A Quick Trip to San Diego

On Friday of Memorial Day weekend, I picked the girls up two hours early from school, came home, dropped their stuff, collected Marcus, and headed to the airport in an Uber. We were finally going to get to see our California cousins, for the first time since 2018! We got Otto slices at the airport and Robert met us at the gate, sliding in approximately three minutes before we boarded—plenty of time! Our flight was into San Diego, because LE and Leroy’s wedding (the event of the weekend) was on Sunday about an hour+ northeast of San Diego, or two hours+ southeast of LAX. San Diego seemed like a fun, less-trafficky alternative to LAX, and the kids had never been there. It was a nice direct flight—the kids watched movies (Marcus and I watched “Yesterday,” which I think is just a charming and funny movie), and Marcus and I also slept, and we landed at 8:40.

Picking up the rental car had its ups and downs. Ups: the driver to the rental car center was a charismatic guy who had the whole bus in conversation about where they were from and where the best tacos were and everything else. Downs: Robert somehow got on a do-not-rent list for three of the major rental car companies because of a snafu with returning the Minnesota car last summer (on Friday night, standing at the rental counter, we didn’t know that, though—they have a helpful number to call for information and that’s only available 10-4 Central time Monday to Friday and not on holidays), so we had to rent the car in my name. Hilariously, I am technically a licensed driver, so that did in fact work.

We made a quick stop at Roberto’s for surf-and-turf fries (carne asada and shrimp with guac and cheese and sour cream on shoe string fries—extremely tasty), a crunchy juicy beef taco (Tito’s style!) for Helen, a hefty carnitas burrito for Marcus, and a fish taco for Robert. Then we checked into the Hyatt at Mission Bay, where we had a suit overlooking the marina, and tumbled everyone into bed.

On Saturday morning, we got up early and went straight to Chicano Park, which was built under a highway overpass in the 70s, filled with murals of Chicano and brown pride, and which is now a National Historic Landmark. They refresh some of the murals every year (you can see the scaffolding from where they were finishing up one), but it’s really extensive—every one of the highway supports has a mural, and there are lots of nicely-maintained lawns, two separate play structures, and a couple pavilions and bbqs for picnicking. It’s a very cool place, and we walked around looking at the symbols in the murals and talked about how the Chicano civil rights movement worked, and some of the figures the girls know from books (Chavez, Huerta, etc) and how it all connects. Then we had breakfast at El Carrito, which is known for having FIVE different varieties of chilaquiles. I love chilaquiles, and they are hard to find in Boston. I had some with a creamy avocado sauce served over sopes just for fun, and Robert had some with a chipotle sauce. Marcus had molletes (beans and cheese on Mexican toast, with copious amounts of pico on top) and the girls split a large combo plate of bacon and scrambled eggs and pancakes and strawberries, and we got some horchata to share.

From there we went to the San Diego Zoo, walking in just about 10 minutes after they opened at 9:00. It’s a fabulous, large zoo, of course; Helen loved the birds in particular, but also the koalas, and took a million pictures. These turtles were fully grown adults when the zoo was founded, so they’re now 110-130 years old. The older woman volunteer who was stationed next to the turtles had a long conversation with us about them, about how “unmaternal” the mother turtles are (“We have to take their eggs away from them, because they would just walk right over them!”), and about the purple flowers that some of them loved to eat.

We left the zoo in early afternoon and went to a great socal style burger place, Hayes, back in the Chicano neighborhood and also walked along a street fair there. Marcus ate two big burgers, and the rest of us a normal amount, and we split a Jamaica (I love hibiscus, and the kids too). From there we stopped at Afters in Pacific Beach for ice cream (jasmine tea, Thai tea, brownie batter, and a blue cookie ice cream scoop with M&Ms in a donut as an ice cream sandwich) and drove back to the hotel. Helen and Marcus fell asleep in the car, so Samantha went in with Robert to order the ice cream. Thank goodness she was there to straighten out the flavors!

