This trip took place from June 30th to July 15th of 2018. The Knutson family numbered three as James was joining Beth and myself on his first major vacation!
Day 8; San Diego: I don’t remember much about the morning we left for San Diego. Presumably, I packed up our rental car (a Nissan Altima) and got James breakfast, much like I did every other day of the trip. Beth’s Aunt, Debbie, agreed to accompany us on our trip South from the Bay Area. Back when I first starting planning this vacation I asked Beth’s family if they’d be interested in going with us to see the rest of California and Debbie was excited about the opportunity! It was roughly a eight hour drive to San Diego from Debbie’s in Benicia, CA so I believe we got an early jump. I started out driving while Debbie sat shotgun. Beth hung out with James in back. He watched cartoons on the iPad and nommed on goldfish and applesauce (lots of each).
We stopped for an early lunch not too long into driving (maybe an hour and a half). It was a McDonalds near Coalinga, CA. They had a self-service touchscreen for ordering, which I have since learned are disgusting because people are disgusting. The corner by the bathrooms was empty so I moved a couple chairs around to fashion a pen for the little one. It didn’t hold him, of course, but it was only meant to buy us time anyway. He didn’t eat much of his lunch because he was too excited to run around the restaurant. Keeping him near where we want him is a full-time effort.
It was unreasonably hot outside so I went out to start the car a couple minutes before we left so it wouldn’t be sweltering inside. We had a couple options for traveling South, the Pacific Coast Highway and Interstate 5, but we chose the latter because it was faster. The speed limits are higher and there is less to see (a lot less to see). I still took the occasional picture, of course, it’s me after all, but the sights are definitely lacking compared to the PCH. I will eventually get around to seeing the PCH but I’ll plan two or three days for that trip because it’s a beautiful area with a ton to see and do (or so the television and internet tell me).
The interior of the state along the Interstate was largely yellow-brown. There are a number of green almond orchards as well but generally not a whole lot to see. There has been an ongoing water shortage due to drought and the farmers and non-farmers have been at war over water for years. There are signs everywhere complaining about water usage. I read somewhere a long time ago that almond farming takes massive amounts of water, like a gallon just to produce one stinking almond, so I’m on the non-farmer’s side (I also dislike the taste and texture of almonds).
There are zero major cities, or even large towns, along that stretch of road between where 5 meets 580 and Santa Clarita four and a half hours later. Just before Santa Clarita there were finally two more interesting landmarks to see. We first passed Pyramid Lake within the Los Padres National Forest. It has a dam but is named for a pyramid-shaped rock that was cut out of the hillside during the building of a road. Second, the Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park. Open since 1971, Magic Mountain has 19 roller coasters, some of which are easily spotted from the highway as they are quite tall (much too scary for this humble writer).
We hit a bunch of slow traffic in Los Angeles. I had to use the bathroom really bad by the time we found an exit. I chose a Target attached to a mall in Westminster so that we could also stretch our legs and re-supply on snacks. There was zero parking, absolutely none, and I had to go so I hopped out and Debbie took over responsibility of looking for a space. Between the parking hunt, shopping, and long checkout lines what was meant to be a quick stop took at least forty minutes.
The drive to San Diego was another hour and a half. Traffic eventually thinned. I’m sure San Diego has plenty of bad traffic as well but Los Angeles is infamous for it. The only delay we encountered was when police blocked off the entire interstate to pick up a mattress that must have flown off of someone’s vehicle. The 5 joins the Pacific Ocean a decent distance up the coast, roughly 77 miles, from San Diego. It was nice to see something pretty compared to the boring yellow-brown country and bumper to bumper cars. Downtown San Diego didn’t look too impressive as it came into view. There aren’t as many skyscrapers there as one might assume given the beautiful weather and high cost of living. The towers aren’t especially tall either. We’ve got taller in Minneapolis.
Our accommodations for the evening, booked on Airbnb, were near the airport and quite close to downtown. We could see the skyline from the front door balcony even. It was a small two bedroom apartment that I spent at least a week choosing. There were not a lot of affordable options in San Diego, much less with multiple bedrooms, so most of the time spent looking was just seeing the same six listings over and over again hoping new options would pop up. The pictures online must have been taken with a magical camera because the apartment was tiny. The living room was the length of the couch and the bedrooms were maybe eight by ten. The bathroom, however, was the smallest of the small! The toilet was six inches from the edge of the tub. Anyone taller than 5’5″ would find it difficult to sit for any purpose. It was super weird. Oh, and the street was really steep so parking was an adventure!
