Mardis Gras and Much More in San Diego, California

Brimming with Sunshine and Larger Than Life Tributes

San Diego Copyright Shelagh Donnelly

San Diego. City of sunshine, ships, life sciences and tourism. The city’s locale, roughly 13 km/22 miles from Mexico’s border, will give a hint as to the sunshine that may be enjoyed here by travellers fleeing rain, snow and other Winter and early Spring tribulations.

This is a city that begs a return visit, and one that offers tributes to legends and heroes, as is readily seen if you make your way from the Gaslamp Quarter to Tony Gwynn Drive en route to watch the Padres play ball. Oral history and legends are both on display at the harbour, where you may pause by the  National Salute to Bob Hope and the Military or the towering Unconditional Surrender statue, both of which enjoy the USS Midway and San Diego harbour for a backdrop. Speaking of backdrops, and life on a larger scale, don’t be surprised to see the 272 meter/894 foot long USNS Mercy, a floating hospital, in the waters. San Diego is a navy town, and serves as home port to more than 60% of the ships in America’s Pacific Fleet.


If you travel to San Diego by plane, you may be struck by how conveniently situated Lindbergh Field is to the core of the city, its hotels and convention centre. It likely won’t take long before you hear that this single-runway international airport has flights landing or departing roughly every 90 seconds during daytime hours.

Newcomers curious as to the association with Lindbergh will soon learn of the place Charles Lindbergh and aviation hold in this city’s heart. It was San Diegans who constructed Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis in 1927, which helped him win the Ortieg Prize as the first person to navigate the 5,810 km/ 3,610 mile non-stop flight from New York to Paris. To this day, aerospace research and development contribute to the city’s economy.

San Diego is highly walkable and, depending on the reasons for your stay in town, you may not need to avail yourself of MTS, the Metropolitan Transit System. If you are out and about by foot, and depending on the time of day and neighbourhood, be prepared for people on the street to approach you for cash. This is not unique to San Diego; the same can be said for Vancouver and many other cities.

To other transit options, you have the Big Bay Shuttle as well as the San Diego Trolley and trains.  If you’re looking to explore the city, Old Town Trolley Tours gives you opportunities to hop on and off at various locales. Spending our second last afternoon in town on such a tour, we soon learned to anticipate musical interludes and narratives that ranged in appeal. In fairness, the majority of our fellow passengers seemed to enjoy the rides, and it was only after our return that I learned the drivers/conductors are considered cast members.

If you prefer a less scripted approach to exploring a new area, you can enjoy a reasonably priced ferry or water taxi ride to Coronado Island; our jaunts provided great scenery and opportunities to meet other travellers from locales such as Seville and Aix-en-Provence. There are two piers; you can catch the water taxi at the 5th Avenue Pier, below the Convention Centre and adjacent to Embarcadaro Marina Park South. If you prefer the larger ferry, you’ll want to go to Harbor and Broadway, close to the USS Midway Museum. Pedicabs are readily available along the Embarcadaro, in the Gaslamp Quarter, and at the ferry and water taxi landings.


Balboa Park, a 1,200 acre concoction of landscaping, architecture and museums, is a couple of hundred acres bigger than Vancouver’s Stanley Park. In fact, you could tuck both New York’s Central Park  and  London’s Hyde Park in with a bit of room to spare.  With the opening of the Panama Canal, San Diego embarked on significant park improvements as it prepared to host the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition.  This included the introduction of The Prado and Spanish Renaissance architecture, both of which delight to this day, and the 1914 donation of the Spreckels Organ, one of the largest outdoor pipe organs in the world.

If you’re  not a gardener, skip down to the next paragraph. If you are, though, you’ll want to make time for this park. The inspired Botanical Building is home to beautiful orchids, but the setting is not so precious that it precludes casual meanderings. The park demands a return visit simply because you can’t see it all in one day and you’ll want to make time for the desert and rose gardens. In March, when snow and rains were wreaking havoc over many locales, the roses here were in an intoxicating full bloom.

San Diego’s Mardis Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) celebrated its 20th anniversary this year and it was sheer luck that the celebration coincided with our first night in town. What an introduction to the city!

Other spots to visit? Try the Embarcadaro, Little Italy, Old Town,  Seaport Village, any of a number of beautiful beaches, and the Gaslamp Quarter, which is home to some interesting art as well as restaurants and locales in which to unwind. Many visitors will be interested in the San Diego Zoo, Sea World and in whale watching tours.


Whatever your plans for San Diego, make time for Coronado Island – actually a peninsula, and a spot deserving its own post, soon to follow.

Business Travel

Exceptional EA stayed at two San Diego hotels, the contemporary Hotel Indigo in the East Village, just a couple of minutes from the Gaslamp Quarter, and the waterfront Manchester Hyatt. 

Accommodation – Hotel Indigo

Hotel Indigo is situated on the outskirts of the Gaslamp Quarter, in what I’d consider the East Village area of town, and offers an entirely different atmosphere from the huge hotels in the waterfront conference district. As may be seen in the photos near the top of this page, this is an ideal locale for baseball fans; you could see Petco Park from the room’s window. Hotel Indigo rooms offer anything but typical neutral hotel decor; here, we had benefit of  vibrant orange wallpaper, hardwood flooring, a generous shower (no tub) and plenty of bathroom counter space complete with Aveda products. You’re a couple of minutes away from art galleries, a mile from the waterfront and attractions such as the USS Midway, and five miles away from any of Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo and Old Town.

Rates vary by room, season and how far ahead you book; in mid-April, you can book a room from $154 US nightly.

Newer construction is all around, and the hotel itself has a fresh, young feel and welcomes pets. The ground floor bar was low key, with friendly service. You don’t have any pools or spas here, but there is a sweet rooftop lounge on the ninth floor – which, ironically, is the only floor the elevator will take you to without benefit of a swipe of your room card. Hotel Indigo prides itself on being a green, LEED certified boutique hotel. Management can also take pride in some of the front desk staff, particularly Darren from Scotland, who offered helpful advice about beaches to visit, and seemed genuinely interested later in the day to learn whether his recommendations had been helpful.

Accommodation – Manchester Hyatt

You’re not in the East Village any longer, Dorothy. You’re in the Convention Centre district; think conferences and big business. Here, we’re talking spacious lobbies, twin towers,  and a gorgeous rooftop pool with views of the bay. The rooms are subtle; neutral may be a better word, and the bathroom was minimalist in both size and decor, but the harbour and sunset views, particularly from the 24th floor, were anything but neutral.

Rates will vary by room and season; in mid-April, you can book a Rediscover San Diego room from $175.20 US nightly.

As a guest at the Manchester Hyatt, you’ll have access to tennis courts, a spa and fitness facility as well as the outdoor pool. The hotel has 1,628 guest rooms, and it’s dog-friendly. Unlike the Hotel Indigo, wi fi access is not necessarily included in your room rate. You do, however, have an abundance of amenities and dining options, including Sally’s Seafood on the Water, where the food and service were equally commendable. The Top of the Hyatt, 40 stories above ground in the older tower, is a great spot to celebrate another great day in San Diego. While those uncomfortable with heights may prefer to stay away from the windows, the views of the city, waterfront and Coronado Island are spectacular. You’re a couple of minutes away from Seaport Village and just a short stroll to attractions such as the USS Midway, and your choice of water taxi or ferry.

As with anything, it’s people who make the difference. Need to catch a cab to the airport or another venue in town? You couldn’t ask for friendlier staff. If you have the good fortune to be welcomed by Vincent when checking in or out, you’ll be treated to gracious, superior service.

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