And here it is:
As there are no direct flights to San Diego from Edmonton, we had to connect in Calgary. Our connection was 55 minutes, a valid connection according to Westjet. I was told that we would stay on the “secure” side of the airport therefore wouldn’t have to go through security again. WRONG. So, in 55 minutes we had to get off the plane, walk to the other side of the airport, enter U.S. Immigration, wait for our luggage to come off the carousel, stand in line for U.S. Immigration, drop off luggage, proceed through security and finally to boarding lounge. If you get delayed at any one of these points (we did) there is a great chance you will miss your flight. We were among the last few on the plane and I wasn’t sure our checked bags would make it. Thankfully, they both did. Coming back we had 1 ½ hrs. until our connection in Calgary but we had to clear Canadian Immigration, collect our luggage, drop off our luggage, walk to the other end of the airport and go through airport security. It was a stressful start/end to our holiday. There has to be a better way. I am so much more appreciative now of direct flights.
Parking at airport:
Reserved valet parking at JetSet online. Quick and easy. If you are flying domestic with Westjet (even if you are connecting to international in another city), you can check in and drop off your checked bag right there. For a few dollars more I would recommend valet parking (especially in winter). They park your car and when you get back it’s sitting right outside the parking building. Hand them your claim ticket, they hand you your keys and you’re outta there!
We rented with Budget. I reserved online. Check the rates closer to your trip as rates may go down. You can cancel and rebook. It cost $406 Cdn. for the week ($58/day), unlimited mileage, for a Sonata (Premium) as we got their additional collision damage waiver for $15/day. Not being at all familiar with California insurance/liability laws, we though it better safe than sorry. And when renting in California make sure to bring a copy of your auto insurance. We didn’t and were so frazzled we couldn’t remember the name of our insurance company. We finally had to call the shop in Edmonton where the truck was getting repaired to ask them to look at the pink card.
We used our timeshare points to stay at the WorldMark San Diego Mission Valley. Check in was easy, they even have cards at the front with directions to places like attractions, grocery, etc. Parking in the underground gated parkade was included. We were asked if we had time to attend a welcome reception but declined and were not pressured after that. We had a one-bedroom unit with full kitchen and living room. It was the perfect size for the 2 of us. We had a small balcony with a table and 4 chairs. There was a flatscreen in the living room and bedroom. Kitchen contained a full fridge, stove, microwave, dishwasher, coffee maker. We received no maid service during the week but changed out towels mid-week. The units and building are well-maintained and clean. There are barbeques in the courtyards but we didn’t use them. Although the units don’t contain washer/dryer, there are laundry facilities to use free of charge. We signed up for the Wifi ($15 for 10 days) and took full advantage of it to check attraction websites, iMessage the kids, etc. The only downside to this property is the size of the pool. It’s rather small and I imagine quite crowded in summer. If you choose a property strictly for the pool, go elsewhere. We were too busy to use the pool. I would give this place a resounding recommendation. We were extremely pleased with our experience staying there and the fact it was only 10 to 15 minutes away from all the attractions we visited was a big selling factor. If we return to San Diego we will certainly stay here.
What we did:
First morning we took the Old Town Trolley Tour. I would highly recommend this for first time visitors as it takes you around to some major attractions so you can find your bearings. It’s also a hop off/hop on deal so you can get out and explore if that’s your preference and catch another trolley to continue the tour. Our driver, Richard, was friendly and informative plus it was a busy Saturday so our bums stayed put for the entire 2 hour tour. We gave him a tip at the end but didn’t see many others tipping. I wanted to say “what is wrong with you? Richard just spent 2 hours driving you around, giving you information and basically entertaining you and you can’t pry a couple bucks out of your wallet? Shame on you!”
Old Town - This is a historical park and the Saturday we were there kids were performing Mexican folk dances in the park. We ate at the restaurant in the back of the Cosmopolitan Hotel and went on a guided tour of the hotel – quite interesting. There are shops and outdoor shopping. The atmosphere in Old Town is quite comfortable, energetic and very friendly.
