Weekend “Stay-cation” at San Diego’s Bayfront

Traveling as a family can not only be a wonderful learning experience, but a great way to reconnect with your kids by spending quality time together and even a quick trip to a nearby destination provides the opportunity for many memory making moments.

We recently planned a long weekend in San Diego (specifically Shelter Island and Point Loma, both a stone’s throw from downtown). It doesn’t get much easier than loading everyone into the minivan for a road trip that literally lasts less than an hour. Home to scores of museums and art galleries, restaurants, retail, world-class beaches, historic landmarks and world-renowned attractions, San Diego offers everything from an action-packed “stay-cation” to a leisurely take-each-day-at-your-own-pace respite from the workaday world.

With a 9 and 8-year-old in tow and only three days to pack in the fun, we decided to forgo arts and culture this time around and focus instead on relaxation, recreation and gain a little historical perspective so we were hoping it wasn’t too tall an order to arrange for accommodation that was on the water, amenity-rich with family-friendly recreational opportunities (bike rentals and a - preferably heated - swimming pool were on our wish list) and centrally located to the USS Midway (more on that later). We scored in finding Humphreys Half Moon Inn & Suites (www.halfmooninn.com), an intimate waterfront boutique hotel on secluded Shelter Island that offers up an ambiance and experience that feels as though you’re on a Hawaiian island vacation sans the five hour flight.

Cool ocean breezes, warm, friendly hospitality, sunny days, starlit nights, lush, manicured grounds, majestic palms swaying in the afternoon breeze, stylish event facilities, resort-style activities and stellar event facilities - these are among the things guests can expect of this property. Humphrey tropical vibe artfully blends the Aloha spirit whether you are staying in one of the hotel’s guest rooms, luxury Junior Suites (ideal for up to four guests), View Suites or Grand Marina Suites. We opted for a Junior Suite, which provided a spacious 450 square feet and featured a plush king-sized bed, sleeper sofa in a separate sleeping/living area, a mini refrigerator, microwave and private, furnished balcony (in our case, overlooking the sparkling marina lined with all manner of watercraft from small sailboats to luxury yachts).

A bit of history

More than three American football fields in length, the USS Midway bore the distinction of being the largest ship in the world for a decade. Today, it’s a remarkable, incomparable floating museum that offers a history lesson unlike any other.

The enormous USS Midway was the first of a new generation of carriers called “battle carriers.” She measures nearly 1,000 feet in length and from 1945 to 1955, she was the largest seagoing vessel in the world, a marvel of engineering in her day and one of the largest man-made moving objects.

After nearly 50 years of active service, including tours in Vietnam and Desert Storm, she was decommissioned in 1992 and is now the largest aircraft carrier in the world that you can tour. I’m a fan of the guided or self-guided tour and on the USS Midway, optional self-guided audio tour feeds you info at your leisure as you wander through all the open parts of the ship - and you’ll be surprised to find how much of the ship is open for exploration: multiple crew messes, kitchens, ready rooms, officers and enlisted quarters and more. A few dozen planes and helicopters are on display on the various decks and former aviators on the flight deck give visitors a glimpse into the complexities and unique required training and skill of pilots engaged of carrier takeoffs and landings.

After we spend the better part of the afternoon touring this historic ship, our family headed across the way to experience San Diego’s version of Central Park, The Waterfront Park in Little Italy (open daily from 6 a.m. - 10 p.m.). This expansive 12-acre park is just a stone’s throw from the bay and is offers a wonderful (and free) way to expend a little extra energy - complete with fountain jets, a splash pad, playground and expansive jungle gym equipment.

Then it was time to re-fuel. San Diego has a huge variety of restaurants to choose from: Thai, Lebanese, Indian, Mexican, and even Eritrean. For a funky rock n’ roll dining experience, the Corvette Diner (www.cohnrestaurants.com/corvettediner) was entirely too much fun – with a classic diner ambiance and servers resplendent in 1950s style, it felt like a true slice of Americana as we ate burgers and salads. The retro atmosphere and music is upbeat and energetic - the theme is carried over to their menu, with food items named after celebrity icons and pop culture from the 50s and 60s. It’s not just the theme that is fun, however: when we walked in the door we were greeted by an outgoing and welcoming server, and the staff really care about making the experience enjoyable for kids. And if there’s a wait for a table, not a problem. An adjacent arcade complete with from modern era touchscreen video games and classic favorites (pinball, skee ball) keep the kiddos (and their parents) plenty entertained.

A bit more history

Before heading back to Humphreys, we drove a short distance to the Cabrillo National Monument on the tip of Point Loma - the site that marks the point where Portuguese navigator Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo became the first European to set foot on California soil. He landed near Ballast Point in 1542 and claimed San Diego Bay for Spain.

At just 422 feet above the Pacific, the view eastward from Point Loma spans the San Diego Bay, the city skyline, and the low silhouette of the Laguna Mountains against a brilliant sky. To the west, the surf smashes against rocky cliffs and the blue ocean stretches as far as the eye can see. The top of the dramatic vista of the rugged peninsula is now home to the 144-acre Cabrillo National Monument - the site of what has been called “a park for all seasons,” characterized by tidal pools teeming with marine life, meandering hiking trails with unparalleled scenic views, historical and military museums bringing to life the bunkers and gun emplacements that protected the bay during WW((. With a lighthouse and Naval and Coast Guard stations, the Peninsula has long been an important landmark for navigation and the protection of the bay since San Diego became the state’s very first city in 1769 and is today home to Point Loma Naval Base and the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery with its rows upon rows of white headstones undulating across the rolling hills.

The rest of the evening was spent splashing around Humphrey’s expansive heated pool where the kids befriended other young travelers and launched into a seemingly endless game of Marco Polo (somewhat apropos given our recent sojourn) under the watchful eye of their parents, chatting up other (adult) hotel guests in the adjacent jacuzzi.

After checking out the next day, we made one more stop before heading home - for lunch at Soda & Swine (www.sodaandswine.com). Another unique Liberty Station eatery (Corvette Diner is also located here), Soda & Swine provided another fun-filled afternoon experience - complete with an extra long foosball table (spanning the length of four regular tables set end to end) to keep the kids entertained while we waited for our meals to arrive. Step up to the counter to start the ordering process: Choose your base “meatball”: The Swine is soaked port with Chipotle BBQ and pepper jack; The Hog arrives as Chorizo with Chipotle and mozzarella;; The Grain is quinoa with pesto and feta (there are several others, but these are the ones we sampled). Then move on to “Select Your Style” (how you’d like your meatball(s) to arrive): as a slider, on a submarine, as a “skillet of three” to sample multiple flavors sans bread; or atop spaghetti. Then you choose your sauce (marinara, mushroom, cream, Chipotle barbecue or pesto, select your cheese topping, add a side or two (our favorites were the roasted Brussel sprouts and mac and cheese) and enjoy!