Two months in San Diego

San Diego was the ideal place to spend the first couple months of 2020. The weather was nice and we found lots to do. The best part? We were closer to home and loved sharing our place with company!

Downtown life

Our two bedroom apartment was in downtown San Diego, just a couple blocks from Petco Field. There were plenty of restaurants nearby when we didn’t feel like cooking.

Gaslamp Quarter

We were a couple blocks from San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, which is well known for its nightlife. Our gym was located here and it’s where Frank got his ice cream fix!

Waterfront

San Diego’s beautiful waterfront was a short walk away. On Saturdays, there is a fresh fish market on the pier.

Neighborhoods

We enjoyed exploring San Diego’s other neighborhoods, too. Each had its own feel and personality. Two tram lines stopped just behind our apartment, providing easy access around the city. Weekly farmers markets provided an extra excuse to visit.

North Park

Funky and colorful, North Park has a relatively small Thursday night Farmers Market.

South Park

I’ve previously mentioned South Park’s awesome shawarma truck and chocolate shop but the area has much more to offer. It’s a cozy neighborhood of restaurants and retro shops. I got a kick out of its mini-Target, which looks like a former Wisconsin Kohl’s Food store.

Hillcrest

We were frequent visitors to Hillcrest — great restaurants, a movie theatre and a lab for Frank’s blood tests. Several blocks long, the Hillcrest Farmers Market is the place to be on Saturdays. Frank’s favorite was the Philly cheesesteak and each week, we stocked up on cartons of the unbelievably tasty kefir yogurt! How can something that delicious be good for you? (I wish it was available back home!)

Little Italy

Our favorite area (go figure) was Little Italy. We enjoyed some wonderful meals at the Busalacchi restaurants, which brought back fond memories of Frank’s Teamster days. In addition to Italian grocery stores and restaurants, Little Italy has its own Saturday Farmers Market. And where else but an Italian barber would Frank go for a haircut?

Balboa Park

In the middle of the city is the twelve-hundred acre Balboa Park. The historic urban cultural park is home to green spaces, gardens, an art center, museums and San Diego’s famous zoo. We visited several times as it is ginormous and there is so much to see!

Coronado Island

Point Loma Liberty Station

Liberty Station is a mixed use development on the site of San Diego’s former Naval Training Center. It features an arts district, a food market/restaurant court and a Women’s Museum.

Sights and mini road trips

San Diego Mission & Old Town San Diego

Faye, Frank and I took a trip back in time to a historic mission and Old Town San Diego. Built in 1769, Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala was the first of twenty one great California missions, marking the birthplace of Christianity on the west coast. Since it was Saturday, we decided to catch Mass by crashing a wedding! Old Town San Diego is a bit kitschy but worth a quick stop.

Cabrillo National Monument

Eddie drove us to Cabrillo National Monument. Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo led the first European expedition to explore what is now the west coast of the United States. The skies were clear and we saw some beautiful scenery. Pam also wanted to stop at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, which was very impressive (over 100,000 gravesites). We ended the afternoon with sunset at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.

Dana Point

The four of us traveled up the coast to visit Frank and Eddie’s friend Jim O’Neill. Jim and his wife Kathy have a lovely home in Dana Point.

Balboa Island

Another trip with Eddie and Pam to Balboa Island. It’s a charming area and it was fun to see residents proudly flying their college colors.

Road Trip to Rancho Mirage

Frank and I took a road trip to Rancho Mirage in Coachella Valley. Our friend Bud Selig was speaking at a Writers Conference and we went to surprise him. It was a beautiful ride through the mountains. The festival itself was amazing. Writer/historian Doris Kearns Goodwin interviewed Bud. Afterwards, we had the privilege of meeting her.

Tijuana

I had zero interest in heading across the border from here until I received this email, “I’d like to go to Mexico to get migraine meds. Would you have any interest in driving to Tijuana with me on Saturday?” Sounds like an adventure, I thought, and it was.

