We planned an entire month in San Diego with the expectation that it was a very plausible location to eventually settle down. I had visited the city twice in grad school and loved it then, for the same reasons everyone else does: the weather is near-perfect, you have both beautiful beach and nearby mountains (ok, they’re more like big hills), and you’ve got a vibrant, diverse city never short in new things to do and see. Matt had stopped through when he was a child but doesn’t remember much so this was, in essence, an introduction for him. Based on my own glowing reviews, he was sure he and San Diego would hit it off, too. Cella likes everywhere so far exactly the same, so we’ll leave her indiscriminate perspective out of this!
Our campsite was an RV resort and mobile home park situated right on Mission Bay (where Sea World also calls home). While the park itself was a bit lack luster, the surrounding, accessible parks and bay views more than made up for the lack of amenities often offered at other campgrounds we have been to. I was super excited to see my two great friends from grad school, Chrissy (whom I had been with my first visit to San Diego 15 years ago when she met her future husband, Jeremy) and Shannon, who had literally just moved here from Denver the previous month.
I’m both embarrassed and proud to say I had so much fun with these ladies when I saw them that we didn’t take a single picture together. I really wish we’d taken some the night of Jeremy’s birthday celebration at The Lamplighter karaoke bar in Mission Hills when he sang a Britney Spears tribute and I had my first and only night out at a bar since we January (Matt graciously stayed home with Cella). It reminded me of how much fun we all had in grad school and how I miss having a crew. Truthfully, the biggest draw to San Diego is that I have these two great friends already there!
But after the honeymoon of week one wore off after we had drove for hours through the gorgeous and intoxicating LA Jolla hills and all corners of the other hotspots like Coronado Island, Balboa Park, and Hillside, rode our bikes to the Pacific Beach boardwalk, and ran along the shoreline of Mission Bay, we started to both feel something we weren’t ready to admit until our last week there: we really like San Diego, but we don’t LOVE it.
There are a few tangibles that led us to this conclusion. Firstly, the traffic. It’s not as bad as it could get, like LA, but you don’t want to be on the I-5 during rush hour. Second, (and on the same vein) is that nothing is really walkable, and this is a very important attribute for us. You CAN bike more places than not, but with Cella, I don’t feel comfortable on these roads doing that routinely.
It’s also quite arrid. It doesn’t rain often and the plant life reflects that: lots of palms and succulents, and many flowers and bushes I can’t identify, being from the temperate climate of the Northeast. I was surprised to see how many roses were around, (I love roses and want to have a gigantic rose garden) but most of the landscaping seems very purposeful. Lovely, yes, but also very orchestrated. It has to be. I am drawn to the slightly more wild, more natural gardenscapes that you find in rural areas. This is a small point, maybe, but I’m finding as our journey moves forward, that the urge to plant and tend to a garden is strong. …to quite strong. 🙂
Beyond that, our feelings of ambivalence about this lovely city have more to do with a gut feeling. I’m notorious for following my gut. Matt tends to mentally evaluate first. He has been saying the Pacific Northwest has been calling his name for some time now, and I think it just started calling mine too. I’m not sure yet, because I need to see it all, but suffice it to say, I’m feeling a similar pull these days. The next few stops along the California coast will be mostly brief, both in contrast to our long month in San Diego, and to the relative vastness and variance of the California landscape. We really want to get to Oregon!
Still, this month allowed us to feel less pressure to do and see everything since we seemed to have all the time in the world, and manage to relax into a normal life routine most of the time. Relaxing and watching movies or cooking out and making a fire were things we more often did than exploration.
We did fun things too! Besides exploring all the neighborhoods, including Imperial Beach where Shannon lives and is really a fun beach area with a pier, Encinitas, North and South Park, Mission Hills, and the downtown sections like Gaslamp district and Little Italy, we ran the Mission Bay Park trail often, kayaked Mission Bay, biked to Pacific Beach at least twice a week and made most of our days’ fun centered around Marcella. She enjoyed a day at Kid’s Zone where she swung a LOT in a car swing, the Fleet Science Museum in Balboa park where she sat through an entire IMAX film and walked through a packing-tape maze, had a blast exploring the Botanic Gardens just north of the city, and of course splish-splashing at the beach. Her favorite time, I think, was being doted on by Fiona and Ryan (Shannon and Chrissy’s little girls). I don’t think she realizes she’s a toddler and would rather hang out with elementary school-aged kids.
Without a doubt the most notable and fated moment of our time in San Diego was during a caffeine “break”. Periodically, we like to go off coffee a few days and reset the adrenals. We were looking around for a coffee shop that had herbal teas and decaf coffee, and kept striking out until finally we came up on a Starbucks, and said, “fine!” (We normally strive to visit local roasters and small cafes well liked in a given town before going to a chain). I was waiting in line at the bathroom with a tired and cranky Marcella and Matt was waiting in line to order a coffee. Two ladies approached Matt (not realizing he wasn’t alone) and asked him if he was a model. “No!” He told them, with a laugh. As it turns out, Brittney, who founded Virago Fitness in honor of her late husband who was killed in Afghanistan, (a soldier for the United States Marine Corps), and her assistant Jillian were out scouting for models. To put a true stamp of authenticity on her brand, Brittney opts to employ real people with real stories of overcoming painful experiences, turning struggle into strength, to model her line. She was bowled over to learn Matt had also been a Marine, and asked if he wouldn’t mind modeling her fitness line. Matt knew this was something he shouldn’t walk away from, being someone who tends to shy away from any kind of spotlight attention. But after she told her story and what her company was all about, there was no question he’d want to be a part of it. Once he told me all of these details I wouldn’t have let him ignore this opportunity, anyhow—even if he had second thoughts. Which he didn’t! Not only was Brtitney cool enough to ask Matt to model her creations and send him home with some great fitness digs, but she also offered to shoot our family, understanding that we’d probably have few opportunities on our journey to take some decent pictures all together. Below are some of the best shots that we took that day on a secret suspension bridge in the Hillcrest section of town. We are so grateful to her for the pics, but also so impressed that she was able to make something great out of her own tragedy. So, please check out her website and her telling of Matt’s story. She rocks!
The day before our departure from San Diego, we finally chatted up the super-nice guy who was set up in a trailer right across from ours. He and his fiance had probably been there two weeks by this point. We had said hello plenty of times before this, but we only just got to talking as we were on our way to take Cella to the playground. I left Matt to chat with Curtis, and when we met up at the playground a half hour later, he said he’d really enjoyed the chat. He even invited him to stop over our rig later in the day. Curt and Joanna stopped by well after Marcella’s bed time and officially became our first “new friends” on our trip so far. They had just set out to do almost exactly what we had, except they came from Maryland and intended to land in San Diego for good. In fact, Johanna had already found a job at this point and Curt was actively looking. It was really nice to meet other young people (ok, I’m saying this loosely….most full-time rv-ers out there are doing it at retirement age. We haven’t encountered too many others in our age bracket! They’re there, but it’s just a minority for sure) on a similar mission! We promised to keep in touch and possibly meet up in the Pacific Northwest by fall (HI GUYS!!).
The next day we thought we would be sad to go, but we were ready to leave. Next stop, Malibu! I honestly had no idea what to expect of this city. My only association with this beach had been with Courtney Love’s homage to it. Well, it was so far off from what we expected on almost every level that we ended up absolutely hating it. Yep. Hated Malibu. I promise, I’ll explain next time.
Oh and in case you missed the Instagram post, here’s the full length version of Marcella’s carnival groove. I can seriously watch this over and over and over and over again and still crack up laughing. You can’t imagine how much I love this child: