Travel to San Diego – Episode 494

categories: USA Travel

Travel to San Diego, California - Amateur Traveler Episode 494

Hear about travel to San Diego as the Amateur Traveler talks to Mike from about this beautiful city in Southern California.


Mike used to live in San Diego and continues to travel regularly over the years. Mike says, “I think San Diego is one of my favorite big cities in the U.S. For starters, the weather is simply fantastic year-round. There are so many activities that you won’t even begin to scratch the surface during a week-long trip. Of course, there are the famous attractions like SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, Seaport Village and Legoland, but there are a lot of other lesser-known sites and attractions such as the Wild Animal Safari Park or Birch Aquarium. ”

For a week-long stay, Mike recommends staying in 3 different locations to experience 3 different aspects of the city: Coronado Island, Downtown, and La Jolla.

On Coronado, Mike recommends an alternative hotel to the famous Hotel del Coronado. He starts a day in Coronado with renting a beach cruiser, a fat-tire bike, for a ride along the beach. Downtown he recommends for the nightlife, while some of his favorite, less crowded beaches are further north in La Jolla and Carlsbad. (see Things to do in North County San Diego)

We talk about museums like the aircraft carrier Midway and the Air & Space Museum, theme parks like Seaworld and Legoland as well as more quirky destinations like the Self Realization Fellowship Hermitage & Meditation Gardens. We talk about beach towns and camping, water sports, and where you can go hot air ballooning over vineyards.

We recommend Mexican food near California’s oldest mission in Old Town as well as dinner spots with great views and or great seafood. Mike also recommends a few spots for live music in the city.

Whether you just want a beach vacation a good margarita or you want to start your Pacific Coast Highway road trip, come enjoy the kind of city people think of when they think of California and the only other city that matches Chris’s wife’s 3 criteria for where she could live.

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Show Notes
San Diego Zoo
San Diego Safari Park
Birch Aquarium
1908 Lodge in Coronado
Hotel del Coronado
Peohe’s Restaurant – Fresh Seafood
Gaslamp Quarter
Kettner Exchange
Juniper & Ivy
Point Loma Seafood
Seaport Village
Little Italy
USS Midway
Balboa Park
Campland on the Bay
San Diego Air & Space Museum
Carlsbad Beaches – Visit Carlsbad
Pacific Beach, San Diego
Old Town San Diego
Heritage County Park
Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park
Mt. Helix Park
Self Realization Fellowship Hermitage & Meditation Gardens
Humphreys Half Moon Inn & Suites
Julian California
Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association
Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá
Mike on San Diego


@BookportPaula wrote on twitter:

@chris2x love your podcasts and listen when I drive! Would help if all guests spelled their name and you posted somewhere to refer back to

Roslyn wrote about the Great Smoky Mountains episode 245

Hello, Chris!

I’m fairly new listener to your Amateur Traveler, and am loving the variety within the episodes! It’s feeding the wanderlust bug that’s slowly been taking over my daydreams.

I just listened to the Great Smoky Mountains episode (Episode 345–a REAL archive!) and it took me back to my internship in 2013 as a park ranger intern in the national park! I found myself nodding in full-hearted agreement of some of the things to see in the Smokies, and do remember seeing the name-sake “Smoke” rising off the tops of the mountains. It truly is a surreal experience!

Clingmans Dome is definitely THE place to watch the sunrise and sunset if you time it right! (The trick is getting up there when there aren’t clouds–the lowlands can be clear and Clingmans Dome can be socked in. But be sure to have a sweatshirt or jacket regardless–it can get COLD up there depending on what time of year you get there)

Something I wanted add for your listeners if they were interested in what else there is to see in the park besides Cades Cove and Clingmans Dome itself, which were mentioned in the podcast. Traveling eastward from those sites, right before entering the town of Cherokee is the Oconaluftee (pronounced Oh-CON-ahl-UHFF-tee) Visitor Center, which includes a Mountain Farm Museum.

Before the park was established, the land was privately owned as homesteads, so a number of families had barns, spring houses, cabins, and other wooden structures to accommodate survival in the Smokies before the logging industry took advantage of the virgin timber in the area. In the process of creating the park to let the ecosystem recover from over-harvesting of the trees, residents were forced out and these buildings were destroyed.

