Monday, March 10, 2008

California Girl

I've never thought of myself much as a California Girl, but that's mostly from my trips to LA where I feel completely out of place. When I visited San Francisco in November '06, I actually thought I could live there - the first city I've ever considered an alternative to New York. But despite my East Coast upbringing and uptight nature, something keeps drawing me back to California.


I had a free flight to redeem on JetBlue (thanks to all that business travelling), so I decided to go somewhere far, where I'd never been. San Diego seemed as good as anyplace so I booked my trip for early March, when I'd surely be sick of NYC winter weather and I'd be longing for a trip (especially since I was skipping WMC this year).


In the process of evaluating a particular vacation destination, I always ask myself, "What's there?" In the case of San Diego, the answer was: wine country, mountains, lighthouses, beaches, and Mexico. That sounded like enough for a trip. Turns out it was actually too much for one trip, because I could have used at least one more day to drive on historic Highway 101, to explore the lighthouses of Point Loma, and to live the life of a local in San Diego.


Upon arrival on Wednesday, with Edith in tow, I drove to Coronado to see the historic Hotel Del Coronado, best-known for key scenes from Some Like It Hot and as the place where L. Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz (the hotel's architecture itself perhaps inspiring Emerald City). We had a great late lunch there, joined by dozens of loud chirping birds with French fries in their beaks, and then walked along the beach, digging our toes into the empty mussell shells and getting gold rush glitter all over the tops of our feet. The sand there is firm and cold, textured and striated, sparkling in the sundown sun. And the water was freezing yet refreshing.


Our first night in the city, we did a bit of exploring through the historic Gaslamp District which might as well be Bleecker Street. We felt like we belonged a bit more at Quarter Kitchen in the Ivy Hotel, where we sipped a delightful Gruner Veltliner and sat at the bar of the open kitchen watching the chefs work their magic on food that smelled better than anything we'd experienced in recent NYC history. The Raw and the Cooked artichoke salad and lobster risotto were satisfying, but I still had the idea of going back and trying everything else on the menu in the back of my mind during the rest of our trip. And hoping to catch scraps from the kitchen in my mouth like a dog sitting on a kitchen threshold on Thanksgiving Day.


I tried not to make our entire trip about eating and drinking, but San Diego is known for its food and wine, so we definitely tried to take advantage. We had breakfast at Cafe 222 twice, eating both cornbread and pumpkin waffles and various egg dishes and good coffee with great service and a funky atmosphere that included chandeliers made of teacups and spoons. We also had dinner at The Guild, the restaurant outpost of a metal and design shop factory that's actually attached to (and visible from) the back, in a factory-dominated neighborhood that looks like it's bound for a NYC-style hipster takeover.


Our last morning before leaving, we brunched at Cafe Chloe, an elegant Parisian bistro east of downtown with delicious homemade croissants, a huge bowl of Mexican hot chocolate, and a clientele distinctly comprised of locals instead of Gaslamp-frequenting tourists.


The drinks in San Diego met every high expectation, from Porfidio tequila at the Grant Grill in the U.S. Grant hotel to the Karl Strauss locally-brewed beer at their downtown restaurant to the hundreds of beers on tap at the Yard House(including the Coronado Mermaid Red Ale), the only bar we could stand in downtown San Diego.


But as I said, we focused more on excursions outside the city. On Thursday we drove north to La Jolla where we braved kayaking for the first time in freezing cold water and burning hot sun. Overcoming my fears, we paddled out into the ocean by the La Jolla caves (which we weren't allowed to go into) and La Jolla Cove, where some really intense swimmers crossed our path. Mostly we were overwhelmed by the sound of the beached sea lions, barking out into the late morning, growls echoing off the rocks, making them sound like the smoky monster in LOST.


It was actually great to get some exercise while on vacation, but I was pretty intimidated by the idea of being out in the middle of the ocean by ourselves in a two-seater, especially when the ocean swelled and tipped our boat a bit. Thank God Edith has had some experience on the water, because I made her take charge (a nice switcheroo from me driving the rental car pretty much everywhere).


When we made it back to shore safely, a fully-dressed guy in jeans said to us, "Aren't you girls cold?" When we said we actually felt pretty good, he said, "You must be northerners then!" and we chuckled and kind of nodded, proud of where we're from and what we'd done.


A little self-reward came in the form of fish tacos at George's with a great ocean view and a bottle of Cucapa Osbscura cerveza, and a cute waiter to serve it to us.


Unfortunately, later in the evening, a horrendous sunburn emerged on the tops of my feet, shins, and arms that prevented me from sleeping properly and throbbing so badly that the look on my face sent Edith to the pharmacy for some Lanacane and Advil.


More adventures to be told later...