Six Days in San Diego: Sunshine, Sushi & Shenanigans

If eccentric scientists can pretty please build me a warp-speed transportation device and beam me directly to San Diego—land of endless sunshine, year-round avocados, and beautiful people—on command, I’ll mail them a pan of brownies every week for life.
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Ben and I spent six of our epic 22-day traveling stint in sunny San Diego. We visited dear friends, were gawked at for wearing shorts (anything below 72 degrees is call to bundle up in So-Cal—one woman asked what country we were from), and stuffed our faces with fish tacos. We hiked gorgeous mountains, biked along the beach, and relished this happy bubble of sunshine, all while the majority of the country was engulfed in a polar vortex.

Of course that same polar would eventually cause us to take an unexpected road trip from Cleveland to Madison, but we’ll discuss that momentarily. First, allow me to share some of the trip highlights.

Activities:

  • Hiking at Torrey Pines: A stunning path overlooking the mountains, water, and downtown San Diego. This is a great trail for beginners—I did it in my flip flops!

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  • Renting Pink Bikes at Ray’s Rentals: We took these sweet cruisers along the beach and bay. Note: Black bikes were available, but I totally affirm Ben’s color selection. Don’t you?

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The pink bike crew: Ben; Begem, my BFF from undergrad+former bridesmaid+San Diego super tour guide; Yours truly, trying to act cool with a cruiser.

  • Return of Running Outside: The mornings brought beautiful mid-50s running weather, which in my almanac calls for a long-sleeved T-shirt and shorts. The group of women I passed in parkas, earmuffs, and mittens apparently disagreed, as did their sweater-clad doggies. Maybe I’ve become more “Wisconsin” than I realized. Here’s a peek at my trail scenery:

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  • Lake Poway Hike, a.k.a. “Potato Chip Rock”: A booty-burning hike with a rewarding high point. Also rewarding: the giant victory burritos we ate immediately after.

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Ben; yours truly trying to act cool with the boys; Justin, a friend of Ben’s from the Peace Corps+former groomsman+our host+San Diego tour guide extraordinaire

  • Coronado Island: We donned our largest sunglasses and sauntered around this opulent island/neighborhood/way of life. I’m building a fictitious summer home along the beach here.

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  • Balboa Park: Honestly, I would love nothing more than to move into this gorgeous park with its well-kept gardens, museums, and big bubbly fountains. With everything from a colorful artisan village to charming restaurants, I think I could survive here happily for weeks.

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photo 1aJustin, his fiancee and my new favorite person Hurshini, two suspicious characters, and Jeff “El Jefe,” another Peace Corps pal+former groomsman. Thanks random lady who took this pic for us!

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At the artisan village in Balboa. It reminded me of a paint-by-numbers canvas in the most wonderful way.

  • U.S.S. Midway Museum: Absolutely incredible and Ben and my favorite attraction of the trip. The U.S.S. Midway is the longest serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century and has since been converted into a museum. We wound above and below deck, learning about how this floating city at sea operated. With a crew of 4,500 men, the Midway turned out 1,000 loaves of bread per day (part of the 13,500 daily meals it served), pressed thousands of pounds of laundry per week, and had a fully functional sick bay, post office, and chapel. We climbed inside planes that had once launched from its deck and sat in the navigator’s chair in the air control tower. The best part of the museum was its docents. Each was a volunteer veteran with incredible stories to share. Want to learn about how to land a plane on an aircraft carrier? Ask the docent—he did so for 10 years.

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IMG_0061Let the record show that my chair says “Boss” and Ben’s says “Mini.” Happy accident?

  • Cabrillo National Monument: A lighthouse/military monument that’s worth the visit for the view.

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  • Mini Microbrewery Tour: I have fierce Wisconsin pride for the strong microbrewery culture in Madison and across the state, and I must admit, San Diego impressed me. We visited St. Archer Brewing and Societé Brewing, and while they weren’t quite as laid back as many of the microbreweries in Madison, I enjoyed the beer selections tremendously. If you are ever at Societé, be sure to sample The Publican APA, and at St. Archer, the brandy barrel-aged Scotch ale might just be all you need to be happy in life.

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Eats

Here you’ll find brief reviews of the restaurants we tried during our trip. If you are ever in San Diego, I highly recommend you eat your little heart out at these local gems.

