San Diego’s Coast Day Trip

On a day trip up to San Diego’s coast, you can find funky stores, good pizza, art, endangered trees, hang gliders, an aquarium & a world-class botanical garden.

Take what Californians call “The Eight,” or what the rest of the country calls Interstate 8 or I-8, almost straight into the Pacific Ocean. That’s what you have to do get the proper flavor of the south-most portion of the U.S. Pacific coastline.

Veer north towards Mission Bay Park. Maybe it’s worth just a drive-through as there’s a whole day’s worth of things to see there. Google Maps says it is more than 30 miles from there to the endpoint of today’s day trip.

You don’t want to rush down the road at the speed limit.

Mission Bay Park

First stop: Mission Bay Park. Seaworld? Another day. That’s a whole day’s outing. But Mission Bay Park is, according to San Diego County, the largest man-made aquatic park in the country, consisting of 4,235 acres, approximately 46% land and 54% water. There is a good map with clickable links to each part of the park.

Next stop, Ocean Beach. There’s a small commercial district with funky stores. Funky is what we used to call it in the ’60s. It kinda looks like it was really going in the ’60s and then went into the deep freeze. I know from my nephew, a student at the University of California – San Diego, who lived here, that students and starving artists live in the cottages, one row of which is lucky to have an ocean view. They’re stacked up several deep on the west side of the main drag on teeny lots, some with alley access only.

Fine dining and sunsets in La Jolla

There are more funky stores along the main north-south drag, Mission Blvd. It was pretty quiet in the mid-morning of the day we were there. But we were headed for La Jolla and the Museum of Contemporary Art. We were too early for lunch or else we might have taken a friend’s recommendation of George’s at the Cove on Prospect St. in La Jolla. Go for the ocean view as well as the food. My friend Paul, knowledgeable about La Jolla, says, “They are usually crowded, so get there early to get a good table.”

Back up south to Pacific Beach and Paul recommends Filippi’s Pizza Grotto. Filippi’s is actual a 12-some restaurant chain. The Web site says all the restaurants are owned and operated by family members.

Eclectic art in La Jolla and the influence of millionaire E. W. Scripps

Then there’s La Jolla. It’s definitely a luxury goods kind of place. Bring your bank account if you want to shop and eat there. But in the middle is the home of the Scripps family, the Museum of Contemporary Art. The show, “Mexico: Expected/Unexpected,” is there until May 15. The museum’s La Jolla location – there’s also one in downtown San Diego – was originally an Irving Gill-designed residence, built in 1916 as the home of philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps. We parked on the street — bring quarters for the meter — in front of the museum.

I won’t digress here but you’ll find the Scripps name all over San Diego.

The museum has a little cafe right out front. But the inside is more interesting. There’s a huge ground floor divided up into several rooms. The “Mexico: Expected/Unexpected” show was exactly that. One exhibit was several hundred garlic cloves hanging from the ceiling, each by a thread. there were political cartoons. Videos of a famous square from a camera mounted overhead just showing a day’s passing. That and much more.

Perhaps the more interesting part of the museum – on three acres of oceanfront property – was the outdoor sculpture garden which had, of course, a fantastic view of the Pacific Ocean. There are whimsical pieces: a pole with road signs by Marcos Ramirez Erre called Crossroads (Border Tijuana – San Diego). One of the signs quotes Marcel Duchamp as saying “The only works of art produced by America, are its plumbing fixtures and bridges.” There are lovely plantings and benches to sit on to enjoy the roar of the surf.

The fee schedule at the museum is generous. $10 for adults but almost everyone else gets a hefty discount. Persons under 25, students or not, get in free.

Torrey Pines

After the museum, it was a turn onto N. Torrey Pines Blvd. The Torrey Pines? What’s so special about the Torrey Pines? They’re endangered. There are only about 3,000 of them growing in San Diego County and on Santa Rosa Island, a California Channel Island off the coast of Santa Barbara.

Next stop, the Torrey Pines Gliderport. For $150, no advance reservation necessary though I’d call in advance to make sure flying conditions were right, you can fly tandem. You’ll be paired up with a certified instructor in a paraglider, a souped-up parachute that acts like a wing. For an extra $50 you could do that in a hang glider. The flying field, a very large lawn, is on a high bluff above the beach. There’s no lower age limit for the tandem flight. Paragliders and one hang glider were coming and going pretty much all the time that we had our picnic lunch with an unobstructed view of the field. Didn’t bring your picnic? There’s the Cliff Hanger Cafe with things like a soup and half sandwich combination for about $8. It was voted – no surprise – San Diego’s ‘Best Sandwich With A View”.

Though there are signs for the glider port, it’s best to look for a huge construction site on the ocean side of N. Torrey Pines Rd. across the street from the University of California San Diego campus.

Speaking of the university it is affiliated with the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, an arm of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The aquarium’s website informs us that you can “enter the world of sharks, seahorses, living coral reefs and more, and discover a stunning variety of Pacific marine life in more than 60 habitats. Interact with exhibits that showcase the cutting-edge discoveries of Scripps Oceanography explorers through hands-on displays and multimedia.” Admission? $12 for adults and three hours of free parking.

San Diego Botanic Garden

You could spend more than three hours there but then you wouldn’t see the crown jewel, the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas. It’s a little tricky to find because, unlike the other attraction which is all on the spine of N. Torrey Pines Rd., this one is not. Fortunately, the Web site has a good directions page.

We chose the bamboo garden and the Mexican garden for our trip into magical zones. The Botanic Garden boasts the world’s largest collection of bamboo species but didn’t reveal how many species it has. The varieties were truly impressive, some towering over our heads like very tall trees.

The Botanic Garden’s Web site invites us to “learn about the rich botanical heritage of Mexico, which has more plant species than the rest of North America combined.” Though the native plant area, mostly land just the way it is, is not as impressive But it’s a good way to see how southern California must have been before the Spanish and Anglos paved much of it over and replaced more of it with non-native plants.

The Botanic Garden has a teeny, tiny gift shop and good clean restrooms but no cafe.

If you plan your trip right and leave early, you might make it back to George’s at the Cove for what is bound to be a spectacular sunset and a fitting end to a grand day trip along southern California’s coast.

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