By Amy Benson Jarvis
From the moment I deplaned, I knew San Diego was for me. Everyone was attentive and helpful. After retrieving my luggage, we were instructed to cross the street to catch the shuttle for the rental cars. No cars were in the terminal, so all companies used shuttles.
The check-in at Dollar/Thrifty was quick and painless. It took less than 10 minutes to be directed to our freshly washed car. Then we were off to the Hyatt House San Diego North.
This wonderful condo/hotel has a full kitchen, living room and bedroom. At a mere $134 (plus tax) per night it includes a full, all-you-can-eat breakfast with a large variety of menu items to choose from. It is located just outside of downtown but right in the middle of everything, so nothing is more than a 25 minute drive.
It was perfect for our trip. Check-in was a breeze and soon we were off and running.
First stop – the Gas Lamp district. Historic hotels, including the Horton Grand, as well as newer hotels like the Marriott are abundant here. There is a hotel for every personality and budget.
We walked through many interesting shops, stopping occasionally for a drink. This is half the fun of this district. It has so many interesting artsy shops and pubs. We finally landed at happy hour at Ocetras, a fabulous modern restaurant with a wonderful staff and great happy hour specials, including $1 oysters on the ½ shell.
I have found that eating Happy Hour Appetizers will save you a lot of money. Try two or three with your favorite wine, beer or martini and skip the pricey dinners!
The next morning we took a trip to the San Diego Safari Park. This is an amazing 1,800 acre, open air zoo. You really need to go early in the morning, when the animals are all active. In the afternoon they nap, so the earlier the better.
Upon arrival, make a B-line for the safari tour.
This should be your first stop. Then take the extra cost hot air balloon for a fabulous view of not only the park but the entire valley. If you go before noon, you will save $6 per person. You can purchase your ticket at the gate. It is right next to the safari tour, so be sure to get your flight number before you go on the safari. While waiting for the safari we were lucky enough to see the male lion take his walk and hear him bellow. It was quite the performance.
After a day at the Safari Park, stop at a winery for a wine tasting. We stopped at Orfila. For $10 you get six tastings and a wine glass to keep. They have a wonderful shop, outdoor seating, and among the sales items there are snacks which you can consume on the property or take home. The wines were reasonably priced and tasted great.
Before heading back to the hotel, we ventured to Oceanside to take a quick beach walk.
Then we walked up the stairs to 333, a fabulous martini bar and restaurant with spectacular ocean views. We had Pomegranate martinis (by far the best in San Diego) and the Ahi Stack for 2, a delectable treat consisting of layers, in a square, rice, avocado, cucumber, mango and Sushi grade Ahi with crunchy shallots, accompanied by a lemongrass soy. It was one of my favorite dishes of the weekend.
We decided to take it easy and visit Old Town, to walk the shops and get a taste of San Diego history. There are small museums, replicated old shops, restaurants and even the original jail. We went to one of the “most haunted” houses in America, The Whaley House Museum.
The Whaley House gives you an idea of what it was like to live in San Diego in the 1800s. We did some shopping, stopping in several quaint stores including a leather goods shop where they make everything right in the shop. We stopped in all the original buildings, including the jail, James McCoy House and the stables.
Now, onto Casa de Reyes for some authentic guacamole and chips!
On our last full day, we were up early to head to the San Diego Zoo. Remember, animals take naps at lunch time, so for the best viewing, arrive when the parks open.
I was really excited to see the pandas, koalas, and gorillas. They not only have Chinese pandas but the smaller, red pandas. After entering the zoo, we went directly to the bus tour, which is great to get an idea of what is in each area. That way, when you are walking, you can go see the animals up close.
After another busy day and miles of walking, we were hungry, so we decided to stop at a wonderful steak house called Bully’s East. It is very low-key but the food is out-of-this-world.
We stopped at the bar first, since we did not have a reservation. They freely pour you a cocktail and the staff is very friendly. You would have thought we were there every week. When our table was ready, the hostess came to get us and we were seated at a booth. The amount of food was overwhelming. I took half of my dinner back to our room.
With a population of more than 1.3 Million people and one of the best climates in America, San Diego has a little something for everyone. Whether you plan a week-long vacation, or just schedule a weekend trip, the sights and sounds of Southern California will stay with you forever.
One thing is for sure, San Diego, I will be back.
Amy Benson Jarvis is the owner of The Travel Store in Fayetteville and Liverpool, New York. For more information, call 315-663-0019.