Ever see those scenes in movies when the character is flying into a city and the view out the window is DROP DEAD gorgeous? This is San Diego. The view was crystal clear and the skyscrapers felt touchable. You fly so close to the ground you can make out the model of a car on the freeway, lol. It's a very special experience and I'm about to spill why this place should be your next vacay.
the hotels have character and a story
We stayed at Hotel del Coronado and it felt like a historic Ritz Carlton. It was built in 1888 and some even claim it's haunted! After being open for a few years, a 24-year-old girl checked in hoping to meet up with a man. She was married, but it was said she was distant from her husband. Supposedly, this secret guy didn't show up and she committed suicide soon after. Creepy!
During our stay, we didn't see anything. We actually stayed in a different building too! However, many guests have said they've seen a young woman roaming the hallways, beach, and gift shop. Regardless, this property is beautiful. The room rate is a little pricey, but the amenities and shops are a treasure. You can snag a room for around $300, if you visit during the week and off season.
For the girl on a hunt for an affordable hotel, there's still plenty in the Coronado area. Then, you can hop on over to the Hotel del for a day and grab a drink at one of their beach bars. This way, you can take your own personal tour, without the hefty price! In my opinion, I'd rather stay on Coronado than on the mainland. It was much cleaner and it felt less crowded than San Diego.
Lastly, I loved the del because of its prime location. Instead of renting a car, we used Uber to get to Coronado. With many restaurants on our property and plenty of other ones within walking distance, we didn't need a car! You might be thinking...but I want to see San Diego, how can I do this if I'm stuck on the island? Well, let me introduce you to Old Town Trolley Tours :)
see san diego, without a rental car
One of my favorite memories of this trip was taking the Old Town Trolley Tour. It takes you to some of the coolest sites in San Diego and how it works, is a dream come true. You literally can hop on and off whenever you want. The best part? If you stay at the del, you'll be in walking distance of a stop where you can hop on too. It was so nice to walk a few blocks and hop on the trolley, instead of ordering an Uber to explore the city.
It looks like they started tours again on July 11th, so they are open for business! Let me break down how it works. Hop online to decide what pass is right for you and your family. We did the cheapest package because that's all we wanted to do, see the city!
These cost $37.80 each and that's a steal for what you get in return. This pass includes a day of free re-boarding from any of their 12 stops and free shuttle service from select hotels. We spent most of the day visiting our top favorites, so this pass was perfect for us.
TIP: If you purchase your tickets online right now, you can save 10% on your passes. Don't miss this deal! The price above showcases this discount ($37.80).
Before you pick a pass, I would definitely ask everyone on the trip what they want to do. If one of your kids is dying to see the Maritime Museum, then look into Old Town's Gold Pass. They offer you free admission to ten museums and you only pay nine bucks more for this pass! Finally, if you see the stop list and can't fathom doing everything in one day, buy the platinum pass. This gives you two days of unlimited boarding :)
Since I covered the basics, let's jump to my favorite stops! The first time we got off was at the Embarcadero Marina. I was totally drawn to the rusticness of the ships and I'll wander along a pier any day. We also had a great view of the skyscrapers here!
Another spot we really liked was Seaport Village. It's a very cozy outlet of unique shops and restaurants. Here, we snagged Ben & Jerry's and then walked along the water. This would be a great place to get a souvenir or a happy hour cocktail. I had the best time shooting all the pretty buildings. I can't get over this one, ugh! It's the San Diego Pier Cafe. They recently painted it too, which breaks my heart because I loved the peeling wood ;(
chow down in little italy
When we arrived in Little Italy, we were READY TO EAT. I checked restaurant reviews and then we made our way to Davanti Enoteca. For an appetizer, we ordered foccacia di recco, which is a cheese flatbread with honeycomb. It was sooo good and definitely gave us the great Italian experience we needed. I think I liked this stuff better than my entree too!
After our lunch, we strolled the streets in the rain and fell upon a farmer's market. Little Italy was perfect for browsing boutiques, picking up a fresh loaf of bread, or finding a naturally scented soap.
