California’s Oldest City Offers Nonstop Photo Ops

Posted By Mike Padgett

April 28, 2010

SAN DIEGO, Calif. –The afternoon we arrived in San Diego, the brisk winds blew strong enough to straighten curly hair.

Two days later, it was calm. The skies were clear. The coastal temperatures were in the 70s.

We love this city. Especially its ocean breezes, Balboa Park, sunsets off Point Loma, and holding hands on morning walks along the bay. I enjoy walking to the corner grocer for breakfast muffins and fruit, ignoring rush hour, and nodding hello to dog walkers.

The iconic San Diego Museum of Man, originally called the California Building, is one of the few original structures in Balboa Park. The 200-foot-high tower was built in 1915. This view is from Alcazar Gardens. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

On this recent trip, I spent my first two mornings in Balboa Park. The lush hilltop park overlooking downtown is a photographer’s dream. Its museums, spring flowers and Spanish Colonial architecture offer photo ops in every direction.

Casa del Prado was rebuilt in 1970. It originally was the Food & Beverage Building. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

Balboa Park dates to 1868. Its original name, City Park, was changed in 1910. The 1,200-acre park was home to the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition to celebrate the 1915 opening of the Panama Canal. The park also hosted the 1935-36 California-Pacific International Exposition to help the city rebound from the Great Depression.

Reflected in the Lily Pond are the images of the Casa del Balboa and the House of Hospitality. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

Several of the park’s wood-and-plaster buildings, because some dated to 1915, were rebuilt between 1970 and 2005.

Year round, San Diego’s temperatures are moderate, thanks to the ocean’s influence. San Diegans tell visitors that if they don’t like the local weather, just wait. The weather could change quickly. Which it did during our visit.

The gusty winds lasted one day. The next day, it was cloudy, but comfortable. A day later, it was sunny. A couple lounged, hammock-like, in a small inflatable boat drifting in the marina’s calm waters. A statuesque heron walked a floating dock between berths.

The San Diego Marina is filled with a variety of watercraft, ranging from modest pleasure boats to high-dollar yachts. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

In Coronado across the bay from our hotel is the three-story Coronado Island Marriott Resort & Spa, which formerly was the Hotel Le Meridien. Several times, we stayed there. We enjoyed the rooms on the third floor because they have higher ceilings and private patios with better views of the bay.

Once, after a waiter placed our breakfast on the patio table, and before we sat down, a seagull snatched a croissant from our table.

The Marriott is next to the bayside promenade popular with joggers and cyclists. Many times, we walked its length south to the Coronado Bridge, under the bridge and along the golf course.

In the distance beyond the Marriott we spotted another of our favorite haunts, the Hotel del Coronado. We also could see aircraft carriers docked at the Navy base at the other end of Coronado. The military comprises about 23 percent of the San Diego economy, according to a recent PBS news report.

During the many times we played in San Diego, we watched the city’s downtown evolve. In the 1960s, it was a sad part of the city, a place to avoid at night. There were many vacant lots, empty warehouses and under-utilized properties. There were a few antique businesses, which we enjoyed visiting.

Today, walking the downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter is like wandering on a different planet. There are new hotels, new office buildings, and many new residential condo buildings. All have encouraged the openings of neighborhood grocers and drug stores, along with many new shops, restaurants and bars. PETCO Park opened in 2004 as the new home of the San Diego Padres. The San Diego Convention Center and neighboring hotels are obvious downtown attractions.

One of many popular Gaslamp nightspots is Chianti Restaurant. We enjoyed the salmon entrée. The dinner, along with the tiramisu, was excellent. As was the service.

On one wall of the restaurant is a portrait of actor Marlon Brando’s “Godfather” character. A well-dressed man cruising the tables (the owner or maitre d’?) pointed to the portrait and struck a pose matching Brando’s. Smiles and polite laughter. He and a waiter in tow cruised on.

After dinner, my Best Friend and I thought about walking back to the hotel. But it was near the dregs of the evening, and we were tired. The sidewalks were crowded. We took a cab.

The next morning, still curious about the Gaslamp, I walked back into the neighborhood. It was quieter. There were fewer pedestrians and less traffic. I took advantage of the morning light for some photos.

The 132-room Horton Grand Hotel is one of the most photogenic buildings in the Gaslamp Quarter. The Horton Grand is referred to as San Diego’s oldest Victorian hotel. Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

That evening, a Saturday, we returned to the Gaslamp. Again, the streets and sidewalks were crowded. This moderate year-round weather encourages all kinds of adventures, whether shopping or gastronomic. Art galleries were open late, too.

As we walked, restaurant hosts and hostesses hovered at their outdoor podiums, ready to escort customers to the next available table. Taxis jockeyed up to, and away from, the curbs.

Expensive suits and short black dresses and the aromas of expensive cologne mingled with business casual and tourist grunge. A sidewalk couple shared a cigarette that smelled like rock concert tobacco. This Saturday night of shoulder-to-shoulder crowds included the occasional panhandler, mostly courteous but sometimes surly.

“C’mon, with your million-dollar suit,” moaned a rejected 20-something hustler.

The Gaslamp Quarter is a stop-and-go-traffic part of San Diego I would not drive at night. Brake lights flash like out-of-sync red neon signs in traffic creeping through the four-way-stop intersections.

Take the light rail line in and out of the Gaslamp. Or park blocks away, and walk.

But despite the crowds and traffic, Southern California has an irresistible energy. The ocean. The bay. The fresh seafood. The moderate weather.

Can anyone recommend the name of a Realtor in Southern California? It is a buyer’s market.

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Apr 28th, 2010

One Comment to 'California’s Oldest City Offers Nonstop Photo Ops'

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  1. Carol Romley said,

    Hi Mike, enjoyed your story and great photos of San Diego’s beautiful buildings. I also love San Diego. Actually I love all of California. We stay at the Dell almost every year for about 5 days for Continuing Legal Education put on by the State Bar of Arizona. I always look forward to that trip.
    Carol Romley

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