• Christina Uhl

Sunny San Diego (from an outsider's perspective)


After growing up in the blazing hot foothills of Central California where yellow was the primary color of the surrounding landscapes and the infrastructure mostly ignored compensating for outdoor recreation, my view of what California had to offer was quite gloomy. The cons in my eyes definitely outweighed the pros and when I moved back to my place of birth in Northwest Colorado, I was hooked. Having four seasons, green surroundings and fluffy snow with yellows only on the aspen trees during the fall turned my projected six months back home into almost a decade.

This year I was recruited back to California by my family. First to the glory of the Yosemite Valley for my sister's wedding right at it's mesmerizing Glacier Point vista, but shortly thereafter I agreed to an indefinite move to live with my aunt, uncle, grandpa and cousins in one of San Diego's suburbs called Spring Valley. Before making this move I drove back to Colorado to gather my belongings before heading back to Southern California therefore making two road trips between California and Colorado.

During these trips there were a lot of memories from my California history classes resurfacing and my appreciation for the great state of California and it's unique and diverse climates have greatly increased through revisiting it's many marvels as an adult with a much greater appreciation for the world that we live in and the beauty it beholds. On my way here to San Diego the first time, in attempt to avoid some traffic and due to lack of time constraints I found myself on the long route (Hwy 94) the landscape surrounding this highway was an almost eerie desertous landscape scattered with really interesting plants I had never seen before. They made me so curious that I decided to stop and take a few photos. I describe them as something you might see in a Dr. Seuss horror flick.

When this landscape changed it led into a really cool stretch of sand dunes that I had no idea existed. The highway was mostly deserted, but the dunes were scattered with dune buggys that were sporting some fun flashy lights. At one point I felt like the buggy just off the highway from me was trying to race me, but I continued my steady pace of going the speed limit. He kept up though until he ended up running into an obstacle he couldn't climb over.

As I started settling into San Diego, I knew next to nothing about this area. My aunt and uncle have lived here for years and even got married here 20 years ago, but they have two young boys and we are in a special situation that limits our ability to go out and see the city together so on my down time, I have been proactively exploring the city on my own. Thanks to Google maps and a few quick drive by tours from my uncle, I have gotten to see some of the best parts of San Diego and much of them by accident.

My first adventure after spending almost a decade far far away from any coast lines was to go check out what I had remembered from a trip out here when I was 15 as a really fun beach and headed towards Mission Beach. As I cruised down Highway 8 following the signs to the "Beaches" I saw another sign that said "To Sunset Cliffs Boulevard" as it was mid afternoon and almost time for sunset, I decided to derail my Mission Beach idea and go see what Sunset Cliffs were all about. I ended up hooking a right due to not noticing a turn only lane and wrapped around to the Ocean Beach Dog park. It was a beautiful sight but certainly smelled like a dog urinal. Next to that was a large beach volleyball area with lots of nets for public and tournament play.

I kept driving down the beaches and made my way to the Ocean Beach Pier and Newport Avenue harboring downtown Ocean Beach. Some day I certainly hope to live there as it's totally my kind of vibe. I took Newport back to Sunset Cliffs Boulevard and was funneled onto a long cute little beach road that goes through the heart of Ocean Beach and leads down to Big Blue herself. Once you pass the commercial parts, the residential section is lined will super tall palm trees and adorable little beach bungalow houses. The area is thriving. That street alone was cluttered with bicyclists, longboarders, surfers, dog walkers, and the occasional bum. As you get to the end of the street it wraps along the coastline becoming Sunset Cliffs National Park. This was such a cool spot! One I also had no idea existed prior to driving down that road. Later that night I did a pub crawl in Ocean Beach, took a nap on the beach and took an early am stroll down the OB pier during high tide. Such a humbling experience for this small town mountain girl, and even for my dog.

As the road hugs the coastline, there are numerous little side parking lots set up for public use. After driving a good little ways down the road I finally saw a place to park and decided to check out the sights and make use of my grandfather's 300mm lens he let me borrow. There is no sandy beach at Sunset Cliffs, just a bunch of sandstone cliff formations jetting out into the ocean with a few platforms where surfers climb in and out of the water making a uniquely beautiful setting for anything recreational along with many tourists from all around the world. That evening I was able to catch some seriously stellar surfing shots with a breathtaking sunset as a backdrop.

My next adventure was just before Halloween in Pacific Beach. In fact I think it was Halloween weekend. I ended up checking out a place called Pacific Beach Alehouse. Their theme this year for Halloween was Mad Maxx characters. So the upstairs bartenders were decked out and looking amazing! It was a pretty hip new bar with a deck that had seats that you could see the ocean from. I was a little overwhelmed in Pacific Beach all by my lonesome, there's a packed bar on just about every block I was a little distracted by the amount of beautiful men in that area.

After this I decided to officially head back to Mission Beach, but it was evening and I parked in Pacific Beach and took my bike all the way down the Ocean Front Walk past Belmont Park down to Jetty Road and Mission Bay Park. What a fun night. I got to listen to the tunes of longboarder leading the way with a foot tall amp bumping music on the front of his board all the way down the boardwalk. Then I passed a little shrine or commemoration or maybe even just an artistic display of white bags with lit candles scattered along the sand. There were also many beach fires with people gathered around sharing stories and enjoying life. On my way back, I decided to stop at an ale house called Draft and had a fabulous conversation with a world traveling business man who enlightened my view on life and had some really good advice to share. He was from South Africa but spoke with a British accent and had some very interesting stories.

