San Diego, California

May 2021

San Diego, California

Our first trip to San Diego was in Oct 2020 while the city was shut down and still a time of uncertainty. We took every precaution and enjoyed many outdoor adventures with our friends. This time, we were venturing back over Memorial Day weekend and the world just six months later was already looking different due to vaccinations (science rocks). While we had nothing planned, we were looking forward to checking out some more of what San Diego has to offer now that things were open again. 

Day 0

We arrived on the Thursday of Memorial Day weekend with an easy flight with American. Like most of our 2021 flights, the airport was rocking and the plane was packed. This is definitely the new normal – crowded airports, crowded planes, and face masks.

When we landed, we certainly hit the ground running. Our first stop after our midday arrival was one of Kevin’s must see’s – Vespa Motorsport. This may sound super random but he watched all their Youtube videos that educated him on the Vespa ahead of making the purchase

The store was awesome and far more inventory than the store in NJ where we purchased ours. It was so cool admiring the different colors and models! The staff were all super friendly and welcoming – I know if we lived in San Diego we’d buy our Vespa here. Kevin bought at commemorative t-shirt and we were on our way.

Nearby was a seafood place my friend had visited for the first time earlier in the week and raved about it. Not minding a repeat trip, we swung by Blue Water Seafood Grill. While the concept was straight forward –  fresh seafood – the options were endless. While the menu had traditional items for appetizers and entrees, there were specials and on top of that the option to pick a seafood item and make it a salad, taco, plate or sandwich. It felt almost impossible to decide but also felt impossible to go wrong. After much back and forth, we all ended up going with tacos – I ordered the beer battered scallops and the special Maryland soft shell crab both as tacos. 

I mean, gorgeous right? Instant smiles all around – these tacos looked incredible. The scallops were enormous and so succulent! We each ordered one of these scallop tacos and it was definitely our favorite. I also really enjoyed the soft shell crab – it was a bit difficult to eat due to the size (not a bad problem!) but so tasty. Highly recommend this as a stop if you are a seafood fan. 

We headed to the house and relaxed for a little bit before a walk through Balboa Park. On our first trip we only had the pleasure of seeing a small portion of the park but it is so enormous! We first stopped at the Rose Garden as the flowers were in full bloom. 

Walking through the park really highlighted the size – from gardens to museums to performing arts to dining – there is so much to do and see. While not everything was open, it was clear opening at most of these spots was upcoming. We even grabbed an enormous churro on our way out. 

Ready for some food, we headed to the Gaslamp Quarter to explore the downtown area. It was so awesome to see it so lively – full of outdoor seating and activity. According to our friends, this area was hit pretty hard by COVID closures so it brought joy to see everything so active. 

We settled at The Nolen Rooftop Bar to enjoy the sunset with some drinks and snacks. We ordered the Beer Braised Short Rib Sliders with blue cheese and crispy shallows on a pretzel bun and the Chicken Pesto Flatbread with artichokes, sun dried tomatoes, feta, and mozzarella both of which were quite tasty. The space up here was really fun, full of lots of outdoor warmers, and a great view of the city.

We walked around the rest of the downtown area to explore the streets filled with restaurants, shops, and bars. A few turns led us to Tin Roof where it appeared they had a band setting up for live music – LIVE MUSIC! We grabbed seats and enjoyed the latin jazz styles of the San Diego Latin Jazz Collective. Wow, live music – progress. 

We stayed for the set and then headed home as it had been a long day for us! Traveling west and back in time always gives a burst of energy but we crash hard. 

Day 1

One of the biggest holes in our first trip to San Diego was the famous zoo. Luckily on this visit it was open and operating on a reservation system for entry. We were slotted in for a full day of zoo fun. Before we made our way to the zoo, we stopped at one of our favorites – LIV Juice Bar and Smoothies – for breakfast smoothies and sandwiches for lunch at the zoo.

Read about our day at the zoo here

I could not believe how much time and how much walking we did at the zoo! By the time we left it was already dinnertime. Luckily, we already had a spot in mind – the Steamy Piggy for some handmade dumpling love. 

This spot was very fun and had a great outdoor space. We arrived during happy hour which was a pleasant surprise! We ordered a few drinks –  Purple Rain (soju, lychee, floral tea), Passion Punch (soju, passion fruit) Galaxy Lemonade – all of which were delightful and refreshing. As for food, we ordered a little bit of this and that – Soup dumplings, BBQ Pork Baozi, Shrimp Dumplings, Boiled Dumplings, Chili Wontons, Red Braised Pork Belly over rice with an ajitama egg.