Because the “eminent domain” card was played and people were still very bitter when US-441 was constructed and opened, Tennessee “transferred ownership…to the federal government, it stipulated that ‘no toll or license fee shall ever be imposed’ to travel the road.” (Source: And since US-441 bisects the park, admission to the park is free. Camping and backpacking permits are still charged, but that’s different.

Somewhere within the process of structure removal, someone realized the historical significance these buildings would have for future generations, and a few of them buildings were rescued and gathered together in one spot. Cades Cove is kind of the same in keeping some of the historical cabins, but not in the consolidated fashion as is what is at the Mountain Farm Museum. In the summer, a vegetable garden and sorghum field is manually run–as long as the resident elk don’t trample and eat it all!

Another area of interest is the Cataloochee (pronounced the same way it’s spelled) Valley. It’s about 2.5 hours from Cherokee, because you have to drive out, around, and back into the park to get there. There are some historical buildings here as well, but a big draw for many is the elk.

Elk were once a native species in the Appalachians, and were reintroduced in the Cataloochee Valley in 2005. The population has grown since then (and expanded to Cherokee!), and the fall is the heart of the rut season. By then, the bulls have huge racks of antlers, and begin to call to the cows. One word of caution to those hoping to visit: the elk are still wild animals, and especially during the rut, can be especially dangerous. Rangers encourage a 50 yard minimum distance from the animals, and feeding/petting is subject to fines. Keeping a distance keeps the elk safe, too! The less habituated they are to people, the less of a chance of a visitor getting hurt and the elk being relocated or removed entirely.

The Great Smoky Mountains are deeply enriched with natural and cultural history…thank you and your podcast for taking me back to those memories!



Travel to San Diego, California - Amateur Traveler Episode 494


Chris: Amateur traveler episode 494. Today, the Amateur Traveler talks about sun and beaches, killer whales and Legos, as we go to San Diego, California.

Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by RoamRight, a leading provider of travel insurance. What if you booked and paid for your vacation and then couldn’t travel? With the right travel insurance plan. you could get your money back. RoamRight covers canceled trips, lost luggage, even medical emergencies. Visit That’s for more information.

Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host Chris Christensen. Now, let’s talk about San Diego.

I am very pleased to welcome to the show Mike, from Mike’s Road who’s come to talk to us about San Diego. Mike, welcome to the show.

Mike: Hey, thanks so much, Chris. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Chris: Yeah, well, it’s nice to have you on the show. Mike and I have known each other I don’t know for how long now. We keep running into each other at travel blogging conferences, but we didn’t this year, I think. So, it’s good to talk to you. You don’t live in San Diego now, but you have in the past.

Mike: That’s correct, yeah. And I’ve visited a lot over the years.

Chris: Okay, and why should someone go to San Diego?

Mike: Well, for me, I think San Diego is one of my favorite big cities in the US. For starters, the weather is just simply fantastic, year-round. There’s just so many activities, that you will not even begin to scratch off the surface during a week-long trip. Of course, there’s the famous attractions like Sea World and the San Diego Zoo and Seaport Village and Lego Land. But there are a lot of other lesser-known sites and attractions, such as the Wild Animal Safari Park or Birch Aquarium.

Chris: I should tell people, this is the second time we’ve done a show on San Diego, but the last one was almost ten years ago, so it seemed like a good time to revisit the city. And as I was telling Mike, San Diego is one of the only other cities that my wife can live because she has three criteria. She has to be near a major city with all the requisite arts and entertainment and such that happens there, it has to be near a beach and it has to have a national league baseball team. We really want to rule out New York City and Florida, San Diego is really about the only other place we could live.

Mike: Yeah, I have to concur. It’s a great city.

Chris: Excellent. So, where would you start someone who is visiting San Diego?

Mike: If you’re going to go to San Diego for a week, I would probably recommend staying in three different locations so that you can really get a flair for the entire city. I might start in the southern part, say Coronado Island, and then maybe move to downtown and then probably end up, say, in La Jolla.

Chris: Okay, interesting.

Mike: Yeah, I think we put people last time in either Heritage Park or someplace up more by hotel circle, which is a little further north of that.

Chris: Now, why those three destinations? Let’s talk about, first of all, Coronado Island.

