Category Archives: San Diego

Places near San Diego

Meet Jamba at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

IMG_8973Before heading back to Los Angeles from San Diego, Katie and I were looking for something that would only take us a few hours in the morning to check out. We decided to stop by San Diego’s Safari Park Zoo. We had found a groupon which only added to our excitement to see what the park was all about.

The park is located outside of San Diego in Escondido, CA and is open anywhere from 9am-5pm to 9am-7pm depending on the season. There are many safari passes you can add onto your general admissions pass. Everything from the Caravan Safari to the Behind-The-Scenes Safari to the VIP Ultimate Safari. These range from about $80 up to $599/person. Some focus on just one animal while others give you a general overview. There is even one that you can customize to meet your specific needs. We decided to skip the add on this time and just explore the park by foot.

We arrived around 11am and made our way directly to the entrance. We showed our groupon on our iPhones and were immediately let in through the gates. Lucky for us, the zoo was not as busy as I had expected it to be. Maybe it was because it was a Monday and a lot of schools first week back, but I was very happy about it.

We started out up the trail and made our first stop at the gift shop to purchase some Safari Park pennies. Then we followed the path and came across the first Animal Ambassador Stage. On the stage was a small bird with a trainer that was asking him to do different behaviors such as pick out the red block, jump onto her hand, and make different bird chirps. She rewarded him with seeds after each behavior. After the short session and talking about the bird and his feathers and such, they had to leave. She reminded the audience about the other animal encounters throughout the park and left the stage.

We continued down the Safari Walkways and came to the tigers enclosure, Tiger Trail. I believe one of the volunteers told us that there were 5 tigers living in the exhibit. We saw one by the house, another right by the fence and two around a corner. They were so beautiful. We followed the walkway to the condor’s area. They had 3 that were all tagged as part of the Condor Recovery Program. Numbers 525, 35, and 607. One was rescued from the wild after having a broken wing while the other two that were born in captivity.

All throughout the park there were volunteers and employees that were extremely helpful and friendly. Some were able to direct us in the right location of the different animal exhibits. Others had specific animals that they were extremely knowledgeable about. Sometimes we listened to other guests questions and answers and sometimes we asked our own questions. As we continued through the park, we caught the end of the bird show. Turkey’s ran around the stage uncontrollably and then an eagle soared over the stadium.

We headed out of the stadium and came across another Animal Encounter at a different Animal Ambassador Stage. As one employee came out to speak to us about the animal, a trainer came out with Jamba the Zoo Safari Park’s blind fossa from Madagascar. Since he is blind, they are less concerned about him harming one of the guests, plus we aren’t on his lists of things to eat. They allowed him to come pretty close so everyone can get a good look.

Fossas are cat-like animals and are the largest carnivore on the island. Jamba would never survive in the wild so the park adopted him. He is one of their main animal ambassadors helping guests to learn all about his kind, even though there is not much known about his kind.

As one employee spoke to us about the facts they do know about Jamba, the trainer kept him engaged with her. She had his favorite toy, a ball on a rope and played with him with it. After he finally caught it we could hear him growl. This growl was the same noise he would make in the wild after making a kill. He was so happy. The trainer also showed us how he climbs trees similar to a cat, up and down going forward. His ankles can rotate way more than ours can. After each time he did something she asked him to do she would reward him with a big chunk of meat. She would toss it so it would slap against the ground so he would know where it landed. She even tossed some into his water bowl with a big splash.

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Jamba was cool and soon it was time to move onto see one of his favorite animals to feast on in Madagascar, the lemur. The park allowed you to walk through the enclosure to get a better look, but unfortunately when we went they were all hiding and sleeping where we could not see them. One of the employees mentioned to come back around 4pm, but we weren’t staying that late.

We continued on through the park and saw the gorillas, lions, cheetahs, warthogs, and elephants, plus many other birds and animals. With only have a half day to explore we realized we could have easily spent a whole day at the park. Unfortunately too soon it was time for us to leave.

The park is definitely fun for all ages, young and old alike. With a different set up than most zoos, the Safari Park seems more spacious and gives you a chance to see the animal living in a habitat much like it’s natural one in the wild. There are animals from all over the world and something for everyone to see. Take a safari park tour or walk the park on your own, either way you are bound to have a great time.

