I’ve only ever left our continent twice before. In 2014 I was fortunate in joining my brother for an indescribably enjoyable trip to Japan, and in 2016 Touchwork sent me over to the USA on the most wonderful business/sightseeing trip that saw me spend time in both Anaheim and San Diego. Excitingly, in a few hours time, I’ll be embarking on my third ever overseas trip – it’s USA round 2!
I have mentioned before that a large portion of Touchwork’s business is in the United States, in particular in the higher education institution auxiliary services realm. To that extent, our US team tends to exhibit at related expos all year round, and as such, for this particular upcoming expo, I was asked if I wanted to join the team and then also deliver some Kinetica system training while I’m at it. Naturally, I JUMPED at the opportunity!
The event in question is the NACAS C3X 2019 Conference and Expo, which is being held in Phoenix Arizona. Before that though, I get to spend some time to do training and sightseeing with the guys in San Diego, and right at the start of it all, I’ve been gifted with a handful of days to play tourist in Washington D.C. – Lincoln Memorial, here I come!
I am of course beyond excited. 3 days in Washington D.C., 5 days in San Diego, and 3 days in Phoenix! I am away from home for about 14 days in total (sorry Chantelle), leaving on the 24th of October and only returning at midnight on the 7th of November, i.e. the date of my 10 year wedding anniversary (again, sorry my love!). Also, if you do the maths, then you’ll realize that I’m in transit for about 3 days. Can’t say I’m looking forward to ALL 52 hours or so that I’m going to be up in the air!
On the travel front I am flying out from Cape Town to Johannesburg and then from Johannesburg to Washington D.C. on SAA. From Washington D.C. I jump to San Diego on Southwest (with a plane change in Atlanta), and from San Diego to Phoenix also via Southwest. Then from Phoenix it is a hop back to Washington D.C. (with a change at Chicago) on United, before I finally depart from Washington back to Johannesburg and then on to Cape Town via SAA.
At this rate I’m starting to feel like a seasoned traveller! My camera phone is charged, I’m chomping at the bit, and as per usual, the best place to follow my travels will be via Instagram (at @craiglotter). Looking forward to what should be an amazing experience! :D
San Diego’s Balboa Park is just an absolutely amazing attraction. Honestly, even if you had a month dedicated to exploring every nook and cranny of this world of wonder, it still wouldn’t be enough. Home to 16 museums, 17 recognized gardens, a host of theaters and other attractions, and of course 1 world famous zoo, Balboa Park stands tall as something that any other city in the world would proudly to lay claim to.
Spanning a massive 1,200 acres of land, the rectangular-shaped Balboa Park was established in 1868 (then sized at 1,400 acres and known as “City Park”), marking San Diego as having been the second city in the United States to dedicate such a large park for public use (following New York City’s 1858 establishment of Central Park).
Originally a scrub-filled mesa, Balboa Park sat for 20 years without any formal landscaping or development taking place – it was only once botanist, horticulturalist and landscape architect Kate Sessions became involved that the park’s real beautification started.
This was accelerated in 1903 and once a city tax was levied in 1905, water systems, paths, and roads started to make their appearance, and in 1910 (with the prestigious 1915 Panama-California Exposition looming large for surprise host city San Diego) City Park was renamed to the more memorable Balboa Park – chosen in honour of Spanish-born Vasco Nunez de Balboa, the first European to cross Central America and see the Pacific Ocean.
The 1915-16 exposition itself (which commemorated the opening of the Panama Canal), as well as the later 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition, provided a major impetus for the creation of the Park as it appears today. Many of the cultural institutions as well as stunning Spanish-Renaissance style architecture were introduced as part of these expos.
In terms of museums, Balboa Park simply can’t be beat, housing the likes of the Mingei International Museum, Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego Air & Space Museum, San Diego Art Institute, San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego Museum of Man, San Diego Natural History Museum, Timken Museum of Art, and keeping with San Diego’s strong ties to the U.S. Navy, the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center.
Then there is an as ridiculously long list of named gardens also to be found in Balboa Park, like the Alcazar Garden, Australian Garden, Botanical Building, Casa del Rey Moro Garden, Florida Canyon Native Plant Preserve, Marston House Garden, Lily Pond, Palm Canyon, Trees for Health Garden, Veterans Memorial Garden, Zoro Garden, and the Japanese Friendship Garden.
