THE HAPPY WANDERER – SAN DIEGO


HILLS NEWSPAPERS: 05/22/2008

It was the final kerfuffle in a series of slapstick events that made up our weekend in San Diego. With just minutes till boarding, I found myself outside Southwest’s security zone with no identification.

I’d left my purse with my daughter to search for an airport bathroom with no queue. “You can’t go back that way,” said a stern-faced officer. “You’ll set off the alarm.” I had a hot flash as I paged my daughter to bring my I.D.

Several megastress moments later, my teen arrived with an attitude the size of Cleveland, lecturing me the entire way back to the gate as the flight door was ready to close. We made it on the plane — just barely.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “What kind of mother doesn’t take her purse to the bathroom?” Try a mother who was too tired to think — after four days of shopping, fine dining and power bonding.

It was the kickoff of Mother’s Day weekend when we arrived in America’s City. That’s what San Diego was called when I lived there in 1983. Back then, the beach was my focus, but I wanted my 18-year-old to see something besides beer and bikinis. She’d see plenty of that in college. This weekend, we were meeting friends and staying in a more sophisticated spot — the city’s Gaslamp Quarter.

Once a notorious red light district, I could almost hear the bawdy laughter as I gazed at the 94 Victorians — gorgeous painted ladies nestled into just 16 square blocks. Our group joined a walking tour led by the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation and heard tall tales from some of the period’s most colorful characters.

Appropriately, the Gaslamp today is still colorful, but in a more acceptable way. People spill into the streets from the dozens of noted restaurants and cafes, sending the visitor count soaring some 400 percent in the past 10 years.

The perfect home base for exploring the Gaslamp is the splendidly restored Ulysses S. Grant Hotel. Thirteen presidents have visited the Grant since its 1910 opening, but what’s impressive today is the length to which the owners, the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, have gone to honor the president they considered a friend.

They pumped $56 million into a renovation so grand the hotel just won Best Luxury Guestroom Design at the HotelWorld Global Hospitality & Design Awards.

From its signature Grant Grill to its 3,000-square-foot art gallery, every inch of the hotel befits a guest of honor and distinction. A guest like me.

My room was so lavish I didn’t want to leave. Even the headboard was a unique work of art, beckoning me into the luxurious bedding. But somewhere outside was a seafood dinner and a cheesecake with my name on it. I gathered my travel companions for dinner.

Oceanaire is one of the Gaslamp’s more celebrated eateries, with eclectic offerings like miso-glazed Oregon black cod and salt-and-vinegar fries. Our group was so big that half of us dined here and half took a cab to Oceanaire’s sister restaurant, Island Prime.

Both restaurants created a gluttonous feast that had us adjusting our waistbands well into the night. It also spurred us into action early the next morning.

“Hurry!” shouted our panicked friend, who’d taken charge of “shepherding” our group around town. We were sprinting, coffee cups in hand, to catch the Coronado ferry. Never mind that it was just a few blocks from our hotel — we were discombobulated and running late.

My daughter and another young gal had gone ahead to reserve bikes on the island, for our Mother’s Day ride to the Hotel Del Coronado. After sorting out who got the surrey and who got the beach cruisers, we had a leisurely ride (sans the surrey whose wide girth seemed to put it on a perpetual collision course with other vehicles.) And the Del didn’t disappoint. The grand old hotel with its broad, beachfront deck had succulent drinks and a great boomer band.

Perhaps the drinks were too succulent. Later that day, as our group toured the San Diego Museum of Modern Art, someone went out the emergency exit. A piercing alarm rang throughout the building and, while my friend didn’t admit to anything, she had that deer in the headlights look. We laughed about it over a delicious dinner at Prado, a restaurant known for its intoxicating fusion of flavors and eye-candy ambiance. Then we wrapped up the evening with a heady performance of “Beethoven as I Knew Him” at the nearby Old Globe Theatre.

Yes, it was a trip to remember — kerfuffles and all. In fact, I’m willing to say it was the mother of all Mother’s Day weekends.

Ginny Prior has a weekly syndicated travel radio show on Sports Byline USA, as well as travel features in print publications across the country. If you have a travel destination you’d like to share, drop a note to The Happy Wanderer at ginnyprior.com.

IF YOU GO:
The U.S. Grant Hotel: www.luxurycollection.com/usgrant
Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation Tours, leaving from the Westin Gaslamp Quarter: www.gaslampquarter.org
Oceanaire, Island Prime and Prado: www.cohnrestaurants.com
The Old Globe Theatre: www.theoldglobe.org
Coronado Island: www.coronadovisitorcenter.com

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