TIP: Davanti's happy hour runs from 3pm-6pm everyday. Their drinks are marked down to $5 to $7, so stop in then and save a few bucks!
check out sunny jim's cave
Usually on every family trip, everyone picks one thing they really wanna do. For me, I was so excited to check out La Jolla. It turned out being just as cool and so freakin pretty. You will honestly stare at the coast lines forever... One hecka unique place to hit up here is Sunny Jim's Cave.
To make the climb, you'll go to a quirky cave store and head down their stairs to get to the tunnel. It's about 144 steps, but totally worth it. There's a little wood dock landing and a great view of the ocean once you're down there. As of now, tickets are $10 and they are only letting people in with a reservation because of covid. You can make a reservation here.
the sweetest breakfast cafes
As I searched for a breakfast spot on Coronado, I saw hella cute photos of this lil place. It's called Clayton's Coffee Shop. When we went, it was pretty crowded, so I do recommend going early! They have a mix of booth and counter style seating. I ordered the chorizo scramble burrito and it was freakin delish. This was my favorite place to eat on the whole trip! I mean look at this coffee?!
Man, I feel like I have so much more to say. There definitely may be a part two for San Diego, but these things above were what made this trip memorable. I'd love to hear from y'all. Have you been and what spots did you love? Do you like a different part of California better?
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Did you know you're not suppose to take a newborn to a high altitude town? I didn't and by the time I booked the trip, I started to wonder if we'd have to leave Trax at home. He was two months old and I was curious what his altitude sickness would be like.
I did a little research and babies under three months old, don't have strong enough lungs to combat high elevations. However, a quick call to my doctor assured me that as long as we made our way to Estes slowly and slept at a hotel under 8,000 feet, he'd be just fine. With that info, we hit the road to Colorado.
After juggling the NICU for 20 days and bringing our new baby home, we were ready for a weekend away. The apartment was closing in on us and I barely traveled when I was pregnant. A tiny road trip was exactly what our hearts needed.
Despite having piles of homework, we went anyway. If I waited until I had nothing to do, I'd be traveling a lot less. When I work on an assignment or two, then go out and see the city, I'm 10x more grateful for the experience. I've been doing this for a few years now and it helps me travel during the week frequently, when hotel rates are much lower! If you wanna read about how I save on travel, check out this post.
It was November, so it was little chilly. The air felt great though. My bones felt the cold and it was nice to breathe without thinking, "Will Trax ever get out of this hospital?" The drive was about eight hours and Trax was an angel. He loves the car. It's likely he slept the whole time, lol! The process of getting hot water from gas stations for his food, was actually a lot easier than I imagined too. He is the perfect lil travel buddy!
I did quite the research, before we picked a hotel. I wanted something that would be safe for Trax, but also have breakfast. There are so many choices in Estes! Normally, I narrow down my options by ratings on Hotels.com. When I saw Hotel Estes, it just screamed "mountain hotel." The price came out to be around $115 a night with tax! Which was pretty dang good because I was in love with this place.
I'm a firm believer that there will be a place to stay in your price range, if you put effort in looking. Decide what you're willing to sacrifice and what items are a necessity for each vacation. If you plan on spending most of your time out on the town or walking trails, why do you need a $300 hotel?
Hotel Estes was perfect. I mostly loved it for its cozy outdoor space you see above and the fact that they had a separate room for the shower. I was able to do my hair in the morning by the sink/mirror and make Trax's bottle, all while Trey showered. It worked insanely well.
The rest of the room was covered in wood, even the dresser for the tv and desk beside it. The log cabin feel was totally there. It made the time I spent doing homework bearable and cozy. To top it off, they had some pretty great coffee and we could see the mountains right outside our door :)
lake estes trail
This spot was the first we ventured to. It was such a nice open area right next to Lake Estes. I'd been in Estes ten years prior and I never remembered a lake, so that was fun to fall upon. The trail would be great for a morning walk. Plus, it was paved!
