Archive for December, 2018

A walk along San Diego’s Embarcadero

December 31st, 2018

Sailboat at sunset

Walking along San Diego’s Embarcadero brought back a lot of unexpected memories. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

Far too late in my trip I thought it’d be great to book a sunset cruise on San Diego’s bay. By the time I thought of this there were no available cruises. If you think of this obvious activity in advance it can be booked everywhere from Hornblower to Viator to Airbnb.

So I settled for taking a nice walk along the Embarcadero waterfront as the sun slowly set over the horizon.

Heading south from the USS Midway Museum I found myself at a small waterfront shopping center. From there the busy footpath hits two parks bordering a private marina.

Kites at Embarcadero Marina Park

At the north end of the park people were stacking rocks, flying kites, and making large soap bubbles. It was touristy but also very low-key, as far as I could tell the kite flyers in particular weren’t asking for tips.

The north and south ends of the park aren’t connected. They only exist to protect the Mariott’s private marina from waves.

Mariott marina

It’s a long walk between the two parks, but I felt compelled to continue. In between is the marina with boats that must cost a fortune. On the opposite side is the convention center. They were hosting a car show with test drives for new cars out back on the waterfront side.

When I finally reached the south side of the park, a group of tourists zipped up on electric scooters and asked me to take a photo of them against the sunset.

This was maybe the fourth group who asked me to take a photo, but I happily obliged. One woman in the group wanted to line up the shot before I hit the button on her iPhone as though she was a director of photography.


At some point while walking around — I’m not sure quite when — I recalled having visited this part of the bay’s shore last time. The convention I attended back in 2007 had an after party here at the park.

Suddenly it all came flooding back. At the party I met a young woman about my age and we got to chatting. We both felt kind of intimidated among the larger group of professors and intellectuals. It wasn’t anything romantic as neither of us were single, but a mutual feeling of being lost in an academic and professional world neither of us truly understood as students. We hung out at the party for hours, young and confused by those around us.

I don’t recall her name or even what she looked like, and I’m pretty sure we never exchanged contact info. But our chance encounter was all I could think about sitting around that funny little park behind the Convention Center as the sun set on San Diego Bay.

Maritime Museum of San Diego

December 31st, 2018

Maritime Museum

This one’s a little strange: San Diego’s Maritime Museum is just a collection of various old ships and submarines you can wander around. I walked up to the ticket counter on shore just outside the Star of India ship and showed the guy the QR code for my ticket on my phone, and he didn’t really look at it before stamping my hand. So it’s a pretty low-key operation.

Boarding the Star of India is interesting and unexpected. It’s an old sailing ship but strangely not that old. It’s from the 19th century and the hull is made of iron! Yes, it looks like an old wooden sailing ship but it’s not — yet it really did sail the world under wind power.

As it turns out I was doing this museum kind of backward, but that’s okay, it’s a quirky museum of old ships and the order you visit barely matters. That said the Star of India is the only ship in the museum with its own entrance on the waterfront. This particular ship is a state landmark.

Maritime Museum Maritime Museum

For the most part these old ships are more interesting below deck where you can see how the sailors lived in cramped quarters. One unusual feature of the Star of India is what appears to be some kind of jukebox thing on the deck turns out to be a well decorated skylight from the deck below.

The museum includes so many ships I’m not going to include them all.

Maritime Museum

I intentionally skipped a Soviet submarine that’s supposedly fascinating but a pain to crawl through. It was pretty odd to see a Soviet flag flying in San Diego, if for no other reason that it makes me feel old.

Unlike kids today I remember the end of the Cold War with the USSR. Back in the day the Republican party was all about tearing down a border wall instead of building a new one. How times have changed.

Maritime Museum Maritime Museum

The other ship at the museum that interested me was the HMS Surprise, a replica wooden ship built for tourists back in 1970. Since then it’s been used for various purposes, but was most notably featured in the 2003 film Master and Commander.

Is it a historic ship? That’s hard to say. It was initially built as a replica of the 18th century HMS Rose, but was modified to fit Hollywood films in more recent decades.

I couldn’t help laughing at the (oversized) cannons pointed at a cruise ship, wondering what it would take to blow a cruise ship out of the water with an old wood galley ship. “FIRE”, I imagined ordering the gun deck as we swung around the unarmored cruise ship.