As if that is already not enough natural beauty, history and culture to take in, Balboa Park further ups the ante with attractions like the vintage Balboa Park Carousel, Balboa Park Miniature Railroad, Balboa Stadium, Casa del Prado (home of San Diego Youth Symphony), House of Pacific Relations International Cottages, Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater, Old Globe Theatre, San Diego Junior Theatre, San Diego Mineral and Gem Society, Spanish Village Art Center, Spreckels Organ Pavilion, Starlight Bowl, and the WorldBeat Cultural Center.
Then there is of course the world famous San Diego Zoo. (Which I naturally spent WAY too much time wandering about in!)
Johann and I started and ended our tour of San Diego aboard the excellent Old Town Trolley Tours bus in Balboa Park, but due entirely to time constraints, I sadly only got the smallest of tastes of this remarkable wonderland. Also, my phone was busy charging, meaning that instead of the usual gigantic image gallery that I should be posting here, this is all I have in my photos folder:
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As I mentioned at the start of the post – you probably need at least a month to do this amazing creation justice in terms of exploring all of the cultural and historic riches on offer, and that said, honestly, it really isn’t that hard to understand just why Balboa Park is by far San Diego’s largest tourist attraction.
Historically home to the Kumeyaay people, then visited by Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in 1542 (and claimed for Spain), then settled in 1821 through the establishment of the Presidio and Mission San Diego de Alcalá (1769), then incorporated into Mexico (1821), and then finally part of the United States (1848) – basically put, San Diego has a fair bit of history behind it.
Our first hop off from the entertaining Old Town Trolley Tours Bus was in Old Town itself, or more specifically, in the Old Town San Diego Historic Park – a state protected historical park that commemorates the early days of the town of San Diego. Established in 1969 (and as of 2006 the most visited state park in California), Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is home to many historic buildings that date back to a period between 1820 and 1870.
(In case you are wondering, up until the 1860s, the Old Town area was the heart of San Diego, before it was all but abandoned in favour of concentrating activities at the site of present-day Downtown San Diego, primarily to be closer to the water and thus trade routes.)
The park preserves and recreates Old Town as it existed during the Mexican and early American periods, with five original adobes forming the heart of the complex – one of which being the Casa de Estudillo, which built in 1827 is one of the oldest surviving examples of Spanish architecture in California. It is also considered one of the finest houses in Mexican California.
Other historic buildings include a schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, San Diego’s first newspaper office, a cigar and pipe store, houses and gardens, and a stable with a carriage collection.
In addition to all the period dress and demonstrations taking place, the park is filled with all manner of restaurants, shops and museums, with many skilled artisans setting up shop and applying their trade here.
In other words, the perfect tourist attraction.
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Johann and I spent a fair bit of time popping our heads in most of the museums on offer, before hopping back on the bus as it headed up through Downtown San Diego on its way over to the impressive Coronado Bridge…
Following our day of exploring the USS Midway and the Cabrillo National Monument, Johann thought it a good idea to cap off the evening with an entertaining supper at the local Shogun Kobe. I couldn’t have agreed with him more.
If you are not familiar with the name, essentially the Shogun group of restaurants (established in 1980 in Pasadena by founder Bruce Kanenobu) are fashioned very much after the more famous Benihana group of American restaurants (which we’ve all seen on old TV and in 80’s movies), all of which are basically (heavily) Japanese themed restaurants that specialize in producing Japanese-inspired cuisine – the big drawcard being that the food is prepared by an entertaining, kitchen implement swishing chef on Teppanyaki grill right in front of you.
It is delightfully cheesy, a little silly, and honestly quite a lot of fun.
Our chef on the evening was quite entertaining, skillfully flipping, dicing and flicking ingredients all over the place, with appropriate spurts of flames and coloured lights making an appearance every so often. Us diners all sat enthralled, the Western-style teppanyaki food (Americans would never take to authentic Japanese flavours) was surprisingly delicious, and the house wine not too horrible.
So, a pretty good evening out then in other words.
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It is a pity then that the whole teppanyaki experience isn’t widely found in South Africa at all – I honestly believe that it could be a bit of a hit with family diners.
