Soaking up Southern California (S)

We awoke in Phoenix and after a quick breakfast at a local coffee shop, we hit the road for San Diego. I was driving so Leo could finish up the last blog post. Along the way, Leo keep asking for a picture with some of the huge cacti when there was an scenic overlook, but there never was one. As we started to get on the highway to San Diego, we drove through a town that had a perfect cactus by a gas station. I slowed down and offered to stop, but Leo thought we could do better. Alas, that was the last large cactus we passed. Guess, we’ll have to come back to Arizona soon!

Also on our route, we passed a strange roadside attraction called the Desert Watch tower. We got out for a few moments to look around and get some pics. Right by the watchtower was a strange collection of stuff including some little UFO. We got a picture, but have no idea what was really going on here!

We arrived in San Diego late afternoon and headed to Leo’s friend, Jordan’s place. Jordan, his wife, Courtney and their two kids had graciously offered to host us for a few days.

We decided to check out Old Town. It is the oldest part of San Diego and has a lot of interesting history. Unfortunately, all the museums were closed by the time we arrived. Still it was fun to wander around a bit, hear some live music being played, and wander around the shops.

Before we left, we gave the kids some bubble wands we had in the car. They were super excited. Pro tip: bubble wands are an essentially road trip item. Kids and adults love them! Leo is an especially big fan.

We headed to the coast to check out the bioluminescence, which is the when living organisms emit light.  It can be caused by a number of different creatures, but in Sand Diego is created by an algae bloom called the red tide. First, we stopped and grab some tasty grub at a spot called Goodonya. The first beach we checked out was pretty but at no bioluminescence. So, we headed to La Jolla were they had been reported. 

We lucked out at La Jolla. Every few waves were this bright almost neon blue color. I had never seen anything like it in person. We hung out at the beach for a while enjoying the view. During that time, we noticed one of the fire pits had been abandoned. We claimed the fire and let the kids feed the fire. First with a few pizza boxes from the top of the trash, then from the firewood we had in the back of our car. Finally, we headed back – although we did have to do a bit of off-roading because they locked the gate to the parking lot!

For our full day in San Diego, we awoke before the rest of the house to get to the San Diego Safari Park early in the morning.  The Safari Park is associated with the zoo, but it is used to sustain their massive breeding programs to help endanger populations. There are less animals than the zoo, but there is also a lot more space. We had a great time!

We started by exploring near the entrance and catching a talk about how they train birds for their bird shows. (They only use positive reinforcement, aka treats, and if the birds don’t want to do something, they don’t have to!)  

We kept exploring the park after the talk. Some of the highlights were the lions getting sun right by the window, seeing the California condors (the San Diego zoo is the main place that breeds them and has brought them back from the brink of extinction), watching the gorillas, the tram to see lots of types of antelope, giraffes, rhinos, and more.

The last thing we did before leaving the park was to go the full bird show. It was awesome to see all the different types of birds. We got to see a falcon dive (they are the fastest animals in the world when they dive). We saw parrots fly around and talk a bit of a mimic show. An important note about parrots we learned: they live for 50 plus years and grow to the have the cognitive ability of a 3 year old. The host’s advice – “Get a dog instead!” The most interesting bird was the secretary bird. It has the distinction of being the tallest bird of prey. It hunts by running and not flying. It was truly a site to behold. The bird show also had a special guest—a pig that really hogged the show. Get it? 🙂

The secretary bird in action.

We left the park around 3 and hadn’t eaten lunch yet so our first stop was the find some grub. Leo also wanted to add some brewery hats to his collection. We decided to kill two birds with one stone and went to Karl Strauss brewpub. They had very good food and beer. They also recommended that we check out the Pure Project down the road.  It was an interesting brewery. One of the owners spent time in Costa Rica so their beers had some tropical influences. Very full and two hats added to our collection, we headed back to Jordan’s place.

We had a low-key evening. We took the kids to the clubhouse to shoot some pool and watch a Blue victory!

The next morning, Jordan made us a delicious breakfast. Then, we headed out to do a desert hike at Anza Bortella State Park. It was the first true desert we actually got out of the car for. We didn’t have long to spend, but enjoyed walking through the landscape looking for cool rocks. After a sad departure with our hosts, we headed north.

We arrived in Santa Barbara in time for a dinner with our Lilia and some of her friends. Lilia spent quite a long time to find a restaurant that had gluten-free options for her, a dog friend patio for a canine buddy, and a craft beer selection for Leo. She nailed with a place called Finley’s. We couldn’t stay out too late because we had an early boat to go to Santa Cruz island.

 After a restful night at our friend, David’s house, we headed toward Ventura harbor to catch our boat to Santa Cruz island, which is a part of the Channel Islands National Park.

It was an hour ferry ride to the island. During this ride, we saw lots of wildlife including  sea lions and a huge group of dolphins.

Dolphins on the way to Santa Cruz.

After arriving on the island, we gathered our gear and walking the ½ mile to our campsite situated right under giant eucalyptus trees. After setting up camp and eating some sandwiches for lunch, we walked to visitor center to learn more the history of the island, which was a working ranch for decades and before that settled by native peoples. We also learned a bit about the wildlife.

The Channel Islands have a species of fox that are only found on the islands. They are much smaller than regular foxes and loved to hang out at the campsite and try to steal campers food and other belongings. We had to make sure to zip our tents with the zippers at the top or they would be able to get in and keep all our food stored in a bear (or fox) locker!  There is also a type of blue jay, called the Island Jay, that is only found on Santa Cruz Island. Although more elusive than the fox, we did manage a few peaks at these fellas during our visit.

After the visitor center, Leo was tired so he took a nap while I walking up a short coastal trail with great views.

We cooked up a simple dinner and repeated the hike in the evening. There was a heavy mist the second time around so we didn’t get the same views, but it was eerily pretty.

The next day after a homecooked breakfast (our only option on the island :)), we met the kayak we had rented for the day at the arriving ferry. We spent the next few hours kayaking around the island’s coast. We explored some caves and saw lots of wildlife. Some of the highlights included starfish, a lobster, harbor seals, and sea lions.  The sea lions were actually swimming beside and under our kayak at some points even though we were trying to not get too close! We also saw a squabble between some birds and a sea lion/seal for a fish that was pretty darn interesting to watch. 

Let’s Go Blues!

After our water adventure, we returned to camp and ate lunch. While I stuck around the campsite and walk a bit on the shore, Leo did a long inland hike. We reunited for dinner. Then, Leo went out to search for the one spot on the island with reception to listen to the Blues. He was eventually victorious as were the Blues!

The next morning we loaded up all our gear, said goodbye to the foxes, and met the ferry to return to the mainland.

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