The number of tourists at the Maritime Museum was pretty light, especially compared to the USS Midway Museum. Here and there a bunch of children were running around, but for the most part visitors were surprisingly sparse. It’s a large museum, one that can make people seasick and turn off visitors afraid of climbing or heights.

My recommendation: Overall it’s a weird museum, and as such I’m not sure who to recommend it to. Personally I loved it, and if you read this blog you probably will too. A lot of children seem to like it as well. That said if you have trouble with stairs and ladders it’s not for you.

USS Midway Museum

December 31st, 2018

USS Midway Museum

Initially I didn’t plan on visiting the USS Midway Museum as it sits right in the most touristy part of San Diego, next to the cruise ship terminals. But glowing reviews online made me figure it was worth a visit, especially considering I wanted to see the Maritime Museum which is just down the street. Besides, the museum itself is an aircraft carrier — not a place most of us civilians would get to see up close.

So I bought a ticket and headed over. I decided to walk since I needed to burn off all those calories from the Tijuana street food tour yesterday.

It’s easy enough to find the USS Midway Museum, but on my walk over I noticed something that made my heart stop for a second: an enormous cruise ship — taller than the Midway herself — was docked right next door. That meant thousands of potential more tourists to compete with!

Worse as I soon found out the USS Midway Museum doesn’t handle crowds well. You have to wait in up to six lines to get in: bag check, ticket check, mandatory photo, plus one if you drove and want to park there, plus one if you didn’t buy a ticket in advance, plus one if you want an audio guide.

Strangely none of these lines did much for crowd control, so once I got into the main area — the hangar deck — it was quite crowded and hard to move around. The hangar deck has a wide array of exhibits, but the main attraction seems to be some flight simulator rides. For the kids that’s probably fun, but not really what I came to see.

The most interesting part by far is the flight deck up on top. Since the Midway was in service from 1945 through 1992 it’s seen a number of different types of aircraft, from propeller planes to helicopters to cargo aircraft to fighter jets — and they have one of everything. Some of them you can climb or walk into.

But the best part of the flight deck isn’t the airplanes, it’s the navy veteran tour guides explaining how it all worked. Some interesting things I learned:

  • Planes could take off or land every 45 seconds at peak capacity.
  • To land, planes had to catch a cable that would bring them to a quick and unpleasant stop. I saw several videos of this in action, both in day and at night.
  • Planes had to land with their engines at maximum, because if the cable mechanism didn’t work they’d have to take off again. Once more there was a video of this. According to the guide this only happens once every 25 years or so.
  • If the plane could fly but was too damaged to land properly, they’d set up a giant net on the runway to catch the plane. The ship’s firefighters were on hand for rescue. The video of this was too insane to describe, it looked like something out of a Road Runner cartoon. Yet the guide said the pilot’s only injuries in this particular case were pulled muscles and he was out flying again the next day, and even the jet fighter itself took only ten days to repair.

Nothing else was quite as impressive as those talks and videos, but a close second is the views from up on the flight deck. On the one side you’ve got downtown San Diego, the bay on the other.

USS Midway Museum USS Midway Museum

Around the time I was thinking of leaving I was getting a little thirsty — they’re very picky about the water bottles allows on board — so I checked the vending machines. They were all sold out of everything! Worse, the cafes had long lines.

In the end I think my initial snap judgement of the USS Midway Museum was partially correct: yes, it’s super touristy and as such can be crowded. On the other hand if you want to learn more about post World War II military history it’s the place to go.

My recommendation: If you’re interested in the military, ships, and/or airplanes definitely check it out, otherwise skip it. Buy tickets online (it’s cheaper and you skip the main entry line) and either walk or take the trolley if possible. Wear sunscreen and/or a hat because the most interesting parts are all on the flight deck up top.

Tijuana street food tour

December 30th, 2018

Tijana street food tour

I spent this afternoon on a guided street food tour of Tijuana. Starting at the Blue Line trolley stop near my Airbnb, I took a ~45 minute ride to the last stop on the line at San Ysidro. The trolley stop is a stone’s throw from the border between the US and Mexico.

I’d signed up for the Wild Foodie Tours Tijuana street food tour based on many positive online reviews. As it turned out our guide Albert is the one man operation behind the company. He’s a self-described foodie who comes from a restaurant family.

