Friday, November 13, 2015

Retreating in San Diego and Reviews

Dome of new San Diego Public Library
In the 1990s I spent several summers teaching hands-on science to elementary teachers in San Diego, California. It was also in this lovely city that I acquired my obsession with tiny glass beads and my passion for making beaded jewelry. So when the opportunity arose to come back to one of my favorite places and to indulge my appetite for beady creations, I didn’t hesitate. On all of my previous visits, the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Wildlife Park were on my list of things to do, but this time I decided to forego these two favorites for the exploration of some places I hadn’t seen. Each earlier visit had also required that I rent a car, but on this occasion I decided to use other methods of transportation to get around the city; this turned out to be a good idea.

San Diego is an interesting mix of old and new neighborhoods, and along with the military installations there is a diversity of activities, people and pastimes that one might not expect.
The Kumeyaay people (now called the San Dieguito and La Jolla people) called this region of California home until the 16th century when it was discovered by Spanish Explorers. Originally named San Miguel by its European discoverer, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, in 1542, it was rechristened San Diego by Sebastián Vizcaíno in 1602. More than 100 years later, the Franciscan friars founded Mission San Diego de Alcalá, which became the southern anchor in California of the historic mission trail, El Camino Real. In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain, making San Diego part of the Mexican territory of Alta California. This Mexican territory didn’t last long and by the end of the Mexican-American War the territory of Alta California, including San Diego, was ceded to the United States. This opened the door for Alonzo Erastus Horton to change a sparsely populated ‘New San Diego’ into what has become the flourishing city it is today.

According to the tour guides on the Old Town Trolley Tours, Horton had visited San Diego
Buildings at Balboa Park
and saw an opportunity near the ocean shore than no one else seemed to value. For about $0.28 an acre ($68/km²) he bought a jackrabbit inhabited 960 acres (3.9 km²) of arid land then proceeded to build access to cargo ships for business owners. This access prompted the development of new businesses, with which came the infrastructure needed to make ‘New San Diego’ a profitable place to work and a pleasant place to live. In 1867, Horton asked that a public city park to be developed; this later became Balboa Park, the site of two World’s Fairs. Many of the Spanish/Baroque-style buildings that were built for those expositions remain to this day, although they were intended to be temporary structures (as were the art deco building gracing Fair Park in Dallas, Texas). Eventually most of the buildings were rebuilt, using castings of the original facades to retain the architectural style. I couldn’t resist spending most of a day visiting the museums in Balboa Park, although there isn’t time in one day to go into all of them. The Botanical Building and Lily Pond, the Timken Museum of Art, the Mingei Museum and the Museum of Man were my choices; unfortunately the San Diego Museum of Art was closed that day.

The Botanical Building and Lily Pond were a part of the complex built for the 1915-16 Exposition. The actual building is one of the largest lath structures in the world and reminds
Top L to R: Madonna of 3 Hands, Botanical Building
Bottom L to R: Monster, Angel
me of walking inside a giant trellis with gorgeous plants growing everywhere. The first thing that caught my attention was the wall of orchids, but there are around 2000 other plants that make this area a quiet retreat from the rest of the park. It was also nice to hear classical guitar being played out near the lily pond as I wandered through the greenery. Leaving the plants, I wandered over to the Timken Museum of Art. It’s an interesting mix of European old master paintings, American paintings, and Russian icons. I hadn’t gotten too far along when I decided that it would be a good idea to get one of the audio tours. While the art is well labeled, the information from the guide enhances what is on the placards; however, some of the explanations are a bit long-winded. The Russian icons were a real surprise in that there were such a large number for this very small museum and that they were extremely well explained. The rest of the art was also of high quality with pieces by Bierstadt, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, John Singleton Copley, Fragonard, Eastman Johnson, Rembrandt, and Rubens. One of the docents told me that there is only one piece that is not owned by the Putnam Foundation, and it’s on permanent loan; it stands out because there is very little information posted about it and it isn’t on the audio tour. I liked it because it has rabbits in the painting. Another wonderful building constructed for the 1915–16 Panama-California Exposition is the 200-foot California Tower. Its Spanish colonial and mission style architecture is an ornate marker for the park and houses the San Diego Museum of Man. This museum focuses on anthropology. During the last couple of weeks of this October the special exhibit was on monsters and their places in story-telling. I particularly liked the interactive exhibits with the kids putting scales on dragons and using puppets to tell their
Hawai'i Quilt
own monster stories. The rest of the museum displays anthropological exhibits about people and places throughout the Americas and around the world. The exhibits showing the Mayan stones were particularly interesting, but I was disappointed that, because of an air conditioning failure, the Egyptian wing was not open. Along with the gardens beside them, the Mingei Museum displays the art of the people (mingei) from all eras and cultures of the world. This particular week they were featuring walking sticks from around the world.  I particularly liked the sigmoid shapes that morphed into animals, body parts, and even books. The exhibitions of historical and contemporary folk art, craft and design also featured artists from each of the 50 states; from Texas there were cowboy boots, and from Hawai’i there were quilts.

