Category Archives: San Diego

San Diego: Things to do and eat

Thanks to marZ’s detailed post on the logistics, lodgings, and points, I’ll do my best not to cover the same points. Let’s cover this weekend in a chronological fashion starting with Sunday. The trip covers our activities from Sunday morning through Tuesday afternoon (our return).

Sunday: (Hungry Bear Sub Shop, SD Safari Park, Julian County)

10 a.m. take-off. I get a range of about 360 miles to the tank and did not have to refuel for the entire trip, making the traveling much more wallet friendly than flying. Before getting to the zoo (about 1.5 hours SE of the O.C. when driving like a fugitive), we stopped by Hungry Bear Sub Shop (4.5 stars out of 227 reviews on Yelp as of 7/14/12) and got this:

Hungry Bear Sub Shop - BBQ Steak Sandwich

BBQ Steak Sandwich. It’s like a Subway Steak and Cheese on steroids.

Most of our food places are found on Yelp on the way and this was our Sunday’ lucky winner. The place lives up to it’s Yelp hype and the only complaint I have is that the place smells like burnt steak and toilets. Needless to say, we ate outside.  A short drive later and we were at the SD Safari Park.

Here’s a few interesting things I got to do at the park:

SD Safari Park - Cheetah Sign

SD Safari Park - Marble Earth Globe

We watched 5 year old take control of the world.

Visiting the San Diego Safari Park (which is in ESCONDIDO, not San Diego) was fun and a different experience from going to the San Diego Zoo. As imagined, the part is much more open and the layout of the park is designed to give priority to the animal’s living requirements rather than maximizing the animal-per-space ratio to give visitors’ the most bang for their buck. This picture below should show how spacious the park really is (kidding. kind of.)

SD Safari Park

Look how spacious the park was!

Although the San Diego Zoo is bigger with a wider selection of animals, I’d definitely check out their Cheetah runs (5:30 p.m.) and take a tram tour of most of the park. The tram is the big attraction and you see things like…

SD Safari Park - Giraffes

Giraffes!

…and you’ll see other stuff. If you shell out a little more, you can go on the truck tour that takes you right next to these giraffes and probably let’s you call it names. And feed it. SD Safari Park overall is worth going to at least once. It’s kind of out of the way, but it makes a great opportunity for you to go try apple pie from Julian county. It was good, but not something to go back for (since they sell these at albertson’s in SD).

Julian County - Apple Pie.

They also sell this at some alberton’s grocery stores in SD.

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That was it for Sunday. Went to the hotel, paid for parking ($15/day at the parking structure literally across from the SD Westin on 400 Broadway) and then watched a TON of TV. No pictures of the hotel room unfortunately. I’ll remember that for next time.

Monday: (Kayaking in La Jolla, Hash House, Neighborhood)

Ate this for brunch:

marZ's brunch - Hash House Agogo

marZ’s brunch. French toast, Eggs, Potato wedges, and stuff.
Note: Hash House serving size for 1 person feeds 2 – 2.5 people..

Every time I go to hash house, I always get too much food. After this, we went up to La Jolla to catch the OEX Dive & Kayak tour for the 7 caves kayak tour. Note that I’ve done the 7 caves tour with the competing La Jolla Bike and Kayak Tour which is located right down the same street the previous month. This time, the waves were calm and we were actually allowed to go into the caves which was cool, but underwhelming. If you do this tour and don’ t get to go in, La Jolla Bike and Kayak will give you a voucher for a free walk in tour to the 7 caves which is as good. Funny story – after we got out of the water, we noticed a couple news vans going to the beach and later discovered that there was a 14-foot great white shark near this beach AT THE TIME WE WERE KAYAKING. Omg, if I knew this was coming to find some lunch (me), I would’ve pooped my pants. (link: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57465511/great-white-shark-sighting-closes-popular-la-jolla-shores-beach/)

After this, we found Neighborhood on Yelp and went for a test drive..of food. The meal consisted of a mission viejo hefeweizen, spicy mac and cheese, and STEAK FRITES. Let me recount the details in order. Hefeweizen – good, Mac n’ cheese – overrated (save your $ and don’t get this), and STEAK FRITES! The steak frites are like carne asada fries with guacamole, except the fries are sweet potatoe fries. I’d go back to SD just for this dish (and maybe to say hi to the great white).  It was that good. The lighting was horrible so I didn’t end up getting any worthy pictures of this amazing dish. AMAZING! After that, ralph’s,  hotel, sleep, rinse and repeat.