Mike: Well, I think the first night I would probably stay on Coronado Island, and you could probably do one of two things. You could actually either stay the night on Coronado, or you could stay downtown and take the pedestrian ferry over to Coronado Island rather than staying in the over-rated, famed Hotel Dell. I would recommend staying across the street at, say, the 1908 Lodge. While you’re not right on the beach, it’s just a block away and the accommodations are much nicer at a comparable rate, which also includes a fantastic breakfast.

And then, while on Coronado, I would absolutely rent a beach cruiser for half a day and explore the island. It’s so much fun riding around on the beach and actually through the water. And there are so many places to stop and take in the views of both San Diego Harbor and downtown, as well as the Pacific Ocean.

Chris: Now, you say a beach cruiser.

Mike: Yes.

Chris: I don’t know what we’re doing here, so it’s an ATV?

Mike: No, no, no. A beach cruiser is a type of bike that’s got the big, fat wheels.

Chris: Oh, okay. Got it, all right.

Mike: I would almost go so far as to say that it was invented on Coronado Island because their beach is kind of gradual, so the sand is very packed so it’s very easy to ride on the beach. It’s just a really cool experience.

Chris: Okay, interesting. I have not done this. And you talked about staying on Coronado. The only option that I knew was the Hotel Coronado, the classic hotel. Then you called the Hotel…

Mike: The Hotel Dell, or the Hotel Dell-Coronado, yeah.

Chris: I assumed we were using the local slang, there.

Mike: Yeah, and I think while you’re also on the island, in addition to strolling Main street or the main drag which is also known as Orange Street, there’s a ton of great restaurants there. But one of my favorites on the other side of the island near the San Diego Harbor, and that’s Phoebe’s. And they have some fantastic patio dining, often with live music. And if you go there, you have to get the crab stack appetizer. It is wonderful.

Chris: Okay, excellent. And then you moved us downtown. And downtown has changed I think even in the last 10 years since we did the last episode on San Diego.

Mike: Yeah, the Gas Lamp district in San Diego has really morphed into just one of the best downtowns in the country, not only for wonderful lodging, but at leading brands and boutique inns, but the culinary cluster down there, foodies will absolutely rejoice. The restaurants are spectacular and so, too, is the nightlife. There’s absolutely no shortage of hot bars and clubs to visit.

Chris: Do you have a favorite hot bar or club to visit in downtown?

Mike: I would say Ketner Exchange. It’s got great atmosphere, it’s impeccable service. It’s got a great vibe. It’s kind of a yuppie place where you’ll find a lot of locals. And then Juniper and Ivy, it’s really a hip place with sophisticated atmosphere and the food is so creative that it’s actually difficult to classify.

Chris: And of course, we mentioned my wife’s love for baseball. The baseball stadium has moved downtown, is one of the things that’s changed in terms of downtown. It used to be way off in the suburbs, but there is more going on now in the city, right downtown.

Mike: Yeah, and if you do stay downtown, you don’t really need a car. And the airport is so close to downtown that you can take the trolley system, or of course, you can always use your Uber app.

Chris: Okay, excellent. What else would you recommend we do downtown, in terms of sights?

Mike: I would say one of my favorite places is the Cabrillo National Monument. It’s in Point Loma. It’s a wonderful area that affords amazing views of the city in both directions. There is a National Cemetery there, so you can go there and honor our soldiers. There’s also an area that is very popular among locals, where you can go and view the tide pools. So, that’s kind of a cool area, as well.

And if you’re in that area, I would then highly recommend Point Loma Seafood Company. This is one of the best places for fresh seafood. They’re literally right there in the pier, a few feet from the fishing vessels that come in. And I am, I have to say, kind of a fish and chip connoisseur. The best fish and chips I’ve ever been.

Chris: Now, we’ve mentioned two sites without really talking about the geography. One is Coronado Island, and the other is Point Loma. Those are the two jaws of the harbor, San Diego Bay. So, you just went out to the barrier breakwater for the harbor, basically, to the end of Point Loma.

Mike: That’s true.

Chris: And then Coronado was also where the naval base is. So, as I’m looking over at the harbor, I’m also looking over at aircraft carriers and things like that, as well, depending on who’s on port at a given time.

Mike: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. From the top of the Cabrillo National Monument Area in Point Loma, you are looking down on Coronado Island to the southeast.

