There’s Other Stuff to do in California?
Our first day at Disneyland was set to be the first day possible we could get back in- Tue 6/15 and we took work off Mon 6/14 to arrive in California that day, get a good’s night rest and proceed to our full days at Disneyland. Since we had no work or other plans on the weekend as well, it opened up the option of leaving over the weekend and doing other stuff in California (or elsewhere on the way) before Disneyland, so we planned a few things before-hand.
The drafted plan for the weekend:
Sat 6/12- start our drive at 3-4pm stopping for dinner & spending a few relaxing hours at my mom’s rural property 3 hrs outside of SLC, continue on our drive sometime after 10pm
Sun 6/13- arrive in SD around 8am, get bfast, hit up a beach (roughly penciled in for Coronado but also had a few back-ups nearby in case Coronado was difficult) > get seafood by the seashore for lunch, nap at the hotel once the room was ready, an evening walk around Old Town where our hotel was located
Mon 6/14- bright and early arrive at the zoo with bfast from the hotel in hand, do as much of the zoo as we felt like, eating lunch there, grab dinner in San Diego, drive up to Anaheim after 7pm
What we ended up doing
Sat 6/12- We stuck really well to the plan here. We left right on time and my mom was SO happy to have us. Dinner on her patio was lovely, the kids had amazing time (they absolutely fell in love with my sister’s dog who is living with my mom while my sister is off on a post-nursing school adventure until October) and we all spent some good quality time until we decided to spare the poor dog, and get my excited kids back on the road so the dog could get her sleep. The drive was a wonderful, quiet, peaceful & totally uneventful overnight drive - just the way we like our trips into California to start.
Sun 6/13- We kept to some of the plan, but deviated a bunch as our exhaustion from our first overnight drive in a year a half kicked in. We arrived in San Diego at 7am local which was earlier than I wanted to be arriving at the hotel, but since we didn’t quite have a fully formulated breakfast plan, we let the hotel know we were there, got a parking pass and setup to receive a text as soon as a room became available. Bfast was McD’s, picked for its proximity to a Target where we ate in the Target parking lot before heading in to shop for a few essentials. This would’ve been a very ordinary stop on any other day, but this happened to also be the VERY FIRST time we took ALL 4 kids into a store (just before Covid DD1.5 was a tiny baby during flu season so we were keeping her away from restaurants/stores and then as a result of Covid that extended to all 4 kids staying away too). So fun fact for us. And while the kids behaved as good as kids can, we’re not eager to rush all 4 of them back to the store at once with us.
The next part of our day was beach time! While we were in Target DBIL who had lived in SD for a bit and had friends who still lived there, threw a beach recommendation at us that I hadn’t seen in my research- Law Street. It doesn’t pull up as an official beach but according to him it was a nice quiet space of sand that really only locals knew about and he said parking hadn’t been a pain at all when he’d taken his kids the last time. When we looked it up we were equidistant (17 min for both, in opposite directions) from both our planned beach -Coronado, and Law Street. We decided to try out DBIL’s recommendation and drove there easily but once we pulled up on the very small street for parking we were met with not only a full street with nowhere to park (and no open spots for the couple of blocks nearby) but also a MASSIVE mat-to-mat yoga class happening on the entire grassy area on the way to the beach with easily hundreds of people participating. With no parking and the yoga class we decided to high-tail it back to Coronado, even though now it was a 34 min drive. Once there, parking wasn’t too difficult (lots more real estate on the much larger Ocean Ave and many branching streets), and the kids got a kick out of driving over the bridge and catching views of the Bay. The beach itself was probably more crowded than the sand at Law Street, but it didn’t have the crush of a yoga class to dodge first and was open enough that we felt comfortable in our corner of sand. Once setup, I took off to the water with the kids. This was where DS4’s anxiety first kicked in. He was happy to go down to the water at first, but 5 min into playing at the edge of the waves and he was done (and even as I type this up and he overhears me ask DH a question about our beach day his immediate reaction is: “I DON’T like the ocean. No more ocean. I don’t like ANY OCEANS”). He was one minute dipping his toes at the edge of the waves and then the next abruptly done with the beach, done with not being at home, done with everything and asking to go home. We compromised with getting him back to towel the rest of the time & DH was happy to sit with him while I stayed with the 3 others wading into the ocean and enjoying the water and breeze on a hot afternoon. Back at the towels before we packed up to leave, I pointed out the Hotel Del Coronado to the older 2 kids (DD8 when I asked her if she could see it responded “Do you mean the castle?”) and explained the connection to the Grand Floridian (where we had eaten bfast on our last morning in Florida in 2016). DS9 remembered it and it all clicked and DD8 at least remembers looking at pictures of it. But I was glad I remembered to point out the Disney connection as that was one of the reasons I was so excited about the Coronado.
