Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder & San Diego, Too

by Nancy Bestor

I’ve never had any desire to be in the armed forces. And although my youngest daughter was intrigued when she heard that the military would pay for college after enlisting, I’m pretty sure neither of my kids will join up either. But I’ve always had some fascination with the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Maybe it’s because my father served in the Air Force, or because Bob’s father was an officer in the Navy, but maybe the truth is much more shallow than that – maybe it’s because a man in uniform is awfully cute. Whatever the reason, I was delighted to visit the U. S.S. Midway in San Diego last month, on a college visits road trip our family took to Southern California.

The Midway was one of America’s longest serving aircraft carriers. Decommissioned in 1992, it is 972 feet long, and when fully operational could house more than 4,000 men and women at one time. And it was its awesome size that impressed me most. A person could get lost on the ship tour, and the flight deck could easily host several football games or dozens of basketball games at once. (An NCAA basketball game has been scheduled for the flight deck in November of 2012, between San Diego State and Syracuse.)

Here are a few facts. The typical sailor who served on the Midway was 19 years old. The kitchens on board served as many as 13,000 meals a day, and the size of cookware on display in the galley is enormous. There were more than 1,500 telephones on the Midway. One link in its anchor weighs 130 pounds. More than three million gallons of ship and aviation fuel could be stored in its tanks. Another awe-inspiring stop on the tour was the bunk rooms for low level enlisted men. There were at least six men to a room with barely any room to move, let alone have any privacy.

The Midway really was a city at sea. Visitors can see the jail, the post office, the laundry room, three barber shops and as many as 60 displays of shipboard life throughout the vessel. One of my favorite sections is the aforementioned flight deck, where 27 restored aircraft that saw action in wars from World War II to Operation Desert Storm are on display. The price of a visit is $18 for adults, and $10 for children, and the self-guided audio tour takes about three hours. We only had an hour and a half and wished we could have stayed longer, but the rest of beautiful San Diego beckoned.

We spent a few hours walking San Diego’s Gaslamp district, a busy downtown neighborhood full of bustling bars, restaurants, and shops. Our favorite stop was The Field , an Irish Pub and Restaurant, where we stopped to hear live Irish music and quaff a Guinness.

We took a beautiful hike along the cliffs of Torrey Pines State Reserve in La Jolla, down to Torrey Pines State Beach. We walked through the majestic Hotel del Coronado, and sat on the back deck of the “Del”, eating ice cream, chatting, and gazing at the ocean. Another stop on Coronado Island was a movie at the newly restored Art-Deco movie house, The Village Theater. This 1947 theater reopened last year, after being closed more than ten years. The theater boasts wonderfully modern seats, sound and screen and a very fun retro vibe.

Our food adventure began with a visit to Little Italy, a San Diego neighborhood just outside of downtown, to see a friend and former Travel Essentials’ employee, Ditsy Claterbos (now a lawyer with the San Diego D.A.’s office!). Our Little Italy dining started with delicious breakfast crepes and excellent coffee at Fabrison’s French Creperie Café . At midday we snacked on yogurt at Yogurtland. Some call it “the mecca of frozen yogurt” and I must say, my tangerine and vanilla yogurt with fresh bananas, kiwi and strawberries was outstanding. For dinner we chose the traditional Italian restaurant, Filippi’s Pizza Grotto, solely because the line to get in was out the door. We all shared a good pizza with “the works”, and Bob had the sausage and meatball ravioli. Mind you, the raviolis were filled with meat, and a large Italian sausage was laid over the raviolis and sauce. The food was good and the atmosphere old school family-style Italian.

Another good San Diego meal was fish tacos at the Blue Water Seafood Market and Grill. Another line out the door promised good things, as did Guy Fieri on Diner’s, Drive-In’s and Dives. Although we waited a long time for our food, the tacos did not disappoint. The fish was fresh, and my mahi-mahi and ahi tuna tacos were excellent.

We stopped for a brief time at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park , but it didn’t hold our interest for long. Other than an interesting display of a stagecoach and luggage from the 1800’s in the Wells Fargo Museum (we do own a travel store, so of course we’d find this interesting!), the State Historic Park was mostly, in our opinion, a collection of Mexican restaurants for gringos and tchotchke stores in restored historical buildings.

The main reason for our visit to San Diego was to take our daughters on a tour of the University of San Diego , and it’s worth a stop, even if you are not thinking about college. Beautifully situated on a hill overlooking San Diego, the 180-acre campus is stunning. And forget about my daughters, I’m thinking about going back to college there myself. Maybe I’ll major in military studies.