Thursday, June 04, 2009

San Diego Trip Report Part 1

Day 1 - Saturday
We got into San Diego around 10:30 a.m. In our not-so-zippy little bargain priced Versa, we headed to Oceanside, with a couple of wine tasting stops along the way. It was a little too early to eat lunch in San Diego, so we headed up the road and randomly picked an exit along the way. Brian really wanted to try and In and Out burger, but we couldn’t even get in to the In and Out. Instead we opted for another local chain, Rubio’s, which is similar to Moe’s, Chipotle, etc, except with the offering of fish tacos and burritos. I had a fish burrito and Brian had two pork tacos. We decided it was good but not something we would crave – good thing since there aren’t any around Atlanta.

Next we stopped at a tasting room for San Pasqual Winery. For $7.50 I got to try 8 of their 16 or so wines. They also give you a lovely San Pasqual souvenir glass, but I opted to not keep it since I didn’t want to have to travel with a wine glass that might get broken. I tried something I have never had before – a passionfruit wine. It was pretty good. It was slightly sweet, but not as much as I had expected it to be. I don’t think I would be able to drink more than a glass of it though. I had a couple of other whites and the rest were reds (no surprise there). They had a Grenache blend that was quite tasty and a Grenache Rose that was surprisingly good, especially for a summer sipper.

We then headed up to Carlsbad to taste some wines from Witch Creek. Their tasting room was in the shopping area of Carlsbad Village, which was a nice little place just across from the ocean. We didn’t spend much time here though as we wanted to make it up to Oceanside to spend most of the afternoon there. At Witch Creek, you could taste 8 wines for $10 or one for free. After perusing their selections, I decided there weren’t 8 that I really wanted to spend $10 on, so I opted to try their Cabernet Franc, and it was an excellent choice. Brian tried it too, and even he liked it…and that doesn’t happen very often. It turned out to be the best wine I had the whole time I was there. Of course it was also the most expensive. Hummpff! Were it not for the fact that the bottle would have had to sit in a hot car all day on Monday, I probably would have gotten a bottle to have for the week, but alas no purchase.

We finally made it to Oceanside Beach, a grand, expansive beach that’s about half way between San Diego and Los Angeles. Oceanside is a lovely area with many beautiful homes and yards and great ocean views. There’s definitely some money here. The beach was by far the longest, deepest stretch of beach I’ve ever seen. The amount of open, free and clear sand was pretty incredible. It being Memorial Day weekend, it was also pretty crowded, though not unbearably so. There were lots of surfers and kids playing in the water, and all I can say is that their tolerance for cold is much higher than mine. It was a nice sunny day, but the water was very brisk! We walked up the beach for a long way and still had plenty of sand stretched out before us when we decided we should probably make our way back. We also walked out to the end of the very long and world-famous (or at least CA-famous) Oceanside Pier. I almost forgot to mention that the sand in one particular area of this beach was the softest, most powdery sand I have ever felt. It felt like baby powder!

Day 2 - Sunday
Our bodies still being on Eastern time worked to our advantage to be able to get an early start at the Wild Animal Park in Escondido. We got there when the gates opened at 9:00, and we were sitting in our seats for the first Safari Tour of the day at 9:20. We read online that it was best to get there early, and later in the day we saw why when the line for the tour was past the 2 hour wait mark. The tour takes you through the African Plains and relatively close to the “Safari” animals such as giraffe, some cheetahs, black and white rhinos, wildebeests and more species of antelope than I ever realized existed. It was awesome to see all these animals in such a “real life” habitat. This expanse of land they have for their Safari animals is huge and impressive. Throughout the rest of the park they have other various animals in more zoo-like habitats, and those were good as well, but the highlight of the park is by far the Safari experience. They also had a cool dinosaur exhibit called “Dino Mountain” with various and abundant life-size, very realistic looking, mechanically moving and sounding dinosaurs. I for one am glad those suckers aren’t around anymore. Talk about scary creatures!

After spending most of the day at the Wild Animal Park, we stopped by Orfila Winery, which was only a few miles from the park. Since I had found a coupon in one of the local travel books, we each got to have a free tasting of 6 wines, so between the two of us we sampled 12 of their 14 wines. Some were just average and some were good, but none of them were exceptional.

