A Californian getaway | VailDaily.com

A Californian getaway

Caramie Schnellcschnell@vaildaily.comVail CO Colorado

Special to the DailyThe ultra-contemporary Suite & Tender restaurant is located in the Se Hotel in San Diego's Gaslamp district.

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part travel series. Visit http://www.vaildaily.com to read the first installment. We spent the last two nights of our girls getaway in San Diego’s Mission Bay. The busy bay is the largest man-made aquatic park in the U.S. From the balcony of our 15th-floor room at the Hyatt Regency, we watched shiny sailboats bob up and down in the marina and kids shriek as they played in the three pools below. After relaxing at the coastal chic hotel for a bit, we headed downtown to the Gaslamp District for dinner at Suite & Tender. The sleek, ultramodern restaurant is inside the Se Hotel. The lights were dim inside the hip restaurant, and cozy couples dined at most of the tables, their heads low as they talked quietly. There was a definite Asian theme interwoven throughout the menu. Our server, who was uber-friendly and attentive, recommended the macadamia nut crusted swordfish with warm Asian slaw, which arrived perfectly cooked. I hardly ever order chicken at a swankier restaurant, but my cousin did, and thanks to the sesame citrus brine, the half-roasted chicken was everything it ought to be: tender and juicy with super-crispy skin. The apple crisp, served in a miniature cast-iron skillet, was a fitting finale.

Bright and early the next morning, Mother’s Day, we headed to the San Diego Zoo. Now, I admit it: I’m not a zoo person. I always end up feeling somewhat guilty and just bad for the animals that often are forced to live a world away from their native habitat. That being said, the San Diego Zoo – one of the largest zoos in the country at 107 acres – is the nicest zoo I’ve ever visited. There are more than 4,000 animals housed there, mostly in open-air exhibits. It’s a huge tourist draw for the city – approximately 3.5 million people visit the zoo annually. There’s a gondola, called the Skyfari, and guided tour buses roll around the park constantly. The zoo is well-known as being one of only four U.S. zoos that have giant pandas on display. As such, the exhibit is quite popular and often crowded, so we headed there first to see Yun Zi, the 19-month-old cub who weighed in at 4 ounces when he was born via natural mating (the San Diego zoo is the most successful in terms of panda reproduction). After checking out the pandas, we made our way around the park. We watched the wise-looking elephants in Elephant Odyssey for a while before checking out the rare plants in the arboretum and laughing at the monkeys clowning around in the Monkey Trails exhibit. In all, we spent three hours exploring the zoo and still didn’t see everything.

With grumbling stomachs, we pointed the rental car toward Point Loma Seafood. I remember visiting this place with my family when I was a kid and loving it. People were jam-packed inside the deli-style restaurant; we grabbed a number and waited to order, gazing at the variety of fresh and smoked seafood in the glass display cases. We snagged a picnic table outside – not an easy task – and ate crab sandwiches, crab cakes, big hunks of fried Mahi Mahi and shrimp while seagulls and pigeons clammored for scraps. Next up, we went to explore Coronado Island, an affluent beach community that feels pristine and proper (it’s one of the most expensive places to live in the U.S., with the median home price around $1.8 million). We parked in front of some impeccably maintained mansions near the Victorian-style Hotel Del Coronado and its signature red turrets. We walked the beach, checking out a recently abandoned sand castle and dipping our toes in the chilly Pacific, before hopping back in the car to get to Imperial Beach in time for sunset. Just as the sun began to send a few stray, pink streaks into the sky, we walked the Imperial Beach Pier, the southernmost pier in California. A small group of old men played a cutthroat game of chess at one of the picnic tables at the beginning of the pier. The salty wind had a chilly edge, and we huddled into our jackets as we ventured down the pier. A few lingering fishermen made their last casts into the waves. “What are you fishing for?” we asked. “Bait,” they replied, grinning. In the water below, a trio of wetsuit-clad surfers paddled in the surf, occasionallly catching a surging, white-capped wave. High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or cschnell@vaildaily.com.