We made San Diego our home for two weeks in January. While our family and friends were shoveling snow in Northeast Ohio, we were parking our 40-foot Tiffin Phaeton motorhome under endless sunshine at the Admiral Baker RV Park just outside the city. With the utilities hooked up we unloaded the BMW K1200LT motorcycle and readied for sightseeing.
To get our bearings we started with an Old Town Trolley Tour. Trolley headquarters, and one of 11 stops, is at the Historic State Park and Old Town Market. The area is the birthplace of today’s thriving city. This spot can fill a day with exhibits, museums, living history demonstrations and 40 shops. We resisted shopping and boarded the trolley.
The 25-mile narrated ride through San Diego and Coronado is like those in many cities. Riders can get off and on at highlights – the U.S.S. Midway Museum and Little Italy among them – or learn the landscape in two hours, then visit sites later. Several trolleys run the circuit all day, arriving at each stop every 30 minutes.
We were on an efficiency mission so we disembarked only to lunch and to visit the 130-year-old Hotel Del Coronado. Our guide shared, among many historic tales, that L. Francis Baum wrote much of “The Wizard of Oz” Del Coronado. Upon return to HQ, we visited the Wells-Fargo Museum among others.
Another day we tracked European-American influence deeper than Old Town with a visit to Point Loma, a peninsula in San Diego Bay. In 1542 – 50 years after Columbus landed on the East Coast of the Americas—Spanish explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo was the first European to set foot on the West Coast at Point Loma.
En route to Cabrillo’s landing spot we strolled the half-mile pier at Ocean Beach, pausing to watch surfers in black wet suits tame cold Pacific swells. A few miles farther down the coast I tiptoed just close enough to the bluffs’ edge at Sunset Cliffs Park to see an arch carved into the sandstone by wild waters.
Then, at Cabrillo National Monument after reflecting on the significance — good and bad — of European immigration we visited the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. The 1855 Lighthouse, tower and house, is frozen in time as though the period furnishings were simply abandoned.
By this time we’d learned that San Diego has informal weather zones requiring a wardrobe of layers. While it can be 85 F inland, temperatures near the Pacific Ocean can drop 10 degrees or more. For our motorcycle ride to the U.S.S. Midway’s dock we donned windbreakers over jeans and t-shirts to adjust with location fluctuation.
The U.S.S. Midway is a retired aircraft carrier turned museum. In operation from 1945 until 1992, the flight deck of the 971-foot ship houses more than 30 restored planes and helicopter. Public access is granted to the flight-deck, hanger and below-deck experiences. Self-guided tours are supported by an audio wand, signage and video throughout the tour. Docents, usually retired military folks, hold stations throughout the ship where they answer questions or talk about the ship and their experiences with military life. Those with claustrophobia may want to think twice about walking through the living quarters. These can get tight at times.
Hornblower Cruises shares a public parking lot with the Midway. Morning and afternoon double-decker boats leave the harbor for a relatively slow 3.5-hour cruise to the Pacific Ocean in search of the migrating mammals. In winter months the whales travel 12,000-plus miles from Alaska feeding grounds to warmer waters in Mexico’s Baja California. There they give birth and mate before a return journey north.
We floated on a chilly January weekday when the 300-passenger boat had fewer than 45 aboard. When a whale surfaced it was easy to find a place on deck to view the heart-shaped water vapor spray from the whales’ two blowholes or to see the slow-moving creature flip its tale. Whale sightings hushed the small crowd, people whispered in awe of 30-ton creatures
We followed three grey whales – two adults and one calf – swimming together for about 15 minutes before motoring out of the bay and into the Pacific Ocean. There we glimpsed two whales headed for the Mexican border; they quickly created distance because we had to stay in U.S. waters.
Inland, Balboa Park could have been a second home. The 1,200-acre Park has 17 museums as well as gardens, trails and the Zoo. We were saving the indoor venues for a rainy day but that never came. San Diego only gets about 12 inches of rain per year. (Lake County gets about 40 inches per year.) So the coldest January days – 60 F – were second choice.
It’s hard to compete with Cleveland’s museums, but the Cannibals: Myth & Reality exhibit at The Museum of Man tapped our curiosity. The displays inform and provoke without going for gross. By the end of the visit we were stuck contemplating what situations might drive such an extreme decision.
In two weeks we just barely sampled the attractions available in this sunny, warm weather city.