Marcus chilled in the room with his phone and TikTok and Discord and texted his friends while Robert and I took the girls to the pool. They had one big pool with no slides; a zero-entry pool with a rope dividing the shallow end from the deeper end, and two big water slides dumping into that deep end; and one smaller pool with a little water slide that was 3’ deep everywhere. Helen could be very independent, even though she’s somewhat forgotten how to swim from last fall, moving between the small slide and the two shallow pools playing with other kids. There was also a kids’ bar where kids could get free waters, Sprites, lemonades, iced teas, or Shirley Temples. Helen loved her Shirley Temple—with an umbrella, of course.

Back from the pool, we went out to a suburban Koreatown for dinner. There was a happy hour at a place called the Steamy Piggy where their tacos and bao were discounted (bulgoki taco, roasted Korean pork with cabbage in a bao, spicy popcorn chicken tacos, etc) and we also got spicy wontons, soup dumplings/shao lung bao, spicy salty chicken wings, and tonkatsu ramen. And beautiful pig-shaped bao with custard for dessert!

Then a few shopping centers down and across the street was a taiyaki/fish waffle place, Somi Somi, with ice cream, and everyone loves those, so we stopped there too. They have a much clearer ordering system than at the place in Boston, so it was easy for the girls to ask for their ice cream in a cup with a fish waffle on top—and their fish could also be stuffed with Nutella, not just custard or red bean. Bonus! Back at the hotel, Helen was totally asleep by 8:15 and the big kids read in bed for a little while.

On Sunday morning, Robert and Helen took a walk along the marina looking at sea lions and fish and climbing on rocks. Then they went back to the pool with Marcus, this time (Samantha has complicated grooming rituals after exposure to chlorine, so she declined to go swimming again today), while I got us packed up.

We got breakfast burritos at Las Brasas and then went to the old town San Diego historic site for some historical things. I got a prickly pear iced tea in the general store and Marcus got a giant dill pickle. The blacksmith had some good stories and the park ranger in the schoolhouse spent a long time interacting with the kids. There was a big sign that said “first public school in San Diego county, 1865,” and we got a kick out of that since Marcus’s school was founded in 1635. East coast vs. west coast right there!

There was a long complicated story about the donkeys and why they were there—apparently (said the ranger) BLM (it took me a moment to process this; it’s not Black Lives Matter) found a wild donkey out in the hills but getting too close to houses and rounded him up, and he was about 17 years old as best they could tell. She said in the wild they usually live to be 20, and someone adopted him and then discovered that he was “ornery as heck” and donated him to the state park here instead. The state park took him but asked BLM to find him a mate, to calm him down, and they found a 16 year old female wild donkey just rounded up in Colorado and shipped her in, and the pair have become really bonded, and that was 18 years ago.

The ranger said they take the female out to interact with park visitors, since she’s really sweet, but the male gets agitated when she’s not there. The female likes the break, though, she said.

Clearly, as I listened to her, I was imagining a cranky 68 year old man who had a matchmaker find him a 65 year old woman in a blind date, and now they’re 120 or so, and she likes some alone time but he’s still needy and grouchy.

Oh (said the ranger, not disputing my imaginings, but merely complicating them), and yesterday the donkeys had a domestic dispute. The female kicked the male (“because she was sick of him BOTHERING her, if you know what I mean”) and so he’s on painkillers now and is very drowsy but don’t worry, she’s just fine.

It was intriguing, to say the least. Throughout the park there had been big signs saying “don’t miss our donkeys! Come see our donkeys! Donkeys this way!” so of course we followed them. When we got to the donkey area, the donkeys were there in separate corrals, and a ranger was standing in a little hut near them saying nothing, and all the other tourists just walked on by. I said “uh, so, why are there donkeys here?” and the ranger seemed thrilled to chat, offering us the entire story—though she just dropped that little tidbit about the domestic dispute in at the end, surprisingly.

After the donkeys, there was one more historic house that Robert wanted to tour, but Samantha said “dad, I think we are ALL kind of done,” and he sighed heavily and allowed us to leave the historical area. It was all free, so it wasn’t even like we were trying to squeeze every last penny of value out of things, and it was definitely the right choice—always go out on a high note, of course.

