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Pacific Coast Highway, Day 12: Costa Mesa to San Diego (!)

Our four year old has been an unbelievably patient and well-behaved traveler. We stuffed her into endless planes, busses, trains, trolleys and cars, dragged her up and down mountains, through cities, and to most bakeries on the west coast. Through it all she has remained cheerful and even-tempered.

So today we wanted to do something for her. But when you have limited time and a limited budget, things like Disney, Legoland, and even the zoo are out.

Enter Great Park of Orange County. They had this.

And this.

And especially this.

I think you can win any argument with “Yeah? Well my local park has a hot air balloon ride. So there.”

A hot air balloon can make even a parking lot exciting. (At least to me.) The best part? It was all free!

Further south we passed through San Juan Capistrano and the famous swallows. That’s when I realized Capistrano is in the United States. For some reason I thought it was in Italy. Geography and I haven’t always been the best of friends.

As soon as we entered San Diego County, things started to look decidedly khaki.

Ah, Camp Pendleton. Twenty miles of rough coastline belong to the marines. God bless them even more after seeing where they have to train. “Rugged” is too polite a description. At least they can look at the ocean and think how pretty it is. I bet they do that all the time when they’re hanging off a cliff.

Hard to see in this picture, but it says “HONOR.”

The freeway became a parking lot again, so we headed back to the PCH. The scenic stretch of 101 leaves me feeling a bit nostalgic for what we’re about to leave here. This is our last bit of coast, our last chance to soak up the scenery, and what wonderful scenery it is. Million dollar homes intersperse with tourist shops to perch over white sandy beaches and choppy turquoise water.

We passed through Carlsbad and Torrey Pines. (I threw that in for all you golfing fans. Hi, Tiger! My love to the kids.)

At last San Diego. Here’s a view of the harbor from our hotel.

Although I’ve seen plenty of yummy-looking Mexican food, I waited until we were as close to the border as possible and then got a recommendation from our friends who relocated from the area.

Casa de Pico in La Mesa was everything I hoped for and then some. If there’s anything I love more than sugar, it’s guacamole, so I was pretty stoked to see guacamole enchiladas on the menu.

They had a courtyard with a beautiful fountain.

And these guys.

Another attempt by my husband to interact with someone who doesn’t speak English ended in us being serenaded by the mariachi band. At first I was mortified, since drawing attention to myself in a crowd of strangers is up there with having a root canal. But then it began to seem like a fitting benediction on our vacation, and I started to feel a little weepy. Then again, we didn’t stop at a bakery today. Maybe I’m having withdrawal-type mood swings.

To round out the meal, we stopped at Mariposa Ice Cream.

I had the peanut butter and jelly flavor with a HOMEMADE waffle cone. (If you’re a fan of Veronica Mars, as I am, then you might be interested to know that it was filmed in San Diego and this was her favorite eating establishment. It’s not fancy, but it is very good.)

What’s that? You want to know about San Diego? After the frenetic pace of San Francisco and LA, San Diego seems like the quiet smart kid in the back of the room. You sort of forget about him until you need him, and then you realize he’s sort of integral to your world. That’s San Diego. Relaxed, deceptively large, and built around Balboa Park—a 125,000 acre park with every conceivable thing you could ask want. There’s the zoo, of course, plus museums, gardens, sculptures, and even this.

Sadly, we arrived at night and didn’t have enough time. (Story of our lives lately.) But it was lovely. Tomorrow I’ll post some more pics of the park along with the stuff from Hollywood.

Also tomorrow we begin the sprint back to Seattle. Something tells me it won’t be as much fun going up as it was coming down.

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About vanessagraybartal

Author. Eater. Wife. Mother. Not necessarily in that order.

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