The plan next was lunch at a seafood place by the seashore but everything would’ve required finding street parking or walking from our spot on the beach up to the Hotel Del Coronado but with the midday exhaustion after an overnight drive kicking in no one felt much like walking (and there was a smidgeon of feeling underdressed in our beach gear + the drive exhaustion always adds a little extra feeling of raggedy-ness) so we decided to look at options nearby our hotel- the Best Western Hacienda in Old Town. It was very close to many great Mexican food options in Old Town but parking was scarce and again we weren’t feeling any kind of walk even from our hotel to several places nearby so we decided to just order food from the restaurant in the hotel- The Tequila Factory. As we were trying to formulate that plan/figure out what to order, we got the call the room was ready so I checked us in properly, got us set-up into the hotel room while making sure everyone took a shower/bath post beach, while DH ordered the food and went with DS9 to pick it up. The restaurant was on an upper level at the back of the hotel (but was street level on that side of the hotel owing to the fact that the whole hotel was built into a hilly portion of Old Town). Our room was on that side of the hotel so not far and the vantages from our room (facing towards the ocean) were amazing, but being on the hilly portion made accessing anything other than our room less straightforward and easy. The age of the hotel was also easily apparent and our overall take on the hotel was we wished we had booked at the familiar Hilton Garden Inn that was also fairly close to Old Town where we’ve stayed in the past when we’ve been to San Diego. We picked the Best Western Hacienda for its free bfast (more on in the next day’s update) and for the fact that it was IN Old Town giving us something to do very close by without much planning for the chill arrival day we wanted.
Our room was fairly close to the restaurant but because of the hill we were on required a steep downhill and then back uphill walk to access it. DH just before we’d left home had tweaked his foot/ankle putting bad weight on it while sitting down and had tried to spend the time at the beach taking it easy (the main reason he was happy to wait at the towel w/ DS4 & another reason we weren’t up for walking to food). That uphill and downhill walk killed all ideas of keeping it easy on his foot/ankle and he came back hobbling which also put a damper on plans of walking around Old Town that night after a nap. The restaurant’s fajita’s and combo platter with enchiladas and tacos were all very tasty and the burger that we got for some of the kids who weren’t feeling like Mexican to split was very tasty and large (even splitting it the two kids that had some ate just half).
We got our nap in and afterwards debated about trying to go for a walk and ended up hanging around in the room being lazy but then FOMO (and the need to pick-up some dinner somewhere) kicked in and we decided to venture out on foot. This turned out to be not a great idea because most of Old Town was closing up by then and DH’s foot got aggravated again walking on the slopes. We did watch (we think it was Sea World’s) fireworks from a parking lot near our hotel but with nothing really open and DH’s foot, we aborted the walk and decided to just do a quick drive-thru dinner (Burger King) and one more stop at Target (this time I just ran in alone) to pick up aloe lotion (some of us got a little more sun on the beach) & ibuprofen (to help out with DH’s foot and have him ready for the zoo tomorrow and if not the zoo, then definitely the Disneyland the following days).
Mon 6/14- We loosely stuck to the plan but definitely made some improvements to it throughout the day. For bfast the plan had been to eat the hotel bfast but upon finding out the bfast was only available to pick-up for the adults on the reservation, we had to come up with a plan for the 4 kids to eat (this cemented our thought that we regretted trying out a new hotel vs. going along with the perfectly good one we’d always been to in San Diego since we’d figured bfast for our family would be worth a little more for the night). So after loading up the car (easily done because I had packed to be able to take in just certain bags for one night in SD), we picked up the adults’ food from the hotel’s restaurant and swung by Chick-fil-A’s drive thru so everyone had something to eat. The drive to the zoo was so quick that I was still handing out everyone’s food to eat by the time we arrived. We finished eating, then headed straight for the zoo.