Too much food? Probably, but it was wonderful. The soup dumplings were well balanced, not too salty, and perfect dough. The other stand out for me was the red braised pork belly – praise that pork belly! So flavorful and succulent. Definitely recommend this spot!

Since a day had already gone by without ice cream, we made our way to Bing Haus for rolled ice cream. I will admit, I was skeptical of the rolled ice scheme – too little ice cream and too much money. But, my BFF knows me super well so I trusted and gave into the rolled ice cream craze. We got a few mochi donuts and rolled ice cream concoctions. And let me just say, the donuts were such a fun treat! We could have eaten a dozen of these. Kevin ordered the Cookies and Cream – vanilla base with wafer stick, cookie crisp, and fudge toppings. I ordered one of the specials,  Chocolate – chocolate ice cream with turtle chocolates, and fudge toppings.

The portions were definitely more than I expected. Kevin’s was amazing! The ice cream was full of oreo vibes. The cookie crispy on top were so delicious and a fun texture contrast to the ice cream. But the chocolate one I ordered was a big downer – the ice cream was equivalent to the chocolate ice cream you get at a fast food joint – it was just vanilla based with chocolate added after so it did not taste chocolatey. Kevin switched with me (bless him). Poor choice on my part as everything else was really good.

Another day in the books! We were all so exhausted from all the walking today and welcomed bedtime.

Day 2

We enjoyed a relaxing morning before packing up for a beach day. Since it was still a bit cold out, we headed north to Torrey Pines beach in hopes of catching a few more degrees and sun. But nothing without a stop for some ice cream. Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream was on our way to the north coastline and our friends spoke highly of this one – that it could be in the echelon of Salt & Straw. 

Unassumingly located in a large shopping plaza, this gem is tucked neatly deep into a crevasse. While the cookies next door at Batch and Box tempted us with the fresh baked smell, we stayed on target focusing on the laundry list of flavors – it was so intense! I narrowed mine choices down to chocolate bases and that did not even help tremendously due to the vast number of flavors. Everyone had a hard time deciding! Ultimately, I backed off of my fall back of the most chocolate packed flavor and when with a dark chocolate ice cream with chocolate chunks. There was a laughable moment ordering that I have to document for preservation sake – I always get a cone and when I am feeling extra fun I’ll splurge for a waffle cone. I told the employee I wanted a single scoop in a waffle cone – she responded that the waffle cone comes with three scoops – I asked her if she could just put one scoop in the waffle cone to which she replied yes but would have to charge me for three scoops. Baffled, I settled for a sugar cone … and it was given to me with three scoops of ice cream! It was pretty comical, there must have been something lost in translation but I could not understand why I could not have gotten the waffle cone if I was getting three scoops anyway??? Anyway… everyone loved their ice cream! Really fun flavors jam packed with goodness – ice cream is a great lunch choice. 

We spent the afternoon relaxing at Torrey Pines State Beach – ah how we missed these beaches. It is so hard to resist the pull that California has on so many people. 

After several hours, we washed up and headed out to a birthday dinner at Piacere Mio. Ironically located outside of the Little Italy section of San Diego – this place was legit. While we ended up seated outside, the inside looked very nice. This spot was a cross between authentic Italian cooking with a NJ diner where the menu was enormous and the portion sizes matched. Since we were there with a larger group, we got to span quite a bit of the menu. The wine selections were fun and reasonably priced – even offering a carafe portion. 

Kevin and I split the prosciutto and burrata which was quite tasty. Kevin ordered one of the make your own pastas with the amatriciana sauce and I ordered the special pasta of the day which was equivalent to the ocean on top of pasta. First off, we easily could have spilt either one of these based on the size. Kevin really enjoyed mine (as did I) so we ended up eating mostly my dish. My plate was jam packed with mussels, shrimp, and a lobster tail all with a mound of pasta in a blush sauce. It was fantastic. Everyone seemed to enjoy their meal – two thumbs up and recommend! 

A large group can make it difficult in non-covid times to find a spot to grab a drink so fast forward to just barely post-covid times, it was a challenge. Luckily, across the street from Piacere Mio was Fernside Bar which worked out perfectly. There was ample outdoor space and the covid set up was that you order at the front, outdoor facing stand and then pick it up in the open air bar, then go sit. We hung here for several hours and was a really fun spot. 