The tour I’m about to describe is my experience only; this tour varies depending on what’s available on Tijuana’s street food scene. I should also point out I’ve commented on Mexico’s excellent street food scene before during my visit to Mexico City in 2011.

The tour started — ironically enough — just outside a McDonald’s at the border. You can’t miss the location if you take the trolley since it’s at the trolley platform. Albert guided us through Mexico’s customs. On foot it’s not super obvious where to go, but once you’re inside you get a passport stamp, they scan your bags, and that’s about it.

Aside from the guide our group included myself from California, two people from New Jersey, and a family from New Zealand. The last group took a little longer but I think the total time was probably under ten minutes. It’s not like the old days where people could apparently just walk into Mexico, but it’s still pretty fast.

On the other side of the border we walked over to a shared taxi stop. If you’re unfamiliar with Mexico’s transit this might be a little confusing. In American English we call a shared taxi a “jitney”, but I doubt many Americans are familiar with the term. It’s kind of like public transit in that it’s cheap and shared, but it’s not strictly official. Even if you speak Spanish I’d recommend a local guide for this mode of transit.

Our first stop was a semi-open air farmer’s market, Mercado M. Hidalgo. It’s a super crowded and not particularly tourist friendly market where you can find everything from fruits and vegetables to religious figurines and pinatas. I had to keep dodging people and ducking in order to follow our group around the place.

Early on our guide got a large fruta con chile to share for the group. This is a simple, classic Mexican snack: it’s a bunch of big wedges of fruit (melons, jicama, etc.) dusted with chili powder. The sweet juicy fruits combined with the spices combine in your mouth to explode with a strange sensation of burning sweetness.

Tijana street food tour

We stopped at the market to sample a variety of foods available for purchase, the highlight for me was a shop selling spiced nuts and dried fruits. I wish I’d bought some of the spiced peanuts but I also know I’d have wolfed them all down by now.

Tijana street food tour

The next stop was a food truck well known among locals and had a small crowd. We got fish tacos that took a while to prepare, but were outstanding. I’ve never had anything quite like it — the soft shell tacos were crunchy and grilled on the outside, but soft on the inside.

This was by far the highlight of the tour for me. Fish tacos are a classic Californian dish, but this variation blew me away. The younger member of the New Jersey group confessed this was the best fish taco she’d ever had, and I couldn’t disagree.

On the way to the next stop one member of our group pointed out that the top of a fire hydrant seemed to be sticking out from the sidewalk. Albert brushed this off replying with “a lot of what you’ll see in Mexico makes no sense.” Words to live by.

Tijana street food tour

Next we wandered over to a street food vendor offering a variety of seafood dishes. We got their ceviche, which was good though it seemed like a step down from the previous tacos. Then again almost anything would seem like a step down from those delicious tacos.

Some of the other seafood dishes they offered seemed more interesting, including a raw clam dish. One person in the group wanted to try it, but our guide warned them it would be very filling and spoil their appetite for the rest of the tour.

Tijana street food tour

Although not part of the tour exactly, we went to a traditional Mexican bakery for those interested in purchasing classic Mexican sweet pastries and cookies. Apparently California’s food import laws allow baked goods to be brought in. They’re much pickier about fruits, however. But fruits in baked goods are okay.

We made a brief stop at a corner taco stand serving carne asada tacos. As a pescatarian I had a bean taco which was fine, especially after adding various toppings including extremely spicy salsa and grilled onions. The best part was the tortilla, handmade to order right there at the taco stand as we watched.

Tijana street food tour

We had a much longer stop at an indoor juice shop for agua frescas and horchata. The owner’s daughter served the beverages for us, she was barely tall enough to reach over the refrigerators. My horchata was excellent. Aside from the bakery this was the only stop that I guess isn’t technically street food, though the sides of the store were open to the sidewalk.

This stop offered a nice chance to sit at some makeshift tables and chairs and chat for a bit while watching the people, cars, and taxi buses pass by. Albert told us about some of the other tours he offers, including one to Caesars, the Tijuana restaurant that invented the Caesar salad. The guy gets around, he says he’s going to have some completely new food tours just days away in 2019.

