Nearly three weeks we’ve been Down Under and not a word about it yet, I know. We’re having a great time, promise! Just a bit more about marvelous California, then we’ll fly across big ocean.

With four whole days left to spend in California, Kirk and I jumped on the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner heading south to San Diego to visit our friend Kyle. Kirk and Kyle were really good friends at MSU, and at one point, all three of us were actually on the waterski team together. This train ride was meant to be a good one, with the train running along the ocean most of the way. Literally, it did. Probably ninety percent of the time the tracks ran in the sand with ocean spray spattering the windows. It was a beautifully scenic trip. Gazing at each town we passed, my face up against the glass, my love affair with the coast grew and grew. “Oh I want to visit here! …and here, and here!” And then it would turn into “My parents should really retire here.” “Oh actually this place is better, definitely here!” And so forth. The two and half hour trip flew by.

Planning a trip to California? Definitely hop a ride on the Surfliner.

Kyle picked us up from the train station in downtown San Diego. We drove to the house he’s renting with his girlfriend Dana and another couple from State. A pool table and dart board occupied the dining room and a huge flat-screen TV, pair of couches and recliner sat in the livingroom. Make no mistake, this was no party house (although we did get a little rowdy one night.) This was a very nice pad with an in-ground pool, and spa bathtub. And this is where we’d be crashing for the next three nights. Sweet!

After getting the full tour, the four of us drove to Ocean Beach to get lunch. We ate burgers and fish tacos at a hoppin’ local bar, one of Kyle and Dana’s favorites. The mahi mahi tacos I ordered were fantastic. Kyle had to eat and run back to work, so Dana took us sightseeing along the coast and into the city. She then dropped us off at the renowned Balboa Park, 1200 acres of gardens, museums, performing art venues, and Spanish-Renaissance style buildings. Naturally any attraction that wasn’t outdoors cost to get in, so we stuck to admiring the facades and wandering through the flowers.

The sun now hanging low, Kirk and I had finally exhausted the gardens. A twenty minute walk brought us back downtown where we meandered the sidewalks in search of happy hour specials.

San Diego streets are named very simply. North-south streets are numbered, and east-west streets are lettered. I’m at the corner of 8th and D street. Pretty easy. Boring though. Some pride should be taken in the mastery of your city’s geography. In Chicago, I can pretty much name every major east-west street from Madison St. in the loop up to Davis St. in Evanston. It’s cool to be able to help out a newcomer in the area and give directions. Plus, a real street name – Addison – has character. You mention Addison to anyone in Chicago and immediately visions of Wrigley Field and thousands of Cubs fans adds life to the moniker.

From D to C to B we walked, and happened upon the outgoing Bare Back Grill.  Besides $3 drafts and half off appetizers, they had $2 wheelspins. Pay two bucks to spin the Wheel of Drinks and get anything from three shots of tequila to a pitcher of beer. The fun didn’t stop there. You could play games too. Mini versions of Scrabble, checkers, chess, and Jenga sat on every tabletop.

After finishing work, Kyle and Dana joined us for a basket of onion rings and a handful of wheelspins, while Kirk and I finished up our epic battle of Jenga. Not realizing it when we picked the place, the Bare Back Grill was actually a New Zealand bar. Rugby jerseys and kiwi bird figures adorned the walls. My chest did that little nostalgic swell you feel when you’re reconnected with a place to which you’ve dedicated a piece of your heart to. Ah Kiwis.

Not wanting to break the bank at the bar, the four of us went home to eat a late dinner. We picked up a gloriously large pizza from just down the street. It was a whopping 36″ across, Kirk had to turn it sideways to fit it through the front door! After eating ourselves into a mild food coma, we decided to call it a night. We had three more fun-filled days to look forward to in San Diego. ☼