    • Nozomi Sushi: Happy Hour is a sushi lovers dream. The menu offers a fantastic blend of classic and specialty rolls, and the prices are a steal. We’re talking jumbo specialty rolls for $4.50 folks. Sushi lovers, this stop is a must. Between five people, we demolished 21 rolls, and if happy hour were endless, I think we would have stayed the whole week.
    • Yesenia’s Mexican Seafood: Our post-Potato Chip Rock hike reward. Monster seafood burritos and tacos for a penny of a price. The seafood was fresh and flavorful, and the extensive salsa bar to smother them stole my condiment-loving heart.

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    • Sambazon Acai Cafe: Acai bowls. Have you heard of them? I was feeling very California as I munched this bowl of super food goodness: an acai berry smoothie, topped with loads of granola and fruit. Thanks Kim Kelly of LivLife for introducing me to this breakfast of champions (and for meeting up with me too!)

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    • Extraordinary Desserts: Meet my Mecca. Creation of executive pastry chef Karen Krasne (fellow pastry nerds, she’s trained Le Cordon Bleu and L’atelier Pierre Herme in Paris), Extraordinary Desserts is a sweet-lover’s paradise. Each dessert is such a work of art I almost felt bad digging into my hazelnut dark chocolate praline torte. Key word: almost.

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  • Davanti Enoteca: We took a mini vacation to Little Italy. Flatbreads, calamari, and a great wine selection stole the show. Plus, it was happy hour, which means I can pardon myself for ordering double. Mi scusi.
  • RK Sushi: Ben and I were 15 minutes early to meet a friend for dinner, so we resourcefully passed the time at RK, the sushi bar across the street. The rolls were fairly standard, but the service was superior.

Um, what? Yes, we are still eating. In fact, we are still eating sushi.

    • Sushi Deli: If you want an on-budget sushi fix, this is your stop. The quality wasn’t outstanding, but considering the volume of sushi Ben can consume in a single setting, I was grateful for the lower price tag.
    • D-Bar: Come see and be seen in this hip Hillcrest eatery. I inhaled the best salmon salad of your life, then promptly negated it with the stellar array of desserts: beignets; chocolate-covered bananas foster waffles; pumpkin ice cream; the stuff of which my dreams are made.  PS. Check out the upper right pic in the photo collage below. That is the world’s greatest chicken and waffle sandwich. My apologies to The South. I fear you’ve been out chicken-and-waffled by a trendy joint in San Diego.

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    • Eureka Burger: Not your standard burger joint. Each burger features gourmet twists and toppings, and I fell hard for my fig and goat cheese turkey burger.
    • In-N-Out Burger: The standard for any quick burger joint and the best $2 I’ve spent in my life. I don’t even like fast food, and I’d eat In-N-Out every week if I lived in Cali. Animal style please.

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    • Project Pie: Pizza goes hipster. The house-made roasted red peppers and caramelized onions, plus an impressive selection of cheeses stole my pie-loving heart.

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Um STILL EATING!

    • South Beach Bar and Grill: Fish tacos become an art form. I wept a little, they were so perfect. This meal will be worth your plane ticket.
    • Lighthouse Waffle and Ice Cream Shop: Because the only right thing to do after stuffing your face with South Beach Bar and Grill fish tacos is to stuff your face again with a hot waffle and ice cream sandwich at the shop placed idyllically next door.

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    • Crab Catcher: More fish tacos. Yes, more fish tacos. We choose these babies over getting to the airport early. No regrets.  Gorgeous view of the water too!

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And speaking of the airport…

Surprise road trip from Cleveland to Madison.

After one last, glorious fish taco binge, we headed to the airport to catch a red eye, knowing that our connecting flight from Cleveland to Wisconsin had been cancelled. We rolled in feeling breezy, dazed, and happy from our week of sunshine and excessive sushi.  We assumed we’d spend one more sushi-soaked day in Cali, then find a flight east. Wellllllll, it turns out that not only was our flight to Wisconsin cancelled, every other flight that would get us anywhere in the vicinity of Wisconsin (Chicago, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, St. Louis, etc.) was cancelled for the next two days. Desperate and out of vacation days, I boarded the midnight flight to Cleveland with Ben. We made it to Cleveland, climbed into a rental car, and began our 9-hour drive. Highlights of the road trip:

