personal reflections photography road trip San Diego

Cool San Diego in Warm December

As I was writing this piece, I realized that I have spent the last three Christmas holidays at beach resort locations in Miami and San Diego soaking up the sun in warm air with temperatures in the 70s and 80s.

California is a big state with 1,000 miles of coastline. My home in Monterey is about midway along California’s coast. The drive to San Diego is 490 miles. On our first full day of sightseeing, when cruising on a tour boat around San Diego Harbor, the temperature hit 80 Fahrenheit in the city on December 23.

This is an impressionist piece on San Diego scenes and scenery.

Party Central in Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego

2 A.M. San Diego on Christmas Eve and the partiers are screaming and yelling from the streets below as the last calls have been drunk by drunks in the Gaslamp Quarter before they hit the streets to wherever their heads will lie this morning.

San Diego Gaslamp
Gaslamp Quarter San Diego cover s large portion of downtown San Diego.

San Diego Convention Center on the San Diego harbor embarcadero is flanked by Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina, Hilton Bayfront San Diego and Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego hotels, combined with over 3,000 rooms.

San Diego Marina
Hotel towers left to right are Manchester Grand Hyatt (two towers with peaked roofs), Marriott Marquis (two central blue towers) and Hilton Bayfront (far right tower).

Around the Gaslamp Quarter and Petco Field are another Marriott, Hilton, Kimpton, Omni, Courtyard and many more hotels.

Bike cab
Lighted ped cab is a popular mode of transportation downtown in the Gaslamp Quarter.

The day began as I stepped outside the Andaz San Diego to walk around the downtown hotel. The morning daylight revealed streets lined with homeless on the sidewalks of California’s second largest city of 1.35 million. The sidewalks were a bit more ‘occupied’ around the hotel than I saw in other parts of the city. San Diego is nicknamed “America’s Finest City”.

Salvation Army
The Salvation Army San Diego at Seventh Avenue and F Street.

Turns out Andaz San Diego is across the street from the Salvation Army. On the east side of Andaz hotel, an obese white woman sat on the sidewalk with her empty coffee cup soliciting change. A dog slept beside her on the concrete in the morning sunlight. A gray haired woman conversed with her from her temporary home ten feet away on the opposite side of the sidewalk at an empty city parking lot. The older woman’s possessions filled black bags stuffed in a wheeled basket. On the sidewalk of the street north of the Andaz, a young shirtless black man bathed under the shade of a city tree using water from two 16 oz. plastic bottles.

Tourism is all about perspective

Life and tourism is all about perspective. The outside 7th floor rooftop dining at the Andaz San Diego is so far above street level that other people’s issues are easy to ignore. San Diego is a beautiful city to see when you delete life on the streets from the selected imagery and memory.

Andaz far above
Andaz San Diego rooftop above corner of Seventh Avenue and F Streets.

Military Coast of San Diego

This is my second Christmas holiday season in San Diego. The city is a convenient place for a family meeting with my sisters and parents. We have tried Monterey, but my hometown city is an expensive place to stay if you want an ocean view. Last year I stayed with my family at the Navy Lodge of Naval Air Station North Island. My parents paid something like $80 per night for a room on the beach of Coronado Island. Most hotels on Coronado’s beaches are hundreds of dollars per night.

Pelican in flight at dawn on the beach at NASNI on Coronado. That’s Mexico on the left.

Coronado Island is a sandy peninsula separating San Diego Harbor from the Pacific Ocean. The north end of Coronado is Naval Air Station North Island. The proximity of the international border to Mexico 15 miles away resulted in much of the San Diego Harbor being developed as military bases following the official acquisition of California in February 1848 with the Treaty of Guadelupe Hildago that ended the Mexican American War.  Naval Air Station North Island is situated on the south side entrance to San Diego Harbor on Coronado Island, home of the Pacific Fleet and the second largest naval port in the U.S. Norfolk, Virginia holds the largest naval fleet in the USA.