The Taco Stand

IMG_8971After a long day of new experiences Katie and I were hungry for some mexican food. And what better place to get some mexican food than in San Diego. Only minutes from the border into Mexico, San Diego has some of the best mexican food restaurants around. This time we were in La Jolla.

Katie’s aunt Sheri walked us to the main street. We were going to try Don Carlos Taco Shop which Sheri and Jim raved about, but when we arrive they were already closed. Guess they close early on Sunday evenings, around 7:00pm. Not to be discouraged or deterred from our mexican food, we headed toward the beach and found another spot.

The Taco Stand is super tiny local spot that was jam packed with people. You could barely move inside as you squeezed past other customers. The line to order was literally out the door and onto the sidewalk. We jumped into line without knowing if it was a new restaurant or if the others in line had been here before. We only hoped that the food would be as delicious as it seemed.

We ordered one pollo asada fries, a carne asada burrito, and two mexican ice cream bars. The wait was average for the size of the crowd they had and soon we had our food and were headed down to the beach eating our ice cream bars as we went. We got a little lost along the way, but eventually figured it out. We took a seat on the wall, ready to devour our food.

The pollo asada fries were heavenly! I couldn’t have asked for them to be done any better. Crispy fries topped with warm chicken, sour cream, avocados and gooey cheese. My mouth is watering just thinking about them now. And the burrito was so flavorful. Just the right amount of greasy goodness wrapped inside a tortilla. We demolished everything leaving not even one crumb behind.

The Taco Stand in La Jolla as absolutely great. I give it 2-thumbs up. It was so good that I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get pictures of our food to show here on the dark beach. Guess you’ll have to just go try some for yourself. I guarantee you’ll love it.

Del Mar Race Track

IMG_8973While in San Diego, Katie and I headed over to the Del Mar Race Track to meet up with her family that we were staying with in La Jolla. The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club which opened in 1937 is where the famous Seabiscuit-Ligaroti match race was held on August 12, 1938. After a crazy race, Seabiscuit under George (The Iceman) Woolf beat Ligaroti and Noel (Spec) Richardson by a nose.

The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club runs races all summer and fall. This summer they ran from July 16th to September 7th. Each weekend there are 10 races on Sunday starting at about 2:00pm with the last one running at about 6:40pm. Depending on the race there can be anywhere between 7 to 14 horses racing.

We found parking for $10 and made our way toward the entrance which was a little tricky to figure out. We paid our $6 each and arrived inside the event right next to a beautiful fountain. We made our way to the race picture painted tunnel which brings you under the track and to the center where her family was watching the races already in progress.

We found Jim and Sheri and their friends at one of the first picnic tables right by the race track. We watched a race and they they explained the simple way to  bet, $2 on race number, horse number to place, show, or win. We each put $2 on a horse the for the next race. There was about 30 minutes between each race which allowed you to decide if you wanted to place a bet or as the people at the race would say, “slap a bet down,” before each race.

All of my horses kept coming in 4th, just out of the running for me to win anything back and I lost about $8 before I decided I wasn’t going to play anymore. However, one of Katie’s horses won 2nd which got her $4 back making her loss only $2 total.

We took a walk around the inside of the race track and stopped at an ice cream booth. It was the best ice cream I had in a long time. Maybe it was just that the day was so hot I needed ice cream to cool down, I’m not really sure, but it was perfectly sweet and absolutely amazing. We continued to explore and found a bunch of children playing on blow-up slides and even having a race track instructed water balloon toss.  I was surprised to see how many people bring their children to the race track. I had always thought of it as an upper class adult only experience, but at the Del Mar Race Track it wasn’t like that at all. Then again, I didn’t get to experience the bleachers. It could be completely different over there.

We made our way back to the race track to watch the rest of the races. This time we were a lot closer. The race began and it was a little different than all the rest. As the horses came around the first bend one of them bumped into another and next thing everyone knew one of the jockeys was on the ground. He was ok and was able to scramble off the track before they came around a second time, but the crowd was filled with ohs and eeks when he hit the ground.  His horse continued to run around the track all by itself, like it didn’t even realize that its jockey had fallen off. The helpers eventually caught up with it and stopped it without having a hard time. It kind of makes me wonder, what are these horses taught in order to allow them to run the race even though they have left their jockey lying on the ground behind them. Maybe it’s just a herd instinct.