Chris: Okay, I’m looking at a map and it’s actually northeast, but okay.

Mike: Oh, there you go.

Chris: Well, at least to the closest part, to the naval air field there.

Mike: Okay, yeah.

Chris: So, the rest of the island is to the southeast.

Mike: Thank you for the geography correction.

Chris: Well, that’s okay. Excellent. Any other sites that you would recommend in that downtown area?

Mike: Yeah, not too far is Seaport Village and that is a wonderful area for people watching, for shopping. One of the coolest things I think is the street performers, some amazing street performers you’ll find down there. I remember one time I was there watching this pogo stick act. They had about five or six of these guys. You know on these pogo sticks you had as a kid?

Chris: Sure, yeah.

Mike: And these were super-charged. They were getting, I must say, 15 feet in the air, doing flips and all kinds of acrobatics. It was spectacular.

However, toward the end of one of the shows at a grand finale, one of the guys was so high in the air and when he came back down, he didn’t quite hit square and he was a little bit of an angle. And I’ll tell you, that guy almost propelled himself right over the sea wall into the water. But an amazing act. There’s all kinds of great talent down there.

Chris: Excellent. The other thing that we talked about in the last episode that I love in that area, that I think was a surprise to me until we were talking to a friend who was living in San Diego, is Little Italy.

Mike: Oh, yeah.

Chris: We were there for the Columbus Day celebration when they bring out the bands and the have the restaurants overflow into the streets. Some nice restaurants there, very casual restaurants, very old school, I think, some of the ones that we’ve been to there. But also, then they also had chalk art, these amazing masterpieces that of course, are going to wash away in the next day or two that people were doing on the streets. I remember there was one that was a chalk art Mona Lisa.

Mike: Oh, very cool. Little Italy is just a fantastic microcosm of downtown, which there’s all these little pockets that have such life down there. It’s a lot of fun.

Chris: Yeah. It’s what, two, three blocks long?

Mike: Yeah, yeah.

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Chris: The one place I haven’t been downtown, and I don’t know if you have, is the USS Midway Museum.

Mike: Yes. Yeah, that’s a fantastic place as well. They have something like 29 restored aircraft, or airplanes, I should say.

Chris: From the different time period that the Midway was in service.

Mike: Correct. Yeah. It’s a wonderful area to get really up and close to a lot of these aircraft. And then they have a lot of military personnel, you can ask questions; a lot of retired naval folks. I’ll tell you one story that was really interesting. When I worked downtown…and I didn’t know this before this, but I worked for a leading yacht dealer right on Harbor Island. And one time, I saw all this commotion going on, and there was one of the aircraft carriers coming into port. And the whole aircraft was surrounded by the sailors in their white uniforms, and they had the band playing and everything else. I didn’t know what the symbolism was, I didn’t know what the reason for this was. And I guess they do this every time…it’s only when the ships are going out and coming back from moor.

Chris: Oh, okay. Oh, I didn’t realize that.

Mike: Yeah, and it was an amazing thing to see. Imagine just thousands of sailors on this ship and they’re all in their dress whites, and they’ve got the band playing. It was really quite an amazing experience.

Chris: Well, that is one thing about San Diego is it does have a huge Navy presence there, Navy and Marines, as well. So, that’s something to be aware of. So, if you’re looking for something…a little piece in to that, the midway museum. And I think the Midway, as I recall, was commissioned obviously after the Battle of Midway. So it was commissioned, I believe, in the late part of World War II and then served right up through Korea and Vietnam, and was involved in the Apollo Space Program, as well, as I recall, for some of the recoveries of the astronauts.

Mike: I believe you’re correct. I didn’t know that about the space missions though. That’s very interesting.

Chris: Well, I could be wrong. I’ll look that up while you move us on to whatever we’re talking about next.

Mike: Well, I think also when you’re down in the downtown area, certainly Balboa Park is worth a visit. The museums, the space museum as you were just mentioning, car museum and then of course, they have the traveling exhibits. So Balboa Park is a great place to visit. And if you’re in to camping, the Mission Bay Campground is really awesome. The views are spectacular, and then of course, there’s a lot of activities. You can rent a sailboat, go jet-skiing, and then downtown as well, or not far from it, is Sea World. And that’s one of the main attractions in San Diego, and certainly a place I would recommend. I’ve been there many times and it’s a great experience.