Looking into the safety measures for the zoo, they had stated masks would be required for all unvaccinated individuals except when eating or drinking AND for everyone whenever social distancing wasn’t possible. Well no one was enforcing any of that and it was a busy day, so we quickly arrived to a throng of people entering with only about 1/3-1/2 the crowd wearing masks and DH questioned my research that masks were required at all. He quickly saw the signs at the entrance backing up my claims but we both realized there was going to be zero enforcement and it would be up to us to avoid un-masked/un-vaccinated (so for sure any kids under 12 not wearing masks). This was our first time being in a crowd of that size without masks so to say we were uncomfortable was an understatement. However, once through the gates and a quick bathroom stop at the start of the zoo, we were able to find places to spread out and stay back from crowds and just uncomfortable instead of ready to panic.
We hit the Koala’s/outback areas first on DS4’s request (and to help keep him asking to go home right away). DH’s foot was still bothering him so after those first couple of exhibits (and where the path looked like it was going to get hilly and aggravate it more going towards the elephants), he decided to camp out on a bench while we ventured forward. We passed meerkats on our way to the elephants and then kept going up towards the lions and reached the cheetah’s before we decided to turn back back towards DH (taking one mask/drink/snack break on our way back to him about halfway back). At this point I was starting to wonder if we should abandon our zoo day on account of the heat, lack of masks around us and the stress of having to avoid people on sometimes very narrow paths.
When we met-up with DH again, he broke the news to me that Disneyland announced a change in their masks starting the next day (our first day), and essentially we would be the exact same situation we were currently in the middle of at the zoo. So after a family pow-wow between the Outback and Africa Rocks sections of the San Diego Zoo, we discussed a number of steps we could take to be able to stay safely at the zoo, and also continue on to Disneyland. It was an added layer of stress for sure that I wish we could’ve avoided, but we couldn’t change it so we did the best we could. And looking back, it was a much needed trip for so many emotional reasons, especially for DS4, so even with the stress it was well worth the trip.
After the mask pow-wow, we realized it was time to start figuring out our lunch plan so we walked back to the closest food (in the outback area next to the Koala’s) and DH with his rested foot got in line for food while we found a shady table with some space around it nearby. The food was all burgers and fries but very decent, even when considering the higher price point being park food. We also got the refillable cups (free refills at any station in the whole park!) and DH was in his element the rest of the day, happily running for refills anytime we were getting low on any drinks. (DH just loves AYCE and unlimited refills on anything- for any Friends fan’s it’s like Joey in the Vegas episode- “This is where I make my money back!” is his motto so anything remarkably close to unlimited buffets and refills keeps him a very happy camper).
After lunch we finished up some exhibits close by in the Urban Jungle loop (flamingos, one zebra in with a herd of something else I don’t remember, and a jaguar) before deciding to take the most direct and Center Street path back towards the main zebra exhibit. Our reason for this specific trek was to show DD8 and the other kids the hill where DD8’s stroller started careening down without our noticing on our last trip to the zoo. She was 3 months old on that trip, in her carseat (not buckled in though) but latched into the stroller asleep when all of a sudden while we were watching the zebra’s her stroller started rolling down the very steep hill towards a bus. A really fast-acting gentleman raced to our aide and caught her stroller as we were helplessly much farther behind it tried to chase it. We were so appreciative and tell that story to DD every now and then so it was her main ask to see at the zoo. Along the path to the zebra’s there were some bears and other larger mammals and we stopped to catch them whenever there weren’t many people around and we took a slight detour on the Panda trail to see the red pandas and some lemurs.
We took one rest stop to sit and refill drinks and eat some of our packed snacks at the seating for the Hua Mei cafe near the Panda area (and all commented on how sad we were that there weren’t real actual pandas along the trail like there had used to be). And carried on towards the steepest of steep hills to the zebra exhibit. There were more flamingos just before the start of the steep hill and we paused here to collect ourselves and prep for the hill ahead of us. It was steep. I was worried DH would really aggravate his foot but the many rest breaks we’d taken (and probably partly his thrill and excitement of the refillable cups) had improved his outlook so he was game for the hill. We took it slow and stopped halfway up at a bench that was off on flat ground off to the side. And we finally made it, to the zebra exhibit, nearly the top of the hill only to be met with a sign along the lines of: “Zebra’s currently off exhibit. Please see our zebra animal ambassador in the Urban Jungle” Since it was the hill more than the zebra’s we were actually there to see we all got a good laugh, and calf workout for all of us that walked, and for me pushing the two littles in the stroller an upper arm workout. We snapped a pic of DD at the top of the hill where she careened down as a baby then breezed downhill. Stopped at the bottom to get some pics of the two DD’s in matching dresses in front of the flamingos & then made our way back to the front of the zoo.
