Basking in Balboa Park

One of the last activities we undertook in San Diego was a big one: exploring the lush, large expanse that is Balboa Park. This park is San Diego’s Central Park, at 1200 acres of urban greenery, housing museums and the Zoo, gardens and walking paths. It was literally across the street from us, but so huge that it took us a few days of on and off exploring to cover as much as we could, from playgrounds to paths.

One day we decided to find this old carousel for Baby J to take a ride on. We parked, got out and walked, and walked…I tried my best to follow my Google map app but we kept getting nowhere and going in circles. So we gave up and took a different turn to this little area that is the Spanish Village Art Center, with art in every media, colourful stones on the ground and tiled roofs on the buildings.

spanish art

Next we wandered over to the Balboa park fountain and lingered for a bit. There was an instructor giving camera lessons, explaining how to capture the light and kids running around, a happy buzz meandering around in the sunlit air. Baby J loved climbing up all the steps and dipping his fingers into the fountain’s clear green-blue pool.

park fountain

dog at pool

We spotted a bridge near the fountain and decided to walk over it and see what else we could see. It spanned over a street and led us towards a garden which was just right for stretching our legs and exploring. It held the promise of flowers soon to bloom, and the dry, brittle branches had a kind of rustic appeal. We headed down the road, glimpsing cactus plants on the desert garden, but didn’t really stop for long except to let J twirl around and around a stop sign.

garden

playing near pink flowers

flowers

Crossing the street, we walked back towards the parking lot where our car was and realized the almost literally beside our car, inside a structure we’d noticed but not really looked at, was the whirling of old-fashioned horses, bobbing smoothly up and down to tinny circus-reminiscent music. I guess the windows were closed before and we felt a little dumb for looking so hard and missing it earlier when it was so obvious. You know what cheered me up, though? The happy face on a little person who was just so gleeful to sit on the sleek painted creatures, petting the horses mane, saying ‘go!’ while waiting for everyone to get on and the ride to finally start.

carousel

All of the most fun thing have to end, though, and it’s a hard thing to explain to a little fella who’d just as soon spend hours on the back of a wooden horse, gazing upwards at the spinning images on the roof of the carousel, bopping along to the music, holding tight to the shiny gold pole and riding around and around for as long as he could.

We softened the blow of it being over by taking a ride on the miniature train as well, spotting animals and going through a dark tunnel briefly (night-night, Baby J declared as we entered the dimness) before coming out on the other side to slow down on the clickity clacking tracks.

We took a Balboa park break then to have lunch and a good long nap at home, but returned towards the end of the afternoon to explore a bit more in the golden light. I was really glad we did, too. The area came alive as it grew into evening, with street performers, caricaturists, and lots of people to watch. Baby J was fixated on watching a steel drummer, first standing and staring, then dancing a bit, and finally getting behind a fire hydrant to drum along, happily imitating the drummer.

drummer boy

Amidst the beautiful old buildings was also a pond perfect for watching ducks and fat goldfish, trying to poke fingers in the water without leaning too far.

Beside the Balboa Park Botanical Building were a few trees with hammocks strung up between then, and we could hear the happy chatter of college students, sipping from cans and munching on snacks, laughing and taking and sounding so carefree that I wished for a split second I was younger. But we kept on going to watch a really neat duo – a fairy and guy playing the violin and singing in gloriously high voices, mimicking the violin notes with their voices, melding sweetly and putting on a mesmerizing performance.

We headed back towards the green lawns and noticed the students had piled out of their hammocks, spilling across the grass and a few of them started kicking a ball with J, letting him steal it and run away, encouraging him and telling us how cute he was as he scurried away, kick kick kicking, pointing his arms upwards as the bells rang and making everyone laugh.

soccer

It was a great evening that made me feel so happy. Everyone was so nice and low-key even though it was in a bustling environment full of music and people. It was a great close out to our time in San Diego!

Life’s a beach (and then some)

What would you do if you lived in a sunny, mild and gorgeous climate year-round? Go to the beach in the winter? Absolutely. There are no shortage of sandy shores here in San Diego, and so last Sunday we packed up all our stuff and headed to beach 1: Mission Beach.

It felt hot, a balmy 22 Celsius here and we’d been playing in the backyard for a good part of the morning so off we went in t-shirts, expecting a glorious, sunny day. Maybe I’ll even swim! I thought. Once we got there though, the blue skies had been filled up with clouds and the wind had picked up, making the palm trees stretch their heads sideways as we walked through the parking lot. The beach itself still looked pretty glorious though.

Mission Beach

My friend Allison and her boys, and her friend Amy all met us there and Allison doled out sweaters from the trunk of her car. As a native Californians she’s always cold, and even though I’m a proud Canadian would would normally be soldiering through something more like -22 degrees back home, I’ll admit it: I took one too.