Chris: Now, there has obviously been some controversy about Sea World. By the way, I was wrong about Apollo. I know the sister ship took place in Apollo, but I don’t see anything that says the Midway did. And it also served for longer than I realized. So, a couple of things there. One is you mentioned the Space Museum, and I don’t know about the Space Museum.

Mike: Yeah, to tell you the truth, I haven’t been there. I just know that it exists within Balboa Park. That’s one of the things I think Balboa is really well-known for, is the various museums that are within the park.

Chris: And the zoo is in the park as well.

Mike: Yeah, there you go. And I know one of the questions you wanted to ask me was what maybe some of the over-rated things that you might find in a guidebook that I think might be a waste of time. I don’t know if this is a good way to segue way to that, but since we mentioned the zoo…I mean, people may throw virtual stones at me for saying this…

Chris: Oh, they will, yes.

Mike: …but I would say the zoo is probably one of the things that you could maybe miss when you visit San Diego, only because there are so many other unique things to do. Yeah, it’s a great zoo, but for me, it’s a zoo similar to others in other big cities. Like I said, I just think there’s a lot of other unique things that you could do if you had a limited time in the city.

Chris: And I might have to disagree with you, in part, at least. I think I would say that it’s one of the best zoos in the US, but if you were going to see wild animals, I think we’re going to talk about a place later on that I would recommend more highly. Is that fair enough?

Mike: Yeah, absolutely.

Chris: And we’ll leave that for…and it’s not Sea World. But now, let’s get back to Sea World. So, obviously, they’ve been having kind of a bad time in terms of some PR things involving killer whales and how are they treating them, and the documentary that came out and such. Are you seeing that impact the park that much, both the tourism, and in terms of what they’re doing in the park in terms of how they’re addressing that controversy?

Mike: I don’t know that I could really speak on that. That would be more for a spokesperson at Sea World to maybe talk about. I don’t know. I’ll tell you, that place, it really draws a crowd, and for good reason. It is a really amazing experience in so many different ways. They have things that are actually completely unrelated to animals. I think for me, because I’m a huge fan of water skiing, they have an amazing water-ski show there, so it’s completely unrelated to animals. So, they have a lot of other attractions.

Chris: Okay, excellent. And then you were heading a little further north then, to Mission Bay, and we’re talking about camping. Tell us a little more about what Mission Bay is. Mission Bay, as I recall, is an artificial bay.

Mike: Yes, and that’s also right there next to Sea World. Sea World encompasses that. There’s a lot of attractions right around there. Of course, you’ve got the beaches and there’s hotels and then as I mentioned, the camping. They have a lot of water sport activities. Frequently, you’ll see water-ski competitions out there. You can rent a little Hobie Cat, which I’ve done. It’s just a lot of fun. And maybe even rent a jet ski and zoom around the lake.

Chris: And when we say Hobie Cat, that one I do know. I’ve been on a Hobie Cat, so we’re talking about a small sailboat. A twin-hull sailboat.

Mike: Yes.

Chris: And they are fun. They are great fun if you’re on with somebody who knows what they’re doing, which I was.

Mike: Yeah, and if you get one with a jib-sail on it, you can really move.

Chris: Absolutely. Now, you mentioned beaches. Since people are throwing stones at you anyway, your favorite beach in San Diego.

Mike: So, I’m a little bit older. I don’t really like the crowds and everything, so I would say one of my favorite beaches in San Diego County is actually farther north in Carlsbad. It’s a very expansive beach. A lot fewer people are there. You can absolutely throw the Frisbee around and what I find fun there, you’ll often see kite-boarders. And that is just a thrill to watch these guys jumping the waves and everything. And for some reason, the kite-boarders seem to gravitate to that area.

Chris: Excellent. Interesting. My co-host for this week of travel, Jen Leo, lives in Carlsbad, so she will love the fact that you gave Carlsbad a nod there. I’m more familiar with Pacific beach, which is a beach town feel to it. Is Carlsbad like that as well?

Mike: No, I wouldn’t say. The younger folks will absolutely gravitate toward Mission Beach and Pacific Beach, and maybe Ocean Beach, which is a little south of those two beaches. La Jolla is also a wonderful beach. There’s just an amazing cluster of beaches as you travel further north.

