Stay Classy, San Diego

There’s a lesson to be learned from our stay at Mission Bay, I know there is.  I’ve had to tweak this post repeatedly, though, as I kept going in unwanted directions.  It was a weird stay.

First of all, how we ended up there.  Weekends are tricky and require reservations – this we’ve now known for a while.  I had booked the Coronado Beach Cottages on Naval Air Station North Island months ahead of time for next week, and considered this a major coup.  I hadn’t, however, been able to find state parks or military sites remotely in the area for the weekend prior.  The private campgrounds seem to be always the last to get reserved, and I was able to find a couple on Mission Bay.  My impression of Mission Bay before staying there was that it’s kind of a water sports and BBQing-on-the-beach mecca.  Vacationing families from out of town, wake boarders, bouncing beach balls, etc.  Sea World is there, there are lots of little beaches and passages, and the water is protected and calm.  Here’s how it looks from the air.


Campland was the most expensive of the RV campgrounds there, so I opted for the splurge, reasoning that since I would be gone part of the time on my work trip, why not ensure Tacco and the kids were in the best place possible?

When we pulled up to the gate and checked in, the woman behind the counter was over-the-top enthusiastic, describing all the amenities, assuring us that after this visit we’d become regulars, and topping it off with “welcome to paradise!”  Paradise!  Wow!

So in we drive, eyes wide.

It wasn’t paradise, at least at first blush.

Now I’m not going to claim it was the opposite, it certainly wasn’t.  Our (quite pricey) spot, however, was a little section of parking lot with a small patch of dirt next to it and bordered by a chain link fence.  OK, not a problem, we thought, it must be all about the amenities.  Or the clientele.  And at least there was no one parked next to us.

It wasn’t the amenities. It wasn’t the clientele.

We walked down to the ersatz beachfront – it was an actual beach, but the sand had clearly been trucked in and dumped on top of the muddy shore to make it so — past a smattering of RVs that had seen better days and appeared to have been parked for quite some time.  It captured neither the kids’ nor my imagination, so after a couple minutes we walked right back.

Essentially it was this, and I’ll skip to the summary rather than dragging out the play-by-play – my impression is that this is an RV park built around a bar.  The bar was mostly outdoors and held the position of honor in the center of the park, and seemed to get most of the park’s activity.  Unfortunately, depending on how you look at it I suppose, the activity was lazy day drinking.  And night drinking.  Lots of beer and cocktails.  All while the few kids ran around on the grass field between the bar and the water or rode their bikes around while wearing rubber-mohawk-spiked helmets.  There was a park-wide PA system that would occasionally exhort us all to get out there for happy hour with Brandi, or Crystal, or whichever bartendress had the serve-booze-to-the-RVers watch.

Is that an overly negative picture I’ve painted?  Have we become uptight?  I wouldn’t have thought so, but my description makes me wonder.  People were undoubtedly enjoying themselves.  And I don’t intend to imply that everyone there was loud and drunk – I certainly wouldn’t call it raucous.  Yet when I joined Tacco and the kids during my layover after taking the red-eye back to Boston and then operating the flight back to San Diego, she was a bit bleary-eyed from the loud country music and ‘80s hair bands that had dueled late into the night and kept her awake.  She had to explain to the kids that it wasn’t cool to keep your neighbors up with your music (unless you’re in college, where it’s encouraged).

I guess it just wasn’t our place.  There’s nothing especially wrong with it objectively.  I’m not specifically against any of the elements I described in themselves, and I could imagine circumstances under which someone looking for a place to party lazily for a weekend with friends and like-minded RVers would find it paradise.  ish.  There’s a marina with water toys for rent.  There’s a decent playground.  There are at least two pools, though I never saw anyone swimming.  There’s an arcade, in which our kids had an excellent time killing an hour or so, and did an especially good job cooperating with each other (Tacco will cover that story I think).  And the San Diego sun.  It’s just… it didn’t feel like a “splurge.”

I took one picture there, and one only.  It’s Woodsprite “playing” alone by filling a few of her beach/sand toys with dirt.  Dirt.  My thought when I took it was “Has it come to this?  This is what I’m providing for our kids to amuse themselves?”  That’s overblown I know, but remember I was just coming off San Elijo’s wild ride of emotions.  I knew we could do better.


So here’s a lesson learned.  I’ve realized upon analysis of this particular stay that I’m far more critical of places that I leave the family when I have to depart for work, even if I’m departing for a short time.  Seems obvious when I read what I just wrote, but it’s new to me, revelation-wise.  Questionable places we can deal with, but I’d like to be with them when we do so.  The corollary here is that the private RV parks (see my completely unscientific breakdown of the various types here) have their own widely varying character when compared to the state or national parks, and a bit of in-depth research is advisable, particularly if I’ll be leaving the family there.

Let me take a turn toward the positive – I did make an attempt to create a few good memories there by renting a Wave Runner for bit while I was with the family during my layover.  It could only carry 3 people at a time, but it’s hard not to sport a smile when zipping over the water or doing tight 360s.  And the kids loved it!  Me too.  I’ve got a long history with personal watercraft, though I’ve managed to avoid owning one.  I got to go out with each kid individually and each combination of two kids, as well as letting Keeper drive it some.  Lots of hootin’ and hollerin’ and “do it again!”  It was a blast for all involved.  Almost, that is.  Unfortunately my victory was dampened by the last run, in which I had Tacco and Woodsprite aboard.  Though 90% of the watery circuit was unbridled joy, I managed to take my very last turn too tightly combined with hitting a swell at exactly the wrong spot, and tweaked Tacco’s already soreness-prone neck.  My victory took on an asterisk.  I hate to see my wife in pain.

Equally tricky to characterize was our decision to grab fish tacos in Pacific Beach rather than stay at the RV park and BBQ.  Ridiculously tasty fish tacos are one of San Diego’s culinary fortés – generally there are several varieties available, from shark to albacore to scallop to wahoo and everything in between, all completely fresh.  Tacco and I had both had memorable fish taco experiences in PB back in the day, so we figured we’d create a new one with the kids.  We jumped in the car and made the short drive.

In our (lengthy?) absence, however, something had changed in PB.  Possibly it’s we who changed, but we did not expect to see Spring Break in October.  I had remembered semi-quaint open air taco bars that tempted you to linger over a pitcher of beer and tacos for hours while watching the sun set over the ocean.  Was I thinking of somewhere else?  Maybe I was just much younger then.  This was the opposite of quaint, or even semi-quaint, with every restaurant and bar (none of which looked familiar) packed standing room only with dolled-up 20-somethings on the prowl or stumbling into the boardwalk.  The music was booming and Spring Break-y as well.  Despite our brutally long search for a parking spot and several-block hike to the beachfront, we realized fairly quickly that this was no place for a family and we punted.  Another lesson learned, though this one I’m not sure we could have foreseen.  We did manage to persevere and find some good off-beach tacos on the way back to the RV though.

Icing on the cake to follow… After working the redeye flight back to Boston that night (post tacos) and turning right back around onto the next flight back to San Diego, we tidied up camp and bolted.  I was tired to say the least, having spent most of the last 12 hours on an airplane, and Tacco was reasonably DONE with Campland.  We had arranged an appointment to have Davista’s roof fixed after the Carpinteria Captain Crunch incident, and had to drive 45 minutes to the north to drop it off before packing ourselves and everything we needed for the upcoming week into the minivan I’d rented to get me back from the airport and assist with the gear shuffle.  It was there that I noticed that my wallet wasn’t in any of the two or three places I normally keep it.  Not to worry, I thought, it’ll turn up shortly.

It did not turn up.

Losing one’s (full – driver’s license, military ID, pilot license, credit cards, cash…) wallet is a massive pain under the best of circumstances; these were far from the best of circumstances.  All I can advise, with the utmost urgency, is that if you ever decide to take a trip like this, please, please do not lose your wallet.

Hours of agonizing, phone calls, and step-retracing led me to the 95% conclusion that I had left it in the campsite when we departed, though no one had turned in a lost wallet at Campland.  We returned to the campsite once we had checked in at Coronado and found another RV parked there, which was odd given that there were so many vacant spots, but at least I had someone to ask if they’d seen the wallet.  No one appeared home in the RV, so I left a note on their door with my phone number explaining what had happened and asking that they please call / text if they had any information.  And that was that, nothing heard.

This was my stupid mistake, I know this and I take full responsibility.  But!  But… I can’t help but think that if someone left such a note on my door, I would at the very least send a text saying “sorry, didn’t find anything.  Best of luck.”   I can’t imagine why they would’ve made no attempt to communicate at all.  Unless…

Argh, never mind.  Let’s go to Coronado, I heard it’s AMAZING there.

2 thoughts on “Stay Classy, San Diego

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