For our 5th Wedding Anniversary, Tori and I took a Friday morning train to Downtown San Diego for a weekend getaway. When we arrived at The Sofia Hotel at 9am to leave our bags, they checked us into our room even though check-in time was not until 4pm. Because it was our anniversary, they also upgraded us to a corner suite facing Broadway. So Nice!
For breakfast, we walked over to Herb and Eatery in Little Italy. It is the cafe at the front of Chef Brian Malarkey’s Herb and Wood restaurant. We had eaten some delicious sandwiches here after the March for Science in 2017 and have always wanted to come back. We ordered the Thai Croissant and Egg McPuffin. Both were awesome! While drinking our mochas, we watched the planes coming in for a landing at Lindbergh Field through the giant windows.
After breakfast, we headed back to the Santa Fe Train Depot to catch a trolley down to Barrio Logan. Along the way, we walked through Waterfront Park. We checked out one of the three mosaic sculptures created by the French artist, Niki de Saint Phalle, called #13 Baseball Player. In the playground, Tori climbed into the Rope Ball to practice her handstand. It was harder than it looks on the moving ropes!
Neither of us had ever been to Barrio Logan just south of downtown as we walked under the neighborhood sign on Cesar E. Chavez Parkway toward Chicano Park. When the Coronado Bridge was built in the 60’s, the residents were promised a park underneath. When the government broke their promise, they occupied the location and finally got their park in 1971. The murals on the bridge’s massive concrete pylons, started going up two years later.
Chicano Park is paved with concrete under the bridge on the westside of National Avenue and has a fountain and a skate park. I took a lot of pictures of the colorful murals covering the concrete pylons as we crossed the street to the grassy side of the park where the crisscrossing on-ramps towered overhead. In the south-east corner, we wandered through the Chicano Park Herb Garden up against the I-5 Freeway.
Leaving the park behind, we passed a pretty Blue House as we walked down Logan Avenue and checked out the art murals along the street. Tori did a handstand in front of our favorite, a mural of Prince with two giants eyes. This neighborhood reminded me of the Arts District in Downtown Los Angeles.
We stopped for a drink at Border X Brewery on Logan Avenue. We both ordered the Horchata Golden Stout, a 9% beer that tasted a lot like the rice drink with notes of Vanilla Bean and Cinnamon Sticks. We both liked it a lot! We also went out onto the back patio and played some Cornhole. If we hadn’t recently ate, we would have tried the tacos from their grill as well.
After taking the trolley back, we crossed the street to visit the Downtown branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in former baggage hall of the Santa Fe Depot. One of my favorite installations was the hanging art piece by Michelle Montjoy created out of Used T-Shirts and Irrigation Pipe. It was called "Whatever we do will become what we have done." (2018)
I also really enjoyed "While Smelling a Rose" (2018) by Beliz Iristay. The Turkish artist created this satiric piece of Donald Trump as “Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror” watching the construction of his wall through a window. For me, the other highlights were "Three Phones" (2018) by Chantal Wnuk, "Yellow Ribbon" (2017) by Matt Rich and "Untitled (blackened manzanita)" by Thomas Demello.
We passed one final art piece outside the museum called, "Crossroads" (2003), by Marcos Ramirez ERRE as we crossed the street on our way back to The Sofia Hotel to rest up before dinner. The boutique hotel was renovated and renamed in 2006 from the original Pickwick Hotel built in 1926. Owned by Pickwick Stage Lines, it was one of their many hotels along their stage routes in the West. It was the first hotel in San Diego where each room had its own bathroom. Pickwick ended up merging with Greyhound who also used the bottom floors of the hotel as a terminal. I remember hanging out in that terminal one night in the early 90’s when Downtown was still pretty sleazy and my friend lost over a hundred bucks to a couple of con artists. At the entrance to the hotel is "That-a-Way", a bronze statue by Seward Johnson. He is the same artist who built the giant "Unconditional Surrender" statue celebrating V-J Day along the San Diego Waterfront.
For our fancy Anniversary Dinner, we had reservations at Kettner Exchange in Little Italy. Their Kale Salad was the best I have ever had! Except for the delicious Philly Cheesesteak Bao, we both ordered an entree instead of sharing Small Plates. I had the Niman Ranch Pork Chop and Tori had the Mary's Chicken Teriyaki. Her chicken was delicious but neither of us could taste any Teriyaki. After dinner we walked through the neighborhood, passing the Piazza della Famiglia with lights strung across the European-style plaza built last year. We also stopped at the fountain in Piazza Basilone that honors Medal of Honor Recipient John Basilone and the other service men who didn't come home from World War II.
