It’s been an incredible trip to the States, but like all good things, it is coming to an end. For the last leg of this journey, we’re back in sunny San Diego to see our friends and to get one last good hit of Mexican food before we head back to Sydney.
Our time in the States has been so good, starting with our landing in LA and living it up for the first couple of days. Then we flew to Kansas City, Missouri for a barbecue frenzy and some true MidWest hospitality.
Then we travelled to Chicago to explore more of the Windy City and hit some of the best bits of my favourite city.
We don’t have long in San Diego, but as usual, we pack it in. We’ve been here many times before and love the laid-back vibe, perfect weather, awesome food and of course hanging out with our mates who moved here years ago.
This trip to SD, we explore a new hotel, check out Little Italy’s farmers’ market, and some breweries and restaurants, then catch the Surfliner train up the coast to LAX and the beautiful Polaris Business Class Lounge that United Airlines has opened.
We hope you enjoy this Edition.
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx
It’s wonderful to be back in San Diego. And seeing our friends, who moved here about 11 years ago, always makes our time in this beautiful city even better.
We’ve been here plenty of times but it never gets boring. There’s nothing quite like seeing these iconic palms that line the roads here.
We’re staying in a hotel close to our friends’ place – the Handlery Hotel San Diego.
Set back from the freeway far enough not get noise yet close enough to be convenient, and next to a golf course to assure peace from neighbours, the Handlery is well located for a peaceful stay close to the city and many of the major places to see.
The bar and dining area, which is also the breakfast buffet, is comfortable and there’s a lot of parking. If you’re into your golf, there’s even a course right next door.
Part motel part hotel hacienda, the Handlery Hotel San Diego is a somewhat eclectic yet old-school accommodation.
Set on two levels surrounding a lagoon pool with its separate jacuzzi, the rooms facing inward are treated to the Handlery’s best feature.
Our ground-floor room was just a moment’s walk to the pool’s edge, shaded by palm trees, typical of the ‘40s style California motel you see in places like the Ace in Palm Springs, the Standard in West Hollywood, and closer to home in hotels like Halcyon House in northern New South Wales and of course Bannisters in Mollymook, NSW.
Guests tend to make a beeline for the spa and this side of the pool though, so if your room is on this side, expect to be part of everyone’s conversation whether you like it or not.
The hotel is also home to a car rental company with perhaps the lowest prices in the city. There’s even a ticket office where you can sort out music and sporting events, zoo tickets and even helicopter rides.
There’s something about a place that works with what it’s got. And although the rooms might be a little small by modern standards, the bathrooms and styling dated, the Handlery San Diego feels… wholesome. And if you’re looking for attention to detail and facilities, this place is all yours.
USB ports are throughout each room (even on the bedside alarm clock as well as in the wall), mouthwash and toothbrushes in the bathroom and a coffee machine in the minibar.
Guests tend to make a beeline for the spa and this side of the pool though, so if your room is on this side, expect to be part of everyone’s conversation.
It’s clear to see the hotel’s worked hard in the accessibility stakes too. Easy-access ground floor rooms, plenty of grip bars, easy-incline ramps, and even remote winch access chairs to life people in and out of the pool and spa.
We’ve put together this short walkthrough video of the Handlery Hotel San Diego to give you a better idea what it’s like.
We make our way into San Diego’s Little Italy. This suburb has grown so much since we were last here. It was already popular, but now the vibe is young and lively with so many more places for entertainment lining the streets.
It used to be just the occasional bar or restaurant scattered around. Now they’re everywhere. It’s great.
But today, the streets around Little Italy are even busier – the farmers’ market is in town. Taking over much of India Street, the market has an amazing range of food and goods for sale.
We take our time and wander through, looking at everything.
The fruit here looks so good and is well-priced too, but it’s the Mozambican piri piri chicken we go for. Since our trip to South Africa showed us the light of this delicious dish, we’re always on the lookout for it.
There’s also an Indian stall here selling the biggest samosa we’ve ever seen. We share one between us – it’s the size of my head – and realise we probably should have saved some space for other things. We’re too full to try anything else now!
It’s time for refreshments, so we head to Ballast Point Brewing. This brewery is a San Diego staple and sells every one of its beers from this city ‘cellar door’.
Christina has a four-beer flight where you get to choose small glasses of four different beers. They’re all good, but the Hellesbock is standout for her.
I go all out with a pint of Manta Ray Double IPA. It’s fresh, delicious and strong (8.5% and an IBU of 70). A highly recommended brew if you’re into your modern-style IPAs.
But then we go a few doors down to Bolt Brewery and things really step up a notch.
We sit at the bar and go through a few of their beers but easily the stand-out of the day – perhaps of the whole trip is Bolt’s OG IPA (7.3% and 71 IBU) – the quintessential West Coast IPA. It’s just a good job I don’t live nearer this place!
They also have a burger here called the Double Double Double – making it double of everything – patties, cheese and bacon. It comes out the size of a bowling ball! I’m tempted but just can’t do it. That samosa from earlier still has me in its clutches.
