevices and corners of artwork to look at as well as cats that may jump out at you for a little surprise – just ask my boyfriend.
There were no other people around when we were there. Located in a squatter city with dilapidated motor homes and dust in the middle of nowhere, it was hard not to feel a little creeped out. The repetitive religious fervor and stray cats only added to the effect.
With that said, Leonard Knight, who created the colorful mountain, is said to have been a fascinating human being by visitors who met him before he passed away last year.
Even still, I don’t think I would feel comfortable camping in the area overnight.
Day 3/4 – Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree, are you joshing me? Sorry, I know that was lame. It was what I said all week, so I had to get it out of my system one last time.
Joshua Tree, the place that U2 wrote an album after, a place that everyone always raves about.
And I can now clearly see why: it’s elegant and moving.
From our first drive into the southern entrance through the Cottonwood Mountains we knew this was worth coming out to.
I never would’ve thought a desert could be so beautiful, but Joshua Tree changed that. I had never seen a Joshua Tree before my trip to the park, and they quickly became my favorite (read: only) tree to look at.
The southern section of the national park is at a lower elevation in the Colorado Desert. Dry, hot, with an abundance of shrubbery, there is only one traditional campsite in the area.
In the transition zone, there is a change to elevation, a mix between the two deserts – Colorado and Mojave.
We stopped at the Cholla (pronounced “Choy- ya”) Cactus Garden, and found ourselves surrounded by Teddy Bear Cholla. They were adorable, but not something you’d ever want to cuddle.
We camped at Hidden Valley and Indian Cove in the Mojave Desert elevation. Hidden Valley was higher up so it was freezing at night in our van, but Indian Cove was much more temperate.
Even with the lower temperatures, Hidden Valley was my favorite place to rest for the night. It’s in the middle of the park so you have countless hikes and lookouts available to you.
What I really enjoyed was watching all of the rock climbers that are popular in this campsite in particular.
Being higher up, the constellations were absolutely stellar – pun intended. It was the first time I had looked up at the stars with no light pollution since coming back from the Southern Hemisphere, and that moment alone really brought home back to me.
Other highlights of Joshua Tree included Keys View, which looked out over the spanning desert, back to the Salton Sea where we had come from, and even over the Coachella Valley and Indio where I had spent the previous weekend.
We hiked around the Hidden Valley campsite, climbed huge rocks, found the Skull Rock near the Jumbo Rocks campsite, and even wandered down a trail called the Wall Street Mill that showcased an old gold mining operation.
On the same trail we found a couple of old cars from the early 20th century left to dust in the desert.
I can see why Joshua Tree is a place people come back to time and time again, I look forward to going back myself someday.
Every time we’d look out to the horizon, it almost looked superimposed or like a painting, it was that unrealistic and unique.
It felt so easy to disconnect from all the worries and stress of technology and cities, because there was so much in the desert to be enamored with.
It was exactly what I wanted after an overpopulated festival like Coachella that made me question human behavior and the extent of the word rude, even if the music was amazing.
Joshua Tree was our first National Park on our trip, but it won’t be the last. I’ll be getting lost in many a redwood forest up north.
I’m sitting in a new cafe in a town I used to call home. Everything is the same yet different.
Transitioning back to the States, and more specifically California, has been more overwhelming than I thought it would be. Little things I never used to think of now rattle me, and make me realize a lot about my own culture.
Showing someone who has never been immersed in West Coast culture my old life, that’s only an added challenge.
Regardless of the unsteady ground I sometimes find myself on back home, I love it here. If you’ve noticed that I haven’t posted a lot lately it’s because I’ve been wrapping my mind around this place I used to know.
And I think I’m finally there.
Without a doubt I’m a different person than when I left, but my core personality is still ingrained in California culture, and it’s surfacing again. That spontaneous, beach-loving, carefree person with a touch of oddity, that’s me and California brings out the best parts of it.
I can’t wait to share with you a piece of home. I don’t really know how to start, just that this is the beginning.
I still have quite a few posts to catch up on from New Zealand and Hawaii, and they’ll make an appearance here in due time.
I’m heading to Coachella for the weekend, and after that it’s going to be one crazy ride, slowly making my way up the coast of California – including the likes of roughing it in Joshua Tree, the glamor of Hollywood, the chill vibes of Santa Barbara, and all the way through to the family I’ve been missing for so long in the Bay Area with many and more stops along the way.
This is the beginning of taking my blog to the next level. This is the beginning of a more personal style to my writing. This is the beginning of trying new things on here, such as vlogging about the countless breweries I’ll be stopping in at, or simply making a video montage of the beautiful places I’ll be visiting.
This is the beginning, and I hope you’ll come along and join in on the journey.
Cheers to a new life Stateside, and to all those wonderful people I met abroad these past two years. I couldn’t be more grateful to where my life has led me today.
When I first left home, I wrote this post the day I left San Diego.
When I left San Diego on a train taking me to LA, which would be my departure city from the States, I remember watching the sun fade under the canopy of palm trees, and feeling like I knew, at least I was 95% sure, that I was doing what was right and leading myself to where I was meant to be.
I feel that way again now, but in the opposite direction. I have an underlying notion, a hunch I can’t shake, that my life is meant to be at home right now.
In a month, I’ll be walking on a plane that will take me back to the US. I’ve never felt the ache of homesickness as much as I have since I’ve been in New Zealand.
There are little reminders, a quote, a picture, little things that come back to me and remind me of a specific memory of home, and I get an ache like I’ve never felt before.
An ache that something is truly missing.