The “Best” Eats

Who doesn’t love going out to eat? While one of many reasons we stay at Airbnbs is having the ability to cook and keep fresh food handy, a big highlight of traveling is exploring local restaurants. Once in a while, we’ll stumble across a great find but random picks can often disappoint.

With so many choices, how do you find the good places? From the best coffee to the best bakeries to the best ethnic restaurants, recommendations from locals are our go-to source. I also keep a running list garnered from various travel articles, plus suggestions from friends. Local newspaper and magazine websites are pretty dependable and I like Eater.com. TripAdvisor is handy abroad but back in the States, I’m not a fan.

Yelp? Although our niece Emily works for them, I rarely, if ever, follow their suggestions. Until today.

Our friend MJ forwarded an article about Yelp’s Top-Rated Restaurant for 2020, located right here in San Diego. Michelin-star rated? No. Fancy white table cloths? No. Classically trained chef? No. With a perfect 5-star rating over 500 reviews, Yelp’s #1 restaurant for 2020 is . . . a food truck. Selling shawarma. And who doesn’t love shawarma? We headed to San Diego’s South Park neighborhood to check out Shawarma Guys.

Set up in the parking lot of his buddy’s liquor store, the owner, a former cell phone salesman, serves up to 900 plates a day with the help of his family. The service is friendly. The prices are cheap.

And the food? Frank and I ordered a chicken and a beef shawarma plate. Portions were large and accompanied by tasty sides of rice, hummus, pita and tabbouleh (bonus for me: no cucumbers!). Meat was tender and flavorful. We switched a couple times, having a hard time choosing a favorite. We did agree on one thing though, as far as shawarma goes, it was one of the best. We’ll be back.

As a footnote, we stopped at Eclipse Chocolate Bar & Bistro, also in South Park. Travel + Leisure magazine named theirs “America’s Best Hot Chocolate.” I had the dark chocolate Masala Chai. I’d have to say, it was pretty, pretty good.

San Diego Women’s March – Power in Unity

On January 18, I joined thousands of women (and men and children) at Waterfront Park to support women’s rights. The theme was “Power in Unity.” In addition to inspirational speakers, there were many booths with helpful information on mental health, domestic abuse, trans rights and the like. Being an election year, volunteers were registering voters and advocating for candidates. It was a powerful experience and so invigorating! I hope the energy continues through November!

Happy 2020 from San Diego!

Frank and I begin this new year and the new decade in sunny San Diego. After six months in a cozy(?) 250-sq. foot apartment and dreading the impending Wisconsin deep freeze, it was high time to “get outta Dodge.”

Our California apartment is comfortable and spacious, located in the heart of San Diego. Within walking distance is most of what we need. For anything farther, there’s a trolley stop right behind our building. It’s so liberating not to need a car. We joined a club so Frank is back swimming and in his happy place. Both of us are looking forward to a couple months of relaxation, rejuvenation, exploration and visitors(!).

If you’re reading this and have any San Diego area recommendations, please send us a message!

“My home is not a place, it is people”

As 2019 ends and a decade closes its doors, now seems like a good time to ponder those words from Lois McMaster Bujold.

I’ve grown accustom to reciting my own quote, “Home is wherever our suitcases are.” Is that true? It’s been six years since Frank and I sold our home and hit the road. We’ve visited and lived (albeit temporarily) in some fantastic places, places where we could happily settle and feel “at home.” We’ve met some truly wonderful people, eaten well and had some incredible experiences.

But we always come home to Wisconsin. Even here, we stay in different places. The place, we’ve discovered, is irrelevant. For us, being home means being surrounded by our people. This last stretch had its challenges but time spent with family and friends made it more than worthwhile.

Frank and I love and look forward to continuing our adventures. I can’t say we won’t have a house someplace else at some point, but good, bad or freezing cold, Wisconsin will always be home.

Thanksgiving in NYC

Frank and I loved spending Thanksgiving in New York City. Seeing Andy and his new place, having Nick and Kim join us from LA, good food, lots of laughs, a little sightseeing and the burgeoning Christmas decorations made for a truly memorable week!