  • 100-degree temperature swing from San Diego to Ohio.
  • One single coat between two chilly individuals. (Who needs to pack a parka for So-Cal? Fool.)
  • Stolen airplane blankets for emergencies. Yes I know you are not supposed to touch those blankets, and I probably have small pox. Desperate times.
  • Ben’s wedding ring falls off at gas station and it’s -35 degrees (for real.) Take shifts searching the snow until located.
  • Skyway in Chicago closes due to weather. Take alternate (longer) route.
  • Windshield wiper fluid freezes. Buy apocalyptically-large refill jug at a gas station. While stopped at each tollbooth in Illinois (there are 70 million), hold jug out window. Extend arm and dump fluid over windshield. Make tollbooth operator chuckle.
  • Arriving home in one piece, exhausted, happy, and knowing that your trip was worth every moment.

Thanks so much for sharing a bit of this San Diego adventure with me. If ever you have the chance to visit, I can’t recommend the city enough.
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Also, dear State of Wisconsin: Please break +30 degrees at some point in the next three weeks. If this is not a reasonable option, I will accept an order of fresh fish tacos delivered to me in bed in exchange. Please and thank you.

About Erin Clarke

I'm fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food taste incredible. Wearer of plaid, lover of bourbon, and firmly convinced that sweets and veggies both deserve a place at the table. MORE ABOUT ERIN...

36 comments

  1. It looks like you had so much fun! I love how you guys were in shorts and everyone was bundled up. When I moved to Florida from Vancouver, Canada it was exactly the same way!
    I am seriously so jealous of all the amazing food….those ice cream waffle sandwiches…ohmygosh.
    I didn’t know you lived in Madison! My hubbies family is there, so we are there a couple times a year! It’s a pretty little place. I tried Culvers frozen custard for my first time there, last year. Heaven!
    Happy Weekend Erin!

    • Taylor, so cool that you’ve spent time in Madison! It’s a great city. I’m glad you like culver’s but if you come back, I’m introducing you to the best local frozen custard around…and a whole bunch of other yummy dairy prospects. Come hungry :-)

  2. I live in Cali, and I’m always in short dresses and flip flops …. Hubby too! Glad you loved it all !! I want your metabolism …. And I love your post! Glad you made it home safe.

  3. So glad you enjoyed America’s Finest City. We are CA natives, but have lived here for 5 years. It is pretty amazing. And you can totally make fish tacos yourself if desperate. ;) Super yum.

    • I can make fish tacos, but there will be no replicating the sand and sun Jessica! San Diego is a wonderful place, and I already want to go back. I’m jealous you live there!

  4. I loved your pictures and glad you had a great time. Have a Happy Weekend!

  5. I seriously didn’t know how to spell shenanigans before … but now I do! And now I know that if shenanigans involve burgers, friends, and pink bikes, then I am on board! Looks like you had a blast!

  6. Love this post! You have me longing for some California sunshine now. Is it summer yet?! I haven’t been to San Diego since I was a kid, but I remember even as an obnoxious hard to please preteen, Balboa Park stole my heart! Glad you enjoyed it as well :)

  7. What an amazing trip, Erin! And I’m pretty sure you can never have enough fish tacos…especially when in sunny SoCal!

  8. So glad you had fun in So.Cal. I grew up in NY but live in northern CA now. Went to college at UCSB then med school at USC in LA. A visit to the Madison area (affectionately called Mt. Horrible by my dear friends) was a total culture shock in the winter. Yikes, blimey, it is C-O-L-D. While you’ve been deluged with the polar freeze we’ve had the worst drought in 30+ years: normally our mountains at Lake Tahoe have 10+ feet of snow, this year, sigh, it’s mostly manmade and a paltry 18-24 inches. On the other hand, here in Sacra-tomato it was 70 this week and I’m still harvesting the fall crop of lettuce, oodles of eureka and meyer lemons, and tomorrow starting to plant for spring. (We did have a spate of days in December with a “hard freeze” of 23: almost unheard of. That plus the drought may wreak havoc with all the produce and wine grapes this year.) As you have seen, California is gorgeous year-round. Hope you come back for a nice visit. BTW, I can’t even imagine a 9-hr drive in the frigid weather once you got back near home. Sending you some California dreaming and sunshine. Thanks for sharing your trip.