It wasn’t too cold to stop us, or hundreds of others though, and we spread out blankets, got out snacks, chatted and munched and then chased Julian around as he dashed around on the sand, veering towards and away from the water. We hadn’t brought sand toys or any toys for the beach at all, but he’s easily entertained and just loves the sand, the water, and the expanse of free space to play on.

soccer ball

sandwich

The clouds melted away and we took turns snoozing in the sun, letting our faces pinken. Baby J and I went up and down a small set of steps about 35 times. Allison’s boys braved the chilly water for a swim. We packed up the cars, and walked down for one last beach day necessity: Ice Cream. So much ice cream that we could have and should have shared one bowl!

ice cream

Beach day 1 ended up with a sleepy, sticky little boy contentedly snoozing on the way home, and accommodating us by hanging out contentedly in his stroller when we went shopping for food, a new sun hat and some tank tops, and then braved the line up to try our first In-N-Out burgers! We liked them – I was a bit too stuffed up to pronounce it the best burger ever or anything like that, but very good.

Monday was an early morning, but like all days where you can head outside and pick an orange off a tree in your backyard to eat for a juicy breakfast treat, it still was a very good day. Baby J and I were both feeling under the weather, and the boys napped for a few hours on the couch while I worked from my San Diego home office.

Once 2pm came though, we all felt good enough to check out another beach nearby – this time, the Ocean Beach Pier. We got there and found a parking spot near these winding, kind of dirty stairs that led down to an otherwise amazing view of this long, empty pier, a phantom against the sky, jutting out from the windswept rocks and sand.

pier

pier ocean beach

We carefully made our way over slick rocks before we got to the proper beach area, and spent a few hours getting soaked by the once in a while waves that would just zip up and drench our ankles. The fresh air was invigorating, head-clearing, and just what I needed. Ocean Beach is a beauty of a scenic little beach in San Diego, that’s for sure.

We spent some time sliding down the sides of sand dunes, and splashing around in tide pools formed around the glistening grey rocks that lined out to the ocean. I saw a lady sitting so motionless on a rock the whole time we were there, just sitting, looking, and listening to the ocean. A person really could sit like that for hours and not get bored.

playing sand dunes

rocks Ocean Beach

Not us, though, or at least not today. We had things to climb and explore. And the light? Phew. If only the hour leading up to sunset would last and last.

light at Ocean Beach

The sand surface from under the tide had these beautiful black ribbons textured throughout, soft and springy underfoot as we padded back towards the pier, happy and tired out. It was pretty perfect, even if we all needed a hot bath once we got home.

sand streaks

boy at Ocean beach

Let’s go to the Zoo

Mommy’s taking us to the zoo tomorrow, zoo tomorrow, zoo tomorrow…

Raffi’s a big hit in our house and so is the book Goodnight Gorilla. So I was excited to make a trip to the famous San Diego zoo and show all of the animals to Julian. I loved the zoo in Sydney and so when our AirBNB hosts mentioned they were diamond members at the zoo and could get us in for free (!!) we jumped at the chance and picked my first vacation day that we could also meet up with our friends from home.

The San Diego zoo is pretty spectacular: they have so many exhibits, tons of monkeys plus a new baby gorilla, shocking pink flamingos, elephants, many multi-coloured birds, hippos and rhinos, bears of all kinds from panda to koala, grizzly and polar bears, and all in neat sloping habitats full of trees and lush plants.

the zoo sign

monkey

Honestly though? Our little fella wasn’t super into the animals like I thought he might be. He was very happy to meet up with our friends from home again, sharing goldfish crackers and funny faces with his buddy Olivia, but most exhibits just merited a glance or two. Maybe my hopes were too high for an almost 2 year old, or there were too many people crowded around for his taste.

giraffes

Having said that, he still had a great time walking and running and climbing on anything he could. This little cave near the polar bear exhibit was the highlight of his day, crawling around under the fake ice top, and popping up through hole after hole.

seal holes

seal holes 2

We walked around all morning and headed home for naptime since our house was a 2 minute drive from the zoo (which has free parking). After a long snooze we decided to head back and get another hour or so in before closing time. I’m glad we did, since it gave us a chance to wander around a bit more and see the great koala exhibit.

koala san diego zoo

koala

We also felt a bit more relaxed and stopped to look at plants, watch a tour bus making the rounds of the zoo, and take longer to touch the rocks alongside the pathways, pick up pebbles and leaves, that kind of thing.

kangaroo paws

After the zoo we took a restaurant recommendation from our hosts and tried out Carnitas, a nearby place that doesn’t look like much but serves up fantastic pulled pork and tacos. We all really enjoyed our food and also really enjoyed the fact that it was February and we sat outside to eat, at dinnertime. The sunset we caught walking back up the hill in North Park was pretty great too.

Going to the zoo with a little kid was a bit of a balancing act: decided how much to prod and coax along so we could see things that we’d hoped he would like, and how long to let him climb all over a statue while other kids were waiting to take a turn. When to offer snacks, and force the stroller. I think it went all right, and I hope he had a good time too!