San Diego: Mission Beach, Old Town, Coronado

Ah. San Diego. Good to be back. It’s been about 12 years since my last visit and to my eyes the city has changed very little — which is a very good thing. Why mess with perfection, right?

Of course everything could be cheaper, and so on and so forth, but that’s true for a lot of places these days. While Portland, DC and Seattle may be the trendy high-priced cocktails of the moment, San Diego is the really amazing aged whiskey that seldom fails to amaze with every sip.

Mission Beach / Pacific Beach

I knew I wanted to stay near Mission Beach. My sister lived in Mission Beach for a couple of years during college before moving inland, and then ultimately north away from the area. I’ve got great memories strolling/running/biking up and down the Ocean Front Walk, drinking Tecate and watching the sunset, and bar hopping along Mission Blvd. And of course the weather was always just about perfect. Our visit was no exception.

So, after some online searching in the San Diego area I came across the Beach Cottages. Technically in Pacific Beach, the hotel is located right on the Ocean Front Walk and sort of straddles Mission Beach/ Mission Bay to the south and Pacific Beach to the north — really best of both worlds. Despite Pacific Beach being a magnet for college kids in the evenings, we never found it to be a problem. Plus, just a ten minute walk south into Mission Beach got you quickly away from the hubbub.

Yes, Mission/Pacific Beach has amazing sunsets, but my favorite time of day here has always been early morning. And by early morning, I mean anytime before 10am, when the sun is already shining, the neighborhood is still slowly waking up, and surfers and fishermen are happily taking advantage of the solitude.

Kono’s Cafe has been a Pacific Beach staples for a couple of decades now, and for good reason. It’s one of the few places in these parts that you can get a delicious and filling breakfast for under $6 (we split our breakfast burrito) while watching the surfers shred it up. Get your food and then head across the street towards the water for their unmarked beachfront seating. We got lucky and got a seat right a way. I wouldn’t bother with their iced coffee though…16 ounces of watered down uselessness.

Mission San Diego de Alcalá

Around midmorning, we hopped in the car and headed over the 5 and up the hill to San Diego’s historic mission.

I figure I’ve subjected you to enough mission ramblings during the course of this trip already, so don’t worry, this one will be brief — and also the last. Basically, this one is significant because it was the first California mission, founded in 1769 (though the main church building dates to about 1808).

Coronado Island

Factoring in the afternoon traffic to come, we then decided to hit our most southern point next and make our way slowly back to Pacific Beach for sunset. Next stop, Coronado Island, and the incomparable Hotel del Coronado. One of the few surviving examples of the wooden Victorian beach resort, “The Del” opened in 1888 and was the largest hotel in the world at the time. It is the second largest wooden structure in the world after the Tillamook Air Museum on the Oregon Coast.

There were high surf advisories for the duration of our time in San Diego. The sea was angry that day, my friends…but the surfers were anything but.

Noon-time beverage break at The Del.

Old Town San Diego

And now for something completely different.

After visiting the Gaslamp Quarter and being thoroughly underwhelmed (somehow we remember it being more interesting), we headed over to Old Town San Diego, an area Lori hadn’t been to and I had only a faint recollection of, which is always fun. Visiting Old Town is like stepping into an alternate universe in which American (U.S.) settlers beat the Spanish to California and set up shop in the image of the Old West. Spend five minutes of walking around Old Town and you almost forget that you’re a mere 20 miles from Mexico and three miles from the beach…that is, if weren’t for the palm trees, cacti and smattering of adobe buildings.

Pacific Beach / Mission Beach Sunset

Our plan worked perfectly, and we were back at the hotel just as rush hour was ramping up. I really, really hate wasting my time sitting in traffic during sunset on vacation — particularly at the beach. Makes me weepy just thinking about it.

We headed out to the beach, oriented ourselves south and walked…and walked…and walked…

…two miles down along the beach, sat on the sea wall and enjoyed the sun set, then walked the two miles back along the promenade.

We decided to splurge a bit for our final night along the California Coast, having dinner at a place called Firehouse near the Beach Cottages, which was pretty darn good.

Tomorrow, Ocean Beach, Point Loma, La Jolla and a drive over the infamous Grapevine.

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