After a short ride on the trolley, I set off for a quick visit to the Hotel del Coronado in the town of Coronado. Thinking back to all the trips I’ve made across the bridge to this island, I realized that I’ve never really explored the town, so that adventure is going on my list of
Hotel de Coronado
things to do when I’m back in San Diego next year. Much like San Diego, Coronado was a place one went to hunt for food, camp, or fish. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that Elisha Spurr Babcock, along with Hampton L. Story and Jacob Gruendike had the idea that the island could be turned into a resort community. Water had to be pumped in through a freshwater pipeline run under San Diego Bay, and all construction materials had to be brought in at low tide or by boat. Workers were told that any left-over materials could be used to build their own homes, and some of these rather modest houses still stand on the island. The crown jewel in the island construction is the Hotel del Coronado. This all wood resort was built in 1888 and is thought to be one of the world's best places to enjoy the sand and the sea. It is a National Historic Landmark, providing the setting for many films including one of my favorites, Some Like It Hot with Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe. Author L. Frank Baum could have seen the hotel from his front porch, so it may have been his inspiration for the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz. While no one knows if this is true, it is well known that Kate Sessions, the botanist who planted trees all over San Diego and was the guiding had behind the landscaping of Balboa Park, designed the lush landscaping for the Hotel del Coronado. Now, as it was then, ‘The Del’ is a great place to spend some time having a cold drink on one of the patios and watching the waves come ashore.

From the shores of Coronado you can look across the bay to the Point Loma peninsula.
Navy Installation 
This has been part of the military since the mid-1800s and there is still a large military presence in San Diego and its environs. The city plays host to the Naval Base San Diego, Naval Training Center San Diego, San Diego Naval Hospital, Camp Matthews, and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar as well as Ryan Aeronautical where Lindbergh's plane The Spirit of St. Louis was built in 1927. The military also studies science and does research in their labs that are near the Naval Base. Way back in the 1940s, Near-Normal Traveler Vince got his military training here. One of his tales involves Navy personnel jumping off a ship at the Naval Training Center, swimming over to Coronado, running around the island, then swimming back to the Center. This fine tradition continues, with muscular recruits running this gambit while young ladies sit at tables in outdoor cafes sipping wine and appreciating the training the Navy requires of its inductees.

My real purpose for traveling to San Diego was to see an old friend and to participate in the Beaders Dream Retreat, hosted by Beki and Shawn Haley. We all came together to learn
Beading Projects
new beading techniques and to stir up our creative juices. Our three instructors, Helena Tang-Lim (Far East), Kinga Nichols (originally Hungary, now Boulder, Colorado) and Beki Haley (Cotati, California) provided challenging projects that they invited us to use a starting points for designs of our own. Along with about 100 other beaders, I spent four wonderful days enjoying getting to know like-minded people and catching up with my friend, Teri Lawson. When I’m not traveling, I’m working on the three projects I began in San Diego and dreaming about the next time I’ll be able to enjoy another beading retreat.

I still haven’t spent as much time as I’d like in Balboa Park, Little Italy, Horton Plaza, and the Gaslamp Quarter, and of course I do need to go back to the Zoo, so it looks like I’ll be returning to this lovely city for another set of adventures. There are still more great places to stay, things to do, and places to eat. For information about my rating system, see Reading the Reviews.

Where we stayed
Three and one-half carrots

Embassy Suites by Hilton San Diego Bay Downtown (601 Pacific Highway, San Diego,
Top L to R: Bedroom, Bathroom
Bottom: Living room
California, 92101, 619-239-2400) is a well-located, nice hotel with a good breakfast and very nice happy hour included in your hotel rate. Although I didn’t have a car, parking was about $40.00 per day, which is pretty outrageous. There is street parking, but you have to feed the meter until 6:00PM. The room was quite comfortable, even with all of our luggage and gear. Having a suite was a real perk. The included breakfast buffet was well stocked and diverse; the ‘made to order’ eggs were always underdone. The staff were helpful, particularly the bellmen.

What we did
Four and one-half carrots
Timken Museum of Art (1500 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101, 619-239-5548) was established through the Putnam Foundation and is free. The audio guide is well worth its 
cost but is a bit verbose. Plan to spend several hours in this little jewel of a museum. There is paid parking in the area.

Four carrots
Botanical Building and Lily Pond (1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101, 619-239-0512) is free to the public and a lovely place to spend half an hour to an hour. Depending on when you’re there, you may be treated to some amazing seasonal flower displays. There is paid parking in the area.