    • Wendy, thanks for sending that CA sunshine my way–we need it. HIGH is -7 tomorrow, eek! Give Madison a second chance in the summer. In place of MT. Horrible, you’ll find paradise, I promise!

  9. Oh my gosh! I’m so jealous… I love San Diego and everywhere else in California… But that potato chip rock hike looks so cool!

  10. It looks like you had an amazing trip here! I moved to San Diego a little over a year ago (from NJ) and I SO understand what you mean about people bundling up when it’s “cold”. I saw someone recently wearing a down parka that hit her knees when it was 58 degrees out! So silly.

    I’ve been to Stone Brewery, Karl Strauss, and Coronado Brewing, but funny enough, I’ve never been to St. Archer or Societé. Thanks for the suggestions – my boyfriend and I will have to check them out! And OMG, Extraordinary Desserts. I was in there once and I swear even the drip coffee was the best I’ve ever had! I could spend all day marveling at the gorgeous creations.

    But your trip home…yikes! Glad you got back safely.

  11. Diane Siniscalchi Reply

    Now I know why my son was having difficulty with his grad school choices. He was wavering between UCSD and Yale. I selfishly wanted him at Yale, but didn’t press. He ended up choosing Yale, but has since presented at a conference in San Diego, so I guess he’s getting the best of both worlds! I’m so happy you and Ben had such a memorable adventure. Thank you for sharing your trip in photos and words!

  12. I love your vacation roundups! You guys sure know how to eat! (This is why I love you). I’m cracking up at your surprise road trip. At least you’re home!

  13. OH so jealous – what I wouldn’t do to take a long trip to San Diego with my hubby! He’s never been but I know he would love it!

  14. OMG! I am so jealous that you got out of this horrible cold and lived in up in San Diego. It is such an incredible city. Thanks for sharing your pictures and shenanigans!

  15. Erin: Thanks so much for posting this recap of your trip. My fiance and I are actually headed to San Diego this weekend and were looking for suggestions on food and things to do (when we won’t be busy meeting with wedding vendors!). This list came at the perfect time and was a great mix of delicious food and active things to burn off aforementioned delicious food. Now the problem will be deciding which places will make the cut and which will have to wait until the next trip…

    • Carling, how exciting! When I posted our activities and eats, I didn’t know if it would actually be useful for anyone, and you have made it absolutely worth it! I hope you guys have an amazing time and that your vendor meetings go well. If you try any of the restaurants, make it South Beach Bar and Grill for fish tacos and don’t forget the waffle sandwich shop next door. I’m still dreaming about them both! Have fun :-)

  16. This looks like an amazing vacay! I am sooooo envious of the SoCal weather! And the Mexican food, of course. :)

  17. Your photos are amazing Erin! Looks like you had so much fun, I love your glowing holiday faces… looks like the time out did you both a whole lot of good :) Love the list of places to eat, yay! If we ever go to San Diego I am definitely taking this whole darn list with me! Mmm, waffles…! x

    • Thanks so much Laura! You have no idea how envious I am of your summer season down under right now. It is -20° outside in WI as I write this. Can I come camp out on your lawn??? Please? I’ll bring meatballs!

  18. Seems like you guys just had the best time!!
    It’s looks so sunny and warm in San Diego, so different from England right now.
    I’ve never been to the west coast, it looks so incredible.

    {Teffy’s Perks} X

  19. I was born and raised in San Diego! (North County – where they grow all the avocados!) Makes me miss home seeing all of your pictures :) Its fun seeing all my favorite places through the eyes of a visitor! Everyone loves SoCal, but I think NorCal is where its at ;) I can’t stand San Diego traffic and drivers!! haha But I do miss Balboa Park and the gorgeous rose garden. They have a great dog park too! And Extraordinary Desserts — the.best.

    • Extraordinary Desserts will be my happy place for evermore. It’s like they created my own personal heaven Amanda! I’ve spent time in NorCal too and actually really love them both. Definitely couldn’t down San Diego warmth this time around though!

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  21. You hit so many of my fave spots from the Potato Chip to Balboa to D Bar, which sadly, has now closed. I wish I knew you were here! Look me up next time there’s a 6 day trip out here :)

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