This will be the final live installment of my trip to San Diego. I’m writing this one from back home in Norman, where I can reflect and say that was one of the funnest trips I’ve ever been on. Having never been to San Diego, or California in general, every day was pure exploration for me. None represented that better than this past Wednesday, the most explore-y day of them all.

I woke up relatively early evening with no work on the docket, just because I was excited over all Elizabeth and I had planned. We were going to start the day at Cabrillo National Monument, which opens at 9:00. Having done my research, I had learned the tide pools at Cabrillo are cool to see, so I looked up when low tide was the night before and discovered that it was early on Wednesday morning. Elizabeth was gung ho to get there, NPS buff as she is. Everyone else still in San Diego… not so much. So it was only the two of us who ordered everything bagels from the hotel bakery (and the ever-present Starbucks coffee for Elizabeth), and only the two of us driving over the ever-present bridge over the San Diego Bay. Even though we could see Point Loma clearly from our hotel, we still had to drive almost 40 minutes to account for going all the way around the San Diego Bay, and then slowly down in the Point Loma area because we were heading through military installations. At the Cabrillo NM entrance station, Elizabeth discovered that she’d forgotten our America the Beautiful pass. The park ranger at the entrance station briefly quizzed us on *why* we had one, and when we answered that we have a long camping trip next month, cut us a break and didn’t charge us the $20 for entry.

Our first stop was down at the tidepools. Just like at Torrey Pines the night before, there were steep hills at Cabrillo, although somewhat less canyon-y here and more looking like dunes that just happened to be covered with scrub brush. We drove down to near the water and got a prime parking spot by the tidepools.

The tide was definitely on the lower side, although in the summer tidal ranges are much lower than in the winter. Apparently, the best time to go is January at low tide. We made do with what we had, especially since it seemed like a few of the more exposed locations did indeed have pools of water in the rocks.

At first, the tide pools don’t look like they have much going on. That one had a fairly large rock crab on the right side of it, and you can see a little bit of kelp stuck inside the pool, but otherwise it’s just a rock filled with water. The crabs are pretty cool but not exactly mind-blowing. This is why you always talk to NPS volunteers. We found one wandering out toward the surf and asked her what was going on. For the next 10 minutes, she gave us the complete rundown of the incredible biodiversity of this stretch of shoreline. For example, the holes in the rocks above are actually bored by mollusks, that cement themselves to the holes and wait until they need to eat to detach themselves. There were multiple types of crab scuttling along the cliffs. There were little isopods she referred to as “the cockroaches of the tide pools”. There were snails. There were little muddy clumps of anenomes. There were rather brilliant standalone anenomes.

In short, the more we looked, the more we discovered that everything around us but the rocks was alive – and even the rocks in some cases were really mollusks. Another volunteer even told us that this is where lobsters go to molt their exoskeletons like a cicada or something.

Gross? Kinda. Cool? You betcha.

The tide pools may have been the hidden gem of the entire trip. I think I enjoyed them more than I enjoyed any other half hour in San Diego.

The rest of Cabrillo wasn’t exactly anticlimactic – it’s a very nice national monument. But it wasn’t quite as exciting. I suppose maybe I should use a different word than “exciting”, since at the visitor’s center there was an older volunteer there to show and demonstrate the tools that the original conquistadors under Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo would have used. His demonstration of how to use swords and maces was exciting, and occasionally through the rest of the trip we would hear “YAAAA” in the distance as he stabbed the air again.

The historical relevance of Cabrillo is simple. He and his explorers went looking for a trade route to India and/or gold, sailed up the Pacific coast, and became the first Europeans on the west coast of the United States when they put in at San Diego Bay. Then Cabrillo probably gave himself some sort of ouchie and died of an infection, because the tools the guy was demonstrating weren’t very sophisticated and definitely weren’t sterile. This great accomplishment earned him a national monument including a statue out on Point Loma near the lighthouse.

After a quick stop so I could get a pin and Elizabeth could get half of the visitor’s center like usual, we walked along the big hill, which at various points offers you views of all of San Diego, essentially.

The other major attractions at Cabrillo are the historic Old Point Loma Lighthouse, and the whale/kelp viewing platforms. The lighthouse was alright – I enjoyed seeing the living quarters and learning more about the complex art of high-octane illumination before electric light bulbs, but the actual trip inside was crowded and the top part where the light was kept was shut off.

The kelp forest was kind of cool to see, although it was accompanied by the usual depressing 10 signs about how humans are destroying their ecosystem.

