Our first full day in San Diego was spent at the world-famous Zoological Park. The animals are housed in a lovely setting with impressive vegetation and criss-crossing paved pathways to connect the various exhibits. Most-anticipated for us were the Koala Bears (although they were not very active because of the cold start to the day) and the Pandas. Other significant sections included the Ituri Forest, Monkey Trails, and the Polar Bear Plunge. We also enjoyed the Skyfari Aerial Tram. From the zoo, we walked to nearby Balboa Park, perhaps the showcase of the city, because of its glorious Spanish architecture, gardens and numerous museums. What an incredible collection of attractions in one place, but certainly too much to see and do for a single visit. We were just content with walking around the complex, marveling at the grandeur of the venues.
Because this trip was predominantly focused around the Rose Parade, and because we wanted to spend some of our time with family in the area, we did not have much of an opportunity to explore San Diego. Besides, we were staying, again because of family concerns, in Laguna Beach, at the gorgeous Marriott, about 70 – 80 miles from the city.
We did, however, return to San Diego two more times, once the next day to check out the "Del", the Hotel Del Coronado, which is an icon of Victorian splendor. We were mesmerized by the hotel’s grand interior, attractively decorated for Christmas, waited for over an hour to be seated for our rather extravagant lunch, and wandered the grounds, taking pictures. Each of these first two nights, we returned to Laguna Beach for dinner. On the way back on day two, we detoured off the highway to take a short scenic drive into La Jolla, a beautiful and exclusive suburb of the San Diego.
The next morning we left Laguna Beach and headed for Pasadena. Along the way, we stopped to visit the Mission San Juan Capistrano, made forever famous by the migrating swallows which return to the town each year on March 19th. The old mission is in ruins, because of an earthquake which occurred in 1812, but the grounds are lovely and the remaining buildings have been converted into a museum.
Our second stop of the day was at the famous Farmer’s Market in downtown Los Angeles. There was aisle after aisle of shops and eating venues, all in a covered area so large that a map was needed. We would have stayed longer except I got sick. We arrived in Pasadena an hour or so later and spent the afternoon strolling the Old Town.
Because I contracted a virus and was very much under the weather, much of our ambitious itinerary had to be scrapped. However, we managed to enjoy the time with family.
On New Years Day, we left extremely early (about 4:30 AM) to head toward our seats along the Rose Parade route. Thankfully, our cousins, Sam & Vicki, are residents of the area and knew the ropes. We parked and walked to our seats with plenty of time to explore the nearby staging area — we got so close to some of the floats that we could actually touch them, as they waited for the parade to begin.
We had fantastic seats, right near the parade reviewing stand, where participants were fresh and excited about performing. The floats were absolutely incredible, and to think that they must be made entirely of natural, organic materials. The parade was a full two hours long and loaded with great entertainment. I was especially excited about the presence of George Lucas and several entries with a Star Wars theme, since I am a great fan of the series. The marching Stormtroopers added a special touch.
Despite the unbelievably early morning and the tremendous crowds, I would highly recommend the experience to anyone. The rest of the day was extremely low-key.
We left Pasadena the next morning for San Diego, where we would spend our last night before leaving for home. On the way, I just had to detour into Los Angeles to take a picture of the Hollywood Sign, a highlight of my itinerary. So we drove up into Griffith Park, to the Observatory parking lot, for a great view of the sign.
When we reached San Diego, we went immediately to the Old Town where we had lunch and explored the area, browsing in the shops and admiring the flowers and the grounds.
Once we reached our hotel, everyone rested except me. I needed to drive to the Cabrillo National Monument at Point Loma, to see the area and to check out the view of San Diego, in the distance, with a backdrop of mountains. It was nice, although I would have liked to have been closer to the city.
The next morning we took off for home.
Here’s an item I have been wanting to include in "lessons learned" for quite a while. It has to do with hotels. in the USA. We normally choose to stay in Hampton Inns, whenever possible, in our travels in the US for several reasons. First, they are consistent! They are all clean and comfortable. Secondly, they are reasonable. They are typically cheaper than their competition. Third, because, many years ago, we signed up to be Hilton Honors members, we can earn points which can be used for free or reduced stays (we stayed for 3 nights in the Prague Hilton on our points!). Members can also earn miles, although we haven’t cashed these in yet. Fourth, Hamptons offer discounted rates to many organizations. For instance, we always ask for the Military or Government Rate (since I am retired army), AAA rate, and the AARP rate. These discounts have saved us hundreds and hundreds of dollars over the years. Check the program out if you are not already registered.