I spent most of my time here taking photos of the houses on cliffs. It was sweet because this trail was only a couple minutes from our hotel. Next time I'd love to walk down to the fishing pier and see what it's like. You can also take this trail all the way downtown to the riverwalk.
casa grande mexican restaurant
As you can imagine, it's a little harder to get out the door and to dinner with a baby, lol. However, we did manage to make it down to the riverwalk and find us some dope mexican food. It was busy and we did wait quite a bit for our food, but Casa Grande was pretty dang delicious. I ordered a breakfast burrito because I LOVE chorizo and they serve these things all day, so why not? I had a strawberry margarita too and it was fire.
Trax was quiet and chill the whole time, praise Jesus! We found this place when we were walking along the riverwalk. It was chilly, but this restaurant had big glass windows that overlooked the riverfront. I'm not sure I would advise walking this at night, but it was beautiful nonetheless. It just became a little creepy, but that was our fault going out at dark. By the time Trax is fed, the sun is usually down and we haven't started getting ourselves ready yet, lol. All in all, Casa Grande was a warm place to smash some chips and relax after writing papers most of the afternoon.
rocky mountain national park
Now, for our favorite part of the trip. Rocky Mountain National Park. While we were in Estes, we hit this park three times. Once around sunset, sunrise and mid morning. Every time was a sweet dream. There was snow on the trees. Lakes glimmered half frozen. The cold was tolerable and our lil newborn slept in the backseat for every turn.
Most of the time when you go to a national park before sunrise or after sunset, you get in free. I always forget about this perk and it's become a fun surprise. This doesn't happen at every park, but it's worth checking out before you pay the fee!
If you plan on hitting three parks over the course of a year, it might be smart to invest in an America the Beautiful pass. I bought mine at Grand Teton for $80, but you can also snag one online for $90. Concerning Rocky Mountain, a one day pass is $25 and a seven day pass is $35.
So, if you were to visit three parks in 2020 for $105 total ($35 each), ultimately an America the Beautiful pass would be cheaper. This pass gets you into every national park! While we were in Estes, we only paid once to get in, which was around mid morning.
Ugh, driving around this park was the best. We couldn't get out much because we had Trax, but Trey and I took turns wandering around outside. One of my favorite stops was Sprague Lake. It had a wooden bridges, towering pine trees, and snow covered peaks bordering the lake. The first time, I saw it at sunset and it melted my heart. Also, the walk up to the lake is just as pretty as the lake itself. Something straight out of a movie. Did I mention there is little hiking involved? There's a parking lot right next to the lake.
As we made our way back to Nebraska, we stopped in Julesburg, where they have one of the "Welcome to Colorado" signs. Back in 2017, Trey and I went to Colorado with a group of friends to see Juicy J. At the time we were just best friends, but somehow ended up dancing together at the concert. On the way home, we rode in separate cars and texted each other songs to listen to.
A few people were saying how Trey totally liked me and I just didn't see it, lol. We'd been hanging out since middle school and even dated once in 7th grade. He seemed like his standards were through the roof, so I never really thought we'd end up together. Although that night, I decided to ask him anyway if he liked me. His response was, "Yeah kinda, I guess." Now Trey's pretty subtle, so this was something. Weeks later we were dating and talking about what we thought of each other all those years.
In 2017, we stopped at the Colorado sign too. We grabbed Subway and took a few pictures. A couple months ago when we went to Julesburg again, I cracked out the camera. We pulled Trax out of the car seat and took turns holding him next to the sign. The sky was clear and blue and there was a little chill in the air. Then we cleared the trash out of the truck, buckled the baby in, and Trey walked around a bit to stretch his back.
We wound up sitting in the grass talking about Trax's latest freak out. I stood up, turned around, and Trey said, "You know what would make this trip better?"
Pulls out the prettiest freakin ring I've ever seen. "If we were engaged."
For almost an hour I didn't tell anyone. I stared at my ring, played my favorite love songs, and thought about how cool it was that Trey proposed in the place where it all started.
This trip was such a sweet way to end 2019. It's so nice to think about now during all the crazy virus stuff. I hope y'all are staying safe and making the most of these cozy family days. You're gonna remember this weird spring season forever. What do you want to remember it for?
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Travel bucket list:
Countries visited: 5