We stayed until all the races were over. They each had a different starting point and they would move the gate in between each race to the new starting position. As the sun got lower there were a few races that started right in front of us. We were able to watch them load the racers into the gate, start out of the gate, and come racing by pretty close, their feet roaring over the ground as they passed us.

With one last race to run we packed up our stuff and headed out to our cars. As gunshot started the final race we realized that none of us came away a winner that day. We weren’t upset, it was still a fun and exciting day and I was just happy to have experienced something new and different.

Razor, Yucca, & Beach Trail at Torrey Pines

IMG_8973For a little less than a year now I have wanted to check out some of the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Trails down in San Diego. Specifically the Beach Trail is the one that everyone has spoke to me about. They told me of the beautiful beach and the ocean views from lookout points as you make your way through the different scenery with bushes, trees, and sculpted sandstone until you finally reach the beach and what they call the Flat Rock. A couple weekends ago I finally got my chance when Katie and I were in La Jolla for a short weekend trip.

We headed over early in the morning to the north entrance, paid our $15 parking fee and drove up toward the Visitor’s Center to park near the start of the Beach Trail. Turns out the center was closed on the day we went, but they had a temporary information booth set up at the beginning of the trail. The sky was still covered with the morning haze, but we grabbed a map, took a few minutes to look at it and headed out on our hike.

Instead of just taking the .75 mile trail to the beach and Flat Rock and back we decided to add a little distance and see a few more destinations along the way. We started out on the Beach Trail. The trail is very clearly marked with occasional fences and wires in case there were any questions of the dirt path surrounded with bushes. Within .1 mile we came upon an option to take the Razor Trail, which we had decided we would do. We followed it and in about 5 minutes we had reached the Red Butte, a big compressed sandstone structor. We climbed around on top of it and took a few pictures before continuing down the well kept path toward Razor Point.

We trekked down stairs and passed distant ocean view overlooks. There were several very interesting looking trees and spots were we could see how the wind had weathered away the stone on our short trail to Razor Point overlook. It looked mystifying. We couldn’t quite figure out how the holes were created. They couldn’t have been manmade. Eventually we reached the point and the path ended into a sharp narrow section which  people were not allowed to venture out onto. I could only imagine the grown sliding away underneath someone’s feet and them tumbling down the cliff to the beach below. That wouldn’t be pleasant. We could see the ocean and beach below even though it was still hazy. It was beautiful.

We continued over toward Yucca Point, our next destination as the haze began to fade away. The trail began to get very warm as we got closer, but reaching the point gave us some relief as the cool breeze washed over us. It was very similar to Razor Point only it was much more rounded with two overlooks to watch the ocean from. If we looked toward the south we could see Flat Rock, our final destination. It looked so small from where we were standing.

As we headed back over to the connection between the Yucca and Beach Trail the sun only got hotter and hotter. We walked down numerous stairs and finally came to a clearing with stairs that led up and over toward Broken Hill Trail and a path that pointed down towards the beach. We headed down the passage as the trail narrowed and then gave us one final look at Flat Rock before it narrowed even more and became metal steps.

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Our last step landed us on the sand below the towering cliffs, just a short walk from Flat Rock. We made our way over, staying clear of the base of the cliff just in case the sandstone fell like it has before. Right as the rock and cliff meet we scrambled around and made our way over to the other side. We were trying to find the easiest and least likely way of getting wet to get onto Flat Rock. It didn’t seem to matter much so we waited for the waves to rush out, waded into the water. The cool water was quite refreshing.  We made our way to the little stair-like crack that everyone was using to climb up and down and we quickly scurried up before the waves came.

We took some time exploring the tide pools on Flat Rock. They were so much fun to explore. Each hole and crack had something else for us to see. We saw a few fish, many small crabs, and even some snails that had gotten trapped as the ocean’s tide lowered beneath the rock.