As we sat at the corner juice spot one person in the group pointed out how Mexico’s stoplights work differently — before switching to yellow, the green light starts flashing. At the same time the walk signal starts flashing as well, before switching to a solid red hand.

I’d noticed this as well. Some of the pedestrian signals have countdown timers, but they often aren’t hooked up correctly. (Many just flash “88.”) This hardly matters since Mexican drivers treat stop lights as suggestions rather than rules so you have to be careful and cross your fingers as you cross the street.

The father of the New Zealander in the group told me he thought California drivers were overly polite and was more used to haphazard way people drive in Mexico. He claimed it’s due to some weird quirk in New Zealand’s law where car insurance is partially government subsidized so there’s less personal incentive to avoid collisions.

Tijana street food tour

Our last major food break was another taco stand, a big street food operation that attracted quite a crowd. At this point I was super stuffed and could only finish off one of the two fried fish and seasoned sour cream tacos. Two police officers were taking their time at their lunch break as we ate. They hogged the salsa stand perched on an outdoor windowsill.

Strangely this street food stand had a storefront across the sidewalk they used for storing ingredients and such. Seemed to me they could have just operated out of there? Then again they were clearly successful operating just off the sidewalk so who am I to argue.

Aside from fish tacos this vendor also specialized in a seafood soup. That might have been a better option at this spot but it was interesting watching the guy operating the fryer, tossing breaded fish into a huge vat of oil for the fried fish tacos.

Tijana street food tour

The last food stop crossed the ultra-touristy Avenida Revolucion to a vendor offering churros. Don’t get me wrong, a freshly fried churro is great; but it also seemed anti-climactic for a food tour. Then again I was far more used to Mexican food than most of the participants in the group, being the only Californian.

The vendor made each churro by extruding the dough from a device built into the cart by cranking what looked like a steering wheel before dipping it in the fryer. These were very small, thin churros sold in a small paper bag like french fries. And I have to say they were delicious.

On the opposite side of the sidewalk a store was selling shoes… and mobile phones. Only in Mexico!

At the end Albert took us on a on a shared taxi back to the border and instructed us where to go. He said he’d stay the night in Tijuana as we all passed customs back into the US.

Entering the US on foot from Tijuana was very quick. There was no special line for US citizens. One of the New Zealanders made it across before I did, and we wished one another a happy new year before I had to literally run to catch the Blue Line trolley back to downtown San Diego.

San Diego’s Balboa Park

December 29th, 2018

Balboa Park

I suspected one of the places I had to see in San Diego was Balboa Park, but I also knew very little about it. Where to start? So I signed up for a 90 minute morning walking tour through Airbnb, Tour & Hidden Secrets of Balboa Park. The tour was a great intro to the park, going over its history, plants, architecture, and pointing out a few hidden spots most visitors probably miss.

The main area of the park includes a lot to see: a number of museums, a botanical garden, a Spanish Village-themed art gallery, the Shakespeare-inspired Old Globe Theater, a couple of restaurants, an outdoor auditorium for organist performances, various gardens, and probably many other things I missed.

Point is you could easily spend a day or two here if you wanted to see everything. And that’s only one small section of the park: there are also hiking trails, the San Diego Zoo (but not the Safari Zoo), and even a hospital.

Balboa Park Balboa Park Balboa Park Balboa Park

Many of the buildings in the main stretch of the park today were built for two expositions, the first of which coincided with the opening of the Panama Canal. Those buildings have either been restored or replaced since exposition buildings are typically meant to be temporary.

The reflecting pool in the last photo in the above gallery sits in front of the botanical garden. For whatever reason so many people have abandoned unwanted exotic pets there the park had to put up a sign telling people not to abandon animals in the pool.

This immediately reminded me of a story I heard on the Gaslamp tour where a bar owner kept exotic animals including a bear. His animal collection was tolerated until the bear bit a police officer’s nose, and so the barkeeper was ordered to remove the animals from his bar. The barkeeper’s solution? He just abandoned them all outside of town. If this is how San Diegans have treated their animals over the years, it certainly puts SeaWorld in context.

Balboa Park

My favorite part of the botanical garden was this tiny sign in a small garden devoted to carnivorous plants, although the touch-and-sniff herb garden was a close second.