I never thought I was someone who got homesick, but then again, I had never been abroad for (almost) two solid years before, with nothing so much as a visit.
I consider myself incredibly fortunate that my life has lead me to where I find myself today, and that I’ve had the tenacity to keep myself financially afloat while traveling the world.
But, without a doubt, it’s time for me to see home, at least for a little while.
It was not an easy feat to leave San Diego behind, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to see it again very soon.
The taquerias with the best Mexican food I’ve tried in my life, the sandy beaches that are perfect at anytime of the day, but especially at night when you can look up and see all of the constellations lit up in the sky.
The microbreweries, my college friends, sorority sisters, and Taco Tuesdays, even La Jolla, the slightly snobby suburb of San Diego where I went to school, I spent 5 years of my life there and it still holds a lot of fond memories.
North Park, with one of the best live music venues and hip bars filled with whiskey, mustaches, and black and white movies. A suburb brimming with art, or at the very least, a unique take on society.
Even with all this love for San Diego, I think it would be hard to move straight back to the last place I left, so I’ve decided to try out a new city. You can bet I’ll be spending my brief time in San Diego to the fullest, and seeing it in a new light I never appreciated when I actually lived there.
Instead, I’ll be going into unknown territory, probably Portland, Oregon, and bringing my Kiwi boyfriend with me who has never seen the West Coast before.
I’ve never lived with a boyfriend before now, let alone moved across the world with one, so it’ll be an interesting next year, but one that is sure to be heaps of fun.
He has been planning on coming to North America to explore the craft beer in the US for over a year now, it was actually one of the first things we bonded over when we were still just friends, and now that we’re a couple we’ve decided to plan our trip together, it worked out quite serendipitously.
There’s also the case of visas and everything that comes with a multicultural relationship, but his dual Canadian citizenship should hopefully help a bit, we won’t know until we actually get to the States.
It may still be up in the air, but we’re just happy to be able to travel with each other, and hopefully he’ll find a sponsored job in a brewery once we arrive in Portland.
With that said, being able to show someone I love where I come from, where I grew up and went to school, my family and friends, it’s a profound feeling of joy, an experience that I’m greatly looking forward to.
With the unknown bits and bobs that make life interesting, I sometimes feel that I’m more excited than I should be to be coming home. I have had a lot of time to build it up, after all.
Maybe after spending two years of life abroad, I’ve realized how much I appreciate and love where I’m from in sunny laid-back California, but perhaps I’ve been away long enough to sugarcoat it as well. I guess I won’t really know until I’m physically back home.
Most people dread the thought of having to go home after an extended time abroad, but I guess the difference is that I’m choosing to.
Just imagining seeing the look on my mom’s face when we see each other again, walking the dogs and playing guitar with my dad, going out for Thai food with my stepmom, drinking a beer with my brother, and laughing at another inside joke with my sister while devouring delicious Mexican food. I can’t help but get the feels.
I guess those thoughts make me think I’m not building it up in the least, that it’ll be just as good as I think it’ll be, as comforting as a steaming plate of mom’s homemade enchiladas.
The reason for this post is to emphasize how important home is to me, and how honored I feel to be able to write about it for you readers as it’s something clearly very dear to my heart.
Regardless if you’ve never wanted to visit the States, I hope my writings about Hawaii, California, Oregon, and American culture in general will touch you in some way that’ll make you keep coming back.
I’ll be back to the Northern Hemisphere in a month’s time, full of new adventures, plans, and experiences. You can bet I have a lot of further travels planned along the way to keep things interesting.
Snapshot memories is a new weekly series, giving a visual glimpse into different destinations and unique ways to view them. It’s also a way for me to look back on travels that occurred before and after I started this blog, and to give each place I’ve traveled the attention it deserves.
This week my memories go back to San Diego.
San Diego is a hard place to represent just in snapshots. I spent 5 years living there, and often times didn’t take any pictures of the key aspects that meant the most to me.
It’s a place I went to college and received my degree in psychology and international studies, where I fell in love with my college boyfriend, where I joined a sorority (more on that later), and had countless sleepless nights going out on adventures with California burritos in hand and the beach within throwing distance.
There are many pictures I did capture, and that is what I bring you this week, but as I lived there for so long, I never viewed the place as a tourist.
I never made it to Sea World, never took pictures of the many suburbs I explored on my weekends, or the ornate and beautiful Balboa Park. I never took pictures of my favorite cafes and taquerias. I never captured on film how much I loved hanging out in Bird Rock on a hot summer’s day, iced green tea in hand, and how gorgeous the city looks at night while crossing the Coronado Bridge.
I never took photos of the many delicious craft beers I could find at any bar I went to, or how profound the friendships became that I made throughout college. How freeing it felt to go skinny dipping at Blacks Beach in the middle of the night in the dead of winter, how the best beach weather is in the dead of winter, and finally knowing the true meaning of hot and humid summer nights.
Instead, I have pictures that will do their best to convey to you a place that I can’t even begin to describe myself, a place I still get butterflies to go back to, I love it that much. I have pictures of sunsets/sunrises, beaches/cliffs, palm trees, and food/craft beer mainly (although I still don’t know how I never took a picture of a burrito, I consumed SO many while I was living there).
These four categories are how I would describe San Diego to an outsider, as well as maybe adding in an awesome live music scene, it’s a good introduction to one of my favorite cities in the world.
After what will be 2 years away, I look forward to starting off my West Coast USA Road Trip in San Diego, and finally taking the time to see it as a tourist.
I can’t tell you how many songs remind me of this place, and how much it means to me that I can share a piece of it with you here.
I never knew a place named after a whale’s vagina could be so cool.