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San Diego (USA)

Our family decided to spend the holiday week between Christmas and New Year’s in Sunny San Diego! Why would we choose such a seemingly random location? Young Kal, our 17 year old hoop-head, had a multi-day basketball tournament. Plus, given the relatively short yet incredibly scenic 4.5 hour drive, San Diego sounded like a great way to combine our two favorite things: Family and Adventure.

Personally, I have a deeper, older connection to San Diego. When I was 6, my then single mother took me and my grandmother on my 1st airplane from New England to California. My memories of that trip are some of the oldest, and most cherished of my entire life.

I remember a zoo that you drove through, with no bars between you and the animals. To a 6 year old it felt like I was on an actual African safari.

I remember going to my 1st foreign country, Mexico, a short 30 minute drive, just 20 mile south to the border. I remember a marketplace in Tijuana with rows of golden lions, painted wooden statues. They loomed taller than me and appeared to gaze down into my eyes with their own, red plastic gems. My 6 year old brain thought they were rubies.

I remember touching one and the cheap glue popped off. The gem was now in my hand.

My chest felt hollow.

Horrified, I turned my head to see if anyone witnessed my crime, then my eyes met anothers.

Down the long aisles, peering directly at me, stood the shopkeeper, his face full of rage.

He roared, “I will call the police on you and tell your mother and they will not let you go home!”

I believed every word.

I thought my heart left my body.

Adrenalin took over, filling my being.

For one half a heart beat more we stared, then, like a cannonball, I exploded down an aisle.

Up and down clutter filled caverns of tchotchke I bolted and cut, hoping to lose the Tijuana police force converging on my location. To think, at only 6, my life was already over. I was too young to become a hardened criminal on the streets of Mexico.

Hours later, (ok, probably like 60 seconds) I found my mother and ushered her quickly out of the market. We needed to go, somewhere, anywhere, NOW.

Full of curiosity, she took me back to the safety of California. Hopefully the US did not extradite minors for such crimes.

The police never came. Even as I write this today, I wonder back. Did that terrifying shop keeper ever call anyone?, Or was it just a wicked joke played on a naive child.

My last memory of San Diego was my most cherished. A giant tree, the largest I’d ever seen. Wider than a basketball court, it was like 10 normal size trees were somehow extruding out a single trunk. I would later learn it was an ancient fig tree, but to my six year old perspective, it was like the HomeTree in Avatar.

Ok, not to date myself, but back then I imagined I was on the forest moon of Endor in the Star Wars classic, Return of the Jedi.

In the fig’s canopy busseled the Ewok’s treetop village, full of swarming boys and girls. Because of its wide low hanging branches, crevices, and gaps, the fig felt like a natural tree house. No, a tree town, where you could almost get lost, hidden away from your parents' view far below on the jungle floor.

Up there, the children ruled. To this day I’ve never seen that tree’s equal.


Our trip to San Diego was quiet and uneventful as we left our home in Scottsdale, AZ late in the day and drove mostly after sunset. In two cars, we packed 4 adults, 2 children, 2 dogs, and Junior (Ju as we affectionately call him), and over the next 360 miles we planned our 8 night stay through the New Year. Our main priorities were: to go to Balboa Park (home of the massive Moreton Bay Fig Tree from my youth), the world renown San Diego Zoo, (crucial plot point in the hilarious animated film, Madagascar), Sea World (low key highlight of the trip), and to explore the Gaslamp Quarter where we were staying.

We checked into the pet friendly Solamar San Diego in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter. Countless Restaurants, clubs, bars, and Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres Baseball team, were within walking distance. We were right where we wanted to be for New Years Eve later that week, the heart of all the fucking action.

The Solamar would become like a home away from home to us. Great for dog owners, one can walk their pet through the hotel on leash and then around the block. The hotel even provides poop bags.

The 4th floor pool deck looked out over the pedestrian filled streets below and provided picturesque views of the district.

The week started slow with most of our routine revolving around Young Kal’s games.


We explored the Gaslamp Quarter around the Solamar. In the morning, Babygirl and I ventured a short 10 minute walk south to the San Diego Bay. The beautiful shore line was a blend of parks, paths, coffee shops and the San Diego Convention Center. We walked up the center's stairs to a view of the Seaport and the Coronado peninsula 1/4 a mile across the water. A mammoth aircraft carrier was at port at the Navel station, and The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park rounded out notable sights to see.

The weather wasn’t quite sunny in San Diego despite the city’s reputation. Late December reminded me of April in Boston. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes raw and wet. We definitely got more of the latter this trip. Temperatures that week was mostly in the low 60’s but when it rained it was in the high 40’s. Luckily for us, the week got warmer and dryer as we got closer to the weekend. You live, you learn. We will definitely return during the warmer months!

Navigating the pedestrian friendly Gaslamp Quarter was a pleasure. For those who choose not to walk, there are a large assortment of options in the electric scooter sharing department, from companies like Lime to Wheelz (which you can sit on). Scooter Gangs, I’m looking at you 👀. Note, there were super annoying “pedestrian zones” where the scooters would slow to a crawl to avoid collisions into walkers. If you unknowingly ride into these zones, you will have to manually push the scooter back out to go full electric again.


