Monday, June 8, 2015

San Diego: Gaslamp Quarter, Pacific Beach, and Balboa Park

On my first afternoon and evening in San Diego, I went to the Gaslamp Quarter which is in the real urban-looking downtown of San Diego. I chose that neighborhood because all the tourist publications and websites you find advise checking it out. But in my opinion, it can totally be skipped! I think the only way you would find it interesting is if you were from a small town or didn't get out much. It's a bunch of tall buildings, some old, some newer, crowded, no place to park, and filled with national chain stores and restaurants, like Hard Rock Cafe and Anthropologie. SNOOZE! Nothing unique or interesting here, people. I drove around for a bit, saw that there was nowhere to put the car, checked out all the shops and restaurants (that you could find in any big city or urban area in the U.S.), saw there was no uniqueness or personality to the place, and then left.
The amazing and huge carved bar at Isabel's Cantina in Pacific Beach, San Diego

But by now I was hungry for dinner so I headed to Isabel's Cantina in Pacific Beach. I would highly recommend this stylish, hip restaurant. It's a big open room, furnished with all kinds of cool ethnic details, like a huge carved wooden bar, a dragon suspended from the loft-height ceiling, and a giant Buddha.The food is Latin and Asian fusion, and very delicious and trendy. My waiter was a cute surfer-type dude who was very flirty. There were lots of younger couples, groups of friends and families at this restaurant, and it was bustling and noisy.
Amazing sunsets were my daily treat from the balcony of the Pantai Inn.

After dinner, I was delighted to find there was a laundromat across the street, so I spent an hour or so there doing the wash. Then the drive back to La Jolla to tuck in for the night. I was delighted to throw open the door to my balcony from my hotel room and snack on the really good, locally produced chocolate bars that had been left on my pillow. I could get so used to this!
Awe-inspiring open air theatre

Balboa Park Architecture
After a quiet morning of sitting on my balcony and drinking tea, followed by a generous free breakfast at my hotel, I headed out to see Balboa Park. This is an attraction that exceeded my expectations and it's definitely a "can't miss" experience. There is so so much to do here, it would take many, many days to do it all. There are several museums, the famous San Diego zoo, gardens, conservatories, restaurants, performances, exhibits and much more. I was fortunate to score parking close to the El Prado pedestrian walkway. I couldn't stop oohing and aahing at every turn. The architecture, most of which was constructed for the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition, is simply stunning, featuring an ornate Spanish Renaissance style. I walked around for about 2 hours, popped into the Conservatory, and moseyed along in the Japanese Friendship Garden, the latter of which is undergoing expansion.
Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park $6 admission

Balboa Park: Ornate!

El Prado pedestrian walkway

Covered walkways cool you in their shade: Balboa Park
After my long walk, I headed out to Mission Beach to try and dunk my feet in the surf and scope out the famous boardwalk. Alas, after driving in circles for 40 minutes in search of parking, I realized it wasn't going to happen. It was a gorgeous, sunny Friday afternoon so every place was mobbed. I gave up on the idea of people watching on the Mission Beach boardwalk, and instead sat down at Costa Brava for a yummy Spanish tapas lunch, set on their covered patio, an important soccer game on the tv.
(.... to be continued .... )