The next adventure I embarked on was a bike ride around Balboa Park. Balboa park is full on beautiful! What a clever way to wrap San Diego's historic museums and renowned Zoo into a natural landscape right smack dab in the middle of the San Diego metropolis spanning a whole 1200 acres! It is hands down the cultural heart of the city breathing art, history, and multitudes of tourism all year round. You would have to live in the City Center and own a museum pass in order to truly experience Balboa Park. There's just too much to see! It holds the Zoo, The Old Globe Theater, The Air & Space museum among many others, a display of international houses, Multiple gardens, an art plaza, an outdoor amphitheater, incredible architecture, a beautiful bridge and a plethora of hiking and biking trails connecting different green spaces. If interested, you should really educate yourself on the topic by visiting their website balboapark.org. I was obviously a little blown away by the place.

As I continued around the city I met a swordfish fisherman at the Midway pier (see my previous blog), I ran into some beautiful music in the Gaslamp District (also previously blogged about), and found my favorite quaint part of Downtown known as Little Italy. What a true to form little rendition of the Italian culture (not that I have been to Italy quite yet, but it's certainly similar to what I imagine it's like out there). Ironically India Street is it's main street and it's lined with cute little Italian cafe's, fine dining, and dessert shops. It only stretches a few blocks and it's nestled right up in between Waterfront Park lining the San Diego Inlet, and Interstate 5's bend that meets San Diego's airport. I ate at this cute little farm to table pizza shop named Napizza and enjoyed it so much that I ended up going back there the next time I was in the area. I even gave it a 5 star rating on google maps for it's delicious salads and fresh quality.

As I continued to make my way around the city I ventured straight through the Imperial Beach area to the San Diego "Strand." Now to someone who knew nothing about the area initially I honestly thought that this section was a bridge that led to the Coronado Island because that's what it looks like when looking at the map, but in actuality it's an actual strip of land that makes the San Diego bay an inlet and the Coronado bridge was built to connect Coronado to Downtown San Diego. On this "Strand" there are two official neighborhoods. One is a quite literal "picture perfect" elite neighborhood with multi million dollar homes set up with yacht parking in the back yards with quiet and beautiful neighborhood parks nestled in on shorelines lining each neighborhood. The other is reserved military housing for naval cadets working at Coronado's famous naval base. Not quite as luxurious, but fully set up with it's own school and private coastline.

As you reach Coronado Island from the Strand you first see large hotel buildings with ports lining the inlet (or east) side with every different style of boat docked in calm beautiful waters. This is the south side of Coronado which is the residential and public side of Coronado which is kind of it's own little island city. The north part of Coronado; "NAS North Island resembles a small city in its facility content and its operations. It has its own police and fire departments, as well as advanced military security stations. It has large factory-type buildings which comprise the Naval Aviation Depot, employing 3,300 civilians, and its own commissary, Navy Exchange, and housing units. Recreation facilities include officer, chief petty officer and enlisted clubs, movie theater, golf course, tennis courts, bowling alley, parks and beaches."

-cited from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_Air_Station_North_Island

I was lucky enough to be able to tour both sides of the island. I toured the south side on my own and then a friend of mine who served in the navy herself and then married a naval cadet who is currently working on a large ship at that North Island base gave me a quick drive through tour of the base and it's facilities. I was disappointed in myself for forgetting my good camera, but was able to snap a few photos on my phone.

I also forgot my camera when I stumbled upon Harbor Island. There was a beautiful park there and a few ocean side restaurants with a long pathway lining the coastline looking out onto views of the Coronado Coastline and the San Diego city scape. Another place I didn't think to bring my camera because I was scoping it out for a photo shoot was La Jolla Cove. Holy cow is that place a photography haven. I saw more tripods set up there than I have in any place yet besides the National Parks, and it was an overcast misty afternoon. These are also phone photos.

I took my pooch over to Lake Murray one day to see what it had to offer and let my dog step into some fresh water. It was quite a beautiful place! It was lined with a pedestrian/cyclist road that encompassed the entire lake with a golf course on one side and a marina with all kinds of recreational rentals. It was lively with dog walkers, families with strollers, bikers, hikers, rowers, fisherman, and lots of birds and ducks. The surrounding neighborhoods seemed quite classy as well. Certainly a great spot to get outdoors.

Some of the attractions I've gotten to see in San Diego so far are Lego Land and Sea World. Lego land was a world of it's own (see my upcoming blog) and Sea World did a nighttime celebration of Christmas that my aunt stumbled upon free tickets for. I didn't take many photos that night, and am not much of an advocate of theirs, but I had fun with the family and got a short ride on one of the coasters.

The last few places I've photographed in the short two months I've spent exploring San Diego are parts of Eastern San Diego including El Cajon, Spring Valley, and La Mesa coined "The Jewel of the Hills" and it really is quite cute. It houses Mount Helix that has a beautiful amphitheater and Cross monument at the top with 360 views where you can see just about every part of San Diego and even into Mexico.

All in all, this is only the tip of the iceberg as far as what San Diego has to offer. From Mission Valley, to Fashion Valley, to Tecolote Canyon, to North Park, to Hillcrest, to Mission Bay Park, Mission Trails Park, Chula Vista, Pacific Gateway Park, Bonita, San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Seaport Village, Old Town Historic Park, Point Loma, Cabrillo National Monument; there are endless attractions and entertainment that I have not yet had the chance to photograph or experience. Historic value, artistic culture, natural amazements, fashion meccas, marine and aquatic life and technical advancements; San Diego truly has it all. It's vibrant and full of entrepreneurial spirit while infused with ages of history portraying exuberant integrated culture. I feel like I have put my foot in my mouth after a couple decades of being a die hard mountain girl and thinking that Southern California was simply overcrowded, hot and unattractive. I will fully admit that I have certainly proven myself sorely wrong and would advise everyone to come see San Diego if even for a short time.

*All photos and text not cited are original work by Christina Uhl thank you for reading, and stay tuned for my next blog

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