One of the best views of San Diego’s harbour and skyline can be found at the Cabrillo National Monument – in fact, a clear day will actually give you a good view over a wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Tijuana, and even Mexico’s Coronado Islands!
Situated at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula in San Diego, California, the Cabrillo National Monument commemorates the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo at San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542 – the first time a European expedition had ever set foot on what later became the West Coast of the United States.
The first thing that greets you as you drive up into the national park is the fantastic Cabrillo Visitor Center, which in addition to its useful outdoor signage, viewing deck spots and smorgasbord of visitor information on hand, also sports a fantastically well done museum section, containing a fascinating array of carefully preserved items, information and interactive exhibits.
Then of course there is the unmissable limestone heroic statue of Cabrillo himself, a present to the USA from the Portuguese government. The original statue which was handed over by the Portuguese ambassador in 1938 was executed by sculptor Alvaro de Bree, with it weighing in at 6,400 kg and measuring 4.3 m in height.
However, weathering as a result of its exposed position dictated that the original sandstone model needed to eventually be replaced, and so in 1988 the (still striking) limestone replica that you see on site today made its appearance.
Interesting fact: During World War II the original Cabrillo Monument site was completely off-limits to the public thanks to the Point Loma Peninsula’s reservation for military purposes (San Diego is strategically incredibly important to the United States Navy), but this worked out well in the end – following the war, the national monument’s area was significantly enlarged thanks to work by both presidents Eisenhower and Ford.
Standing at around 57 hectares in size, the Cabrillo National Monument is also home to a number of other fascinating points of interest, like the Old Point Loma Lighthouse – one of the oldest lighthouses to ever operate on the West Coast of the United States of America.
And while this particular lighthouse now operates as a walk-in museum attraction only, just down the hill is the still very much in operation New Point Loma Lighthouse as well. There there are also the old gun batteries and retired radio station that houses an interesting the military history of the area exhibition.
In terms of nature activities, there are a number of short trails throughout the Cabrillo National Monument, including the popular two-mile long Bayside Trail that takes you through one one of the last remaining remnants of coastal sage scrub habitat in the world. It also in the process gives you spectacular views of Sand Diego Bay and the city beyond, Ballast Point (where Cabrillo landed), sandstone cliffs, and if the season is right, even some snow on the tops of the mountains!
The Coastal Tidepool Trail on the other hand takes you along its winding path down to the rocky intertidal area of the monument – which is incidentally one one of the best-protected and most easily accessible of rocky intertidal areas in southern California. Given the incredibly diverse and thriving animal communities to be found in the tidal pool area, this section also then happens to be one of the more interesting spots of the park to pay a visit to.
Oh, and as if all this wasn’t yet enough, given its high elevation, the Cabrillo National Monument is also a brilliant whale watching spot – the perfect place in fact to watch migrating Gray Whales pass by from December through February!
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So pretty hard not to include this as one of the many tourist things to do here in San Diego then!
Following our little walkabout the Torrey Pines Gliderport, Johann and I continued the theme of taking his dog out for a walk by heading down to Del Mar, a small, prosperous, and nearby beach city that forms part of San Diego county.
The first surfing location mentioned in the 1963 Beach Boys’ song Surfin’ U.S.A., Del Mar (meaning “of the sea” in Spanish) is known for its boutique shops, fine dining, good surfing, and great beaches. (It is also now home to Tom DeLonge, former guitarist and founding member of Blink-182, now full time UFO researcher)
There is also the famous Del Mar racetrack (horse racing), it borders the Torrey Pines State Beach, and the city hosts both the San Diego County Fair and the tri-annual Del Mar Antique Show.
As for our trip, we stepped out on Main Beach, which was absolutely perfect for walking the dog, watching people pull out fish, glancing at a beachcomber hobo, and spectating an absolutely perfect sunset.
Plus, the water is nice and warm.
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Interesting fact (just in case you spotted the South African flag fluttering in one of the photos) – there are actually quite a large number of South African expats that call the San Diego region home, and after seeing the place for myself, well it is easy to see just why that is.
One of the very first bits of sightseeing that I did after reaching San Diego was a drive about the beautiful La Jolla area with Johann, the ride ending with a walkabout on the cliffs flanking the historic Torrey Pines Gliderport site.
