Monday, May 13, 2019

Special Weekly Update: San Diego

Weekly Update 2019-18: A very special update from the sunny shores of San Diego, the first leg of my three-stop tour along the coast of Southern California. 

Music: Club Kuru
As I wandered the streets of Sunny San Diego, Club Kuru kept popping up on shuffle so it became the soundtrack of the first leg of my trip. I find the slow synth notes mixed with 70s soul bass and easy-paced drumming to pair really well with my head start on summer. It's warm, enveloping psych rock that invites you into the California dream.

Start anywhere with their discography, though I have a soft spot for 2018's Giving In.

Quick reminder that you can login to your Spotify account through the widget above and listen to the full songs in-browser while you read the rest of the update - that's my intended experience, anyway! If you're only getting 15-second clips, you're not living your best life.

Accomplishment: San Diego
I arrived in California at the San Diego airport and was greeted with a beautiful sunny day. What a great change of pace from gloomy end-of-winter Toronto. Liberty Station was my first stop, visiting a bunch of museums and galleries in an old barracks on the site of the former Naval Training Center. The Women's museum was particularly inspiring as I met some lovely volunteer staff there, Alexander and Nazeem. Nazeem even gave me their transit card so I could save some money on my bus passes. How nice!

I eventually made my way to my Airbnb in Hillcrest, a lovely little area that includes the Gay Village and some wonderful shops and bars. They even have a huge commemorative pride flag in the middle of an intersection with a short history on Harvey Milk and some other pivotal moments.

The next day I was amazed by Kobey's Swap Meet, a weekend staple in San Diego - situated in the parking lot of Pechanga Sports/Concert Arena. More on that below in the Random Thought section - I can't believe I almost didn't visit!

That afternoon was filled with an exploration of the art crawl and farmer's market in Little Italy, and a walk through the Gaslamp district to the Harbor Drive Pedestrian Bridge - an engineering marvel with its single suspension and strange angles.

Sunday was a full homage to everything inside Balboa Park. Of course the highlight of the day was the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, where free concerts are played every Sunday on the largest outdoor pipe organ in the world. I got to visit inside the organ (as tall as a three-storey house) after the performance. What an amazing sight.

Not to be missed on Sunday was also the Moreton Bay Fig Tree (planted in 1914 and simply MASSIVE), the Spanish Village Art Center (a wonderful old collective of artist studios of all kinds), the annual Bonsai tree exhibition, the annual Earth Day fair, the museum of air and space, Zoro Garden, the Japanese Friendship Garden, the Rose Test Garden, the Cactus Garden, and so much more. Balboa Park is massive and would take several day-long visits to see everything.


After that, I found a random hike on Google that took me in the direction of North Park, where I visited a cool arcade bar called Coin-Op. Sunday was free-play day, so of course I glued myself to the pinball machines. The Munsters Pinball was a lot of fun, especially when I was able to get into the mini embedded pinball game within the game in "Grandpa's Laboratory".

Monday started off with a long, luxurious bike ride all the way from Hillcrest to La Jolla, where I would make friends with the sea lions that naturally hang out there. I dropped off my rented bike at the northmost part of the dropoff map, and then walked my way along the coast past Bird Rock and the La Jolla tide pools.

Looks like nothing but this was a 1.25hour ride!

Way better than Seaworld, the La Jolla sea lions and seals are all wild but choose to hang out around a wonderful seven-stop guided walking tour along the coast. One stop of which is the Children's Pool, a man-made seawall that protects a patch of beach from ocean waves. Originally created for human children to swim in safety, the seals and sea lions have overtaken it for their babies. So cute!!

Another stop not to be missed in La Jolla is the Sunny Jim Cave, located by a long set of stairs in the back of a normal-looking beach shop. It's the only sea cave accessible by land in all of California, and it's got that nice fresh cave smell. It was lovely to descend the stairs and see the rock formations as well as to hear the sounds of the waves crashing into the cave.

Cave lighting is the best lighting.

More San Diego adventures below...

Random Thought: Swap Meets as Bunz
Throwing it back to Saturday's visit to Kobey's Swap Meet - this was a really amazing thing to see. My one worry about moving away from Toronto (eventually) has always been the fact that I rely so heavily on Bunz to get everything I need. Since Bunz hasn't really taken off outside of the city, it was wonderful to see that swap meets (or flea markets if you're on the east coast) are the premiere method for trading your lightly used items to other people. Kobey's Swap Meet is filled with vendors and stalls of all kinds of items, moving toward the back you'll see tables piled with random possessions of people, ready to be traded for whatever you may have to offer.

I was particularly impressed with the stall of 70-something-aged Joe Barnett - a real-life Steve Zissou. Yes, he has made his living as an underwater treasure hunter, diving into old shipwrecks for his next big discovery. He had all sorts of wonderful things for sale of varying age and history, and a very impressive collection of iridescent sea shells the size of dinner plates and bigger.

Since I am a lover of giving new life to second-hand objects over buying them new, the best part was definitely the true swap meet at the back of the parking lot. Filled with tables that were filled with all sorts of items, this was more of the spirit of a true Bunz experience because trades could be made without cash.