Chris: Okay, excellent. And before you start saying get off my lawn, what else would we talk about in San Diego? What other highlights are there?

Mike: I’ll tell you. Some of the things that I really like is…the Birch Aquarium is another fantastic destination and it’s right on the water, so the views are great. Old Town, which is a little bit east of downtown.

Chris: Very close to the airport.

Mike: Yeah, not far at all. That’s got a great vibe, very authentic Mexican experience. There’s a haunted hotel, great restaurants, a lot of Mexican music being played, homemade tortillas, so it’s a fun experience.

Chris: Right, and that’s actually just above there, only…walking distance from there is Heritage Park, where they took a lot of the old Victorians and put them in Heritage Park when they needed to move them for freeways and things like that. So, we’ve actually stayed there once when we were…oh, a long time ago. I think it was our pre-baby honeymoon that was going to be to Hawaii, and we looked at the budget and decided San Diego was a lovely place.

Mike: Indeed.

Chris: Excellent.

Mike: I’ve got a couple of other places that people may not be familiar with. This is another one in Carlsbad, actually. Leo Carrillo Ranch historic park. It’s a great place to have a picnic and stroll the historic grounds, maybe even taking pictures of the peacocks. They have a lot of peacocks running around the property. Another interesting place that may not be that familiar with people is Mount Helix, which is east of downtown in La Mesa. Not only is it a nice hike up there, but you can also drive and park. And they have an amphitheater where they have plays and concerts, and as the Christmas Season is coming up, it’s a great place to listen to some Christmas Carols.

Chris: Excellent. Interesting. Now, you worked your way up to Carlsbad. Am I right that Carlsbad is also where Lego Land is?

Mike: That is correct, yeah. There’s another place, I think it’s a little bit south of Carlsbad. It’s called the Self-Revitalization Fellowship Meditation Gardens. It’s a long name, but it’s a beautiful place on this bluff. The views are just spectacular. It’s a really wonderful place to go there and relax and meditate. It’s a place off the beaten path. And then one other place I might mention is Humphreys, and this is on Shelter Island back down toward the Point Loma area. Not only do they have a hotel, they have a great restaurant, but they have a wonderful live music venue and they often get some really well-known acts there. If you have a boat, you can actually boat up to the back side of the lounge area and listen to the music, free of charge.

Chris: Excellent. What’s going to surprise someone the first time they come to San Diego?

Mike: I think that the sheer quantity of things that you can do in this city. There’s just no shortage of fantastic attractions, but also activities. There’s a slew of wonderful gastronomic experiences, great nightlife. I think people will, if they’ve never been to the West Coast or been to San Diego, they’ll just be surprised at how much there is to see and do.

Chris: Well, and you say “haven’t been to the West Coast.” We have the core people that come to San Francisco thinking they’re going to California and yet, their picture is really more Los Angeles or San Diego, and they’re really expecting the beach town, they’re expecting the weather and such. So, it really is what we picture when we picture California, is more of the life in San Diego.

Mike: You’ve hit the nail on the head. You’re absolutely right. It feels like that California town, that California beach town.

Chris: Right. We usually ask what’s the best time of year to go someplace. First of all, is there any bad time of year to go to San Diego?

Mike: You know, there might be a bad time and I would say it might be June. They have something in San Diego called June gloom. And for whatever reason, June often has a lot of overcast weather. So, that might be one month to avoid. The weather in San Diego is pretty temperate. It’s pretty similar year round. It varies about 10 degrees from summer to winter. So in the summer, depending on how far you are inland, temperatures might range from, say. 70 to 80, where in the winter, those same temperatures might be 60 to 70.

Chris: And typically, I’m going to guess that in the summer, the shore is cooler, and in the winter, the inland is cooler.

Mike: Yeah, I think that may be a fair assessment. It’s certainly…as soon as you get inland, too, in the summer months, it can get quite warm: 85, 95 degrees, easily. But as you get coastal, that’ll drop 10, 15 degrees.

Chris: Yep, okay. And what side trips should we see when we’re in San Diego?

Mike: A couple that come to mind would be Julian, which is off of Interstate 8, east of San Diego. It’s a charming little town, very famous for their apple pie. There’s also Temecula, which is northeast of San Diego, a great place for boutique inns. It’s very well-known as being wine country, and there’s also a lot of hot-air ballooning activities.