Was our first attempt to go to the San Diego Safari Park (Not to be confused with the San Diego Zoo. Yes, there’s 2, details to follow). We /I failed.

I purchased 5 one hour passes to the WIldlife Safari that started at 12:45. This $89 premium safari tour goes behind the senses, and gives a more intimate experience with the animals than the park's basic safari, which comes standard with the $65 park entry.

To start, there was some confusion if we needed to spend an extra $65 per person just to enter the park to go on our premium safari (Turns out you don’t)

Already late, this made us later. Parking was also, well, a zoo. With little direction from zoo personnel, the parking situation felt like arriving at the mall’s, 3 days before Christmas.

I thought we could arrive at 12:40, bang out the safari in 60 min, and be on our way to catch Young Kal’s game later that day at 2:15. When we arrived at 1PM (I know BPT) we were informed we should have arrived at 12:25, and ultimately lost our chance for the safari that day, and $500


I guess I should have read the small print on the tickets (😅 Babygirl was a bit annoyed)

Luckily she’s the most persuasive person I know, and was able to get us a full refund for the 5 wasted tickets. Thanks baby 😘

Moving on!

So you don't repeat the same confusion we had over the Zoos, here’s the basics. Both Zoos are part of the non-profit San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

San Diego Zoo (a more traditional zoo experience in the heart of the city)

Location: Downtown San Diego in Balboa Park

Number of animals: 3,700 animals and more than 650 species

Ticket: $62

Size: 100 acres


San Diego Safari Park (Brings you to the world of the animals, and feels like you are actually on safari)

Location: Escondido (40 min north of San Diego)

Number of animals: 2,600 animals and more than 300 species

Ticket: $65 includes the basics (but fun!) Safari. The $89 WIldlife Safari up to $675 for the Custom Safari (bananas, I know!) Give even more access to the parks Animals

Size: 1,800 acres


Safari details:

For more comparison of the two Zoos, there’s a great run down here that helped us out a ton!

Later that evening, we had a relaxing night out on 5th Avenue. The street represented the epicenter of the Gaslamp district’s fun and revelry that would ensue later that week. For now it was a bit slow and peaceful, like the calm before the storm. Closed to vehicle traffic, we spent many nights wandering the up and down 5th Avenue’s bars and restaurants in search of nightlife entertainment.

That evening we went to Greystone Prime Steakhouse & Seafood and I sipped the most expensive drink to ever touch my lips. Remy Martin Louis XIII Cognac. Only $9800 a bottle, Uncle Joe bought two, $200 a pop glasses full.

We each took turns sipping.

How do I describe it….

I first noticed it’s slightly citrusy, sweet taste. No overbearing tones, but similar to when you eat something in your dreams, like tasting a memory of something nostalgic. And the texture was like hollow fluid. Your brain thinks it's going to have a density to it, but there’s none. Like when you bite into a perfectly toasted marshmallow from a campfire, compressing to the slightest pressure.

So, was it good?


Worth $9800 a bottle?

HELL no! 😂 … But if Uncle Joe is buying, I’ll gladly try.



we hung out during the day and watched more basketball games. I got a new Canon EOS R camera for Christmas from Babygirl and spent most of the games learning how to use it. The pictures I’ve been capturing with it have taken my photography to another level. Again, THANKS BABY!!!

Known as Dre on the streetz as well as by the players on the Rancho Solano Varsity Basketball team, I became a staple of the sidelines, chronicling the tournament experience in photos.

Wednesday night may have been my favorite of the whole trip. Babygirl and got to be alone for a date night away from the family circus. We went to Juan Tequila Bar & Restaurant to watch live latin music.

We spent a lot of time in each other's embrace, swaying to the salsa’s rhythms, the world around us faded away until only we remained.

Balboa Park and the Moreton Bay Fig Tree

So what about our list of plans??? What about revisiting my life long memories?! Thursday we started to check off boxes. After Kal’s last Basketball game that morning, we decided to go to Balboa park .

After almost 40 years, I was going to see the tree from my childhood. Located in the center of historic Balboa Park, I put the tree’s exact location in the GPS and was surprised to see it was only 2.5 miles away. It felt strange to be so close to my journeys end. A short 10 minute drive from the Gaslamp District, we arrived in the 1,200 acre park that makes up the heart of the San Diego.

Planted in 1915, the Moreton Bay Fig Tree was fenced off in1989 to prevent damage from its thousands of tiny annual climbers. It now sat quietly behind a fence. Its trunk, 40 feet in circumference, expanded down into a labyrinth of exposed roots, snaking out in all directions, the color and textured of elephant's trunks.

As we pulled up to it, I felt like I was visiting an old friend. My oldest friend. The park's 100 year old landmark seemed strangely smaller than I remembered, I know, very cliche. (pictures)

Ropes attached to the massive branches to help support the tree's weight. I knew these measures would help extend the trees' life, yet I could not help feeling a pang of sadness, knowing future generations of children would never know the wonderment of being transported to some far off forest canopy, exploring the natural tree house I was so lucky to have enjoyed so many years ago.

We left the tree to explore the rest of the park. Like so many other experiences that week, I felt like I was rewatching an old movie for the first time since I had seen it in the theaters, details blurring from my memories' perception to my present reality.

urban & cultural