Whaley House – It’s a few dollars to explore Whaley House which has been called “the most haunted place in America”. We didn’t see anything spooky but it was the middle of a bright, sunny day and lots of people walking about. If you are interested in this kind of thing, ask the staff in period costume. Most of them have tales of strange experiences to share.
U.S.S. Midway – Decommissioned after serving in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War, this aircraft carrier is now a museum. The tour is self-guided so we were handed headphones and an audio player, given brief instructions and pointed towards #1. Walking through this piece of history, I couldn’t help but feel how claustrophobic it is and how unglamorous life aboard must have been. Such a huge vessel, divided into so many tiny pieces. We walked around the flight deck viewing the various models of planes and helicopters, wondering how many pilots took off from this place and didn’t return. After about 3 hours we were tired and starving. And we still had the other half below deck to cover. A must-see in my books.
Viejas Resort and Casino – We left town twice to visit the casino about ½ hour away. Saturday night it was rather busy and very smoky (to be expected). We used valet parking and tipped $5, well worth it considering the parking lot was jammed. Thursday it was much quieter and we went in the hotel entrance which led us to the non-smoking section of the casino we didn’t know existed – score! Payouts and table minimums similar to any other casino, I played some new games I’ve never seen before (and I was in Vegas in February). We are extremely low rollers. Saturday we each lost $20 and Thursday DH lost $100 at blackjack and I lost $60 in the slots.
Flagship Dinner Cruise – It was a very slow day on Tuesday with only 10 other people on the cruise aboard the California Princess. Probably because it was a bit chilly and a weekday. There is a coupon on their website. Cruise leaves at 7:30 and dinner is served almost immediately. You get a welcome aboard champagne and dinner which includes bread, salad, entrée and dessert. DH had the steak and I had shrimp. It was all very good. We paid extra for a cocktail, lobster bisque appetizer and our welcome aboard photo which turned out nice. You cruise in the dark so don’t see much but there is a DJ upstairs in the bar with a small dancefloor and an observation deck above that. If there were more people it would have been a lot of fun. We stood outside on deck a lot taking in the fresh air and breeze. We saw navy seals on maneuvers in the dark water. The ship cruises on the other side of Coronado Bridge but stays in the bay. I really enjoyed this.
San Diego Zoo – This zoo is world-class. And ginormous. The first thing we did was hop on the double-decker bus that takes you on a tour to 70% of the zoo. We sat in the top deck and got some great photo ops. They also have a trolley that is hop on/hop off and stops at various locations around the zoo. The sky tram takes you from one end to the other. That was a little unnerving – gliding above the trees in a metal basket suspended from a cable. We went first thing in the morning on a weekday and by about noon it was pretty busy. If you go during summer or on a weekend, get there early. Parking is free but the parking lot is huge – remember where you parked! If we return I would like to take one of the extra behind-the-scenes tours. We saw a small group on such a tour feeding the endangered Okapis.
Shopping – DH is not a shopper. He would rather walk on hot coals than wander around a mall. Window shopping is definitely out of the question. Unless it’s a Harley-Davidson dealership. Then he can spend 2 hours in there looking at the 2 racks of t-shirts. We stopped at Sweetwater Harley-Davidson (naturally) and also at Fashion Valley outlet mall to find a spring jacket for me. I found one on sale at Nordstroms. Of course, DH thinks the hoody sweater we found at the Harley store looks WAY better on me.
Coronado Island – We crossed the bridge before sunset and wanted to view the sunset from a bar at the Hotel del Coronado. Once again, the clouds rolled in before sunset so we were out of luck. But we sat at a bar anyways and had a glass of merlot and some flatbread, then shared a crème brulee. It would be interesting to spend a night at this beautiful, grand building.
