Sun, Sand, and Surprises: A Quick Jaunt to San Diego and La Jolla

A mother-and-son team shows that Southern California is fun for all ages

George's at the Cove is a cut above the rest.

When you have three boys, all around the same age, and a husband that travels on the regular, it is nearly impossible to have one-on-one time with each kid. Making good on my New Year’s resolution to spend more quality time with each member of my brood, I booked two (just two!) plane tickets to San Diego for fun, food, and adventure.

“Does this mean I’m second in command?” asked Bridger, my nine year-old.

Day 1

With charged iPads loaded with movies and games, we boarded Spirit Airlines and settled in. First stop out of the gate: Paradise Point Resort and Spa. This lovely resort, situated on 44 acres of Mission Bay, is ideally located in the heart of San Diego with easy access to Sea World, the San Diego Zoo, and Balboa Park. After romping around on the beach — or “Duck Island,” as Bridger called it (there are several varieties of birds all over this resort) — we decided to hit the water and try out kayaking.

Action Sports Rentals offers a variety of water sports — Funcats, motorboats, paddleboats, stand-up paddle boards, WaveRunners, sunset cruises, etc. — and they are located right on the pier, next to the resort. Kayaking around gave us a duck’s view of the island and beach and, more importantly, we were able to get a little exercise together in an adventurous way.

After kayaking, we had dinner at Tidal, a beautifully designed seafront restaurant with views of the water and, if you time it right, a pink-hued sunset. Chef Amy DiBiase has created excellent Mediterranean and seafood dishes such as olive oil poached halibut and almond-crusted petrale sole.

To finish off the day, we spent the rest of the evening at our quiet bungalow’s fire pit, where we had s’mores on the beach.

Kayaking at Paradise Point Resort and Spa in San Diego La Jolla California

Wendy Altschuler


Day 2

We ventured out bright and early the next day to head to San Diego’s Old Town, the “Birthplace of California,” complete with rich Mexican culture. Here you’ll find theatres, museums, colorful shops and galleries, live entertainment (who doesn’t love a good mariachi band?), and period docents that love talking about the history of this storied area.

Next, we headed to a place that 9-year-olds rarely get to enjoy during the winter months in Chicago: the beach. La Jolla Cove is a picturesque sandy beach surrounded by caves and cliffs. We found a little swatch of sand that we decided to explore to test out the water, and while there, a sea lion popped up on a rock and waddled over to where we were standing — incredible!

Walking around the beach and the shops of La Jolla is a sure-fire way to build up an appetite. Luckily, we had reservations at George’s at the Cove’s modern rooftop California restaurant, Ocean Terrace. The food and drinks here were delicious, light, and refreshing, and, with an unobstructed view of the ocean’s rolling waves, you’ll want to hang out here for a while. (Pro tip: Request a seat by the window to soak up the sun’s rays and breathe the breeze.)

While near the restaurant, you’ll want to check out The Cave Store, a trip highlight. Unbelievably, there is a hand-dug tunnel that starts at the floor of The Cave Store and goes down 145 steps to the Sunny Jim Sea Cave and ocean below. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz, named the cave “Sunny Jim” because the opening’s silhouette — visible at the bottom of the stairs — bears a liking to a cartoon character named Sunny Jim, who was a British Force Wheat Cereal mascot in the 1920s. While walking down the slippery stairs, you can see fossilized shell, rock, and sandstone mineral deposits with various colors that shine in the cave. The tunnel, by the way, took two Chinese laborers two years to dig in 1902 and 1903, and all they had were picks and shovels. Once used to smuggle Chinese immigrants and whiskey during Prohibition, Sunny Jim’s Cave is a marvel and a must-see.

Directly next to the Cave Store is a scenic trail, called Coast Walk Trail, that goes along the cliffs of the ocean; if you begin at the trail head by The Cave Store, you’ll pop out at the intersection of Torrey Pines Road, and it’s only a short walk from there to another really fabulous restaurant called The Marine Room.

For 75 years, the establishment has been known for its High Tide Breakfast, which, when synced up with the ocean, provides a theatrical view of the waves colliding into the restaurant’s windows. If you’re unable to experience this epicurean adventure due to timing, as we were, the Marine Room is still an extraordinary place for a meal with a view. Pro tip: Do not skip dessert! The Hazelnut Chocolate Pyramid, Canton Liqueur Crème Brûlée, and Heirloom Apple Cherry Berry Cobbler taste as good as they look (and sound)!

Day 3

Bridger and I took a cab to Seaport Village on our final day. We took a spin on the historic carousel, with hand-carved animals from 1895; we bought a few souvenirs while shopping in several boutiques (which even include a store that sells nothing but hammocks called Swings and Things); we walked along the waterfront to look at the large ships, aircraft carriers, and helicopters in flight; Bridger ate a ridiculously expensive ice cream cone; and then, the best part, we hung out at Upstart Crow Coffeehouse & Bookstore to sip warm drinks and play checkers and board games until it was time to call an Uber to the airport.


This trip, while short, will always be a parenting highlight for me because I was able to spend time with my oldest son, without the distractions and chaos of our full family. San Diego and La Jolla were perfect locations for this, as we came home with stories to tell, sunshine on our faces, and inside jokes to laugh about. 2016 is off to a good start indeed.