Cross-Country Road Trip: Back to the Beginning in San Diego, California

Previously: Cross-Country Road Trip: What Happens in Vegas Stays in the ER

We set out on a cross-country journey with the intention of seeing America in a different way than we typically do. We wanted to take our time and take it all in, giving the boys the opportunity to experience the splendor of the national parks and spend the summer swimming, hiking, playing, and exploring the way we did as kids.

Part of the journey was returning to my birthplace, which I hadn’t visited since I was a toddler. My father was in the Navy and stationed in San Diego, California, at the time, and I was born at Balboa Naval Hospital.

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Strolling the sidewalks of California with my mom in 1975

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My parents’ first 1963 Corvette split-window coupe in Oceanside, California, in the spring of 1975, where they were covering a Corvette show for Vette Vues Magazine

I grew up hearing stories of beach time in La Jolla, drives across the bridge to Coronado and the Hotel Del, and afternoons at the San Diego Zoo. I wanted to experience all of those things as an adult and share them with Mike and the boys, too.

We left Las Vegas and headed through Joshua Tree National Park on our way to the San Bernardino border. It was a beautiful day and an easy drive, and we pulled into the campsite just in time for dinner.

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After a good night’s rest, our first outing was to the world-famous San Diego Zoo. It’s been voted the number one zoo in the world, and it’s home to more than 3,700 animals. It’s also one of the few zoos in the world that houses and successfully breeds giant pandas.

The zoo was founded with exotic animals that were abandoned after the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, where, after hearing a lion roar, Dr. Harry M. Wegeforth was heard to say, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a zoo in San Diego? I believe I’ll build one.” And so he did.

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Exhibits at the San Diego Zoo are designed by habitat, including an African rain forest with gorillas and an Arctic taiga and tundra that’s home to polar bears.

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A giant polar bear (artificial) with a tiny Ben (real)

Our second day in Southern California found us at the ocean bluffs and beaches of La Jolla, a seaside town known for its arts scene and its sky-high real estate prices. Because of the bluffs, it’s also known for terrific cave kayaking, which Mike and the boys enjoyed tremendously.

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You can’t have an active day of kayaking and playing on the beach without working up an appetite, and you can’t visit Southern California without enjoying some delicious Mexican food. Casa Guadalajara, one of my parents’ San Diego favorites, sits at the entrance to Old Town and has an enchanting courtyard dining area replete with a tinkling fountain. Mike and I had grilled fish tacos and Carnitas Michoacan with their award-winning margaritas, and the boys scarfed down their meals to get to the giant deep-fried ice cream dessert.

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After dinner, we drove down the street where my parents lived when I was born. The house was no longer there, having been replaced by new construction, but the neighborhood was peaceful and lovely at sunset.

We’d played like kids during our time in San Diego, and my homecoming was complete.

Up next: Cross-Country Road Trip: Hiking with Cougars in Guadalupe Mtn. National Park