We finished our trip exactly on time to drive back to Coronado to pick up Pam and Winston for the next phase of the day. Along the way, Elizabeth and I decided to satisfy a craving and get In n Out. Unfortunately for us, the line at the drive-thru was Chic-fil-a long. Fortunately for us, the line at the drive-thru was managed with Chic-fil-a efficiency. I wasn’t terribly worried about timing for our next event even though the food stop did put us somewhat off schedule. The double double animal style, animal style fries, and vanilla shake hit the spot though.

We got back to the Loews to find that even though Elizabeth and I had said we needed to leave at 1:15, it was 1:05 and neither Pam or Winston had arrived at the room. I let the steam boil out of Elizabeth’s ears while I changed into a swimsuit and contacts for our next event – cave kayaking. The kayak tour began at 3:00, I knew we’d have plenty of time to get to La Jolla before then. The major issue, as it turned out, was finding parking in La Jolla. Winston and I had to park the car several blocks from the beach and hoof it to the rental shop.

The rental shop was a predictable state of chaos. My pique was raised when Elizabeth let slip that I was nervous about aquatic life and I started getting teased by everyone. Never tell Elizabeth anything, she will let it slip. My pique was furthered when we had to put on dumb life jackets and helmets. At least our tour guides, two Cali bros named Jeremiah and James, seemed funny and cool enough.

We walked down to the beach and got a quick orientation. The gist of it: don’t fall out of a kayak or there will be red tape. Watch out for the great whites, don’t hit yourself on the cliffs. All of this seemed pretty manageable to me. With that, Elizabeth and I got into our kayaks and pushed out through a weak surf (one wave nearly flipped us) and into the open water. I’m not going to say I was fully comfortable, especially since our kayak had a resting list that put the right side closer to the water and occasionally led to me getting swamped in the back by waves. But I was able to settle down, and if I was uncomfortable, I wasn’t feeling outright dread or nerves. Elizabeth was enjoying herself. So were Pam, Winston, and the Colemans elsewhere whenever we bumped (literally) into them.

The tour guides were excellent. If their stories were occasionally made up or exaggerating, what great tour guide’s stories aren’t? They showed us the Rose Canyon Fault that bisects the big cliffs of La Jolla and creates a subduction zone that presumably is slowly eating away at the side subsiding. There aren’t going to be many great pictures of this, because waterproof bags and all that, but bear with me. The next part was memorable.

Our next stop was at the actual caves that make this the La Jolla cave kayaking tour. When we got to the big cliffsides, I was shocked that Elizabeth pointed out a sea lion on the rocks right in front of us! There he was, Lenny the sea lion, just hanging out and doing whatever it is sea lions do. We kept drifting in front of this entrance, joined by like 4 other kayak groups, as the current kept pushing us toward the rocks and we kept paddling for water. The entrance to the one we were going in was maybe 10 feet wide, and with a strong tidal current as well. It would have been tough to get in without bashing ourselves on a rock. So our tour guides beached their kayaks, put on flippers, and jumped in the water to navigate two kayaks at a night while swimming! This was the most Cali-bro thing I got to sea the entire time – two dudes just pushing kayaks through a barnacle-infested cave. The cave was neat to see. I’d say it was a bit bigger than I expected, and definitely a lot smellier.

Sea lions, not seals

Back outside the cave, waited for our erstwhile comrades to return from their own cave experiences while Elizabeth and I paddled as close as we could to the sea lions. This was the coup de main of the entire trip, and 100% a thrill worth the nerves.

We did make a couple more stops on the way back; one was along the cliffs, where our tour guides told a story of a long-ago cliff diver who broke his everything in the middle of a famous jump. The story was rather gruesome (I guess the diver was okay), but my attention was diverted to the garibaldis swimming below our kayak. Elizabeth got some pictures of the bright orange fishes, but through the waterproof bag, then the water, all you end up with is a flash of orange. Garibaldis though! The other last stop entailed seeing whether people could stand in their kayak for 10 seconds. Although I didn’t do that myself (sharks), I am proud to say that Winston was able to do so… on his second try.

Finally, it was time to head back in and end the great adventure. The tour guides gave advice on how to ride a wave back to shore on a kayak without letting it tip you, advice that Elizabeth and I promptly proceeded to not put to good use and end up waist deep in water. Fortunately, we were both in good spirits about the whole thing. I thought we handled the stress of double kayaking on a low-riding boat admirably. The relationship hasn’t ended yet as I type this, so that’s a good sign! In all seriousness, though, it was such a fun tour to be part of and I’m glad everyone did it.