Chris: Oh, I didn’t know hot-air ballooning. And the wine seems like a relatively new thing to me, Temecula to be a wine region, but I’m definitely hearing more about it now than I used to.

Mike: Yeah, absolutely. You might be right. I’m not sure how long wine has been going on in Temecula, but certainly for the last 15, 20 years, it seems as though it’s been a go-to place for those even from Palm Springs and San Diego to descend on.

Chris: Okay. As we start to wrap this up, your best day, the perfect ideal San Diego day.

Mike: I think one of my favorite days in San Diego might be taking a beach cruiser down Coronado Island, having lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, sailing a Hobie Cat across Mission Bay, throwing a Frisbee along the expansive beach of Carlsbad, and then ending the evening with an authentic meal in Old Town at a Mexican restaurant.

Chris: Excellent. If it ends with a Mexican restaurant, I’m definitely with you. And I was with you the rest of the day, as well. One thing we didn’t say about Old Town: Old Town is also the home for the Mission San Diego, the oldest of the California branch of the Spanish missions in Alta, California. There’s older ones further south around there.

Mike: Well, I did not know that. That’s a great tidbit. I had no idea.

Chris: Isn’t that where the mission is?

Mike: Yes, there is. I didn’t realize it was the oldest.

Chris: Oh, yeah. They’re oldest from South to North. They were built going up the state.

Mike: I see.

Chris: The youngest of them is the Sonoma Mission.

Mike: Okay.

Chris: You’re standing in the prettiest spot in San Diego. Where are you standing and what are you looking at?

Mike: That’s a good question. You know, I had just mentioned that Self-Revitalization Fellowship Meditation Garden, which I believe is in Encinitas or bordering Carlsbad. Oh my gosh, the views there are sensational. To watch the sunset, I don’t think you can find a better spot.

Chris: Excellent. One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in San Diego.”

Mike: Only in San Diego will you see a sign on the freeway of a mother holding her three children’s hands running across the freeway.

Chris: That is unusual. Now, you’ve got give us a little more context, but I know what you’re talking about. I’ve seen the sign.

Mike: Yeah, I can only assume that the sign means that there are people crossing the freeway and you need to be aware, and I assume it’s because they’re coming across the border illegally. I don’t know.

Chris: Yeah, the sign that I’m thinking of is just after you get over the border from Tijuana.

Mike: Yeah.

Chris: Yeah, it’s an unusual sign, I grant you that. Well, and we should say that assuming that conditions are good in Tijuana, you’re also very close to the border there, and a number of people there do take the opportunity to take a day trip down to Tijuana, if they’re so inclined. I have done that myself.

Mike: Yeah, absolutely. Some great shopping down there.

Chris: Absolutely. And that’s just in the car waiting to cross the border on the way back as people are bringing things to your car. If you’re looking for a pink Plaster of Paris “Last Supper” with glitter, I’m not sure that there’s a better place to find it.

Mike: Or Chiclets.

Chris: Or Chiclets, that’s true. That’s absolutely true. Finish this sentence: You really know you’re in San Diego when…what?

Mike: When you smell the ocean breeze.

Chris: Okay, and if you had to summarize San Diego in three words, what three words would you use?

Mike: Beautiful, tasty and energetic.

Chris: Energetic. Okay, and why “energetic?” Lots of outdoor sports?

Mike: It’s a city where the weather is so wonderful year-round, that everyone’s outdoors. There’s a lot of energy in the air, and that’s not just during the day. You go down to the Gas Lamp, the restaurant, the bar scene, there’s just a buzz. There’s a lot of energy in San Diego.

Chris: Excellent. Mike, from Mike’s Road Trip, has been our guest. Mike, is there a great post on Mike’s RoadTrip about San Diego that we should point people to?

Mike: Yeah, actually. If you go to Mike’s, you will find a whole list of things to do in town. And if you have any questions at all about San Diego, I would love to field them. You can send me an email. I’d be happy to answer them.

Chris: Excellent. Did you want to give your email, or should they re-route it through me?

Mike: If they hit my website, they can go to the contact page and certainly find the email address there.