Since we were short on time, we grabbed a quick sub for dinner and headed back to Oceanside to meet a couple, Ray and Tina, that Brian met through online poker and a Vegas tournament. We met them for drinks and a little poker at Oceans 11 Casino. Brian played and I watched with nervous excitement as he lost money and then won money. I finally convinced him to quit while he was ahead – by $176 to be exact. He can blog more about the poker details. It was a fun night and was good to meet Ray and Tina and spend some time hanging out with them.

Day 3 – Monday
We left Escondido for the hiking trails of Cuyamaca State Park and had to travel slow, winding backroads to get there. It took longer than we expected, but there was some nice scenery along the way. Before lunch we hiked a 4 mile round trip hike to the top of a lookout point on one of the Cuyamaca peaks. We were going to hike to the highest peak, but it was a much longer hike, and it was too close to lunch time to take on that. It was a decent, fairly strenuous hike with lots of switchbacks and uphill climbs. The view from the top provided a great view of Cuyamaca Lake and the surrounding mountains and valleys. There were some beautiful flowers in bloom along the trail, but mostly I was happy about what we did not see – rattlesnakes and mountain lions! It’s not a good feeling to start a trail with warnings of those two.

We had one option for lunch, The Cuyamaca Restaurant on Lake Cuyamaca. While it was in a beautiful setting by the lake, I was more than skeptical about the food. Luckily we were quite surprised by a very tasty lunch. Don’t judge a diner by it’s laminated table tops and limited menu. After lunch we “hiked” (it was more or less just a walk in the woods) to a river with a waterfall and several pools areas that many people were enjoying. It was Memorial Day, so it was a popular place with lots of families having picnics and playing in the water. Again, I don’t see how people stand such cold water! Overall it was a fun and relaxing day in Cuyamaca, but it was time to start the San Diego part of our trip.

Day 4 –Tuesday
Again we were up bright and early to spend the day at Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo. After learning that Balboa Park is 1200 acres and one of the largest parks in the world (much larger than Central Park), I was surprised that we had never heard of it before planning this trip. This park is amazing. It encompasses the zoo, dozens of gardens and museums, walking paths, picnic areas, a dog park, hundreds of specimens of trees from all over the world, astounding architecture and lots of green space. It is truly a magnificent place. If we lived in San Diego, I could see us spending a fair amount of time here. We happened to hit the Rose Garden at just the right time of year as most of the roses were in bloom and were such a sight to behold – hundreds of roses in various colors and sizes were breathtaking and smelled amazing too. Hard to believe that just a short distance away was a smell that was just the opposite of roses – the zoo! Even the best zoo in the world still smells like a zoo, and we have decided that Flamingoes are the stinkiest of all the zoo critters. For us, the zoo lived up to its reputation. It is huge and really is a nice place to walk around and look. Most of the animal habitats weren’t unusually grand, but the zoo itself is landscaped so nicely that you don’t really feel like you’re in a zoo. As you would imagine, they have a lot of animals so I won’t bore you with all the details, but I will say that our highlight was the polar bears. We have learned that a good zoo experience is completely dependent on the activity of the animals at the time you see them. I love tigers, but the tigers were just resting, so it wasn’t all that exciting to see them. But the polar bears had just gotten their food and were feeling very playful. We watched a male and female play and wrestle in the water for at least 10 minutes, and it was spectacular and fun to see.

We picked Tuesday for our park day because supposedly, some of the museums have free admission on Tuesdays. Unfortunately, they have changed this to a benefit for residents only. That's too bad because we went on "Testosterone Tuesday" which would have included the Air and Space Museum, Automotive Museum, along with the San Diego Hall of Champions .

On Tuesday evening we went to Old Town and walked around a bit, and I did another wine tasting at Hacienda de las Rosas. Again I had a coupon (whoo-hoo for the coupons) for a $5 (normally $9.50) tasting of 6 wines. They did have some good wines, but what I remember most was the amount of their tastings. Holy cow, after tasting just 6 wines I think I had the equivalent of 2 full glasses. They really want to make the tasting an experience for you. They have a room with tables and chairs set up specifically for tasting, and they provide cheese and crackers. It was a nice touch and much different from just standing at a bar and moving from one wine to the next. After the wine tasting, we met another on-line poker compadre, Iamhoff, and his Dear And Patient GirlFriend, for dinner at Casa Guadalajara. We had a delicious meal with great company. I got the special of the day – seafood tacos with lobster, shrimp and scallops. I was pleased to see that they did not skimp on the lobster as each of the two tacos had three generous hunks of succulent lobster meat. Man, I’m getting hungry now!


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