Monday, November 27, 2017

San Diego, Part 1: Downtown

After twelve years of California dreaming, I moved to San Diego in June of 2017, along with Mrs. Tires (my wife, Leanne) and Trike (our 2 year old son, Jacoby). Our new hometown has afforded us many sun-kissed opportunities to explore our new surroundings. This blog will focus on downtown San Diego, an exemplary microcosm of the city itself. Subsequent posts will cover the natural beauty of La Jolla, the culture and nature of Balboa Park, and more spots to visit throughout San Diego.

Here are some of my favorite places to visit in downtown San Diego.

Waterfront Park

Between the sparkling waters of the San Diego Bay and the shiny glass windows of the business section of downtown lies a wide open field of grass, an art deco playground and an ankle high splash pool fed by high powered water cannons. During my brief stint as a stay at home dad, I learned pretty quickly that it can get scorching hot in the middle of the summer in SD. When temperatures rose, Waterfront Park became the go-to spot for me and Trike to beat the heat. The centerpiece of this downtown park is a series of water jets that spray water into a shallow splash pool. With depths topping off at four inches, this is a great play area for toddlers. Older kids love the jets themselves, which emit water with enough force to launch small toys into the air. There's also plenty of concrete to climb on to add some adventure in between splash downs. 

Between the splash pool and the San Diego harbor sits a large, flat field of grass that's perfect for picnics, sunbathing, throwing a ball around or flying a kit. 

On the other side of the splash pool sits one of the largest and best playgrounds in all of San Diego. The equipment here could be mistaken for modern art if it wasn't so inviting to climb on. In addition to the expansive series of metal rods and climbing rope, the playground offers several slides, some swings, and a climbing hill complete with hand rails for the way up and slides for the way down. 

The Embarcadero

Due west of Waterfront Park sits the northern end of the Embarcadero, a series of ships, ports, and shopping areas along Harbor Drive that pay tribute to the great servicemen and women who have served our country, especailly those who have called San Diego home. A pedestrian walking path connects each of the attractions on this strip, and visitors are treated to a wonderful view of the San Diego Bay as they stroll. In addition to the big ships, there are several monuments to fallen soldiers and foreign wars, as well as street performers and merchants. Trike and I took in the views as we walked the Embarcadero from north to south on a beautiful July day. 

At the Embarcadero's northern-most tip sits a collection of interconnected boats that make up the Maritime Museum of San Diego. A yacht, sail boats, a swift boat, submarines and more make up this impressive and intriguing site. There's a series of exhibits on some of the boats, and visitors can also tour the boats themselves. While we've yet to visit the museum, Trike and I were both quite intrigued when we walked by, and we will definitely be back soon to check it out. 

Perhaps the most intriguing ship on the water is the Star of India. Its sails and masts stand out in a literal sea of beauty. The ship first set sail in 1863, making it the oldest active sailing ship. Maritime Museum admission includes a chance to tour the Star of India, but they're wise to display this beauty of a vessel on its own. 

As Trike and I continued on past a couple of long piers used to load and unload cruise ships, the star of the show emerged. The USS Midway is a huge aircraft carrier that houses USS Midway Museum

I've yet to go inside, but from what I can gather, its another case of the ship itself being the museum, while also offering related exhibits and a sampling of many different types of military aircraft. If the fake people sitting on the back of the ship are any indication, there are a few surprises in there, too. 

South of the Midway sits a grassy peninsula that boasts two of the more artful and amusing features of the Embarcadero. The first one is hard to miss, as it's 25 feet tall. The Unconditional Surrender sculpture was inspired by the famous photo of a soldier kissing a woman after returning at the end of WWII. The piece is enchanting, and one can't help but be drawn to it. It's bright colors and grand scale seem out of character in a place that takes the task of honoring veterans so seriously, but nonetheless, it really is a sight to behold. 