Tuesday (Phil’s BBQ, Balboa Park):

I learned from my last SD trip that Phil’s is closed on Mondays. this is what we ordered:

Phil's BBQ

Turkey Burger – bland, dry, and gross.

Phil's BBQ - Beef Ribs
Beef ribs and veggies.

A tip for the imaginary readers: If you go to a place known for its ribs, don’t get the burger. (So much for being adventurous). For those who’ve had Lucille’s in long beach and haven’t had Phil’s BBQ – you aren’t missing a whole bunch.

To wrap the trip up, a short stop at Balboa Park where everything worth seeing (and those not worth seeing) costs money. I did touristy things like:

Balboa Park - Lily

Took a picture of a water lily.

Balboa Park - botany guest sheet
saw an interesting entry from a Dublin tourist. Look at the writing – it looks medieval.

and last but not least…

Balboa Park - jump shot (me)

Acted like a tourist.

All in all, a fun weekend using minimum $$ and maximum points (refer to marZ’s article for the points). Let’s hope for more entries, imaginary readers. Yay!

B.Postive

p.s. Wanted to leave you with a bit of inspiration. Be positive.

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San Diego Trip Report – Part 1 (marZ edition)

B.Postive and I recently took a quick trip down to San Diego to take a break from work and hit up a few places I’ve been wanting to go. We drove down early on July 1st, spent two nights at the Westin San Diego, and drove back the evening of July 3rd. Yes, it was a quick trip, but I feel like I accomplished everything I was looking to (though there are certainly a lot more things we could have done).

I’ll report on getting and staying there, and B.Positive will post on the food and what we did!

Getting There

We didn’t have to get in a plane for this one since we live in Orange County, so no points or miles had to be used. In fact, B.Positive’a car didn’t even need to have the tank filled for the entire trip! Granted it was only a few days out there, but it was still nice to know that we were able to save on gas.

By the way, B.Positive filled up his gas tank using his Chase Freedom card, getting him 5 points per dollar, plus 10 more points for being part of the Chase Exclusives program, plus a 10% bonus for the same Exclusives program. That means a $50 fill-up would garner 265 points (50×5 + 10 + 50x.1 = 265)…not bad!

First on the itinerary was the San Deigo Zoo’s Wild Animal Park. The last time we went down there, we mistakenly went to the actual zoo, not realizing they are quite a distance apart. Don’t make the same mistake we did! After paying $10 for parking and another $42 to get in, we spent a good 5 hours inside and saw pretty much everything. The weather was pretty good but being in the sun for that long while walking uphill/downhill is never fun – make sure to bring sunscreen and plenty of water.

After we finished up at the Safari Park, we headed to Julian, CA to get some apple pie. B.Positive will have the details on the pie in his trip report, but I feel obligated to mention it’s about a 45 minute drive inland through some windy roads. It’s definitely not a place to go if you’re driving an old, beat-up car that might crap out on you at any moment, so just be wary of that if you decide to head to Julian.

After Julian, another 45 minute drive gets us to downtown San Diego, which is where the Westin San Diego is located. Now, there are two Westin’s relatively nearby in this area: the Westin SD and the Westin Gaslamp Quarter. I chose the Westin SD because it was about $50 cheaper than the latter. Also, all the reviews I read said the Westin SD was close enough that you could walk to the Gaslamp area, and that was indeed the case, but be prepared to walk about 6 blocks to get there.

Parking

Parking was not the most fun part. Space is at a premium since the hotel is located in a downtown area, and you’re hit with that realization in the form of parking charges. If money is no object, then by all means valet for $25 a day. For the rest of us, including B.Positive and myself, we need to save every dollar possible.