On Saturday morning, we took the Gaslamp Walking Tour that our hotel provided to learn more about the history of Downtown San Diego. Starting across the street was the Spreckels Theater built in 1912 by the philanthropist, John D. Spreckels, to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal. A few years ago we saw our friend perform here as Cosmo Brown in the play, “Singing in the Rain”. Crossing Horton Plaza Park, we reached The Balboa Theatre built in 1924 as a vaudeville / movie palace with indoor waterfalls to provide cooling. The waterfalls ended up being so loud during performances that they had to turn them off. The theater was refurbished and reopened in 2008 as a performing arts venue. Entering the Gaslamp Quarter, we learned of The Louis Bank of Commerce Building built in 1888. After the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt Earp came to San Diego and leased four saloons and gambling halls, the most famous being the Oyster Bar in this building. The top floors became the Golden Poppy Hotel, a brothel run by the fortune-teller, Madame Cora. Further down 5th Avenue was the historic Yuma Building built in 1882, owned by Captain Wilcox of the U.S. Invincible. It was named after his hometown of Yuma, Arizona. In the Stingaree Raid of the city’s red-light district in 1912, the Mayor and three Councilmen were arrested in the building’s brothel. They had gotten confused over the date of the planned raid.
We also learned a lot about William Heath Davis and Alonzo Horton, the two developers in the 1800's who contributed to making New Town along the harbor the downtown of San Diego instead of what is now called Old Town. Heading back to the hotel, we passed the Former Armed Services YMCA Building on Broadway. It is was built in 1924 to service all the military personnel passing through this city, peaking during World War II. After it’s glory days, the deteriorating building was operating as a low-cost hotel. It is now under heavy construction to turn it into a new luxury boutique hotel, called The Guild. After the tour, we borrowed bikes from the hotel and rode down to the Broadway Pier to take the Coronado Ferry across the San Diego Bay for a bike ride on Coronado Island.
Arriving on Coronado Island, we rode our bikes down 1st Avenue to Bayview Park near the North Island Naval Base. The small park had a great view of the San Diego Skyline and would be a great place to take a sunset photo of the city. Along 1st avenue, we passed an English Tudor home that reminded me of a fairy tale cottage with its undulating roof. The cedar shingles had to be individually steamed to cover the wavy surface. We rode down Alemeda Boulevard until it met Ocean Boulevard along Coronado Beach. After a walk on the sand, we went to The Brigantine for appetizers and drinks. The Potato Chip Nachos were very good. After riding back to the Coronado Ferry Landing, we crossed back over the bay and saw a sailboat with a marriage proposal on the sails, “Marry Me, Emily!”
After relaxing in our hotel room for a few hours, we headed out to the Gaslamp Quarter. Along the way we stopped and went inside the U.S. Grant Hotel that we learned about during our morning tour. This luxury hotel was built by the son of President Grant, the Union General Hero of the Civil War, and finished in 1910 with the help of San Diego voters who financed half the cost. It is now owned by the Sycuan Tribe who refurbished the hotel in 2006. The very first San Diego Comic-Con was held in this hotel in 1970.
Our first stop in the Gaslamp was Trailer Park After Dark located in the basement of the Louis Bank of Commerce Building. Two travel trailers stood at each end of this trailer-park themed dive bar that also had old shopping carts modified into stools along the bar. Now that we own our own small trailer, we felt right at home. The trailers had tables inside but since both were occupied we sat at the tables in the middle and ordered cocktails and a giant pretzel. I like how they served the food alongside a Tackle Box filled with condiments, napkins and utensils.
As we walked to dinner, we could see the powerful stadium lights illuminating the Monster Truck Rally in Petco Park and hear the roar of the crowd. Later we came back and were able to see the trucks on the giant screen visible from outside the park. When we reached the Neighborhood, a gastropub on the corner of 8th and G, we were lucky to get a table right away in the crowded restaurant. I loved their Jalapeño Mac and Cheese served Hamburger Helper Style.
During dinner, our waitress told us we could put our name on the list for The Noble Experiment, a speakeasy hidden at the back of the restaurant. It is named after America's failed "Noble Experiment", the Prohibition between 1920 and 1933. We received a text near the end of our meal and we headed into the secret entrance behind a fake wall of beer kegs. In the tiny room, we were seated beneath a long wall of tiny skulls. Tori ordered a specialty Gin Cocktail while I requested one with Rum. While we didn't mention it at the time, both of us felt a tiny bit claustrophobic in the windowless room.
On Sunday morning, we went for an early brunch at Cafe 21 in the Gaslamp Quarter. I ordered the Short Rib Cast Iron Omelet and Tori tried the Avocado Toast. Both were really good, especially the delicious Potato Pancake that came as my side. Tori kept trying to steal it.
After breakfast and our hotel check-out, we wandered through the strangely half-empty Horton Plaza to kill a little time before our noon train home. I wonder what the new owners plans are for this formally popular shopping mall. We did find a nice view of Horton Plaza Park from the third level. Downtown was a nice getaway and it seemed to last longer than the amount of time we were really gone.