Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Travel: San Diego--A Sister and Sunshine, and Why You Should Go Too

Working on the front porch.
The Coronado Bridge

When I think of San Diego, I think of sisters and sunshine.

My sister Rebecca and her husband Rod live in a retirement community on a hill in a suburb of San Diego. Unlike their neighbors, they are not retired and thus do not have time to monitor all the comings and goings of the neighbors, or if their potted plants are The Right Kind. Rod teaches at a training center for overseas work, and Rebecca works as a hospice nurse.

This past January, Rebecca was in need of sister time, so she impulsively invited me for a visit, sweetening the deal with an offer to go fabric shopping in Los Angeles.

This winter in Oregon was relentlessly chilled and rainy, so I said yes, even though I wasn’t eager to travel. After all, how could I say no to a mix of sister time, fabric, and sunshine?

Because San Diego is one of the most optimistic, sunny places I’ve ever seen. The sun shines in your face as you ride the trolley around town and glints off the waves as you ride high above them on the beautiful, curving Coronado Bridge. It warms your face as you sit on your sister’s porch and see all the way to Mexico to the south and the islands off the coast to the west.

California is next door, so to speak. The West Coast is an awful long way from everywhere else, and plane trips always involve a long day’s travel and adjusting to different time zones. San Diego is a thousand miles south, but connections are easy, and your body doesn’t need to adjust to a time difference.

Visiting a sister near your own age means that you have similar energy levels and are content with maybe one touristy expedition a day, followed by naps, tea on the veranda, and long conversations about adult children and the hard years of trying to take care of Mom and Dad from a long distance away.

When our son Matt was thirteen, Paul took him on a road trip, and they visited thirteen zoos up and down the West Coast, culminating in the San Diego Zoo, which I’m told is the best of the best.

If I had known all the city had to offer, I might have pushed for taking the whole family.

Here are some sights the city offers, in case you’re thinking of taking your family:

1. Everything ship-[and Navy] related. San Diego is home to a huge Naval base and has made ships a big tourist attraction. You can walk along the waterfront and see sailing ships from a long time ago and also one from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. You can tour the battleship Midway and see sailors on duty inside the ship and historic planes on top. Across the harbor are the huge gray battleships coming and going from the base, and south of the Coronado Bridge are docked Navy ships being repaired. The Navy influence extends to the air. You’re likely to see fighter jets in formation screaming by. 
Even if you're Mennonite and pacifist/nonresistant, you'll find it all highly informational.

The Navy ships in the "hospital

2. Balboa Park. This is a fascinating piece of the Spanish-mission influence in southern California. You can walk around exploring for a long time—gardens, history, beautiful old buildings.

3. The Zoo. I’ve driven by but never toured it. Paul and Matt gave it high marks back in 1999.

4. The Trolley. You can buy a ticket and ride the old-fashioned trolley all day, if you wish. You can get off at Chinatown, the stadium, Balboa Park, or wherever you like and get back on an hour or two later. We took it out to:

5. Coronado Island. The main attraction here is the Hotel del Coronado, in its day the biggest wooden structure in the world and destination of Presidents, royalty, and movie stars. Tourists can explore at will, and adventuresome sisters can even sneak, giggling, into the antique cage-style elevator and go all the way to the servants’ quarters on the top floor, where the hallways are far more cramped than down below, and the floors slant. You can wander down hallways and around corners, look out the high windows, and open doors and peek inside until you are stopped by sudden voices on the other side. I mean, you could do that if you wanted to. You didn’t think we gray-haired Amish girls actually tried that, did you? Ach my.

Then you can go to the beachside cafe on the ground floor of the hotel, buy good coffee, and sit in the sunshine sipping while fighter planes roar by overhead.

6. Shopping. I’m sure there are plenty of fancy places, but we had a great time at a swap meet about a mile from Rebecca and Rod’s house. We were very much in the minority, as probably 99% of the vendors and shoppers were Hispanic. It seems people cross into Mexico and buy supplies to sell on this side—from laundry soap to clothes to leather goods to tools to hair bows to kitchenware. Having flown to California, I didn’t buy much. But it was fun to look.

7. Ethnic food. Obviously there’s lots of authentic Mexican food available, but we went for Mediterranean/Middle Eastern. It was incredible. Rebecca and Rod had fun explaining not only the food but also the subtle differences in culture among the patrons, much like I could take you to the Blue Gate in Indiana and show you the significant differences in dresses and head coverings. Rebecca was especially fascinated by the Chaldean women who like to have elaborate hair and makeup before they go out in public. So Rebecca pretended to take pictures of me while actually capturing the chic Chaldean lady behind me.

You will find plenty to keep you busy in San Diego. Take sunglasses and have as good a time as I did.

I’ll wait for another travelogue to tell you about buying fabric in Los Angeles.


  1. San Diego is beautiful! My husband’s family lives in Los Angeles and we took the train from there to San Diego which was fun. I wish we would had more time to go exploring while we were there.

  2. Oh I'm so glad you like my hometown. My grandparents moved there in 1934 when my Dad was about 8. I lived there until I was 31, and visited almost annually until my Dad died in 2018. It is a wonderful place to visit! My favorite spot is Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma, across the bay from downtown. When I was single I used to walk to Balboa Park after work all the way to the rose gardens and back again to the neighborhood of Hillcrest. When I was very young we rode the ferry across to Coronado, before the beautiful bridge was built. So many memories!

    1. How special! We talked about visiting Cabrillo but ran out of time and energy.

  3. Sounds like a wonderful time. !! Calling my sisters !! Ha

  4. I followed you almost every step. Next time try Old Town San Diego. You might like the old mission, the fudge, old jail and just the history of San Diego...we have done the Coronado Bay Cruise and whale watch too.

    1. Good ideas! I felt like there was lots more to see than I had time for.

  5. My husband and I lived there for 22 years before moving to Oregon. It's a wonderful place and I miss it!

  6. Such a nice trip! Home Owners Association rules are burdensome even in CA. Ugh!

  7. I'm sorry that comment about not supporting the military just came across as harsh. I would never say I don't support you because you're Mennonite.
    Proud Army family

    1. Hmmm. I'll see if I can come up with a better word.

    2. That's much better. Thank you. We had a nice Mennonite church that supported us at our last duty station by inviting us to church and VBS. They were a small congregation, but they were all very friendly even though we were a military family. I would pass on our old CLE curriculum to the church families when we were finished with it.

  8. Enjoyed the outing and glad you put pictures. Being older and not able to do that trip to San Diego I felt like I was enjoying the time and the trip.