From there we drove back to Pacific Beach and got Hawaiian-style poke from It’s Raw (ON BACON STREET!), and an order of “frings” (mixed fries and onion rings, and the fries were battered, which is always fun) from Hodad’s and ate it on the wall overlooking the ocean, watching all the people with dyed hair and their dogs with dyed fur and sunglasses (both people and dogs, again).

It was a 75-minute-long drive to Temecula, where the wedding would be, and where we had an AirBnB for the evening. Helen slept stretched out across the back seat of the car, and the big kids relaxed. She was still sleeping when we got to Temecula, so I sat in the car with her while Robert, Marcus, and Samantha ran into a supermarket to buy bottled water (California water, though marginally more drinkable than Florida water, is not our favorite thing) and snacks for the plane home the next day. We woke her up gently, to the promise of slushes, and went into Monsta Snow where they had shaved snow made from flavored blocks of ice—matcha, chocolate, Thai tea, ube, etc.—and where I had a pandan milk tea, my first ever. I adore pandan (I am the only person in my family who does).

The AirBnB was just five minutes down the road from the wedding, a nice house with three bedrooms, two baths, a washer and dryer I immediately used for all the wet bathing suits, a record player, a piano out on the porch, and a ping pong table in the yard. If you could get past the long and winding (dirt) road that led to its door, it was lovely. Robert managed not to drive the car off the cliff on the side of the road, and we admired the horses and wild rabbits in the desert-like hills around it and the hot air balloons in the sky just over the hill. Everyone changed, and we showed up at Ponte Vineyard for the wedding and to meet up with cousins.

It was a Disney-themed wedding because the bride and groom love Disney, so we all had name tags that served as place cards and looked like Disney cast member name badges. The ceremony was very simple but nice, and there was a cocktail hour before and after the ceremony. Marcus tried to eat as many passed meatballs and berries as possible and Helen loved everything about the cheese board: with cheese, crackers, raspberries, blackberries, and chocolate chips, it looked like it was made for her.

We sat with Larry and Rosa and Jeff and Alex, and the table behind us was Rie and Steve, Jenna, Maria, Enzo, Sal and Sue, and Maria’s parents.

Helen was in heaven admiring the bride’s dress and then when the dancing started she made me go on the dance floor with her. That part of the evening was interminable time—weird rap song, disco song I knew, electric slide (“I know this from school!” announced Helen, doing every step more than competently), hip hop song, song I vaguely recognized, etc.—until I was able to pass her over to another six-year-old girl and her new best friend, Leroy’s little cousin the flower girl. Together they danced, hugged, mugged for the photo booth, and danced some more before hugging goodbye at the end of the evening.

She also danced with Annie’s adorable Cooper, which was the hit of the evening. Helen was clearly just indulging him and felt like he cramped her style, but she was good-natured about it and stayed as long as he had patience for before returning to her friend.

At the end of the evening they passed out rainbow foam glowsticks. I had never seen ones like that before but it made for a fun last 10 minutes in the dance floor before they closed it down.

The next morning, Robert played ping pong first with Samantha and then with Marcus and Helen. I played records, and we packed up.

We met most of the cousins at the restaurant at the inn connected to the winery for breakfast at 8:30, and it was nice to talk more with them. A Boston visit is in the works at some point, as they definitely want to come see my mother and father again.

After hugging and fist-bumping some toddlers (aw, sweet Enzo!), we drove toward the airport, stopping at The Taco Stand and The Donut Bar (conveniently next door to each other) for nopal tacos, fish tacos, shrimp tacos, and more breakfast burritos—oh, and unicorn donuts, of course. We gassed up, returned the car, and ate tacos and donuts near our gate.

The flight home was also easy, with Marcus watching “March of the Penguins” and cranking through his homework for Tuesday, and though it was a late night (we walked in the door at 11:00), we all made it through the day on Tuesday and were so happy we had a fun long weekend California vacation/cousin visit in the books.


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Created: 6/3/22. Last Modified: 6/3/22.