Just across the street, on the other side of Columbia St, is a public parking garage. The charge is $15 for a day of parking and the stipulation is that you have to leave by noon everyday. The timing wasn’t an issue for us since we were going to be out and about anyway, but still paying $15 was a bit of a kick to the wallet. Still, it was a $10 savings from letting the hotel park the car and the extra walk was literally 2 minutes to cross the street, so it was the best solution to an otherwise unpleasant situation.

For those of you that will by flying in, the hotel does offer a free shuttle service to and from the airport. From what I could gather, it was not a constantly running service, so expect to wait a little bit at the airport after you call for the shuttle. The good news is the airport wasn’t too far away as we saw planes flying over on a regular basis (though there was no noticeable noise from said planes).

Staying There

The most interesting part of my trip is how I actually booked the room. I knew I’d be booking an SPG hotel since I succeeded with my Platinum challenge earlier this year. I first went through Chase Ultimate Rewards to ensure I get 3 points per dollar, then to the SPG website. It displayed all the available options and prices for my dates, but of course I was not quite satisfied. Knowing that SPG, like all major hotel chains, has a best rate guarantee (BRG), I decided to check a few of the big travel agency sites to see if I could find a lower rate. Lo and behold, the first site I checked, Hotels.com, had a rate $3 less than was displayed on SPGs website.

I won’t go through the whole explanation of how to get the BRG since Ric Garrido has already done an extensive post on the topic, but I submitted the BRG form about a minute after booking the hotel, and less than 12 hours later my claim was approved! I selected the 2000 point option instead of 10% off because: 1) I value 2000 SPG points at a minimum of $40; and 2) 10% off is the weakest BRG benefit of all the major hotel chains.

An important note is that even though I selected the 2K SPG points, they still matched the lower rate. Hey…$3/night will start to add up if I keep doing it! Alas, I realized that I could have done even better job of saving money if I simply clicked through from Top CashBack. I suggest you sign up for this website as there are MANY more deals to be had (that’s my referral link btw). Note that this would have negated the Chase Ultimate Rewards points, but that 3% off is a pretty good deal. There’s always next time!

Other ways I could have come out on top is with regards to booking one stay for two nights versus two stays of one night each. I effectively could have booked one night at the Westin SD and got the 2K SPG point BRG claim, then booked another night at a different SPG hotel to attempt to earn another 2K points. It’s obviously not guaranteed to work out perfectly, but it’s definitely a possibility. Also, I personally wouldn’t mind switching hotels since it was only a two night trip, but longer trips or family trips might be an issue for some of you out there. But just keep that information in mind in case it comes in handy!

I regret that I did not take any pictures of the room, but I was upgraded to a Deluxe Bay View room. I was told that the hotel only had 4 suites, and all were occupied (which was confirmed by SPGs Twitter account), but an upgrade is an upgrade.

For my Platinum amenity I selected the extra 500 points (that’s at least $10!) and was also given a free drink voucher for the bar in the lobby. Not bad!

The room itself was pretty standard, though the bathroom was a bit small. It was still nice, and the Heavenly Shower head is indeed a nice feature. You could tell the hotel was a little older since it had an old school door that slid into the wall (or it was a space-saving technique).

The final note on the hotel is regarding the housekeeping. There was a note next to the bed that said you can earn an extra 500 points for each day you decline housekeeping. I thought that was great, and decided to put up the privacy note on the door handle (which I would have done anyway, btw), and waited for said points to post after my trip. When they didn’t, I tweeted at SPG to ask what gives, and was told the “Green Choice” promotion requires that I fill out the note and hand it in to the front desk when checking out. Oops! I got so excited about another 500 SPG points that I apparently stopped reading too soon. Don’t forget to fill out the form for some more easy points!

This is my first stay during the SPG Nice Choice promotion (I selected July 1 start date) so I have to complete at least another stay to earn double points. I haven’t decided where to go next, but I’m definitely hoping to go somewhere soon!

Deluxe Bay View Room

The parking spots you see at the bottom-middle of the picture is the structure we parked in. It was mostly empty and we got a spot on the second floor.