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By the time we decided to head back the haze from the morning had completely lifted. Walking up the Beach Trail, which was the most direct route back to the parking lot was not as easy as any of the other trails we had taken that morning. What we didn’t realize, was that the Beach Trail was also the route with the most stairs and we would no longer be walking along the water’s edge so our breeze would be gone. Plus, the sun had also gotten very high as it was somewhere around noon and it was extremely hot that day. We made it to our car, but we took a few water breaks along the way. As we reached our car we were glad we were done. It was fun, but the heat made it exhausting.

The trails at Torrey Pines Natural State Reserve are great fun for every age. Old or young there is somewhere to hike for everyone. Stay on the beach for a cool relaxing walk or get a great workout by taking a trek from the top of the hill to the beach and back for something a little more rigorous. Whatever you choose it is sure to be an adventurous and fun filled day.

Harry’s Coffee Shop

IMG_8973Just a few minutes away from Katie’s family’s house in La Jolla, CA near San Diego is Harry’s Coffee Shop,  one of Katie’s favorite morning breakfast spots. We took the short morning walk down to the main street and built up quite a big appetite that we only hoped Harry’s could satisfy. We put our name in and waited outside for our table to be ready, about 20 minutes.

In the late 1950’s Harry and his wife Catherine decided to move from New York to Los Angeles. After three years of searching for an ideal location they finally came across La Jolla and set up Harry’s Coffee Shop in 1960. He based his diner off of those that inspired him from Brooklyn and he was up every morning at 5am ready to spend the morning with his guests, which he knew all of them by name. Harry’s still has that local diner feeling today and while we didn’t get to meet Harry himself, we still received the quality food and experience he once strived for.

That morning Katie and I were finally seated inside in one of the far back booths. Katie ordered the french toast and I ordered the bacon pancakes. Once our food arrived and I looked at Katie’s I knew I had made a mistake. Her french toast came complete with strawberries, blueberries, nuts and powder sugar on top while mine had bacon strips on top and through out.

Both of our meals were delicious., though I have to say Katie’s was way better. Her’s was sweet and gooey and just super yummy. Mine was ok, but pancakes always seem a little dry to me unless you completely cover them with syrup which I didn’t feel like doing that day.

We finished our meals and headed out and back to Katie’s family’s house. Harry’s is definitely on our list to go to again next time we are down in San Diego. You should make it a stop on your list too.

La Jolla Brewing Company

IMG_8973While on a short trip to San Diego, Katie and I stayed in La Jolla, CA. After settling into Katie’s family’s house we headed out for a place to eat. A short walk led us to the main street with many options. We eventually stumbled upon La Jolla Brewing Company and decided to give it a try.

La Jolla Brewing Company features their own hand-crafted beer and a 24 tap rotating selection of local San Diego County craft beers. Their in-house beer selection features five signature styles, Pale Ale, IPA, Pub Ale, Dry Stout, and Brown Ale. They also create specialty and seasonal beers to keep their selection fresh and exciting.

We walked past their outdoor seating section and asked to see a menu. We decided to stay and picked a spot overlooking the outdoor seating section since it was too warm to sit inside that evening. We didn’t order any beer, but we did order some food. We got the LJBC Classic Cheeseburger and the BBQ Chicken Pizza.

After a little wait they arrived. The pizza was delicious. It was on flat bread with pieces of chicken, cheese, onions, and fresh cilantro. Once I tried it I couldn’t stop eating it until I was too full to eat another the piece. The burger on the other hand was not up to our standards, it was nothing special.

So stop by La Jolla Brewing Company to get a taste of the local La Jolla beer choices, experience a piece of history, and have a fun and relaxing night. Just get the pizza and skip the burger you should be all good. Oh, and if you want you can bring your dog when you’re enjoying your time on the patio.

Surfing Surf Shops

IMG_8973On my trek back from San Diego to Los Angeles I decided that I would make a day out of checking out the surf shops from Torrey Pines to Oceanside, ending at California Surf Museum. Unsure how many stops I would have to make and how much time it would take I started my journey.

Now Torrey Pines actually doesn’t have any surf shops. My quick drive through was only to put me on the correct road, S21 also known as HWY 101. I continued through Del Mar which is also surf shop free and into Solana Beach where my first stop was a chain store, Surf Ride. They had this book, Everything I Know About Dating I Learned Through Surfing, which I thought was super cute, funny and just made me smile. I left after purchasing some Zinc for my trip in a couple weeks and continued on my way.