We make our way down to the waterfront near Little Italy and check out the San Diego Maritime Museum here. It’s pretty cool – there are lots of old naval vessels moored here, even tall ships and a couple of military submarines.
This is a part of San Diego we haven’t seen before. It’s well worth a visit.
The pool at the Handlery – especially when there’s no one else around – is absolute bliss. And with the autumn weather here in San Diego delivering that perfect warmth only Southern California can, putting your feet up with a good book is sheer bliss.
Before long though, other guests spot the opportunity for some sun and sequestrate the peace while they splash around in the spa and play music on their portable speaker. It’s a shame, but it’s probably time to get moving anyway.
Between breweries and catching up with our friends, we sneak off to one of our old haunts – Fiesta Cantina in Hillcrest. The margaritas they make here are great and the people-watching is off the charts. We also get to watch an artist work on his rainbow flag mural – the insignia of the neighbourhood.
On the way to our friends, we also pop into another of our favourite places La Posta de Acapulco – a 24-hour taco and burrito shack on 3rd Avenue.
The tacos here are huge and absolutely delicious… though the machito burrito here is incredible!
This evening, we’re with our friend out in Little Italy to check out the nightlife of this super cool suburb.
Our first stop is at Nolita Hall – unsurprisingly in the northern part of Little Italy. This bar is very cool and has a kind of beer hall feel.
And because it’s right under the flight path of the planes landing in nearby SD Airport, there’s even an old school scheduling sign that changes with the details of each flight going overhead. There are also a few funny ‘dad jokes’ up there for good measure.
We opt for a a snack while we drink and chat. The pizzas here at Nolita are well worth having a go at.
The margarita is excellent, but the surprising winner is the kale, olive and artichoke pizza. Really very tasty!
Our next stop is at the very sleek Kettner Exchange. It’s in a beautiful old building and has a stunning rooftop bar and on the floor below is a more traditional style American restaurant.
Christina and I share a Pig Mac – twin pork burgers with Big Mac trimmings in bao bun. It’s absolutely delicious!
This is such a coo bar. We could easily spend all evening here.
Our final day in the USA has come and we make our way reluctantly to the train station down town – Santa Fe.
I’m busy loitering on the station platform – against the rules the signage suggests – while we wait for our train. We’re quite excited about this train journey though.
It’s the Surfliner train that runs up and down the west coast and is a good option for avoiding the traffic between San Diego and LA.
We’ve also paid for the business class upgrade, which means you’re guaranteed a seat – not a luxury you can count on if you’re in the regular carriage.
The ticket also comes with a glass of wine and snack box. We’re impressed to find everything in the box is actually delicious too.
You can see why this route is called the Surfliner. The tracks run right alongside the coast and in places it feels like you’re on the sand.
It’s not all like this though and eventually, the tracks come further inland. But a large part of the train ride is accompanied by wonderful views like this.
Our top tips for this trip is to get on at San Diego’s Santa Fe Station, which is the start of the journey – giving you first choice of the seats. And also ask which direction the train is travelling in when you get on and sit on the left side of the train, closest to the ocean views.
Also, if you like beer, it’s worth heading down to the cafe car mid-journey and grabbing a beer. They sell enormous cans of really good IPA here for a very reasonable price.
Bear in mind, the train (currently) stops at Union Station in LA, so you still have to find your own way to LAX from there. There is a bus transfer called the Flyaway service that’s good value, comfortable and quick.
We finally arrive at LAX, check in and head to the lounge. United Airlines has the whole of Terminal 7 at LAX and their Polaris Business Lounge is absolutely stunning.
We’ll be giving you more info on this lounge soon, but here’s a snippet.
The bar at the United Polaris Lounge is superbly stocked, with great wine, beer and spirits on offer. We’re impressed with local and domestic craft whiskeys and gins available, and even some top-shelf Japanese whisky and my favourite scotch on pour.
I wish we’d got here earlier!
The staff here can also make you a wonderful cocktail to order as well, and of course there are soft drinks, tea and coffee available.
We start things off with a glass of Piper-Heidsieck Champagne before heading to the lounge’s restaurant for dinner. The whole experience at the Polaris Lounge LAX is extraordinary. A good way to start the long flight home.
But to be honest, it’s not too much of a hardship flying for 14 hours back to Sydney when you’re in the front of the plane.
United Airline’s Polaris Business Class flatbed seats turn into incredibly comfortable beds, the pyjamas they give you and the duvet turn the whole long-haul thing into a truly relaxing experience.
In the morning, just before we come in to land, a breakfast of fresh fruit, yoghurt and cereal with a cheeky pastry on the side gets us back in the right timezone.
We’re in a holding pattern for a while waiting Sydney Airport to find us space on the runway. And for the first time ever, we’re hoping the delay will go on just a little longer.
It’s been yet another whirlwind trip for us, but it’s been amazing all the same. America is such a wonderful travel destination.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this Edition.
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx