They say when your eyes are opened to the truth, you can never not see it. That’s how I’ve felt about air travel ever since my family somehow ended up in the business class cabin on a flight to Barcelona while the aches and pains from being wedged into economy class from Paris were still aching and paining. My new mission on all trips is to get upgraded seats, whether by booking way in advance, trading in points on our credit card reward programs, or postulating about my grave concerns about the health of cattle car travel. I argued that if we flew first class, we could extend our spring break trip and spend Easter day in California, figuring that if we had more room and reclining seats, the kids could sleep on a red eye and not miss school on Easter Monday. So we splurged on United First Class. Of course, the evil eye of vague travel headaches followed me, and after extolling the virtues of how much more relaxed and refreshed we’d feel in the premier cabin—-no blankets, no pillows, and I’m guessing it was our flight attendant’s first time running first class. After lunch, she never came back down the aisle to see if anyone wanted drink refills or coffee. Passengers tracked her down in the galley to get more soda or water, and when she passed out the little sweet treat before landing, no coffee or tea was offered .I know I’ve seen flight attendants more on a two-hour flight in coach to Orlando than I saw ours during our cross-country flight.
The San Diego airport is stunning to fly into, as it sits on the bay with the city as its backdrop. The taxi stand is right out side the door from baggage claim and no wait at all to get two taxis (5 people and we brought a lot of luggage—note to self, just because you CAN bring two bags for free, doesn’t mean you need to…) and headed to our hotel.
The Hotel Del Coronado, built in 1888, is under renovation. Our suite had a beautiful view of the ocean and the new sea-to-table restaurant under construction.
Rooms are also being refurbished and the construction starts EARLY. But then, so did the hallway noise. Every day we were there, people in the hall were raising a ruckus between 6 and 6:30 am. It was the noise level I usually hear at a Hampton Inn on a tournament weekend when I have the misfortune of being on the same floor as the travel team with the 8am game. We may have heard them so well because our bed was practically in the hall. The renovation is desperately needed. Our bed had lumps and valleys, and the bath with its pedestal sink and shower/tub combo was a shock from the typical walk-in shower of the spa-inspired bathrooms of newer luxury hotels,. They added a curved shower rod which did a great job of making the shower feel less claustrophobic, but the bathroom really needed some kind of vanity for getting ready.. My choices for my blowdryer were the bathroom, where the only place to put down the dryer was the sink, or in the sitting room in front of the distressed mirror, but I still didn’t have a place to rest the dryer. The magnifying vanity mirror was kept in the closet because I guess they couldn’t find anywhere to put anything in the bathroom either..
We made it down to the beach bar overlooking the ocean where we had the best guacamole and drinks(rocking Cosmopolitan). They came around a lit the fireplaces and it was a quintessential West Coast spring evening on the beach. We ordered pizzas to go from Eno and a bottle of wine. The Caesar salad with whole leafs of Romaine and very tasty dressing was a great starter.
Tuesday morning we ate breakfast at the hotel with our HiltonHonors vouchers and decided to add the hot breakfast option for an additional $20 each. The quinoa and mixed vegetables were quite good, and the rest of the hot items like scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, were typical breakfast buffet fare. We also tried the custom orders of eggs benedict, and tasted the traditional and a southwest version. They were tasty, but it took quite a bit of time for them to come out to the table and we didn’t order them again.
Today was our San Diego coastal tour with Another Side of San Diego (https://anothersideofsandiegotours.com/private-san-diego-tours/. ) We were picked up by our driver/tour guide at the hotel by a Mercedes Sprinter van which had plenty of room, cold water, and snacks!
We had a drive around Coronado, past the Navy SEALs obstacle course, drove up to Mt Soledad National Veterans Memorial, and on to Torrey Pines and stopped on our way back–desperately searching for clean restrooms. My husband was also curious if there was any chance of getting on the South Course, so we stopped by the Torrey Pines lodge in search of the Pro shop (and found clean restrooms!) And my husband learned that since the South Course is under renovation with two holes closed, it would be easy for a single to jump on.
My favorite stop of the day was at La Jolla beach. Dozens of sea lions swim in the water and sun themselves on the rocks. They are pretty smelly, but I could watch them play and swim all day.