My next stop was Mitch’s Surf Shop, which has been around since 1967. This is the kind of shop I was interested in seeing. Something local. The inside was pretty packed and they had strung Christmas lights around which I thought was pretty unique. I found a surf movie that I had been searching for for a while, Dear & Yonder. I thought about purchasing it, but decided against it. I was on a journey to explore the surf shops, not purchase something from each shop.

The following stop was Hansen Surfboards which was a huge chain store that had almost everything you could think of. It had two stores, one for just surf stuff and another for clothing, skate and ski and snowboarding stuff. In the back of their parking lot they also had an outdoor ski and snowboard area where you could take lessons.

I continued into Encinitas and immediately ran into Encinitas Surfboards. This place was super small and so packed I could barely move. The employees were actually the nicest out of any store that I came across that day. He asked me if he could help and when I told him I was just looking he gave me space and told me to find him if I needed anything. I felt very respected.

Then there was Bing Surfboards, which didn’t have much inside. I think they actually make custom boards. The employee and another customer were talking about the way one of their signature boards feels in the water. I eavesdropped for a bit and then headed on my way.

Surfy Surfy Surf Shop was next. The employees in this shop were also very nice. They had really cool surfboard art work, lots of open space, and I think they even might do repairs as I saw one of the guys  outside in the back working on a board as I walked around the building and into the store.


I missed Progression Surf so I back tracked to check it out. It looked just like every other surf shop by that point and I was in much need of a break as checking out the different shops was becoming less and less appealing as the day progressed. Interesting pun there!

I stopped at San Elijo State Beach. There were some wooden stairs to climb down to the beach, people along the shore, and surfers out in the water. I decided to stay up top for a bit and then continued down the road to another spot. At that spot I sat down and listened to some music. I watched the birds cruise along the coastal bluffs and watched a lady feed the squirrels that lived there some food. They were so cute, so gentle, and some were more cautious than others. It brought back memories which made me smile a bit and then a little sad. I sat there a bit longer and then decided to head on my way.

My little break rejuvenated my spirit and I headed to Carlsbad to see the last few surf shops along my route. First up was Carlsbad Pipelines Surf Shop. There wasn’t much to see here. Reminded me of a beach shop with some added surf shop. However, the employees were friendly and nice.

I continued my journey to Raw Skin Surf Shack, which had surf and bike rentals. They also had these super cute rock art cards which I couldn’t help but wonder who made them and where I could get some other than there. They used rocks in the sand to make paw prints and also had rocks balanced on other rocks spelling out words such as love with the ocean crashing behind it. They were very inspiring.

I moved along to my final surf shop stop, Real Surf Shop. This shop was quite interesting. They were the only shop that I found that actually allowed you to take out the boards for sale and try them before deciding to buy them. I thought that was just a great idea! I think almost every surfer loves to try out a new board before they decide to buy it. See how it works, feels, moves in the water.

I got back in my car and made my way to my final destination, California Surf Museum. Turns out it closes at 4pm and I just missed the cut off, arriving a little after 4. Instead I headed to the pier. I watched some more surfers, saw a huge pelican, and walked to the end of the pier where I waited to see if any of the fishers could catch anything. They got nothing, so I headed back to the car. It was a nice day of exploration, next time maybe I’ll check the museum’s hours before I head that way so I don’t miss them again.

Flecks of Gold at Torrey Pines State Reserve

IMG_8973I spent another weekend in San Diego and this time I decided to check out Torrey Pines State Reserve. Rumor has it that there is a short hike to a small cove which I was unable to find. I parked my car on S21 and Carmel Valley, got my ticket stub, and headed down the path to the beach. The path was very easy and short, though steep as I came to the railroad crossing. Just a little bit further and I arrived at the beach with dark black sand along the rocks.

I walked straight to the ocean, took off my shoes and allowed my toes to feel the cool refreshing water. I stood there looking both ways, surfers scattered along the break. The waves were super mushy, but looked super fun and I debated asking a nearby surfer to borrow his board and paddle out into the water fully clothed but decided against it. Next time I will have to bring my surfboard.

