If I had to sum up my trip to San Diego in one sentence, it would be: 3 full days/4 nights there is just not enough. Each day was pretty jam-packed, which meant we got a lot accomplished, but not nearly as much as we wanted to. I guess that means a return trip is in the (hopefully) nearish future.
I was in San Diego from Friday, July 26 through Tuesday, July 30. I only know what it’s like there in late July since that was the same time I went there on my last visit back in 2017, but it’s a really nice time of year. The weather was basically perfect and honestly, the crowds weren’t terrible. Sooooo, let’s get to the recap! I’m splitting this into two posts cuz otherwise it would be definitely maybe too lengthy.
Day 1: Friday, July 26
No rest for the wicked (erm, those going on road trips). I woke up early for a day off (around 6:45) so I’d be able to get everything done I needed to before hitting the road with my fam. Basically, dropping off my dog at Happy Pets Palace in Chandler (the boarding place I take her to every time I go out of town), going for a quick 3 mile run (my last as a 26-year-old!) and packing up last-minute items.
We were off by 10 am and ready to get to San Diego. It’s about a 6 hour drive, plus we planned to make two brief stops before leaving Arizona.
First stop: Dateland. It’s an actual place, even though the name sounds fake, and obviously they grow dates there. It’s a tiny town that’s mostly a convenience store/restaurant and gas station. I picked up a bag of Khadrawy dates because I have never tried anything but Medjools, which are good, but when in
Rome Dateland. My dad got a date ice cream cone, which he said was good. It got me wanting to try making (vegan) date ice cream at home. The store also sold a bunch of touristy things, including flip-flops made with locally grown grass, which is super interesting.
Then it was onward to our second (and last stop before SD): Yuma. It’s right on the border of California, and it makes Phoenix feel like the Arctic, it’s that hot. I appreciated the dry heat, though, as PHX has been more humid as of late due to monsoon storms.
We got lunch in Yuma, at a place called the Dog Haus, which has locations in California, Colorado, Texas and also Scottsdale (also soon to be less than 10 minutes from where I live). They make all kinds of hot dogs and brats and sausages, which doesn’t sound appealing to a vegan, but they actually have decent vegetarian and vegan offerings, including the Impossible burger and Beyond sausages! I’m more of a vegan sausage vs. vegan burger fan, plus it’s hard for me to find the Beyond sausage in restaurants, so I opted for their Beyond Brat, which was basically like the classic German brat, topped with mustard, onions and sauerkraut (I love anything sour and pickled!), which I got wrapped in their lettuce “bun”. I was definitely impressed!
After stopping for gas, we were back on the road en route to our destination. I took a ton of videos as we drove through California because the landscape of that part of the Golden State is super interesting to me. I’m used to the desert of Tucson and Phoenix, which is actually a lot more green than you’d expect and full of cacti. California has a LOT of sand dunes along I-8 and then suddenly, mountains appear that are super rocky and made up of huge boulders. It’s really cool.
We got to San Diego around 5, and honestly traffic on the freeways wasn’t terrible, considering it was rush hour. We got to the hotel we were staying at, which was near the airport, the harbor and the Little Italy neighborhood, and unfortunately, hit a snafu: our room wasn’t ready, even though we were checking in more than an hour after check-in time began. We were assured our room would be ready in about 45 minutes, so we killed some time by walking over to this deli/convenience store nearby, where my parents each got a glass of wine (not great wine, especially by California standards, but they just wanted to try it) and we sat across from the harbor and waited. And waited. And waited some more. We waited more than an hour before we went back inside, and guess what? The room still wasn’t ready! By this point, we were annoyed and hangry so we decided to go walk to dinner, and hope the room would be ready when we got back.
My mom picked Ballast Point for our first night in San Diego, so we walked about 20 minutes into the heart of Little Italy to get there. We quickly noticed that those electric scooters are a huge deal there, even more than in Arizona. Like, everyone was riding them and they were scattered up and down every street. It was nice to see people using them and walking (like us), instead of driving everywhere, though!
Ballast Point was packed, so we were lucky to snag a table after ordering our food at the counter. My parents got beers, naturally, while I opted for a glass of viognier wine, which was really refreshing. You gotta have wine when you’re in California! My mom and I both got tacos (she got fish, I got the adobo tempeh) while my dad got the heirloom tomato sandwich, and we all raved about our dishes. My tacos were some of the best vegan tacos I’ve ever had! I’m not always the biggest fan of tempeh (I usually prefer tofu) but these were so flavorful and actually spicy, which I appreciated. The good food took our minds off the hotel situation, at least for an hour or so.
Walking back to the hotel, we hit another snafu: we were stopped by probably the world’s longest train. Not kidding, we stood there for at least 5 minutes waiting for it to pass! At this point, my dad and I just had to laugh because so many things were going wrong, it was just funny. Fortunately, when we finally got back, the room was ready so we grabbed a cart and loaded all our stuff on to take up to our room. Then the elevators weren’t working, so it was even more frustrating/funny. We did eventually make it up to our room!
After getting settled in, we sat out on the balcony overlooking the harbor, drank more wine and talked for awhile, before we got yelled at by the security guy for apparently being too loud, even though no one else was outside. My parents were mad, because last time we were in San Diego, we kept getting yelled at by the lady living upstairs (we were in an Airbnb condo), who said we were too loud even when we were basically whispering, and we didn’t want the same thing to happen this time. So we reluctantly went back inside and got ready for bed.