An ironic thought occurred to me as we cruised San Diego Harbor past dozens of large military vessels. My home town of Monterey is also the home of the Naval Postgraduate School since World War II. The number of U.S. Navy vessels I have seen in Monterey Bay over the past decade is a number I can count on the fingers of one hand. Monterey is a town with hundreds of Navy officers in residence, yet no military ships are stationed in Monterey Bay.

Naval Air Station North Island NASNI is the birthplace of naval aviation. Theodore Gordon Ellyson was designated Naval Aviator No. 1 after training at the Glenn Curtiss aviation school on North Island in 1911. On his first flight he crash landed. Ellyson designed a pontoon plane with Curtiss and he demonstrated the use of float planes for ships before the start of WWI. 

Naval Air Station North Island is also the home port of two aircraft carriers, USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan.

USS Ronald Reagan
USS Ronald Reagan anchored off Naval Air Station North Island. The top structure is wrapped in white plastic to prevent water contamination from the nuclear powered aircraft carrier as the ship is remodeled in port.

Point Loma is the elevated peninsula that forms the northern entrance to San Diego Harbor. The high ground of Point Loma was officially militarized in the early years of California statehood when on February 26, 1852 President Millard Fillmore set aside much of the land for military reservations.

Ship entering SD harbor
Military ship sailing into San Diego Harbor with Point Loma.

Since I spent much of my time last year at the Coronado Naval Air Station North Island on a restricted military base with my parents, this year I wanted to experience downtown San Diego. Even participating in regular tourist activities downtown, the military presence in San Diego is apparent all around the San Diego harbor. San Diego is a California beach city fortress.

The Navy Lodge at Naval Air Station North Island is the white building on the Coronado beach with downtown San Diego in background across the harbor.

Naval Air Station North Island Coronado is where Charles Lindbergh flew the Spirit of St. Louis in aircraft test runs around San Diego Bay before flying the airplane to New York.  Lindbergh won the $25,000 Orteig Prize for his historic 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Paris, the first nonstop transAtlantic solo flight. The prize had remained unclaimed since 1919. The Spirit of St. Louis was built in two months from Lindbergh’s design by Ryan Aircraft, a San Diego aircraft manufacturer in a location that is now San Diego International Airport. San Diego International is also known as Lindbergh Field.

Spirit of St. Louis
Spirit of St. Louis replica at Henry Ford Museum Dearborn, Michigan shows there was no front window on Charles Lindbergh’s aircraft.

In an interesting side note that could have changed history, Lindbergh narrowly avoided a midair collision in the Spirit of St. Louis trial flights over San Diego Bay. He almost had a head-on crash with a navy fighter plane. Lindbergh’s plane had no front windshield since the plane design was modified to carry extra fuel. There was a periscope for a frontal view, but the primary viewpoints were side windows. Lindbergh did not see the navy plane he was about to fly into and only the reaction of the navy pilot averted the collision.

San Diego Airport
San Diego International Airport is also known as Lindbergh Field.

San Diego International Airport has the distinction of being the busiest single-runway airport in the U.S., and second busiest in the world behind London Gatwick. San Diego is the eighth largest metropolitan area in the U.S. and the most populous city that does not serve as an airline primary or secondary hub. Southwest Airlines operates 32% of the traffic at the airport.

San Diego Bay
Cabrillo National Monument was created in 1906 and at 0.5 acres was the smallest park in the National Parks system until President Eisenhower ceded Point Loma military land to expand Cabrillo National Monument to 144 acres.

Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma celebrates the European discovery of San Diego Bay in the expedition of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo September 28, 1542. The harbor was originally named San Miguel.

Cabrillo also landed in Monterey later that year and there are many place names for Cabrillo in the Monterey Bay area, including Highway 1, aka PCH or Pacific Coast Highway in southern California is known as Cabrillo Highway in Monterey County.

Last year I spent several days looking at Point Loma from Coronado. This year I saw the view from Point Loma to Coronado and San Diego Bay. We sighted a gray whale within minutes of arriving at Point Loma. The view from Point Loma on a clear day is breathtaking.

Point Loma view
Point Loma view of Pacific Ocean. We sighted one whale spout from here.

Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma is an excellent location for viewing the city of San Diego and surrounding areas.


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