It’s no secret that San Diego has my heart. If I could live there, I would. But for now we’re 6 hours apart.
So when my son and I were driving home from a wedding in So Cal (get all the deets + pic here), it was quite clear we had to make a stop in San Diego.
Plus, Dmitri is such a good travel buddy. I knew we’d have so much fun no matter what. Back in the day we used to go on lots of road trips together (mostly California), and I think he inherited my adventurous spirit. I absolutely love seeing the world through his eyes as we discover new places together. We always have such a special time!
(Coronado Island beach 4-5 years ago with my favorite travel buddy)
As we were driving to San Diego, I realized that we had absolutely zero plans on this impromptu visit. Anyone who knows me would be shocked to read this. I am usually the master planner in the family. I research, make plans and schedule activities like crazy any time we head out of town.
This was a refreshing change.
(Little Italy farmer’s market in San Diego, just blocks from our hotel)
I was especially grateful to my mother in law for sticking around to watch Maria back home for another day.
Traffic from Orange County to San Diego kept us on edge. As soon as I saw the ocean and a playground we pulled over.
By that time it was 6 PM and I knew we had a limited window of opportunity to turn this evening into a San Diego worthy adventure 🙂
I googled Sea World and – what do we know? – we were just 5 minutes away! We had 3 hours (more than I could handle) before closing time. It was meant to happen.
So grateful that Sea World gives free passes to military families once a year. We got ours and set of on a mini adventure.
Have you been to the Net Climb before?
It’s the place where you drop off your kids to never see them again 🙂 I mean, there are multiple exits and no line of sight once your child goes up the net. Luckily Dmitri is old enough that he knew to find me back “at the pirate ship” when he was done.
Once reunited we took an obligatory selfie and went to touch the sting rays and crabs.
My favorite part of visiting Sea World is always the SkyRide (totally worth the 20 min wait).
At sunset, the view was simply magical and the fresh breeze felt so invigorating. We are definitely “fresh breeze-starved” in Arizona during summer. You are more likely to get a “hair drier blow” in your face.
Dmitri also somehow talked me into getting on Manta a.k.a the crazy roller-coasters that made big men squeal as they passed upside down above our heads.
While we were waiting in line, a bunch of maintenance guys rushed in (we guessed there was a technical malfunction?) and all movement stopped.
(Photo credit: HERE)
Which only convinced me even more that roller-coasters are not for me haha!
We decided to call it a night and headed to our hotel. I booked us a room in DoubleTree Hilton downtown (and no, not only because of their free warm cookies that are out of this world). It’s centrally located within a walkable distance to the pier, Little Italy and downtown and their beds are so comfy. Our room on the 7th floor offered a magical view of airplanes (seemingly no more than a 100 feet above our heads) on their landing path to San Diego airport.
The next morning we found ourselves just a 10 minute walk from the restaurant I’ve been dying to try. That was too much luck considering my lack of planning.
Cafe Gratitude would be an exotic experience for many, but I immediately felt at home. Clean minimalist decor, happy relaxed wait staff (what do they feed them?) and inspiring signs on the walls filled this place with so much positive energy!
The menu concept is quite unique. All options are given an alternative name such as “peaceful”, “restored”, “focused”. When ordering you are encouraged to say “I am..” plus the name of your meal. I was kinda glad that my husband was not with us, he’d totally laugh. but I was loving it.
The cafe serves organic plant-based cuisine and I recognized lots of superfoods and healing ingredients on the menu: kale, coconut, goji, sprouted probiotic brown rice, coconut mint chutney, sea vegetables, probiotic kim chee, garlic tahini wasabi dressing.
There were also herbal tonics, wellness elixirs, smoothies and fresh pressed juices.
I wanted to eat everything. I wanted to live here. I never wanted to leave.
In the end, I went with “peaceful” – smashed avocado toast on a gluten-free amaranth & millet toast with heirloom cherry tomatoes, matcha wasabi cream gremolata, applewood smoked salt.
It was everything. It was the best.
I always thought First Watch has the best avocado toast, but this one definitely took the prize.
Dmitri was such a good sport!
He decided he was “peaceful” too and ordered a breakfast toast with sliced banana, almond butter, raw local honey, and bee pollen.
I had a bite and it melted in my mouth with gooey sweetness. We both cleaned up our plates.
During the meal I was contemplating if we could come back here for lunch (we did) or stay an extra day to eat dinner here. The food was so fresh, nourishing and plain delicious!
After breakfast we walked to the pier. USS Midway was the one place we both really wanted to see but it never worked out in the past. Dmitri is such a military and history buff, and I knew he was now at the age to appreciate the importance on this ship.
The museum is straight up cool, and there is something for all generations. Tickets include a self guided tour with headphones, and you definitely want to listen in on all the amazing facts. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that it was an operational ship at some point and all the history behind it. What a privilege it was to be standing on this deck!
If you take your kids on a USS Midway tour, make sure to stop by at the Junior Pilot stand and pick up a scavenger hunt map. It definitely made Dmitri more involved in the tour and curious.
(Standing under the wing of F-14 Tomcat from Top Gun movie)
At times, it was quite a hands on experience. Dmitri had a chance to tie a basic knot and mess with the equipment. The tour was really well planned to allow kids an opportunity to experience life as it was for the sailors on the ship back when it was operational.
It took us more than 2 hours to get through the scavenger hunt, and we didn’t even cover half of the ship! Definitely need to come back with the entire family.
Since we were getting on road that day, it was time to go.
Dmitri submitted his findings (which were thoroughly examined by the gentleman at the Junior Pilot stand) and was awarded a set of wings.
What an honor! It made his day.
We made another quick stop at Cafe Gratitude for lunch (I couldn’t help it).
I ordered “evolved” – bibimbap bowl with crispy brown rice, kim chee, oyster mushroom bulgogi, daikon, sea palm, cucumber, chickpea egg, housemade bibimbap sauce. It was slightly disappointing considering our off the charts experience in the morning. But it only made it easier to leave San Diego.
Luckily Cafe’s reputation was saved by this amazing “brave” – anti-viral immune health wellness shot with lemon, turmeric, ginger, cayenne, essential oil of oregano. It was definitely spicy and tangy but felt so cleansing and invigorating!
Dmitri had elated” this time – mole abuelita enchiladas with sweet corn, blackened tempeh, black beans, roasted tomatillo sauce, cashew queso fresco, avocado, coleslaw, escabeche. It was a little too spicy for him. The waitress ended up comping us, which I thought was really nice.
We said good-bye to San Diego and got on a 6 hour drive back to Arizona.
It was so special to spend one on one time with my son. We enjoyed our little adventure and made lots of good memories.
But when I woke up at home the next morning and saw this:
.. my heart felt complete.
Maria absolutely adores he “big Bah” and was happy as a clam in his arms.
We talked about our day trip to San Diego and agreed that we can’t wait to go back when our main guy returns from deployment. Perhaps, I could even talk him into breakfast at Cafe Gratitude? 😉
Have you been to San Diego? I’d love to hear about your experience! What are your favorite places for fun and meals?
Hope you have a lovely day!