Andy’s apartment is right next to the Stock Exchange in the Financial District of Manhattan. (Yes, he has a real Christmas tree!)

His neighborhood is a great mix of new and old. The 9/11 Memorial and Calatrava’s Oculus transit center are nearby. I had just seen “Hamilton” back in Milwaukee so it was especially interesting to see our nation’s first capitol, the tavern where Hamilton had dinner the night before the duel and the church where he is buried.

A Thanksgiving away from home was a new experience. We conveniently rented a two-bedroom in Andy’s building. The kitchen was fairly well-equipped but didn’t have everything you’d need to cook a full holiday meal. I froze and brought some cookies and breads from home. I knew I could manage a few side dishes and hors d’oeuvres, but a turkey? Enter Citarella’s. Turkey, check. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy — check! I found the “best” New York cheesecake (May Ze Dahr) and a good place for dinner rolls (Amy’s). Pre-holiday pickups gave me a chance to explore different areas of the city!

The best part of Thanksgiving was the company! Andy invited a few of his new friends — Dara, Neal and Frankie — to join us.
(Hey, I know that guy!)

With Thanksgiving behind us, the city was so cheery and put us in the Christmas spirit!

It was fun watching the tree come together in front of the Stock Exchange next to Andy’s building.

All too quickly, it was time to say goodbye. We are so thankful for a wonderful week and can’t wait ’til next time!

Thanksgiving in NYC: Macy’s Parade

Perhaps it’s because I was born on Thanksgiving. I love everything about the holiday — family,  food and the Macy’s Day Parade! I’m glued to the spectacle every year while preparing the turkey and our family’s traditional holiday spingi (Italian donuts). The bands. The floats. The Rockettes. Santa. And, of course, the balloons! The parade sets the tone for a joy-filled day and the start of the holiday festivities.

Andy moved to NYC in July and now splits his time between here and Milwaukee. Our first visit to see his place is over Thanksgiving — presenting me an opportunity (coincidently?!!) to personally experience the pinnacle of all parades!

Everyone I know that’s been to the parade, told me I had to go see the balloon inflation the night before. Frank and Andy said they’d join me. That is, until we were rerouted several times and several blocks into a street packed like sardines with a slow-moving mass of humanity. The guys headed back downtown and I swam along. I rounded the corner; still no balloons. Once bags and backpacks were checked, the crowd loosened up and soon, around the corner, was the first glimpse of the balloons.

People were well-mannered and friendly. Excitement was all around!

My favorite, a new balloon designed by Yayoi Kusama

Would we see these balloons in flight tomorrow? The possibility of extreme winds had been reported in the days leading up to the big event. City rules require balloons to be grounded if sustained winds exceed 23 mph or gusts exceed 34 mph. The balloons have been grounded only once (in 1971) for weather-related reasons. Would that happen in 2019? A decision would not be made until right before the parade starts . . .

Parade Day

I met a lovely couple on the train platform. Although their home is in NYC, it was Pedro and Anna’s first time at the parade. We exited the train and found an amazing spot in Columbus Circle!

For some reason, we had a funny feeling this was too good to be true. We kept wondering how the parade could go around the circle, despite reassurances from a few of NYC’s finest. We asked around some more and found our hunches were right. We’d have to move.

We wandered up and down the now crowded streets and finally talked our way into Central Park where we found an even better, elevated, SEATED spot on a grassy hill! Frank had been texting me balloon updates. We were thrilled when city officials opted to have the balloons fly, albeit lower to the ground.

Showtime!

Go Dodgers!!!

So what’s a girl to do when her husband puts the kibosh on a party for his 75th birthday? How about a trip to see his beloved Dodgers play the Yankees in sunny LA?!!

While Frank is a huge Milwaukee Brewer fan . . .

. . . his heart will always be with the Dodgers. “My dad liked the Yankees but they were always winning. I preferred the Bums (the Dodgers’ nickname) even back when they were in Brooklyn. Roy Campanella. Don Newcombe. Then the Dodgers moved to LA. Sandy Koufax was my hero and pitcher Don Drysdale, too.”