Given its 100 years of flying history, the Torrey Pines Gliderport is one of North America’s most historic aviation sites, having played a pivotal role in the aviation industry of both Southern California and the United States as a whole.
For example, aviation legends like Charles Lindbergh, Woody Brown, Hawley Bowlus, John Robinson, and Bob Fronius all have history with the Torrey Pines Gliderport, whilst technologies like the Robinson Variometer, the Air Brakes on the Zanoonia, the original Parachute Recovery System, early radio controlled model airplanes, the first hang gliders, and even paragliding all were either refined, created or tested at this very launch site!
These days the Torrey Pines Gliderport positions itself as Southern California’s premiere location for paragliding, hang gliding, remote control models and sailplanes, providing a world class flying site, flight lessons, certifications, tandem flights, equipment sales, and even repair services in the process.
The cliffs themselves make for a wonderful viewing platform of the area, and if you feel energetic and adventurous enough, a steep path down the face of the cliffs will reward you with an amazing strip of beach down below.
Well worth a visit if you enjoy watching people effortlessly float about in the sky.
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Next up, a walk along a beach in Del Mar!
So, I kind of need to return to pushing out all the posts regarding my business/tourist visit to the USA in 2016. So far I’ve only managed to get to the first 16, and to be honest, there are in fact 14 photo galleries still left to post!
Admittedly, this is not one of the “Cool place that I visited” entries on the list, but instead serves as more of a gentle reminder to myself of the latter part of the trip – You know, because I primarily use this blog as a memory box for myself.
Anyway, so after the successful expo and all the sightseeing around the Anaheim/Los Angeles area, Johann and I bid farewell to Carl and drove out to San Diego, more specifically heading over to Johann’s house in the beautiful Sabre Springs neighbourhood, where I would be staying for the next couple of days while I packed the last bit of being a tourist in.
A healthy amount of driving about and San Diego sightseeing aside (Torre Pines, Del Mar, Cabrillo Monument, USS Midway, Embarcadero, Old Town, Hotel Del Coronado, Balboa Park and of course San Diego Zoo), I rather enjoyed taking in some suburban experiencesas well – like taking the dog on walks, trying out cream cheese on bagels for the first time, sampling a lot of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavours, seeing way too much politics (Trump was everywhere!) on the near constant news cycle, cringing at the amount of non-stop medicine-hawking adverts across radio and TV, and of course nipping out burgers, pizza and beer whenever the opportunity arose.
I probably enjoyed that part the most.
(For reference, we paid a visit to Oggi’s and Bruski whilst in the area – both were good, but with not enough photos taken, they are relegated to appearing here as footnotes of my trip memories).
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Oh, and yes, I did take full advantage of the pool as well. Definitely one thing that I miss having access to back at my own home here in SA.
However, seeing as Johann, Carl and I had already been in full on tourist mode for most of the day already, we decided to skip the social and rather enjoy the offerings of Disney’s slightly more adult orientated theme park instead.
Best decision ever.
Themed after the history and culture of California, Disney California Adventure is situated literally across the gates of the original Disneyland Park, and while a later (massive and expensive) overhaul wove in more kid friendly entertainment options focused on Disney’s Pixar and Marvel properties, the park comes away as much more suited for older visitors as opposed to the youngsters.
There are lots of vintage props and real world themed backdrops to enjoy, and while the rides aren’t quite as numerous or iconic as what you get in the original park across the road, the rides that are there are certainly a lot of fun.
Given our time constraints (i.e., we only arrived there in the early evening), Johann, Carl and I only manage to dip our toes into two of the rides on offer – the heart stopping Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (which is an accelerated drop tower dark ride that essentially catapults you up and out at the top of a very high building) and the gorgeous Soarin’ Around the World experience (a flight motion simulator that ‘flies’ you through the world on a mechanical lift system).
Obviously had the lines been shorter we would have got to do more, but this is Disneyland – the lines are NEVER short!
Other than that, we spent our time strolling around the grounds, taking in the sights, chewing on churros, tackling turkey legs, and capping it all off with a viewing of the incredible water fountain projection finale, the World of Color nighttime show.
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Despite their proximity to one another, Disney California Adventure Park is a very different animal to Disneyland Park, meaning that if you have the time (and money, because boy, entrance to these places are expensive!), it is well worth spending at least two full days in order to explore both!