Balboa Park Museums – we visited 3 of the 15 museums located in the biggest urban park in America. First was the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center which used to be a church and now displays personal effects (uniforms, medals, letters from loved ones) of those who served their country, some paying the ultimate sacrifice. We should remain eternally grateful lest we forget. We then caught the free trolley over to the Auto Museum where the current display was “low riders” and a bizarre car that was invented in the 60’s to travel non-stop from Alaska to Mexico. My only question was “why?”. Next door we entered the Air and Space Museum, first looking at the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not exhibit. Wow. Weird is all I can say about some of the bizarre collections. Like a cow hairball? Then we tour the air and space museum, very interesting. DH has a go in the F18 flight simulator. There is a monitor which shows the person inside the capsule. A school group passed by and one kid, seeing DH had his head down, asked me if he was sleeping. We walk over to the Hall of Champions Sports Museum and grab a yummy sandwich and drink from the restaurant there. We wait a couple minutes at the trolley stop and Rick (the driver who brought us over here before going for his lunch break) returns to take us back to the parking lot. He isn’t the only trolley driver in the park, trolleys run about every 10-15 minutes.
Most breakfast/lunch was in the condo. We paid $100 for groceries which included a portion of alcoholic beverages.
Island Prime – Opens at 5, we were there at 4:50. So we put our name on the list and ordered a drink in the bar. In 10 minutes we had a table by the windows which look across the water to the base. There were 3 aircraft carriers there during our stay; Ronald Reagan, Carl Vinson and John Stennis. We ordered a lobster appetizer which included lobster bisque, empanada and lobster pops. I love lobster bisque. DH had the Mahi Mahi and I had Alaskan King Crab legs. The legs were bigger than my kids’ arm. It would have tasted better had I ordered a side of melted butter but there was butter on it already and I didn’t need the extra cholesterol. They split the legs down the middle but by the time I had wrestled all the meat from the shell I needed a bath. It was a good meal but we weren’t blown away.
Cosmopolitan – We were starving after our trolley tour of San Diego and were at the restaurant right when it opened. DH had a club sandwich and I had seafood plate. We each had a sangria which was yummy and seemed very appropriate in the backyard of the former Casa de Bandini.
Benihana – On our last evening we walked across the parking lot to Benihana. The wait for a teppanyaki table was 1 ½ hr. But they have a bar and I didn’t want to sit at a regular table that has a 10 minute wait. So we bellied up to the bar and order a beer and Mai Tai. Holy smokes – happy hour Mai Tai strong! I spotted a Blue Ocean Punch Bowl (in a container big as my head) which is for “2 or more” and wanted one (to share with DH of course). Since we had over an hour that wasn’t a problem. The drink is regular $26 and happy hour it’s $10. But I was saved by the buzzer as our table was ready in 20 minutes, before I could order a drink that may have lead to some unfortunate drunken chopstick incident. I couldn’t possibly have eaten another grain of rice.
San Diego mornings are generally cloudy until the sun burns off the moisture from the ocean, then days are generally sunny, with the clouds moving back in at dusk. Once you know your exits, the freeway system is a quick way to get around, but try to avoid rush hours. I didn’t realize San Diego is home to the first and largest naval base in the U.S. It was quite impressive watching the Carl Stennis pulling into port with the aid of several tugboats. Made the task of parking our rental Sonata seem rather lame. I loved the fact that Balboa Park and the Zoo have free parking and hop on/hop off trolleys. This saved a lot of walking. Please remember to tip the drivers!
If you rent a car and own a portable GPS or have an iPhone and can download an app that doesn’t require data roaming, USE IT! Failing that, pay the extra and get GPS from the rental company. San Diego traffic is nuts on the freeways and you don’t want to second guess if that exit is yours. The GPS we took with us didn’t work and we ended up buying one. Without a functioning GPS we would have returned the car and taken taxis, seriously.
If you plan on a roadtrip or trip to the beach and are staying in a condo, why not either bring a collapsible small cooler from home or buy a cheap Styrofoam cooler and pack a lunch/snacks? We did this one day trying to find Torrey Pines Golf Course and got horribly lost (yes, even with the GPS) so returned to the condo and had a picnic there.