Definitely up later than ever here – if I was worried about breaking my sleep schedule from being up at 4AM every morning for vaccine clinic, this was definitely one way to do it.

Day 3

Since we were still on east coast time, Kevin and I were up early and decided to walk to the Hillcrest Farmers Market. It was a Saturday morning after all – they got to sleep in and we got to explore. The Hillcrest Farmers Market was just a short walk and as it came into sight we were shocked at how big it was – the stands went for several blocks. In our traditional manner, we did a full lap first before making purchase commitments.

It was a beautiful site – you could do all of your shopping here! the produce was out of this world and there were so many options! They even had micro greens and zucchini flowers (I would have bought them all!). From ice cream, the guac and chips, to coffee, to honey, to juices – there really was everything. There were some of the most beautiful flower and plants that you could take home as well. Kevin and I sampled a few items- he got a Vietnamese coffee (so good he went back for a second), I got taro bubble tea, and we both got these incredible pastries. We were loving this spot! The amount of food vendors made making a decision for breakfast extremely difficult so it was best to keep it simple. 

We settled on a few items – Kevin ordered not one but two Vietnamese coffees (so good he had to get another), we both get pastries from a french bakery (savory croissants for the win), and I got a taro bubble tea. We absolutely loved this farmers market! 

Happy with our morning decisions, we headed back for our car ride to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and the town of Julian.

Read about our day trip here!

What a day! We were all pretty tired and decided to stay in and enjoy relaxing for the evening.

Day 4

We took our time this morning and caught a glimpse of the sun burning through the May Gray – perhaps we could fit a few more beach hours in. After breakfast, we packed up and headed to Carlsbad in search from some rays. 

Our first few hours were fantastic – the sun was out but not too hot – it was nice to feel the warmth! Once the clouds started rolling in and the temperature dropped, we started looking into our next steps and slowing a mini Beer Christmas was formulating! 

First and foremost, we finally made the trip to a Salt and Straw – oh it is so satisfying. Honestly this ice cream is in a league of it’s own with their consistency, flavors, and textures. That chocolate goey brownie is what dreams are made of. Everyone enjoyed their flavors – and just like that we had ice cream for a meal again.

Our two brew stops of the afternoon were Harland Brew Co and Pure Project Brewing – but there were tons of spots to choose from in the area so this can certainly fulfill your Beer Christmas dreams.

As we sat soaking in the relaxation of our last full day together, we began to search for places to eat. This decision was compounded in difficulty as many places were closed due to the holiday. Luckily, we settled on Siamo Napoli and the factor here that titled into full commitment was the zucchini flowers on the menu. 

This spot is legit – even comes with an Italian grandpa at the door to greet and keep the peace. We ordered a bottle of wine, started with the Fiore di Zucca (squash blossom, ricotta, provola, salame, IPA tempura) and an assorted cheese and meat board, then finished with two pizzas.

Everything was wonderful! We are so lucky to have San Diego so accessible to explore and we have many future trips ahead to do so.

Day 5

Our final morning before our departure – we did not have a ton of time but we used it to focus on food. We went on a morning walk with our first stop being Pot Pie Co for breakfast and to go food on the plane, then made our way back to Liv Juice and Smoothie for one final Choco Monkey smoothie. With that it was time for our trip back east, already planning our next visit to San Diego. Thank you to our friends for the wonderful stay, as always. It is such a joy to be able to spend so much quality time with those we love across the county.

While the flight back was uneventful, we did have our first encounter of flight attendants not giving any care to enforcing the mask rule. American has gotten a strongly worded email regarding the flight home. This was our first flight where the flight attendants did not even try correcting people – the entire row in front of us for the entire flight neglected to wear masks. And not one flight attendant addressed it and we watched them look them right in the face – correcting seat backs not in the full upright position and seat belts but not once mentioned ‘put on your mask’. I spent most of the flight irritated and annoyed angrily writing the email since I did not wish to cause an altercation but honestly, I was pretty darn close. Noted American – I’ll pay more to flight a different airline that empowers their staff instead of ignoring it. If I hear back from American, I will be certain to include it here. UPDATE: I did hear back and it was the most generic “our planes are safe due to air filtration” and di not address the staff whatsoever. Very disappointed.

Read about our other San Diego adventures here!

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