James explored the (tiny) place but we didn’t stick around because we had dinner plans. Casey was classmates with Beth’s two sisters growing up and moved to San Diego a few years ago with her husband Brian. They have three kids, Mitchell, Graham, and Tommy. They suggested we meet them at NTC Park at Liberty Station so we could get something to eat. When we arrived at the park Brian and the boys were kicking a soccer ball around. James tried to join but he was a bit too small to play effectively. He likes playing with sports balls though so he stole it (toddlers have questionable moral compasses).
In addition to the park, Liberty Station is a large area with all kinds of shops and restaurants. It used to be part of a naval base so there were some cannons too. It took us ten minutes to walk half a mile to where we going to eat. Beth and I didn’t realize it was quite that far when we left so we didn’t bring the stroller. Our little squirmy chunkster was too heavy to carry all that way. Thankfully, Mitchell, their oldest, actually carried James for a while. He gets lots of practice with Tommy, I guess. He is the nicest big brother and mom-helper there ever was, in my estimation. Not a lot of 15 year-olds would be so helpful! James booped him (at my encouragement) and Mitchell got him back.
Liberty Public Market has a variety of restaurants and some craft vendors. It was a great option for dining with a large group of people that might be having their own cravings. With Debbie and the Long family we numbered nine so a market with many options was a good fit. Everybody could get what they want so we all split up. I left James with Beth and went to get food for them. The market is split into thirty-one stalls. The restaurants aren’t very big but they appeared to be putting out great food. Everything I saw being cooked or eaten looked really appetizing. Beth wanted me to get some kind of pasta for James and her to share. The noodle place had a moderate line so I got them spaghetti while I looked up options for myself on my phone.
Beth got a couple tables outside and pushed them together. She was lucky to find a table at all as it was a super busy place and the seating is limited. The inside tables near the stalls were all packed. I dropped off the food for those two and buzzed back inside to find something for myself. Lots of restaurants were tempting me but I opted for a burger from a place called ‘Stuffed!’. They specialize in jucy lucy burgers where the patty is filled with cheese and sometimes other items like wild rice or bacon. Delicious! After I’d finished that I was too tempted by a creperie I had seen online and went back inside to find it. I can’t remember what I got in my crepe but it was fantastic. Nobody else got dessert but that didn’t stop me!
I’m not sure what everyone else ordered for themselves or what anyone talked about while eating because I spent much of our time there chasing after James. I ate as fast as I could while Beth struggled to get James to eat something. When he wanted to wander instead of eating we relented. I let him roam about while Beth finished their spaghetti. The public market is indoors but attached to a series of other buildings by a covered walkway. There was a courtyard forty feet away hosting a party with music and a catered meal that James invaded briskly. It may have been a wedding for all I know but I scooped him up before finding out. James loves to get himself into trouble. He did several laps of that walkway and tried re-crashing the maybe-Wedding numerous times.
I’m really glad the tables inside were all occupied because it was an absolutely beautiful evening. A guy could get used to eating a nice dinner on the patio in San Diego. It might get unbearably hot many days but the evenings can be perfection.
After everyone finished dinner Casey and Brian suggested we take a detour back to the cars so we went for a stroll. We let James walk on his own, both because he’s heavy but also because we needed him to expel some energy after being in a car-seat all day. There is a small inlet there separating the park and San Diego International Airport (planes were flying low overhead). Brian took Tommy, riding on his shoulders, for a jog along the waterfront while the rest of us walked at James’ pace directly to the playground. Graham helped James play on the slides and bridges but our little one was mostly interested in making me follow him at a crouch.
Brian and Tommy rejoined us and all the kids (minus Mitchell) played in the sand and on the jungle-gym. There were two of them a short distance apart and James wandered off like he wanted to see the second one. He was like a great explorer mapping the region but with more giggles than a typical explorer likely had. It got dark and we were out long after his bedtime but James was still having a blast. We let them have fun until I smelled someone smoking weed nearby. It may be legal there but that doesn’t mean I want second-hand weed smoke all over me and my family.
We discussed plans for the following day with the Longs and the night concluded back at our rented home. Beth and I got James to sleep right away. He was sharing a room with us while Debbie had her own. I had set up the pack-n-play crib earlier so we were prepared for bedtime. It was incredibly hot and humid. In addition to the toilet being entirely too close to the tub there was no air conditioning. We opened all the windows to get some airflow and thank goodness there were ceiling fans in each bedroom and the kitchen. Despite our best efforts it was damn uncomfortable. After everyone else nodded off I took a shower just so I could cool off enough to fall asleep. It worked, surprisingly, but I was fortunate to get even five hours of sleep that night. Five sweaty, uncomfortable hours. End of day eight.