Speaking of funny and unexpected signs…

Balboa Park

As the tour ended a fleet of food trucks were setting up shop. Due to a scheduling problem — for once not my fault — I thought I only had a few hours to spare after the tour. So I grabbed a quick lunch at a food truck and ate it at a sunken garden that at one point in time was apparently a nudist colony.

On one hand it’s hard to imagine paying to watch naked people go about their day at a park, on the other hand they didn’t exactly have YouTube back then. And hey, you’re reading about my travels so who are you to judge how other spend their free time?

Before jumping on a bus out of Balboa Park for the day, there was one quick stop I knew I had to make.

Timken Museum of Art Timken Museum of Art

The Timken Museum of Art is a tiny museum with free admission in Balboa Park. It’s a quirky little museum featuring mostly European paintings from the 16th through the 18th centuries, give or take.

Overall it’s a tasteful collection and it’s hard to argue with the price of entry. The museum guards kept having to shoo away toddlers and small children from the priceless paintings — a thankless job to be sure.

Timken Museum of Art

A few minutes before I left the above painting caught my eye. At first I thought I must have seen the painting before, then I realized no, it only looked familiar because I’ve been there. I forgot to write down the year or artist behind this painting but suffice it to say Saint Mark’s Square in Venice is well preserved.

How strange is it that a trip to San Diego made me reminisce about my trip to Italy?

Gaslamp Walking Tour

December 28th, 2018

Gaslamp Quarter
Gaslamp Quarter Horton Grand Hotel

During my first visit to San Diego I remember walking across a busy street and set of train tracks from the Convention Center to the Gaslamp Quarter (or Gaslamp District, depending who you ask.) According to the big sign crossing Fifth Avenue the Gaslamp is the self-proclaimed “Historic Heart of San Diego.”

The neighborhood’s promotional pamphlets had already turned me off somewhat, and on seeing this stretch of the Gaslamp my tourist trap sensor went off — all the restaurants on the block had barkers out front.

Today that particular stretch of the Gaslamp is even more tourist trap-y with the addition of a Hard Rock Cafe. You can poke around on Google Street View here to see for yourself.

So I was a little apprehensive about signing up for a walking tour of a neighborhood that seemed so touristy. But the organization behind the tour appeared legitimate and I’m always down for an interesting walking tour.

This Gaslamp walking tour is specifically the Gaslamp Foundation Thursday Walking Tour although from what I understand you can book the same tour on Saturdays.

The tour meets at the Davis-Horton House Museum, which is operated by the same organization behind the tour.

Early on, the tour throws some shade on that big Gaslamp Quarter sign’s claim to be the “historic heart” of San Diego. The original inhabitants of San Diego were Native Americans, a claim easily verified by anyone familiar with California’s Spanish history — the first Mission was built in San Diego in 1769 to convert the natives to Catholicism — and it’s pretty far away from the Gaslamp.

Second the Gaslamp was originally known as New Town, promoted as the new downtown San Diego, much closer to the port (now where the Convention Center is located) than Old Town further up north. Old Town is still preserved in some capacity and is another tourist attraction. So there’s that.

But by far the biggest blow to the image promoted to tourists about the Gaslamp are the “gas lamps” themselves. Those ye olde fashioned (electric) light posts lining the streets were installed in the 1980’s when city planners became interested in preserving the area, and rebranded it as the “Gaslamp Quarter.” Although gas lamps were installed inside buildings back in the day, the streets themselves never actually had gas lamps illuminating them at night.

Before the Gaslamp rebranding, New Town was known locally as the Stingaree. Nobody calls it that anymore. Marketing is a powerful force.

A few highlights of the tour:

  • Many of the Victorian buildings were renovated to “modernize” or strip them of the Victorian elements after World War 2. Some of them were recently renovated back to appear Victorian again based on photos or even molds of other buildings. To me the ways we “preserve” history say more about the prevailing fashions at the time than anything meaningful about history.
  • San Diego’s Chinatown (or Asiatown, really) once included part of today’s Gaslamp. It’s all but forgotten unless you know where to look. Even then there’s little left to see.
  • Several buildings were moved one way or another, including the Davis-Horton House as well as the nearby Horton Grand Hotel. The Horton Grand Hotel was originally two hotels, ripped down, put into storage, and eventually rebuilt as a single hotel in a different location. This explains why one side has trapezoidal bay windows and the other features rectangular bay windows.
  • Buildings near a port often served as brothels because, you know, sailors. The photo of the ornate Victorian above is a semi-recreation of a building that once housed a particularly well known brothel. The madam sold color-coded marbles, with each color corresponding to a painted door leading to a sex worker in the building. Authorities cracking down on brothels in the area — and there were many brothels — couldn’t touch this simple marble saleswoman. As if that’s not enough supposedly Wyatt Earp frequented the place, but supposedly only the restaurant on the bottom floor.

There’s much more to the tour than this, and my tour guide pointed out that you can wander around and read the historical plaques tacked on to the sides of many historic buildings in the area. That said the early history of the area is often more colorful and complex than the plaques would have you believe.

Our tour entered several buildings to point out historical details not visible from the outside, but officially this walking tour only includes the interior of the Davis-Horton House. That said many of the older buildings in the Gaslamp Quarter are open to the public to some extent (stores, restaurants, etc.) so you can take a peek inside on your own to get a feel for 19th century San Diego.

My recommendation: If you’re interested in the history and architecture of the west coast, go for it. For that matter the tour’s worth checking out if you’re curious about the ways history is preserved, or even what’s considered to be historic. Turns out there’s far more to San Diego’s history than navy operations and beaches. Who knew?

San Diego Central Library

December 28th, 2018

San Diego city skyline

From certain angles the San Diego downtown skyline has a strange feature; an egg-shaped dome. Even from a distance the dome doesn’t appear solid but more like the skeleton of a dome. Perhaps someone’s building a government capitol or a large church?

Wrong on all counts — not only is the dome complete, it’s part of San Diego’s Central Library. The dome sits over the top couple of floors of the building’s “front” side, letting natural light in for reading.

The building is open to the public with the exception of a school that takes up a couple floors.

San Diego Central Library San Diego Central Library

Walking in from the street there’s a three-story tall atrium in the checkout area, along with a giant chess set. This made me laugh not because giant chess sets are particularly funny, but at the thought of the library instead having a giant Jenga set in the lobby with librarians rushing over to shush the loser each time a giant Jenga tower came crashing down on the tile floor.

Now, why would a tourist like me visit a library? It’s a nine story tall building and I wanted to see the view from the balcony at the top.

San Diego Central Library

Unfortunately it’s… well… not a very interesting view up there. In the background you can see the insanely tall San Diego–Coronado Bridge. On the left there’s a huge parking lot, in the middle there’s trolley tracks leading to the 12th & Imperial Transit Center, and on the right you can see the dome from the inside and some buildings down below. That’s about it.

There are tables on the balcony for outdoor reading, or if you prefer quiet and less wind you can walk through a set of doors and down a flight of stairs to the reading room. The view’s just as good from in there with floor to ceiling windows.

Spruce Street Suspension Bridge at night

December 27th, 2018

Spruce Street Suspension Bridge after dark
Spruce Street Suspension Bridge after dark Spruce Street Suspension Bridge after dark


Every old city has its unique elements, but San Diego’s Spruce Street Suspension Bridge is a particularly peculiar element of its early 20th century heritage. This pedestrian-only bridge crosses a ravine between two residential areas with a shaky, unstable footpath.

Before modern times most city bridges were built with rigidity in mind. The first suspension bridges however were constructed more like early rope bridges, where a little swaying was tolerated.

Here in modern day San Diego the Spruce Street Suspension pedestrian bridge is still there, it’s weird by modern standards, and it’s even more unsettling after sunset. So that’s when I went.

In the dark of night I could feel the bridge sway under my feet yet I couldn’t tell how high up I was due to the darkness beneath the bridge. With the uneven planks there was no telling if the bridge was structurally sound at all.

As I timidly crossed back and forth to snap photos, a local resident walked his dog across the bridge while chatting on the phone. To him this seemed perfectly mundane. The two of us walking without coordination caused the bridge to rock gently back and forth.

On one side the outline of downtown San Diego was visible in the distance. Due to the darkness and the motion of the bridge, I couldn’t get a photo that was in focus.

While walking back to the bus stop, I couldn’t help but to think of San Diego’s reputation for ghost stories. I’d pegged it as the superstitions of a military town, but after crossing this gently moving bridge in the dark I could see why this otherwise picturesque city could have a creepy vibe.

