Friday, June 7, 2013

Another family visit and a little sightseeing in San Diego

May 31-June 5, 2013
El Cajon, California
Camping site: my nephew’s driveway

Warning—super-long post! I took the week off and found myself with too much to write about. . . .

One of our intentions in coming to San Diego for a few days was to check out the local campgrounds and get a feel of the place from the perspective of possibly staying here for a few months in our motorhome. The past two winters we have spent in Florida and we intend to do so again this winter, but traveling cross country every year has its drawbacks (especially in terms of fuel).  Even though we have both been to San Diego before, it was always a hotel trip kind of vacation often with children—very different from our current lifestyle as nomads in our motorhome.

A second intention in coming here was to spend time with my niece and nephew and their families. My nephew has lived in San Diego for nearly twenty years and my niece just moved here with her husband and six-year-old daughter. They both have lovely homes in the foothills near El Cajon and we were lucky enough to be able to stay in our motorhome with full-hook-ups in my nephew Tim’s driveway. Tim and his wife Michelle have two daughters, age 13 and 11, and two beautiful labs the same ages as the girls. Our two dogs thought they arrived in nirvana with wide open spaces to run and play and a dog- friendly pool to swim in. Thankfully, Boomer and Cody, the two labs, were generous in sharing their space with Jetta and Rico.

First off, I have to share about our gorgeous site. Tim cautioned us that the road to his home and his driveway was quite hilly and curvy, but he keeps his 40’ motorhome on his property so we knew it was doable. He was pretty modest about his place so we were quite blown away to have such a fantastic site for our motorhome. He even made sure we scored the spot with the best view by having us back in alongside his guest house.

motorhome site at tims

The most breathtaking spot at his home, though, was the poolside and hot tub view in the backyard.

Just as soon as we set up the motorhome, we were in our suits taking advantage of this resort-like experience. Jetta, our female Portuguese Water Dog, is an enthusiastic swimmer, while Rico, the male, is more of a reluctant swimmer. Within minutes, Jetta was jumping off the side of the pool to fetch a retrieval toy while Rico was more interested in checking out his “cousins” Boomer and Cody.  Our dogs had spent a lot of time in their crates the past week, so this was a real treat for them to have such freedom.

Our first night here we all went out to a local Italian restaurant, Marechiaro’s, for a great meal together. It turned out my niece also Kelly had in-laws visiting from out of town, so we had a group of about twenty people for dinner. Fun time.

tim michelle and haley

The next day, we went to my niece Kelly’s for an afternoon BBQ with her extended family that was visiting. She also has a house with an amazing view, pool, and lots of space for an RV—good to know!

It was fun to meet her mother and father-in-law, step-daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter, aunts and uncles, and her little dog, Leroy Brown, a dachshund/corgi mix. Best of all, was seeing Kelly and her husband Ted with their six-year-old daughter, Danielle, a child that came to them later in life after many challenges in trying to have a baby.

danielle and leroy

We also came just in time for Tim and Michelle’s annual Kick-off Summer Pool party which was the following day. With fifty people coming for a party from 1 p.m. to the wee hours, there was a lot of activity around the house in getting ready. Our contribution was to be fresh flowers so no better place to go for these than a Saturday morning Farmer’s Market—one of my favorite pleasures in life. Thanks to Gay and Joe of Good Times Rollin’, I had learned from their blog about the wonderful market at Little Italy every Saturday. It did not disappoint.

One of my complaints about some farmer’s markets is when they don’t have regulations about only selling local produce. Happily, this one did and they also had a great complement of other local products like gourmet salts, olive oils, almonds, dried fruits, and artisan cheeses.  We also scored some locally-grown flowers at very reasonable prices for the party.

The party was a big success; it was fun for us to meet Tim and Michelle’s good friends and see all their kids interact. The early guests were mostly those with families. The first round of food was hamburgers and hot dogs then around 6:00, a local barbeque place delivered ribs and chicken for the evening crowd. There was no lack of things for everyone to do with a horseshoe pit, table tennis, pool table, foosball, and even a slide going into the pool.

I enjoyed watching the middle school kids entertain themselves—brought back memories of my years as a middle school teacher. At first the boys were all on one side of the pool while all the girls were giggling in the hot tub. Eventually, the kids intermingled and seemed to enjoy the awkward flirtations with each other.