Despite the hideous “Players’ Weekend” uniforms in lieu of their iconic jerseys and the use of nicknames instead of player names, nothing could take away from the historic rivalry. And yes, it was 86 degrees (felt like 100+!) but it IS sunny California. Did you know the Dodgers haven’t had a rainout game in nineteen years?!!!

Frank’s team pulled out a win for his special day — it couldn’t have been a better day for our favorite “Dodger Dog!”

Venice Beach — a fun place to visit but . . .

In our several stays within a block of the Venice Beach boardwalk — some for a week, some for a month — this is the first time we’ve visited when I haven’t said, “I love this place. I could live here.” Having always harbored a soft spot for the diversity, color and vibe of California’s hippie enclave, this trip gave me pause. 

Horrors! The “Venice Freak Show” has been replaced by a renovated storefront housing a Starbucks! I don’t recall ever seeing a “chain” on the boardwalk. “The beginning of the end,” I remember thinking.

Next, was all the construction. Several buildings have been razed, replaced with fancy beachfront housing.

Will the Venice-Beach-as-we-know-it disappear in a few years? As the week went by, however, I began to think, “Will this evolution necessarily be a bad thing?”

We found ourselves experiencing increased aggravation toward many things we once perceived as quintessential Venice Beach. It wasn’t good. 

Gritty has evolved into disgusting. Garbage is everywhere. (Seriously, people. Pick up your trash!) The smell of urine is ubiquitous.

The homeless population has increased dramatically. The odd but harmless are mingled with the creepy and provoking. In the alley outside our bedroom window, a guy bellowed a 30-minute litany of four letter words around 2 am our first night. An irritated neighbor called out, “Hey! You done? If not, I’m calling the cops. Thank you.” We laughed and said, “Welcome to Venice.” Repeat performances on subsequent nights weren’t as funny. 

A cardboard shelter was intermittently set up in our car port surrounded by spilled food, wrappers and countless flies. Once interspersed, mounds of random possessions and makeshift tents now line the Venice Beach boardwalk. More than a few high or mentally disturbed souls aimlessly stumbled along the walkway. We witnessed one guy in the middle of a busy street. My heart goes out to these individuals but it’s extremely disconcerting and sometimes scary.

For now, Venice Beach is still the place to be. Come as you are. Anything goes. Bikes, skateboards and scooters dart through the steady crush of tourists, while mounds of random possessions and makeshift tents line the sidewalks. Street artists peddle their creations. Bikini-clad teens pose for selfies in front of make-shift backdrops (donation only $1!). The kitschy souvenir shops are bustling and there are lines at restaurant pick-up windows.

The future? As luxury homes and boutique hotels sandwich their way onto the boardwalk, I think the Venice-Beach-as-we-know-it will be cleaned up and shifted to a dedicated, compacted area. I see it becoming an almost Disney-esque version of itself that tourists will continue to visit. It will still attract its share of “free spirits” and Muscle Beach strongmen. Skateboarders will skate. Surfers will surf. The Sunday drum circle will drum. And you know there will be plenty of shops selling tie dyed “I Love Venice” t-shirts, along with a few token tattoo parlors and marijuana dispensaries.

The change will inevitably result in at least some displacement of the homeless, which flies in the face of Venice’s culture of diversity and acceptance. Many are boardwalk “fixtures” who have been embraced by the community. Can housing, employment opportunities or some form of social services be implemented to keep them in this area they call home? Safety for all is paramount and those with drug addiction and mental health issues need to be treated.

I’m certain we will continue to visit Venice Beach when we come to Los Angeles. I still love the area, especially around Abbott Kinney and the canals. Many of our favorite restaurants are here.

It will be interesting to see how the beach area evolves. Can homed and homeless residents, city government and hungry developers conquer the challenges and still retain some of the character and embracement of inclusivity that makes Venice Beach the “people’s beach?” Will I again say, “I could live here?” Time will tell.