Day 2: Saturday, July 27 (aka Birthday)
Happy birthday to me 🥳 Sadly, I woke up with a slight headache (probably from the previous night’s wine), but after taking some ibuprofren, drinking water and sweating it out at the hotel gym for 30 minutes, I was ready to celebrate!
First things first, the beach. We drove across the Coronado Bridge to head to one of the beaches on Coronado Island. Lemme just say that I fell in love with Coronado! It would be amazing to stay there next time, though hotels there are really expensive, but the beaches were beautiful and it was fun walking around town and exploring.
We parked a few blocks away and hauled all our gear down to the beach. The one we went to this day was actually right next to the dog beach, so we got to watch the doggies play in the water 😍 The beach never got too crowded either, even though it was a Saturday, so that was nice. We spent several hours soaking up the sun, braving the cold water and enjoying some beach snacks. My dad and I also tried boogie boarding for the first time, and it was a lot of fun, though I had to stop after awhile because I couldn’t stop shivering from the ocean water.
After loading our stuff back in the car, we drove down Orange Avenue, which is basically Coronado’s main street. We parked, and then walked a couple blocks until we stumbled across a wine bar. We were all hot from the beach, and walking in the humidity, so we needed some refreshing bevs, and the wine bar definitely delivered on that! My parents each got a glass of sangria, with fresh berries in the bottom of the glass, and I got the black bellini, which was made with red wine (hence the darker color) and fresh peach slices. Our drinks hit the spot, but I also had my eye on another kind of drink — my free birthday item from Starbucks!
Last year, I missed out on the freebie because we were stuck in traffic most of the day en route to Sedona, and I didn’t realize you can only redeem it on your actual birthday, not the day before and day after as in years past. But this year, I was determined not to miss out, and luckily for me, there was a Starbucks just steps from the wine bar! I haven’t gone to Starbucks in months, so I was pleasantly surprised to see they’ve added a bunch of new iced tea flavors. I went with a venti (go big or go home) iced blueberry black tea, with no sweetener. It was perfect for a hot day!
After stopping in a couple stores (my mom bought a cute octopus toy in one of the stores for my dog!), we headed back across the bridge to our hotel to relax and get ready for the evening. Because I’m extra, I had brought along a set of fake eyelashes that I bought about a year ago and was waiting for the right opportunity to wear. Obviously, my birthday was the best choice! They’re the “mermaid” lashes from Tarte, with streaks of magenta and teal and I love them (side note: I wear fake lashes basically every day, so I’m used to them, but this pair was special).
We headed out a little earlier than we needed to to drive to my birthday restaurant pick, Donna Jean. It was only about 10 minutes away from the hotel, so we showed up before our reservations, but they had no issue seating us, and we were able to park almost right in front of the restaurant, which I feel is unheard of in San Diego 😉, considering the parking situation at most of the other places we went to (hence why we walked a lot). We actually parked right in front of Evolution, an all-vegan fast food joint, and I made a mental note to go there next time!
I had heard amazing things about Donna Jean, so I was excited to finally try it. We sat outside, on this really lush patio filled with all kinds of plants. It felt so chill and totally my vibe. I ordered a glass of Boochcraft kombucha, and I had no idea they were based in SD!
My family almost never gets appetizers/starters when going out to eat (unless it’s as an entree), but I really wanted to try the roasted cauliflower (since I’m cauli obsessed) so we ordered that to share. It was made with green cauliflower, zhoug, hemp yogurt and dukkah, so it was a bit spicy but really delicious. I almost opted for the hot shrooms (Nashville-style spicy mushrooms) but I think they would have been too salty for my dad, but I’ll have to get them next time since I’ve heard they’re really good.
We each got a pizza — my mom got the Four Horsemen (with vegan gouda, mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan and pesto), my dad got the Bread Fang (mozzarella, mushrooms, onions, spinach, dried olives which he gave to me and calabrian chiles) and I got the Black Widow on the gluten-free socca crust (black garlic, smoked dates, ricotta, red onion and calabrian chiles). I’d made socca before, but I’d never had it in a restaurant, so I was curious to see how it would work as a pizza crust. It was a little soggy, but tasted great with my pizza toppings, which kind of reminded me of a spicy BBQ pizza!
With it being my birthday, I had to order dessert. I decided I wanted to take it back to the hotel to enjoy later, so I got a slice of the New Mexico chile chocolate pie in a to-go box. We drove back to the hotel to drop it off, and then decided to go walk to a nearby tiki bar to grab drinks. Well, we didn’t realize just how popular it was, and there was an hour wait just to get inside, plus reading reviews sounded like you had to wait awhile once you got in to actually get a drink. Instead, we walked another few blocks to a bar/restaurant called Kettner Exchange, which was also packed (I mean, it was a Saturday night in downtown San Diego), but we were able to go up to the rooftop bar and order drinks, and then miraculously a couple seats opened up at a communal table that we snagged. My dad and I both ordered the same drink — the Spicy Gallagher, made with serrano-infused tequila, aperol, lemon and watermelon. Whenever I see a drink made with a spicy or smoky liquor and/or watermelon, I must try it, and this did not disappoint!
We walked back to the hotel, where my parents sang Happy Birthday and I opened a few presents (I had a few more than I had opened the day before the trip, and left at home) and had the pie, which was soooo good. Chocolate & spice go so well together! It was the perfect way to cap off my 27th birthday.
Stay tuned for part 2 of my recap!