TRAVEL: Southern California – San Diego

At the bottom of California, situated on the West Coast just above Mexico, you find the sunny city of San Diego. From what I had heard, this city was all about beaches, marinas, and Mexican food. It was about happy captive killer whales with friendly wholesome trainers. On my very first night in America, in the sunny city of San Diego, I certainly wasn’t expecting to pull into my first motel and find police telling a guest they’ll smash his door in if he doesn’t open up. Nor was I expecting to have a more personal encounter with the police a little later on.

Was I destined to only see the dark side of San Diego? Where were the beaches? Where was the family entertainment? Would I ever get to ride a friendly predatory sea mammal? Only time would tell.

After a long and terrifying drive from Los Angeles in our giant Chrysler rental car, the sun was setting on our first day in America as we arrived at the Vagabond Inn motel in Mission Valley, San Diego. By the time we pulled up, it was dark, but we could still tell that the car parked in front of us outside the office was a police car. Upon entering the office to check in, we found two police men waiting on a nervous female holding a phone to her ear. She spoke clearly into the phone, “Okay, but you have to open and let them in. If they ask for the key, by law, I have to give it to them”. Then one of the officers leaned over the desk and told her to tell the guest on the phone that either way, the police are coming into his room. He can take the easy way, or the hard way. The police then got the guest’s information from the lady behind the desk, and laughed at his aliases. Finally, the guest on the phone agreed to unlock his door, as long as the police didn’t hurt him. The police walked away, and hesitantly checked in and received our key.

Our giant Chrysler rental car - AKA .The Beast'

After that experience was over and the car was unpacked, hunger was setting in, and it was time to venture out and hunt some fast food. Using our handy dandy GPS navigation system that came with our rental, we found a Wendy’s hamburger restaurant that didn’t seem to be too far away, and headed out. Unfortunately, this route took us directly into Downtown San Diego, which we were not prepared for. Big busy streets appeared before us, with tall dark buildings towering over us, and we were suddenly overwhelmed by the traffic. Trying to escape, we pulled into a side road, which resulted in the blasts of horns as we realised we were heading the wrong way into a one way street. Quickly turning around, we spotted a car park nearby and pulled in. Luckily for us, it happened to be walking distance from Wendy’s, so we sat and ate our American hamburgers, traumatised. There was still the drive back to the motel to come.

After our meal and a few deep breaths, we were back in the car and heading down the I-80 highway in the dark. We pulled into the lane next to us then red and blue flashing lights blinded us from behind. Jessie tried to pull into the left-hand lane to pull over, but then realised this was the United States of America, where the left-hand lane is the fast lane. A voice boomed out on a police PA system behind us, shouting at us to pull over to the right. Realising we had no idea what we were doing, the voice then directed us to take the next exit and pull into the gas station there, and that it what we did. As the police car pulled up behind us, images of my face being slammed onto the hood of our car flashed through my mind. I dreaded being told those famous words “Sir, please step out of the vehicle”.

What had happened, the officer explained, was that we were going too slow on the highway, and when we changed lanes, we cut him off. It sounded bad, but in the end, our foreign accents and Jessie crying hysterically got us off with a warning. The police officer gave us easy directions to get back to the motel, and finally we were back, safe and sound. We went to sleep hoping to see San Diego’s sunny side the next day.

I’m happy to report that all our experiences of San Diego after this night were positive, so here are my findings.

Firstly, after our initial experience in Mission Valley, we didn’t actually venture out and explore the area much. However, we did explore the large fancy mall known as Fashion Valley and I can say that it was quite a decent mall, and that was all, but we weren’t there to explore malls. We were there for the beaches and the wholesome family fun.

After seeing Downtown San Diego, we got our courage up to explore the family fun side of San Diego, with visits to the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, and LegoLand, but those will be discussed in another entry. Unfortunately, I will inform you now that I did not get to ride a killer whale.

Artists at Coronado Ferry Landing paint Downtown San Diego from across the harbour.

One of the first things I noticed about San Diego was its patriotism. Most of the residential houses we came across had American flags flying proudly outside, and quite a few had ‘God Bless America’ mottos framed and displayed in their windows. In this city, we saw a lot of big churches, and a lot of very well kept gardens and landscaping. As for Downtown San Diego, it basically looked like any other mid-sized business district, with a few tall buildings and a lot of restaurants.

Hotel Del Coronado on Ocean Beach

Across the harbour from Downtown San Diego is the resort city of Coronado. Connected to San Diego by the big curving Coronado Bay Bridge, this city has been ranked as one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. Shaped like a thin peninsula, it has a harbour on one side (facing San Diego), and a famous Pacific Ocean beach on the other.  On the harbour side, you can find a bunch of restaurants, cafes, and art galleries at the Ferry Landing Village, with perfect views of Downtown San Diego across the water, along with a lot of gift shops. On the ocean side, you have a very long, pristine ocean beach, and the very famous and very expensive Hotel Del Coronado, built in 1887, made a National Historic Landmark in 1977, and commonly ranked amongst the top ten resorts in the world.

A lazy sea lion near the La Jolla Sea Wall.

One other place we explored was the affluent seaside city of La Jolla (pronounced ‘la-hoya’) on the northern limits of San Diego County. Besides the high end fashion stores in this town and the famous La Jolla Country Club golf course, another place to visit here is the sea wall, where you can walk along the wall jutting out into the shore, and take photos of all the sea lions lazing about in the sun.

All in all, San Diego is mostly a beautiful, wholesome place, with tons of fun for families and perfect seaside scenery for the rest. The people are proud and patriotic, as they should be living in such a scenic area, and at least in my experience, they are very friendly and welcoming to visitors. You can take my word for it, or you can sit around and watch ‘Anchorman’ and see for yourself.


For our stay in San Diego, we spent three nights on October 23rd, 2011, at the average Vagabond Inn on San Diego’s Hotel Circle. Despite the creepy introduction, the motel had friendly staff, served a waffle breakfast, and was actually worth what we paid.

We also returned to San Diego for daytrips to revisit SeaWorld, and explore LegoLand months later in early May.


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