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San Diego and Catalina

San Diego and Catalina
San Diego and Catalina
via Amtrak and Private Helicopter
November 2020

 Off to San Diego


SFO777Jr and Mrs. SFO777Jr are visiting for Thanksgiving from Denver and we're thinking about a day in San Diego and a day in Catalina.  Since it's been a whille since I've been to San Diego, I figured that I'd do a little pre-planning and take Amtrak's convenient Surfliner down the coast.   A gorgeous crisp morning in South County and I arrived at the "station" 15 minutes before departure.  

Amtrak Surfliner #564
San Juan Capistrano to San Diego Santa Fe

Only there of us boarded here this morning with not many more thru pax on board from LA/north, at least in Business Class.  The Amtrak Café is on the lower level.

With a selection of snacks for purchase.

And Business Class upstairs.

With comfortable and roomy 2x2 seating.

And nice recline.

Business Class passengers were offered complimentary snack basket options of pastry or breakfast bar, and a beverage.

With free Wifi, which was quite robust this morning considering there weren't many passengers this morning.

I sat back and relaxed for the next 90 minutes as we journeyed south.  Much of the early part of the trip hugged the coast and featured some beautiful scenery.

San Diego International Airport. 

Downtown San Diego approaching the Santa Fe station and terminus.

Postcard perfect weather on arrival at the Santa Fe station.  Even better than planned as we pulled into the station 10 minutes early. 

So I walked two blocks west to the Broadway Pier...

... just in time to catch the 10am Coronado Ferry.

Only 6 other passengers this morning for the quick 15 minute ride.

USS Midway Museum adjacent, which is on the short list to visit when we're back in a couple of weeks. 

Pretty San Diego skyline.

Looking back to our ferry and San Diego from the Coronado Ferry Landing.

The Coronado Ferry Center is a little over mile away from and on the other side of the island from the Hotel Del Coronado.

A short Uber ride and I was at "The Del".

This iconic hotel is more tham 130 years old, and parts of it definitely look that age.  The Del is currently undergoing a much needed $400 million renovation, which has resulted in a lot of the interior areas being closed to the public.

Pics from the interior courtyard area.  Lovely, but definitely tired and dated.

The main action at the hotel is outside on the ocean side.

With a gorgeous beach.

This looks a little better with the newer Cabanas and the Ocean Village the place to stay.

Lots of attractive outdoor lounges, bars and restaurants.


Five minutes from the hotel is the Coronado stop of the Old Town Trolley, San Diego's HOHO attraction.  My original plan was to take this to Coronado and see more of the city but the ferry change that idea.  So I'm starting here.  Our personable driver, guide Scotty was great... informative amd funny.

I hopped off at Balboa Park to explore.

Then back towards the Trolley stop to wait for the next one.   On the other side of the road is the San Diego Auto Museum and the San Diego Air & Space Museum, appropriately located under the flight path approach to the airport.

Back across the street, the next trolley arrived just as I got to the stop.

Unlike the first trolley which was quite full, I had a private trolley charter on this leg.

We drove back thru Balboa Park.

And to the west entrance.

I hopped off at the next stop, which was in the heart of San Diego's Little Italy, which featured numerous outdoor dining options.  This is India Street.

I stopped for lunch at lovely Buon Appetito.

OMG, the bread and dip were to die for.

It doesn't get much better than this... fabulous canneloni with a glass of Super Tuscan.

Since I was only four blocks from the train station, I finished up and left at 1:15p, some 20 minutes before my departure.

I arrived at the station 10 minutes before our 1:35pm departure. 

Amtrak Surfliner #579
San Diego Santa Fe to San Juan Capistrano
A little better load than this morning with perhaps a dozen passengers heading back north. 

Similar seats as this morning, but they didn't recline... or at lease I couldn't figure it out. 

This afternoon service was a complimentary #TrainTreats snack box and beverage.

Similar to United tapas box and with about the same volume of carbs and calories.  Since I had just eaten lunch, I only sampled a few.

Iconic Del Mar racetrack, creatively offering COVID-era concerrts in your car.

Only $99 per car.  LOL.  I guess that desperate times call for desperate measures.  Very creative though.

More nice coastal pics as we head up the coast.

And back at San Juan Capistrano, right on time at 3:09pm.

Back to San Diego and Lunch at the Del

While Amtrak's Surfliner is a great, relaxing way to travel down the coast, we decided to pass on Amtrak and drive today, so we could leaving and return when we wanted.  Driving was also much faster and we got to the Coronado Bridge about an hour after we departed home.   Another gorgeous day in San Diego although temps weer only in the mid-60s, not as warm as a couple of weeks ago.

Back in Coronado...

And back at the Hotel de Coronado.

Talk about luck.  We found free street parking, which was much better than the Del's $70 daily parking.  Seriously?

We arrived just in time for great seating with view.

Delicious lunch.

Seafood salad...

... and San Diego Fish Sandwich.

On our way out, some great vintage Del pics from years ago.

San Diego Zoo

After lunch, we headed back to the mainland and the 20 minute drive to the zoo.

We lucked out today as there was no line to enter.

We spent a pleasant two hours with few other people here today.

Lots of home cooking and a few great restaurant meals this Thanksgiving week.

Thanksgiving dinner at Bayside Restaurant in Newport Beach.

My attempt at recreating our fave Buvette Croque Monsieurs.

Grilled filets with gorgonsola butter.  Yum.

And dinner at Arc in Costa Mesa, one of our OC faves.  


Private Helicopter Charter to Catalina
The kids had never been to Catalina and it's been 5-6 years since we've been.  So we decided on a day trip.  Options were scheduled ferry service (75-90 minutes each way) and at inconvenient departure times or a prohibitively expensive boat charter.  IEX helicopters offers regularly scheduled service from Long Beach, but also charter service from more convenient John Wayne.  We arrived at FBO operator ACI Jet, about 30 minutes before our flight. 

After a safety video, we waited for our pilot Garrett to arrive to fly us to Catalina and then a sightseeing tour of the island.

Our AStar.

And away we go.




Lots of dolphins along the way.


And some of the buffalo that still roam Catalina.

And finally, the Avalon helipad.

Our pilot Garrett had called ahead and a Catalina taxi was waitiing for us when we landed at the helipad.  Less than 5 minutes later, we were in the heart of Avalon.  And then another 15 minutes to rent our golf cart.

We headed up the winding roads towards Mt. Ada for some touristy pics.

And then back to the other end of Avalon harbor to the Casino, a classic old theater which, despite its name, never was a casino.

Lunch was an adventure as all restaurants were restricted to take-out only since Catalina is part of LA County which is basically shut down.

After lunch, we up the hills on the north side of Avalon...

... and over the hills and canyons.

Yeah. that's a hard no today. 

Back in town, we returned the golf cart and ordered a taxi to take us back to the helipad. 

Ready to board our return flight.

Relatively clear SoCal day with the LA skyline visible in the distance.

And tony Newport Beach.

Approaching John Wayne.


What a great day on Catalina and the only way to get there.