The second of the more engaging tributes to the military is a bit more tucked away further down the peninsula, but is definitely worth the extra steps. The Bob Hope statue (which is officially called A National Salute to Bob Hope and the Military) is not one statue, but several all joined together to commemorate the entertainment Bob Hope provided to our military over the years. Something about the way the tribute is laid out and the way the individuals portrayed seem to be interacting with each other makes this monument feel alive. It's a must-see. 

The Embarcadero ends at Seaport Village, a quaint and perfectly manicured cluster of restaurants, shops and amusements. Its a big departure from the focus on the military found elsewhere on the Embarcadero, but it makes for a great stroll, with a pristine boardwalk surrounding the area. There's also an old-timey carousel, which gives you a nice long ride for your $3 ticket and goes much faster than anticipated. 

All in all, the Embarcadero is a fantastic place to explore. Its sparkling bay, variety of ships, and occasional quirkiness make it appeal to locals and tourists, young and old. 

Petco Park

San Diego is a fantastic adopted home for a stadium chaser like me, because Petco Park is one of the best parks in all of baseball. It offers lots to see and do, plenty of food and drink options, and a great overall experience including good wayfinding, wide aisles and friendly staff. Trike and I wasted no time in visiting this park, as we caught a game a week and a half after we moved to San Diego. Mrs. Tires joined us for our second visit on Labor Day in 2017.

Petco Park is a staple of downtown San Diego, and it integrates with the city extremely well. Most of the seats face part of San Diego's skyline, and an old manufacturing building is actually part of the stadium.

Additionally, some of Petco is open to the public on non-game days. This includes my favorite feature of Petco Park, the Park at the Park. This open area affords a wide open view of the stadium and lots of open grass including a hill that leads up to a statue of Padre great Tony Gwynn.

There's also a playground, a baseball field for kids and some teaser features of the Padres Hall of Fame.

Trike also loves Park in the Park. We visited the playground and park on a couple of non-game days. Trike jumped at the chance to drive his toy cars around Tony Gwynn's statue. Many of the parents there are baseball fans, making the playground chatter a bit more engaging than usual for fellow fans.

The experience from the seats is a blast. It's easy to get around, the chairs are comfortable, and since the Padres generally stink, there's a good chance you'll have room to spread out. Between-inning entertainment, music and amusements keep the crowd energized. These can be somewhat irksome to a serious fan, but they keep the crowd engaged and the kiddos entertained, so all good there. Add some sunshine and a great view of both the field and the city from almost any seat in the house, and you've got a damn fine place to catch a ballgame.

Food-wise, Petco Park is a conundrum. They've got most of the things you want in stadium fare, including wild new concoctions, contributions from award winning local chefs, and a huge selection of craft beer. However, they're missing any sort of signature dish, and I haven't found any of the food to be a home run, or even a ground rule double. When we went on Labor Day, I tried the Tri Tip Nachos at Seaside Market, a significant pile of tri tip steak, BBQ sauce, sour cream and chives on a bed of tortilla chips. It was a tasty meal, but there were too many competing flavors and it quickly became too much to take in. It sure was filling, so if you get it, split it. As it was, I ate half of the nachos and washed them down with a huge bottle of San Diego Pale Ale .394, my favorite San Diego craft beer.

Mrs. Tires had the Slugger Dog at Randy Jones' BBQ. This dog is HUGE, more than an inch thick and barely contained within the bun. While the dog was juicy and delicious, it was a real mouthful, and the bun split in half before too long. So far the best fare we've found at the park is the bloody mary michelada - a delightful way to kick off a day game.

Overall, Petco Park delivers a wonderful experience that even non-baseball fans love. My only complaint is that there's so much to see, do and eat it's hard to hit it all in one visit. Fortunately for me, it's my new home park, so I've got plenty of time to check out the rest of this baseball cathedral.

Downtown San Diego perfectly delivers on many of its signatures, including scenic beauty, a laid back attitude, a hint of tradition, and many military tributes. A stroll along the water makes for a fine half day of exploring, and there is still more I haven't checked out yet.

Stay tuned for more on downtown San Diego and other great spots throughout the city.


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