I headed south along the water’s edge and started to encounter many tiny gold flecks in the sand. I wasn’t sure what they were and stopped for a moment to investigate. After further analysis I learned that they were tiny mica flecks which are rarely found in beach sand. It was so beautiful I tried to capture the flecks with my camera, but the picture just doesn’t do them justice.


I continued along my journey and came across a saltmarsh called the Los Penaquitos Lagoon. The lagoon is constantly changing due to the rise and fall of the tides and life inside the lagoon depends on that. Often, the channel leading to the ocean fills, harming the ecosystem within the marsh and has to be reopened. Today the channel was running freely. There was a lady fishing and a pelican swimming all within 50 feet from each other. It’s beautiful when people and wildlife can coexist so peacefully like that.

I walked up and over the bridge, coming down along the rocks on the other side. I walked a little farther until it became uncomfortable to walk any further barefoot. The beach had become filled with small flat rocks, perfect for skipping. At that point I decided to head back to my car, wishing I had a little bit more time to continue to explore.

After getting home and doing a little more research I learned that there are multiple hikes in that little area. I know that I will soon return to surf, hike, and possibly find Black’s Beach.

Driving Through Julian

IMG_8223I was in San Diego the other weekend again and decided to go for a drive with a friend to get some pie. It was a strange day as the clouds made us think it would rain, but never quite produced any precipitation. We drove out to Julian, CA us in her new car with the top down, her roommate on his bike. What a fun ride! We sped down the twisty roads and occasionally got slowed by the Sunday morning driver. We eventually stopped at the little pie shop, Mom’s Pies, which is only about an hour outside San Diego.

You’ll have to excuse the lack of pie pictures, as this post was an after thought. Also, the pies were so good I didn’t want to stop eating to take a picture. I promise to get some if I ever go again. And I’ll be sure to take the picture before I take a bite!

There are actually two Mom’s Pies in the area. We stopped at the one just before you reach Julian. It was a good choice as there weren’t many customers which was meant no wait for us. Also, as we drove through the center of Julian and past the official Mom’s Pies we took note of the line that was out the front door.

IMG_8227We stopped to take some pictures just past Julian at an overlook of my friend’s car and her roommate’s bike. We turned them one way, then the other way and then got some pictures of the view without them. The sun started to set so we decided to head back, hoping there would be a few opportunities to stop along the way to take pictures of the sunset. As we came over the last mountain we drove into a exquisite sunset that you can only see to believe. All in all a fun time!

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© Shannon

Pollo Asada Fries

IMG_7952I have heard that San Diego has the best Mexican food in Southern California without crossing the boarder, so while I was there I wanted to make sure that I at least tried one place. I reached out to a friend that used to live in the area and asked her where her favorite place was and what she recommended that I get. Without hesitation she replied Don Lucio’s Taco Shop #2.

My friend gave me that address and I drove the 20 minutes, which I must add was a breeze driving, to the shop. She told me that their pollo asada fries were the bomb so they were number one on my list. I ordered the fries with everything on them and then added 2 beef tacos to my order.

IMG_7957A few minutes later I more food then I could possibly eat in one sitting in my possession and was super excited to try the fries. My friend had talked them up so much that I all I wanted to do was get back to my hotel and eat. I walked to my car, sat down, opened the container, and took a bite. To be honest, I wasn’t impressed with that first bite. I’m not a big fan of sour cream or avocados, but the salt on the fries helped mask the flavor so they were ok. Plus, I was starving. I took another couple bites, put them away and drove back to the hotel.

IMG_7958I got into my room and opened the fries again. I noticed that there were crinkle and regular fries in there, but was not as excited to eat them as I had been previously. I took a bite and I was so surprised. All of the sudden they were amazing! I can only believe that the time in car, allowing the cheese to melt and the sour cream and avocados to warm up, had drastically improved their taste. I shoveled forkful after forkful into my mouth until I realized that I still had the tacos to try. I opened the bag, unwrapped the taco and took a bite. Now those were really good! Real fried flour tortilla shells, a little soft and chewy on the inside and crunchy around the outer edges. I sit here now writing this craving the crunchy tacos and the cheesy salty goodness of the fries. I can’t wait to get back down to San Diego to have them again.