DD1.5 had napped in the stroller sometime after lunch, but DS4 (who had only asked to go home once or twice so far during the day so we were fairly pleased he hadn’t melted down entirely) hadn’t yet napped but just so happened to fall asleep as we made our way back to the front. Once there, DH needed another break for his foot so we stopped to decide if we were done with the zoo or not. DS9 had been navigating us from a map to everywhere we wanted to go mentioned that I had said we would start at the reptiles but we had ended up going the opposite way to the koala’s for DS4 so could we please see the reptiles before leaving. We left DH resting on a bench with DS4 sleeping while I walked with the other 3 through the reptile area. This part of the zoo was dead and we had so much fun perusing the small frogs, snakes and then got a really awesome sight of two very active tortoises fighting over their plate of lettuce and literally chasing each other around their entire exhibit- all to ourselves. After we had seen most of it, groups of people started filtering in so we headed back to DH, DS4 woke up as we arrived and we did one last potty stop for everyone before exiting the zoo.
From the awesome advice we received here we knew we shouldn’t head up to Anaheim until after 7pm and so the plan had been do dinner in SD. It was only just barely 6pm when we left the zoo (we had all vetoed more zoo food for dinner) so as we packed up the car we talked dinner options, strategizing also where to get gas and a coffee for the drive. We quickly realized that we didn’t want to research for dinner in the area, didn’t want another fast food drive thru on the way and would all much rather put in an online order of Pizza Press to pick up in Anaheim to eat in the room upon arrival. We still had about an hour to kill though before traffic would die down so hit up a gas station next to a Starbucks, got gas and each kid a drive snack to make it to Anaheim and then through the Starbucks for coffees for Mom & Dad to drive and navigate the way. This took us close enough to 7 (6:40pm) so we left just slightly early but traffic never seemed too bad and we got off the freeway in Garden Grove to where my kids always say “Follow the palm trees to Disneyland” at 7:59pm. It was an awesome sight to see again and super emotional just arriving back.
Our Pizza Press online order wasn’t going to be ready for another 20 minutes so we stopped at the Target on Harbor for more essentials (this time for the whole week in the hotel room) and then one last stop at Pizza Press for dinner. They expanded their outdoor seating (like most places this last year) so we added on fountain drinks and enjoyed our food on their patio getting refills from their machine and soaking in being back and being just across from the Guardians of the Galaxy tower! It felt like we had never left and in that moment the stress of the last year was totally absent.
After eating we decided to drive all the rest of the way up Harbor to get a proper glimpse of DL and that was also super emotional & heart-warming. When we turned back around to come back to the hotel though we also caught a glimpse of the crowd leaving the park and it looked no different than any old day in June from year’s past with a crush of people crowding Harbor just after park closing, so there was a little bit of stress that returned realizing we’d be in that starting tomorrow, but we doubled down verbally on the importance of making sure we kept up our extra safety measures we’d discussed in the zoo and pressed on to the hotel.
For the Anaheim portion of our trip, we stayed at the Castle Inn & Suites and I’m surprised we’d never considered it before. The price was great, the rooms were well maintained and their parking situation wasn’t cramped/crazy as some of the other hotels. Tom Bricker’s DisneyTourtistBlog website had a spot-on review of it that I read before booking it and after our stay, I can confirm that every single thing he said in it is still true and I wholeheartedly agree with him (which is often the case with his hotel reviews so I felt fairly confident in booking this one for a long trip even though we’d never tried it). Lastly, their location putting us just next door to the Pizza Press is always a huge bonus in my book (I may be slightly obsessed with the Pizza Press though and already miss it even though we had it just about every other night while there). We settled in nicely, unpacked and got all our park bags ready to kick off our next morning and first time back to Disneyland in a year and a half.