Despite the smell, we were hungry and our tour guide helped us find some tacos and the biggest cheese quesadilla we’ve ever seen at a little chain taco shop called Rigoberto’s. I was a little taken aback that my fish tacos were breaded and fried with tartar sauce on the tortilla, but extra points that my daughter’s cheese quesadilla was just cheese and tortilla, which, believe it or not, is much harder to get than it sounds. We headed onward to Mission Beach and Pacific Beach and stopped by Crystal Pier and debated the merits of staying over the ocean.
We drove through the Gaslamp district and saw the Padres’ home field, but it didn’t make our “must return-to list” because it seemed like mostly chain restaurants and bars. The tour was a great way to get introduced to a city. We had only been to San Diego for a couple of nights before a field hockey tournament in Palm Springs several years ago, and hadn’t seen anything other than the Del and the San Diego Zoo. Our tour guide/driver was knowledgeable about the geography and history and amenable to impromptu stops (like Torrey Pines golf lodge and the taco shop!)
Back in Coronado, we decided to make the trek to Park Place Liquor and Deli. It carried beer, wine, liquor, and snacks. While prices were way better than the hotel, they wines were marked up about $5-$10 bottle more than typical metro DC retail prices. Based on a couple of recommendations, we ate dinner at Brigantine at the Orange Avenue location. By far the best thing about the restaurant was that another table on the patio had three dogs with them.
We ordered the haddock special and the T-bone special and neither were very special. I ordered my steak medium rare and it came out with barely any pink. My husband finally flagged down a waiter to ask for some hot sauce to try to punch up the flavor of his dish. We couldn’t find a bottle of wine that piqued our interest, but our waiter recommended their highlighted winery Michael David. I went with the 6th Sense Syrah and my husband had the Freakshow Cabernet Sauvignon.
They were both great, but, alas, we never got a chance to order a second glass. My kids didn’t fare much better with $15 sandwiches from the little deli shop in the Del.
Wednesday my husband got to return to Torrey Pines for his round of golf and my girls and I hung around Coronado. We walked down Orange Avenue to the Juice Crafters and picked up a green juice, berry-based juices, and a Flu Off shot for my daughter who was feeling under the weather. The juices were great, but the Flu Off shot tasted so awful my daughter spit out the first sip and we never got to see if it worked. Orange Avenue in Coronado is filled with souvenir shops, women’s and children’s clothing stores, and lots of restaurants. Seaside Papery (http://www.seasidepapery.com) was our favorite little store—lots of paper products, obviously, but also books, trinkets, and some home decor. We ended up with pencils, sealing waxes and stamps. After a challenging 16 holes at Torrey Pines, my husband rejoined us and we headed to The Tavern for dinner.
We started with the mac and cheese starter and it was awesome! My kids split the ribs and said they weren’t very flavorful, which was my husband’s assessment of his fish tacos. He also ordered the roasted brussel sprouts which had a flavor profile through the roof and just delicious . I had the burger and it was really tasty. The wine list was pretty limited, but we ordered the Justin Cab and were able to cork it and take it back to our hotel to finish on the balcony.
Even though it didn’t have any sea lions, Thursday was my favorite day. We had rented a beach cabana and headed to beach right after breakfast. It was sunny, but cooler and the water was about 60 degrees, so it was more of beach-as-a-backdrop than a splash-in-the-surf day. With an attentive waiter and endless sunshine, we spent the day reading, playing paddle ball, and waiting for my oldest daughter to arrive from New York. One of the best dishes we had in San Diego was the surf and turf tacos from the Beach and Taco Shack on the property—carne asada and shrimp never tasted so good. My oldest arrived in time to enjoy a couple of hours of afternoon sun and a bottle of rosé. For dinner, we called ahead to get reservations at Chez Loma, a french restaurant just a few blocks from the hotel. Solid French food in an intimate setting, and we were the last in the restaurant and never felt pressured to turn over the table or felt hurried out the door.
Friday we headed over to Balboa Park to visit the museums. We walked through the botanical gardens which made me anxious to go home and buy every plant ever. Then we toured the Timken Museum of Art, and were wowed by its collection of old masters and Russian Icons–as an added plus, admission is free! The San Diego Museum of Art was our next stop. The admission is $15 and we like seeing Georgia O’Keefe and the exhibit “The Art of Devotion.” We hiked some trails and then Ubered back to Coronado for lunch. One of our cheapest meals in San Diego was a couple of pizzas the the Village Pizzeria on Orange Avenue. Five thumbs up for the crispy pepperoni that we got on our pizza.
Our adventure for the evening was a sailing tour of San Diego Bay (https://sandiegosailingtours.com), snacks, soft drinks, beer, and white wine (red wine stains the boat!) are provided and so is a turn to steer the boat! I love being on the water and we got to see some more sea lions on the buoys, docks, and swimming in the bay, but you don’t venture to anywhere more picturesque because the sunset sail is only about two hours. I really enjoyed it, but my husband would have preferred getting out of what felt like a commercial sea lane. Maybe next time we would book a half-day or full-day cruise to get along the coast.
Saturday was our chance to return to the places that piqued our interest on Tuesday’s coastal tour. We hiked for a couple of hours at Torrey Pines and were stunned by the breathtaking views and the crowds.
After a 10-15 minute wait, we then caught an Uber to Del Mar to hit a restaurant recommended to us by a friend that used to live in San Diego. Pacifica Del Mar, despite being knocked by our Uber driver who arrogantly advised us to talk to people other than our hotel concierge for restaurant recommendations, was a great place for lunch. We started with the baked oysters—oysters topped with cheese–and I had a delicious, juicy grass-fed burger.
We had wine by the glass because the three of us drinking couldn’t agree on one, and it was great. We caught another Uber to La Jolla to revisit my sea lions and explore the main drag a little bit. There was one gelato joint right by the beach which had a line down the block, but we crossed the street and had what I thought was pretty darn tasty gelato with only a wait of a few minutes.
Another Uber back to the Del and we were ready for our movie night on the beach. I’ll admit I was reluctant to book the event, but my two younger kids(but still high=school-aged) were sold on “Scooby Doo” on the beach. I chose the Family Movie Package which comes with a daybed (like we had for our beach day), two sand chairs, a private fire pit, and s’mores for four and a $300 price tag.
We were allowed to bring drinks from the beach bar, which was doing last call, and paid highway robbery prices for the soft drinks ($6) and most outrageously, the little bags of chips you put in your kid’s lunch were $6 too! But, our attendant did a great job tending our fire pit and checking on us throughout the movie. Anyway, that evening ended up being tons of fun and sitting at a fire pit on the beach watching a movie will be one of our fondest memories.
Easter Sunday. In the past, our kids have demanded that we come home from spring break early enough to spend Easter at home, but we decided to spend Easter at The Del and fly home on the red eye. Live and learn. At 7am we were awoken by protesters from the service sector of the hotel marching on the beach side of the hotel, demanding fair treatment from the Del. In truth it made me uncomfortable to realize I was staying at a hotel with unhappy employees.
I reserved a table at the famous Easter brunch at the Del, a little sticker shocked from the cost — for 5 people, including tax and gratuity, it was $890!!! For brunch! I kept thinking that would be a lot of waffles and mimosas, but the the buffet promised to be legendary. It was a little bit of a madhouse checking in, but 5 or 10 minutes after our scheduled seating the five of us were shown to our table—-a tabletop for four with another place setting crammed in. Our server had to take away our coffee cups and saucers so we could sort of fit our plates. Then we ordered a bottle of wine a la cart and we had nowhere to put the bottle and our glasses. My husband asked to move an empty table next to us so we could have enough table space for our plates and glasses.
The buffet had carving stations, seafood towers, a poké bowl and ramen noodle stations, hot and cold side dishes, a lot of dessert stations, including cotton candy. Like most buffets that try to make that much food for so many people, the scale was dramatic, but taste was average. The poké bowls were a standout, however, probably because the bowl doesn’t need to be prepared beforehand.
I had rented a pool cabana for somewhere to relax after brunch until it was time to head to the airport. It was quite chilly, so we elected not to swim and hung out in the cabana with the outdoor sofa. For $250 we had use of the cabana, a fridge stocked with soft drinks, some goldfish and pop chips for snacks, and a fruit plate.
The cabin crew for our flight home was amazing—attentive, yet unobtrusive during the overnight hours, but the seats didn’t recline again and the kids bargained for a day off from school. My first class manifesto was dinged by the inattention on the Dulles-San Diego leg and the seats that didn’t fully recline on either leg, but it was nice to have leg room.
This is the first family trip where we didn’t rent a car. We took taxis from the airport, and used Uber throughout the trip and it worked out great! The longest wait for an Uber to show up was at Torrey Pines State Reserve and we waited about 15 minutes. The scenery driving around San Diego is spectacular and with Uber, my husband (the usual driver) was able to enjoy the sights, too. Not to mention, our drivers were almost always helpful with things to see and do.