Top L to R: Museum of Man, Timken painting
Bottom L to R: Ginger flower, Mural
Mingei Museum (1439 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101, 619-239-0003) is a small folk-art museum located in Balboa Park. While there is a fee to enter, it is well worth the cost. The artifacts are well-organized and well labeled. Touring this museum takes around an hour. There is paid parking in the area.

Old Town Trolley Tours (4010 Twiggs St, San Diego, CA 92101, 619-298-8687) are a great way to see San Diego. The best way to get tickets is to book online. If you’ve got the time, it’s well worth taking two days to enjoy this tour, getting off at most of the stops. The guides are all well-prepared, but some are much better than others; tipping is allowed. By the time you rent a car and pay for parking, the cost for this tour is more than reasonable. Depending on where you are staying, you may have to pay for parking near one of the Trolley stops.

San Diego Museum of Man (1350 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101, 619-239-2001) is an interesting museum with many attractions for kids. There are all sorts of artifacts to see and examine. There is paid parking in the area.

Three and one-half carrots
For Bare Feet (849 West Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101, 619-235-4014) is an 
Left: For Bare Feet
Right: Kite Flite
amusing place to go to buy socks. Sizes are available for kids and adults, with a wide selection of styles and designs. It’s cheap fun just to look.

Hotel del Coronado (1500 Orange Avenue, Coronado, CA 92118, 619-435-6611) is a lovely seaside resort. It’s a great place for playing in the waves, building sand castles, or just having a drink on the veranda. One of the shops actually has some of the historical artifacts in it, but the real attraction of the hotel is the architecture.

Kite Flight (849 West Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101, 619-235-4014) is a kit shop that includes whirly-gigs and other toys that allow you to play with the wind. The owner is quite pleasant and happy to talk about his products.

Three carrots

Top: Old Town
Bottom: Seaport Village
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park (4002 Wallace Street, San Diego, CA 92110, 619-220-5422) is located in what was the original city of San Diego. The museums are free and have lots of information about the people, businesses and social activities from the early days in the area.

Seaport Village (849 West Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101, 619-235-4014) sits on a little bay and has a myriad of shops and places to eat. There are also benches and a park area to enjoy the pleasant sea breezes.

What we ate
Four carrots

Top: Fish Tacos
Bottom: Buster's menu
Buster’s Beach House and Longboard Bar (807 W Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101, 619-233-4300) looks a bit like a diner with some outdoor seating, but has a full menu of local foods, along with typical offerings. I had some very good fish tacos and a split bottle of prosecco. Service was very good and the price was reasonable.

Edgewater Grill (861 W Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101, 619-232-7581) is a nice restaurant with a good selection of seafood. While they have the typical menu items, they
Top L to R: Edgewater menu, Kale slaw
Bottom L to R: Swordfish, Rosemary rolls
also have fresh fish specials. I had the grilled swordfish, which was indeed fresh, along with a very nice kale slaw and nicely prepared potatoes. The Jam Jar Moscato was good, as well. Service was good and the price was fair.

Three and one-half carrots
Kansas City Barbecue (600 W Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101, 619-231-9680) is the 
Left: Kansas City menu
Right T to B: Brisket sandwich, Pulled pork sandwich
‘sleazy bar’ where some of the scenes from Top Gun were filmed. Inside, the bar remains the same with movie memorabilia and the piano still in place; there is limited seating in this area. It was more comfortable to have something to eat outside under the umbrellas, and we opted for a pulled pork sandwich and a barbecue brisket sandwich. The slaw was tasty and the sandwiches were nicely done. Prices were a bit high.

Puesto at The Headquarters (789 W Harbor Drive, #155, San Diego, CA 92101, 619-233-8880) is an upscale taco shop. The setting is lovely, with outdoor seating and tables on the
Left T to B: Menu, Tacos
Right: Cheese guacomole
second floor with a panorama of San Diego. While the tacos were very good (tuna, lamb, two kinds of chicken, and pork), the cheese guacamole and esquites (corn salsa) were quite unusual and very flavorful. The service was marginal; attention to detail was not their strength.

Three carrots

L to R: Mahi Mahi tacos, calamari
Pacific Fish Company Bar & Grill (601 Pacific Hwy, San Diego, CA 92101, 619-232-0274) is located inside the Embassy Suites. The food is ‘middle of the road’, as is the service. We did have a nice plate of calamari, and the Mahi Mahi fish tacos were good as well. The prices were a bit high and the service was uneven. 

L to R: Dragon, Man Sculptures

©2015 NearNormal Design and Production Studio - All rights including copyright of photographs and designs, as well as intellectual rights are reserved.