Friday, September 7, 2007

San Diego, California

Brian and I had a fantastic time in San Diego celebrating Brian’s birthday!

Our trip started off with an unbelievable – once in a lifetime experience. Our Horizon flight on route from Seattle to Portland was due to arrive early. Since our gate in PDX was not vacant, the pilot had time to kill….so we “buzzed” Mount Saint Helens. When I say we buzzed the mountain, you really have no idea how close we came…flying a figure eight (so that both sides of the plane got a great view of the crater). I managed to snap one picture, although not quite doing it justice. Brian was thrilled…..I was a bit nervous flying so close but our vacation got off to a great start.


We arrived in San Diego around 2PM on Friday to find the temperatures in the mid 80’s which is very unusual for the San Diego area. We took a cab to the Gaslamp Quarter and found the Horton Grand Hotel – our home away from home for the next 48 hours. The Gaslamp Quarter is a neighborhood close to downtown, named for the gas lamps that line the streets. The historic district includes 94 historic buildings in the 16 and one-half block area. Many buildings are Victorian Era-themed, including our hotel. There are 100 places to eat, 100 shops and 35 nightclubs. The Quarter is home to many popular events throughout the year including a Mardi Gras celebration, The Taste of Gaslamp and ShamROCK on St. Patrick’s Day. PETCO Park is located one block away in downtown San Diego's East Village.


After checking into our hotel we began exploring the area on foot finding sidewalk cafes and open air restaurants, jazz clubs, late night dancing spots, resident artists and micro breweries - all which contribute to the spirit of the area. We found a cute little Italian restaurant named Bella Luna and enjoyed out first glass of wine in the Gaslamp Quarter.

Next we headed to the Altitude Sky Bar and Garden Lounge located a few blocks away from PETCO Park’s front entrance at the Marriott Hotel. Since the Sky Bar didn’t open until 5PM, Brian and I enjoyed “happy hour” at Soleil – my favorite place we visited in San Diego. With a huge chalk board wine list, comfortable couches and an open air feel – Brian and I found it to be the perfect place to “people watch” especially all the fans headed to the ball park. The Artisan Flatbread with basil pesto, fresh mozzarella and parmesan was the perfect appetizer. Good fun!


After 5PM, we took the express elevator up to the Altitude Sky Bar. Incredible! Located on the 22nd floor of the Marriott we took in the sights of the harbor and downtown skyline with the best view of all - neighboring PETCO Park. We struck up a conversation with a local couple who suggested we spend Saturday taking a ferry over and exploring the city/island of Coronado. What a great idea!

After enjoying the views from the Sky Bar, Brian and I wandered back to the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter and had a wonderful dinner at Trattoria La Strada Restaurant.

La Strada’s prime location makes it a place to see and be seen, with patio dining and walls of windows facing the hippest corner in the Gaslamp. We shared an appetizer salad and Brian had chicken parmesan and I had spinach ravioli. Yum! They even treated Brian to a birthday cheesecake with a candle.

Saturday was a glorious day! Not only was it Brian’s birthday but the San Diego weather was warmer than Friday – clear and sunny and perfect for a ferry ride to Coronado.


Spanish for 'the crowned one", it is nicknamed The Crown City. It is also nicknamed The Tent City, referring to tourists' tents that once lined Coronado Beach during the summer-vacation season.


Coronado is home to the famous Hotel del Coronado, built in 1888 and long considered one of the world's top resorts. Brian and I took a city bus from the ferry dock through the heart of town to the hotel for a look around. The Hotel del Coronado It is listed as a National Historic Landmark and appeared in the film, “Some Like it Hot” with Marilyn Monroe. The Del has had many American heroes come to visit, such as Charles Lindbergh and Thomas Edison and legendary sports figures such as Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Willie Mays, and Muhammad Ali. Many presidents have also visited the historic hotel, such as Taft, Roosevelt (FDR), Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. Many suspect that it was here that England’s Prince of Wales met Coronado divorcee Wallis Simpson, eventually leading to his abdication in 1936.

Brian and I toured the hotel a bit – amazed by the architecture and history. We soon found our way to the beach and walked barefoot along the shore enjoying the views of the hotel from the beach. After a good stroll we wandered through the beachside neighborhood and found our way back to main street.

I heard music playing from an Irish pub and decided that it was time for our mid-day cocktail and we found it has a cool patio. Mc P’s Irish Pub – Brian and I suspected it is where all the locals call home (including their dogs). We hung out at Mc P’s and people watched (I put $10 in their jukebox) and enjoyed the cool ocean breeze. We left Coronado mid-afternoon and took the ferry back to San Diego. The sun was beating down on us and instead of walking back to the hotel, we decided to take one of the many bicycle taxis that our quite popular with the tourists. It was a fun ride back to the hotel!

It was now game time! The San Diego Padres vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers at PETCO Park. Normally I root for the home team, but with my Dodgers fighting for a wild card spot – I just had to wear my Dodger T-shirt and scream………..GO BLUE!! We found a lot of people headed to PETCO wearing Dodger Blue! Brian and I stopped in at Soleil again for another glass of that buttery Robert Mondavi Chardonnay and I met some “new friends”.

PETCO Park differentiates itself from many other ballparks built in the same era by eschewing "retro"-style brick. The stadium is clad in Indian sandstone and stucco, both of which I thought looked cheap and drab. Its exposed steel is painted white and the 42,445 fixed seats are dark blue. The design is meant to evoke the sandy color of San Diego cliffs and beaches, the blue of the ocean, and the white sails of the boats on the nearby bay.

I found it to be an intimate setting, much more so than Citizen’s Bank ballpark in Philly, but the architects design pulled restaurants and other amenities away from the seating bowl itself into other buildings surrounding the bowl. As a result, the ballpark's concourses are open to the surrounding city and not to the playing field like SAFECO Field or Camden Yards. Unlike most outdoor ballparks, in which the batter faces in a northeasterly direction, in this ballpark the batter faces due north, and fans in the grandstands are treated to a view of the San Diego Bay and the skyline beyond the left field seats with a view of Balboa Park beyond center field.

An excellent example of adaptive reuse (as seen at Camden Yards) is the Western Metal Supply Company building, a hundred-year old structure that had been scheduled for demolition to make way for PETCO Park. The building was renovated and contains the team store, private suites, a restaurant and rooftop seating. The corner of the building serves as the left field foul-pole. The “Park at the Park”, a grassy berm sloping above the outfield fence, is open during game time, allowing fans to sit and watch games for a small price. When no games are being played, the Park at the Park serves as a free local park for area residents.

Our seats were good and the game was even better….just being in a new ballpark was the highlight of our trip. The home team won, 7-0 (Peavy outdualed Lowe) and I got razzed a bit for wearing my Dodger t-shirt, but we had an amazing evening. To our surprise, after the game ended they had a 10 minute fireworks show, choreographed to Elvis music (30th anniversary of his death this summer).

Brian’s never had fireworks on his birthday and it was a perfect end to a fantastic day!

All too soon our adventures in San Diego were over. We had a great breakfast at an Irish Pub on Sunday morning and flew home on Sunday afternoon - with temps hovering around 90 degrees. We tried to walk around the Marina and Gaslamp areas (even road their version of the MAX train) but we were both grateful to get to the airport and head back to the Pacific Northwest with many wonderful memories of San Diego!