San Diego’s waterfront sculptures

December 27th, 2018


San Diego’s waterfront has a lot of touristy crap — pedicabs, people hawking “homemade” wares, living statues, dubious ferry rides, etc.

Taking a walk down the waterfront the first thing that caught my eye was the above “Joy” pier with the flags at half mast. Why were they at half mast? Not really sure.

There’s a lot at the touristy waterfront in San Diego, from the Maritime Museum (an old sailing ship) to the USS Midway Museum (a retired aircraft carrier.)

If you’re interested in naval history there’s a lot to see here. The USS Midway Museum particularly dominates the waterfront as it’s the size of a skyscraper tilted on its side, with a bunch of airplanes on top.

Personally I wasn’t interested in any of this, and just wanted a nice place to take a stroll while I waited for the check in time at my Airbnb.

Unconditional Surrender statue

There’s a bunch of sculptures to see near the Midway Museum on the waterfront. Right around the corner is the “Unconditional Surrender statue” of a Navy man holding and kissing his wife or girlfriend (I hope) in his arms. It’s based on a well known photo.

Every visiting couple seems to feel the need to recreate the sculpture/photo beneath it while asking someone else to take a photo of the two of them.

Alternately people with selfie-sticks were taking photos in front of the sculpture. Not sure what the idea was behind the sculpture, but it found a use a photo hot spot.

Bob Hope salute

Nearby is a multimedia installation described as a salute to Bob Hope, just across from The Fish Market restaurant. A statue of comedian Bob Hope stands in front of a crowd of a statue of veterans.

An old soundtrack plays of Bob Hope entertaining his audience of soldiers during World War II. Unfortunately the audio is not well preserved and is difficult to understand. During my visit nobody was laughing. Even if we could hear the jokes clearly, would we understand them? Was Bob Hope’s material even funny to begin with? Unfortunately what might have been an interesting installation left me with more questions than answers.

San Diego first impressions… again

December 27th, 2018

It’s been over a decade since my last visit to San Diego — and that was for a conference so it doesn’t count. (Especially if I leave out the part where I spent time at the beach and visited the zoo.)

First impressions of San Diego

Today I arrived in San Diego for a little post-Christmas vacation. Stepping off the bus from the airport, the very first thing I saw: someone had flipped a Bird (of the scooter variety) next to a fire hydrant. Does that count as two parking violations in one?

Turns out electric kick scooters now dominate the sidewalks of San Diego. It’s a little hard to blame the scooter riders for hogging sidewalks as bike lanes still aren’t a thing in Southern California, despite the bike-friendly weather year round.

One aspect that feels all too familiar from back home in San Francisco is the obvious inequality spilling out onto into the physical landscape. On the one hand you have new buildings springing up everywhere, an indicator of a healthy economy; but on the other there’s a noticeable homeless population, many of which clearly aren’t getting the help they need.

It’s strange to me as a lifetime Californian that we keep ignoring homelessness. I can’t think of a major city in the state where it’s not a serious issue. I know it’s complicated, but statewide problems need statewide responses.

There is an aspect of visiting San Diego I found pleasantly surprising. Just like in Los Angeles, the public transit exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations. I’d intentionally booked myself an Airbnb near a light rail station.

Yet at the airport when I went to buy a light rail pass I was immediately confused by the ticket machine. So I turned around and asked a woman at the information booth about the machine, and she was just as confused as I was! Not a good first impression to say the least.

After figuring out together how to buy a Compass Card and load a multi-day pass on to it, I noticed the machine is identical to the ones we have at San Francisco Muni stations. Sure enough it’s also from Cubic Transportation Systems. Ugh.

Once I’d purchased a multi-day pass I found San Diego’s transit network shockingly nice. Adult day passes are only $5 currently, and multi-day prices are available for much less. The transit times predicted by Google Maps are often much more pessimistic than warranted. Wait times aren’t bad and there’s usually more than enough empty seats on the buses and trains.

I’ll have to see if this trend continues, but so far I’m impressed with San Diego’s pubic transit network. It’s worth noting they have a light rail station right at the border of Mexico for tourists planning on heading south of the border — or the opposite. Most of the on board announcements are in both English and Spanish.