The best thing about this discovery is that it's the perfect way to market exactly what Bunz is to US-based audiences: it's an online swap meet. I find it humorous to think Bunz has even held their own flea markets (to varying rates of success). I'd love to see a Bunz sponsorship at one of these sorts of events, where attendees are already invested in lower-waste lifestyles. Their vibe and flavour match really well.

Inspiration: Mexican Heritage in San Diego
San Diego is very close to the Mexican border, only a 25 minute drive from the San Diego airport. I really wanted to visit Tijuana on my trip, but with the political climate at the border and the factor of potentially not being allowed back into the US after visiting, it just wasn't the right time.

I made up for this by eating primarily only Mexican food on my trip (of which there was lots of sample even on the north side of the border). I also visited two starkly different Mexican areas of San Diego: Barrio Logan and Old Town.

Barrio Logan was not in my original travel plans, but I am so extremely happy to have made time for it. It was the single most recommended thing when I asked locals where to visit, and definitely my recommendation for the most authentic Mexican food in San Diego. Easily accessible by trolley, the entire neighbourhood is a love letter to the once-Mexican territory upon which San Diego now stands.

I started at a Mexican supermarket chain called Northgate Market, sampling their candy and hot table of goods. I got shrimp ceviche and a sweet tamale, along with lots of other goodies. Of course my tummy was nowhere near full, so I walked down the street to wait in line for tacos at Las Cuatro Milpas. This establishment has been around for almost 100 years, and the Mexican ladies sweating over the stoves and pots inside confirmed that this was the most authentic taco I was going to get. It was amazing.

I brought my taco to a very special place in Barrio Logan to eat - Chicano Park.

Chicano Park is one of the most beautiful and special places I have ever visited; steeped in Mexican culture and an ongoing political debate that sadly continues on to this day. It is the geographic and emotional heart of Barrio Logan, and it's home to the largest concentration of Chicano murals in the world with more than 80 paintings on seven acres dotted with sculpture, gardens, picnic tables and playgrounds.

In the early 20th century, the area had been a sturdy middle-class neighborhood, a place where families gathered for parties and children played at the beach. Things changed when World War II broke out, and the neighborhood lost its beach to the Navy and defense industries. In the 1960s, the California Department of Transportation built the I-5 freeway through the area, demolishing homes and splitting the neighborhood in two. To compensate, residents were promised that the land under the Coronado Bridge would be turned into a park, something the community had wanted for years. More time went by, but no park appeared.

On April 22, 1970, residents learned that the promise had been rescinded and the land would be used for a California Highway Patrol station. The local community rallied quickly to halt construction. Hundreds of men, women and children converged on the site, forming a human chain around bulldozers. They occupied the space for twelve days, attracting the attention of government officials.

Months of negotiation followed as city and state agencies argued questions of land use and ownership. Residents, led by the Chicano Park Steering Committee, kept up pressure. The artist Salvador Torres proposed to transform the bridge's massive concrete pylons into a towering canvas for expression in the spirit of the Mexican Mural Movement.

Later that day I had the pleasure to visit San Diego's Old Town, a totally different flavour of Mexican neighbourhood. Old Town is the historic heart of San Diego. Created in 1769, Old Town San Diego was California’s first settlement with only a mission and a fort. Considering I deigned not to venture into Mexico on this trip, I knew this was the best thing I was going to get. And it hit the mark. A beautiful nighttime stroll through the historic old village and into the stores filled with Mexican crafts and treats was just wonderful.

And I ended my Tuesday with nothing other than tacos of course. Please count this as my third Mexican meal of the day.

A bit out of order this week, but finally...

Goal: Carlsbad Flower Fields
I had my work cut out for me after my San Diego time came to a close, taking a series of public transit systems all the way from San Diego to Carlsbad and finally on to Los Angeles. I took my time carefully planning the fastest, cheapest, ocean-closest trip from San Diego to Los Angeles via Carlsbad to see these darn flower fields that are only open two months out of the year. It was a long trip that involved some unfortunate amount of walking to get from the bus stop to the fields, all while lugging along all my baggage for the trip.

And as I woke up that morning, Google Maps informed me of a special private bus company called Flixbus that would take me directly from Old Town San Diego to Downtown LA direct in under three hours for only $12USD. It was mighty tempting considering the other route would be more than three times the cost, the time, and the transfers.

But, I persevered for three reasons.

  1. This was too good a chance to pass up to see the flower fields, considering the time of year and the fact that it was on my way
  2. This route involved a train along the coast for part of the journey, including seeing the sunset as we pulled into the Los Angeles train station
  3. UC San Diego was the third transfer on the route, so I could spend 30 mins checking out the AMAZING archictecture on campus (it puts York University to shame)
Check out Fallen Star by Korean architect Do Ho Suh. A cantilevered marvel sticking out of the UCSD Engineering building was a beauty to stand under and gaze at. Sadly I didn't have time for a visit inside (only open on Tuesdays and Thursdays - can't win 'em all). 

And there were so many more beautiful buildings. It was a joy to walk around during my bus-layover and a good final sight on my way out of San Diego and up the coast.

Next stop, the flower fields!

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