Chris: Terrific. Mike, so good to talk to you, and thank you for coming and sharing with us your love for San Diego.

Mike: Hey, you as well, Chris. Thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate it.

Chris: In news of the community, only 6 of the 16 slots for that trip in April of 2016 to Cambodia are left. More details, again, on the show notes. Just look at the “Book Travel” tab for information about that.

I heard from Paula through Twitter who said, “@Chris to X. Love your podcast and listen when I drive. It would help if all guests spelled their name and you posted it somewhere to refer back to.” Ah, but I do. There are two different places where you can find it. One is, we always have the show notes at the Amateur Traveler’s site. You can find that by name. For recent shows, it’ll show up on the top page. But also, if you look at the lyrics for any given episode within your player, you should be able to find “Lyrics.” And within there, you’ll find the links for everything we talk about on the show, as well as a description of what we talk about. The community information, like Paula’s tweet, will be in there. So again, lyrics or the show notes at

I had an email recently from Roslyn who said she’d just listened to the Great Smoky Mountains episode, that’s episode 345 for those of you keeping score. She says, “It took me back to my internship in 2013 as a Park Ranger intern in the National Park. I found myself nodding in full-hearted agreement of some of the things to see in the Smokies, and do remember seeing the namesake, Smoke, rising off the tops of mountains. It truly is a surreal experience. Clingmans Dome is definitely the place to watch the sunrise and sunset if you time it right. The trick is getting up there when there aren’t clouds. The lowlands can be clear and Clingmans Dome can be socked in. Be sure to have a sweatshirt or jacket regardless, it can get cold up there depending on what time of the year you get there.

Something I wanted to add for your listeners if they’re interested in what there is to see in the park besides caves, cove, and Clingmans Dome itself, which were mentioned in the podcast. Traveling eastward from these sites, right before entering the town of Cherokee is the Oak and Olive Tea Visitor’s Center, which includes a mountain farm museum. Before the park was established, the land was privately owned as homesteads, so a number of families had barns, spring houses, cabins and other wooden structures to accommodate survival in the Smokies before the logging industry took advantage of the virgin timber in the area.

In the process of creating the park to let the ecosystem recover from the over-harvesting of the trees, residents were forced out and these buildings were destroyed because the eminent domain card was played. And people were still very bitter when US 441 was constructed. It opened Tennessee “transferred ownership” to the Federal Government. It stipulated that no toll or license fee shall be imposed to travel the road. And since US 441 bisects the park, admission to the park is free. Camping and backpacking permits are still charged for, but that’s different.” You can check out all of Roslyn’s comments with other things to see in the area, either in the show notes or in the lyrics, as we said.

With that, we’re going to end this episode of Amateur Traveler. Remember our sponsor RoamRight. And also the transcript of this episode is sponsored by JAYWay Travel, experts in Eastern European travel. If you have a comment, send me an email at host at or leave a comment on those show notes which we mentioned at And as always, thanks so much for listening.

Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

4 Responses to “Travel to San Diego – Episode 494”



I am in San Diego right now for a conference! This episode is perfectly timed and I will take some of your guest’s recommendations. One thing I would add is that San Diego is full of craft breweries and great brew pubs, and I have been enjoying many of the different local beers. If people are interested, has all the information you could need to find the many breweries. Thanks for the great episode!



thanks for letting the beer drinkers know that great resource



Great episode introducing San Diego! I grew up in lovely Carlsbad, lived near downtown for two years, and started hosting Couchsurfers recently so have been thinking about places to visit. I definitely second the San Diego beer scene as an attraction with excellent local beer to be found in just about every neighborhood! I would also like to note that the mission is not in Old Town, but further northeast in Mission Valley by the football stadium and big malls. One random cool museum in Balboa Park to add is the model train museum – a very detailed, extensive, funky little spot! And a food tip: City Tacos in the North Park neighborhood is delicious and popular.

Mark Carrara


My wife and I were in the San Diego area during this Christmas. We had two days to spend with two of our grandsons, age 5 and 7. Day two we visited the Birch aquarium. The kids had a great time as did grandma and grandpa. We also were impressed by the views from Cabrillo NM. On the first day we did something your guest did not mention. We took Nate Harrison Grade, one of several gravel roads up the side of Palomar Mountain. Suitable for almost any family vehicle. Great views along the way.

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