While sitting by the pool after our second meal, I had the strange realization that Vic and I were the oldest generation present—the old-timers. Rather than feel bad about that, I relished the idea that I could just take it easy. No kids to be responsible for, no expectations of staying to the end and cleaning up—hah. I took advantage of the lack of expectations for us and sneaked off to get photos of the sunset. Not many clouds to add dimension to the sky, but the drama of the mountains as a backdrop was sure beautiful. Not long after sunset, Vic and I called it a day and turned in to our cozy and relatively quiet space in the driveway.

sunset zoomed in

sunset peak

On Sunday, Vic and I set out to look at several campgrounds that we had on our list to see, a big priority for our time here. I sketched out a little map to determine how to see them all in the shortest possible route. Our tour took us from El Cajon to Lake Jennings Park, to Santee Lakes Preservation, to Mission Bay RV Resort and Campland on the Bay, and then finally back south to Chula Vista RV Park.

The road to Lake Jennings Park was long, narrow, and quite curvy. Once we arrived to the campground area, we discovered most of the sites were not big-rig friendly. We did, however, really like the looks of this big-rig friendly pull-through (pictured above) with a great view. It seems like this place would be ideal if you wanted a retreat from the hub-bub of the city rather than an easy access to the San Diego happenings.

Next stop was Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve, the campground which seems to get the best reviews for long terms stays in this area. We liked the location pretty well, but the first area of the campground seemed pretty cramped. Then we discovered the back area which looks to be newer with wider sites and agreed that it looked like a great place for a long term stay, but I forgot to take a photo of it. The photo below is of the entry area to the preserve. Fishing seems to be a popular pastime here.

We checked out two more parks in Pacific Beach, fairly close to La Jolla. We had heard that Campland by the Sea was the nicest one, but we did not like it one bit. It was an overpriced, dirty parking lot—at least from what we could see in our short tour around the park. I did not bother to take any photos. Quite close to Campland, is the Mission Bay RV Resort, and we liked it better, but would not want to stay here for more than a week. It also is mostly a paved parking lot, so not great for the dogs, but the location is central and the rates were more reasonable than Campland.

Before heading down to Chula Vista, we decided to go a little further north to La Jolla for a walk around the bay and lunch. I fell in love with La Jolla when I first stayed here with my family as a teenager. Somehow we were able to stay at the La Jolla Tennis Club, a private club on the beach. As a Chicago girl, I thought it was the prettiest place on earth with all the red tile roofs, bougainvillea, and luxury surroundings. I am happy to say that the La Jolla still holds the same charm I remembered although now I am more cognizant of the elitism or exclusivity that seems to be here with low end homes starting in the millions.

One of the big controversies going on in the La Jolla cove has to do with the abundance of seals. The cove is a major tourist destination not only for park-goers but also for those wanting to explore the cove’s waters by snorkeling, diving, or kayaking. The seals and bird poop creates quite a stench that seems to be thwarting tourism to the area. The most recent solution to this problem is spraying the rocky shoreline with a natural compound made up of seven types of live microorganisms that literally feed on poop. This idea must be working because there was no stench and the seals and nesting birds seemed to be coexisting with the tourists quite well.

From La Jolla the drive to Chula Vista, south of San Diego, only took about thirty minutes. We have been surprised how easy it seems to be to venture from place to place around here.  Of course, we avoided the traffic hours, but for the most part, San Diego does not seem to have the crazy freeway conditions that we experienced in the LA area.

Chula Vista RV Resort and Marina surprised us. With its close proximity to the Mexican border, we thought it might be run down or sketchy, but the area we visited was much more charming than the neighborhoods near the parks in Pacific Beach, north of San Diego. Of course, it was a little spendier than some of the other parks we visited, but we both agreed we liked this one the best for a long term stay.

With only one day left to explore on our own, we decided to check out Historic Old Town and a place I always wanted to see, the Hotel del Coronado..Vic was also interested in seeing the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier museum, but we learned that the average visitor spent four or five hours there, so it was too much to take on this trip.

We had no idea that the old town area was actually designated as a state park for preservation purposes. It was mostly a lovely area of Mexican-themed shops and cafes, and an obvious tourist trap, but we enjoyed roaming around feeling the flavor of Mexico as we have have really missed our annual trips to Mazatlan the past two years. The place has a very authentic feel with similar little shops, the smell of homemade tortillas, and some authentic sounding street musicians. It’s kind of a “been there, done that” place, but the weather was perfect in the low 70s with a gentle breeze, the landscaping and flowers were lovely, and we had a delicious lunch in the old plaza.

Coronado Island was only about fifteen minutes from Old Towne. Neither of us had ever been here, but we both had heard about the famous Hotel del Coronado. Vic and I both have a desire to at least see the great hotels of the world, and even better would be to stay in them. Short of staying overnight, we usually settle for having a drink in their bar or, better yet, a meal in one of their restaurants. Our great hotel experiences have mainly been The Empress Hotel in Victoria, B.C., the Grand Hotel on Mackinaw Island, and the Bellagio Hotel in Vegas earns a spot here for the memorable meal we had there.

The Hotel del Coronado, referred to by locals as the Del, with its red turrets and Victorian architectural style is a national landmark. Built in 1888, the hotel is iconic as a romantic beachfront getaway making it, according to the Travel Channel,  the number one wedding destination in the United States. The hotel was also made famous by its role in the Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemon, and Tony Curtis movie, Some Like it Hot. They even had some impersonators playing these roles as entertainment for a private party on the beach.

some like it hot group

After checking out the beautiful beach area here, we found the bar inside and enjoyed a drink there while pretending we were on holiday as a guests of the Coronado. While at the bar under the influence of fresh mojitos, we hatched a plan to celebrate Vic’s next big birthday here by renting a guest house and having a catered meal on the beach for family and friends to all attend. We’ll see. . . .

On our last day here, I had plans to take my niece out to lunch and Vic had big plans to wash the motorhome. With all accomplished we wrapped up our stay here with a pleasant evening at my niece’s and an early to bed evening before travel day. Next stop—Simi Valley to see the granddaughters and family. 


  1. Wow you had a great time at some mighty fine accomodations. Nice to have relatives with pools and great views. Thanks for the campground evaluations although I'm not sure I could make myself stay anywhere in Southern California. Even San Diego is too busy for me. I lived for a few years in the San Fernando Valley and couldn't wait to get back to Virginia.

    1. Truthfully, if we didn't have family here, we would not be here in our motorhome. Too crazy for us too!

  2. That is one fancy home you got to stay at... Love San Diego area!

  3. We loved that area! We stayed at Santee Lakes in the back. Sites were large but the dirt was a mess when it rained, which it did a lot. We were there for a month from Nov into Dec. The coyotes were quite aggressive at night. Our friends husband had to walk the dogs with a baseball bat because the coyotes would follow.

    What an amazing special spot you had while visiting!!! A beautiful home...definitely a resort pool and hot tub!! I would have hated to leave.

    Thanks for taking us back to the sites we saw!

    1. Thanks for the heads up about the rain and coyotes at Santee. Vic thought it could get messy.

  4. I am so glad you liked the Little Italy Market....such a neat area and oh the choices!

    Your pictures are seems like yesterday when we were there strolling around Old Town and La Jolla.

  5. Your nephew's home looks like a resort -- and in such a lovely setting too. It's been too many years since our last trip out to SD; glad to hear it maintains its charm. Love the Del. When Mui was in Turkey on a solo-assignment for the USAF, I went to SD for a couple of days with girlfriends from work. Our budget didn't allow for a stay at the Del, so we stayed at a place across the street and had dinner at the Del instead. Very elegant. I remember the 18-year-old in our group of three just about jumped out of her chair when the waiter draped the napkin over her lap ;-)) Those were the days when smoking was still allowed in most places, and at each place setting at our table was a matchbook with my last name printed on it (reservation was in my name). Since we weren't smokers, it made for a nice memorabilia, as did the personalized menu. My favorite part of our trip was the visit to La Jolla ... it was winter and there wasn't any stench, but that could have been because there were few sea lions back then. Glad to hear a solution was found for people and seals to co-exist.

  6. Egads...your nephew's house is beautiful. What a view. The party looks like it was a huge success. The kids seem to have a ball.

    Your long-term choice also looks like a big winner. We really enjoy SD, but our pocketbooks do not.

    1. There are a lot of expensive temptations, but the parks were less expensive than the Florida coast in winter.

  7. You sure seem to score with relatives with Rv friendly houses. First a brother in the Keys and not this. Lucky you! What an amazing place. I don't think I'd ever leave. :) It's nice to see the dogs out of their crates and enjoying the good life with their cousins.

    You certainly have been busy. I love that area and that farmers market looks very interesting.

  8. we stayed at Mission Bay for a month and simply loved its location, the island across from the campground is about a 2 mile drive and allows dogs on the beach, also around the campground and the bay dogs are allowed during certain hours...


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