Dinner reservations were not until after sunset, so there was time after the kayak tour for me to lay out on the beach for a little while, then some time to do my first-ever real swim in the Pacific Ocean. That swimming involved a lot more looking at the sea-floor than I expected, because early on I saw two large fish. Right before I left, I saw something big and stingray like that a local confirmed to me to be a shovelnose guitarfish (look it up if you want). That was enough aquatic life for me.

Now the sun truly was setting. After some cold showers along the beach (bleh), Winston and I trekked out to the car to bring it back to pick everyone up. All seven of us crammed into one rental and headed to Point La Jolla, up on a big hill past the cove. We got there bare minutes before the sun went down over the sea lions.

We spent the next half hour of life entranced by the behavior of the La Jolla sea lions. These things were funny. There was one adult male on shore with about 15 mothers and 15 babies, and two adult males swimming offshore and trying to cause trouble. The sea lions were mostly sleeping, but occasionally would get into a squabble that required the male to come in and break it up. Very, very funny.

Our 8:45 reservation was just up the hill from Point La Jolla at a restaurant called “George’s At The Cove”. We could see way down to the water, although the view was certainly limited because of the gathering darkness. We were probably the last people seated at George’s that night. We may not have been their most satisfied customers, either. My chicken was rather “eh” for the price I paid, although the chilled corn soup was a tasty novelty. By the end of dinner, I was falling asleep at the table (this served as a good reminder to everyone that I worked at 5:00 the next morning and got everyone moving again). The night kind of ended in a tired blur.

Yesterday was a bitter good-bye to San Diego, a place I daresay was good for Elizabeth and me both to visit. I woke up at 4:50 and, bleary-eyed, joined the NWS Blacksburg morning briefing call for the first time in a week. Afterwards, I joined Pam and Terri for a last breakfast at the hotel restaurant. Elizabeth got there before we’d even ordered, and I finally got the much-vaunted omelette. It was okay.

Back I went to work, while Elizabeth went paddleboarding with Terri. She presently returned to prepare for our 1:00 a.m. checkout time. I fully commend Elizabeth on her packing efficiency. Shortly before 1:00, everything was gathered up and ready to go. Not so much across the way, where Pam and Winston were flinging things into bags. I decided to go lay on the patio one last time after we had dropped our bags with the bellman. No joke, I got so relaxed that I drooled on the couch I was laying on.

We had time for one last adventure. Just a few miles south of Coronado lies Imperial Beach, as close to the border on the beach as one can get. I’d run most of the way to Imperial Beach a couple of days prior – now I got to see it for real. Amid a lively discussion of immigration policy between Winston and Pam, we drove alongside the Tijuana River as far as we could until the border wall was plainly visible. Fish jumped out of the river, where signs loudly proclaimed it was simultaneously a wildlife area and it was a sewage area. Borders! I said hello to Tijuana, and that was that.

Elizabeth and I had just enough time back at the hotel to get one last plate of sad fruit; the mood was much more wistful than the wide-eyed, optimistic fruit plate of our arrival. Leaving is always bittersweet. I took a last look at the pool, and then we headed to the car that was taking us to the airport.

I don’t feel like I need to go into much detail into the flights home. The monsoon gave us a small delay in Phoenix, but we did manage to get back by 1:00 a.m. I had a decent airport burrito, which really is a pretty low standard. We got our bags back and I was asleep before 2:00, so I at least got 5 hours of sleep before work. Going to need all weekend to catch up on my sleep though.

Scipio is back with us. We missed him.

This was a great vacation. Not sure if I would put it as my favorite ever – Elizabeth and I vacation well when it’s just the two of us, which may be part of why Cabrillo was one of my favorite parts of the trip. But I loved the San Diego area, and the wedding was so beautiful. I hope to get to go to San Diego again someday.

This diary format was exhausting. I guess I’ll try to do it again for Rehoboth Beach (in a week lol), but maybe a bit more condensed? Thanks for following along, I’m proud to have created a record of my trip!

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1 Comment

  1. Wow, Nolan. That was terrific. Didn’t know you kept a blog, but am anxious to read more. Didn’t know u had such a knack to writing. Enjoyed your humor throughout.
    I went to San Diego with Kelly a number of years ago with Grace and Claire. The really enjoyed the tide pools. Just intrigued by what lived there. It was the highlight of their trip, I think. Gotta go. Love to you both and to the pup.

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