Aptera to San Diego

May 26-30, 2022

Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,

We left the big city heading east and south ... in rush hour. This was actually counter to the "normal" commuter direction, but it was a challenge! I can't imagine hitting these freeways daily.breakfast

We stopped in San Clemente for breakfast and to relax after an hour of driving. Cafe Mimosa had been recommended on one website or another, I can never remember which one we use, and it lived up to the positive reviews.

Further south, we took some time to stop at the Oceanside tourist bureau, a practice we highly recommend. The lady at the desk was filled with good suggestions for sights nearby and in San Diego. We should have no problem filling our days as much as we want.

ApterasWe had a mid-day appointment in Carlsbad with Aptera, a startup car company I have become an active volunteer ("Ambassador") with. The Aptera roadster is a two passenger, three-wheel, hyper-efficient, and most unusual-looking vehicle. I have one reserved for 2023 delivery, but that's just theory. It's a long story, but today's job was to talk with Will, my contact in the the marketing department, to see if we could make progress on convincing Marianne this is not a completely nutsy idea.

will marianneWill showed us around the white prototype. In person, it is as unusual-looking as it is in the fancy marketing pictures. I think Marianne remains unconvinced.

My questions for Will concerned specifics of durability and maintainability. Aptera plans to service the cars with mobile service technicians, kind of like AAA or the Tesla "Mobile Rangers", but plans have not been finalized. For my part, I volunteered to contact our local community college to see if training for servicing the Aptera can be part of any general electric-car training they are developing.belly

My durability question concerns the "off road" option I had added to my order. The Aptera ground clearance seems a bit tight to me, so I lobbied for more space between the plastic body and any sort of rocky road. Will said details are not final, like much else about the car I'm afraid.Beta

In the workshop, the technical people were working with the "beta" vehicle, a rough-looking test mule for suspension development. Considering that this is the most advanced of the development vehicles, it's clear that the company has a lot of work to do before a configuration can be considered ready for production.

Overall, that might be today's conclusion: there's work to be done on the vehicle and on convincing Marianne of the wisdom of putting one in our garage. Stay tuned.

Our meeting was fairly quick, so we had an afternoon to be tourists. We decided to see one more California mission, a visit to add to our progress on see all in-state missions. We have see the ones in Northern California, but not the older, southern churches.

San Louis ReyMission San Louis Rey is in the hills above Oceanside/Carlsbad. Built in the early 1800s, the mission prospered until Mexico secularized all the California missions and the facilities fell into ruin in the mid-1800s. After that, efforts to rebuild came in fits and starts, but today the church and grounds have been completely rebuilt and restored.

We walked through the church, the graveyard, and the attached museum. Our mission visits have a similarity because the places themselves were of a common style and layout. The history of each also falls along similar lines, with the work being done largely by indigenous people, whose conversion was the Catholics' first order. We can discuss this whole matter in person sometime. For now, here are some pictures:

inside side altar
diorama graveyard courtyard
indian marker

A single monument honors the hundreds of indigenous people buried at the mission.


San Louis Rey was featured in the old Zorro movies. Remember?

HjeltsdessertAfter our mission visit, we checked in at the Best Western Hotel, cleaned up, and drove up to dinner at Cheryl and Steve Hjelt's Oceanside home. Steve was a high school buddy of mine, a half-century ago. We tried to catch up on current events, personal and national. That, and the great meal and dessert, kept us busy for hours. We will need another visit to fill in even more gaps in our recollections. Our place or theirs?

chargeEarly the next morning, I drove over to the Tesla Supercharger to fill up for the rest of our San Diego stay. Of course, I also stopped at Starbucks to work on these diaries. Unfortunately, I discovered a technical difficulty with uploading the files, so I am destined to fall farther behind. Oh well, problems get fixed, eventually. (If you see this, the problem was fixed, if not ...)

When we stopped at the Oceanside tourist office, the guide had recommended two local museums: The Oceanside Museum of Art and The California Surf Museum. Two museums and eating seemed like that would fill our unambitious day.

OAMMarieThe Art Museum was a nice size, not as large as others we've been seeing. Just four galleries. The docent Marie explained the first gallery, "A Kind of Heaven", noting that all artists are from Southern California. Their styles and media are distinctly modern, with plenty of computer-generated assistance. Interesting.

Hengsttriobeach house

SpaceThe next gallery was very heavy on technology, too heavy perhaps for us. Marie tried to help us experience the space about Safe Space, but I'm not sure we succeeded. The artists were all refugees, from various countries, and their stories were interesting, even if the "Artificial Intelligence" assistance was too obtuse for us.

boatAI vision

Gallery #3 was given over to Oceanside artist James Watt. HIS mixed-media work we like and, I think, understood.


VerdinThe last gallery held the work of a half-dozen local photographers. Most of it was street photography, shot in Oceanside and nearby. All were good, but the portraits of homeless people done by Jordan Verdin were exceptional. Each carefully crafted photograph was accompanied by words from the subjects, explaining their lives and difficult situations.

surf MOur next museum was much lighter. The California Surf Museum was quite small, basically just a single room; however, it told an interesting story. Displays explained the history of wave monitoring buoys, surf photography, and the evolution of surf boards over more than a century. The oldest boards include a giant one attributed to Duke Kahanamoku. The newest display tells the story of Caitlin Simmers, a tiny 16-year-old Oceanside high school student who is also the American Women's surf champion. The museum manager assured us she would become an icon in the sport.

waves Duke

After lunch, we walked down to the beach and the Oceanside pier. Lots of people having fun. The surf was small, but the young people seemed to still be having fun.

steel tree
pier beach surfers

Top GunThe final beach front attraction was the "Top Gun House". This was the small craftsman house that was used in the Top Gun movie when Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis got together. Local developers brought the building to this location to attract tourists for their nearby hotels. It was surrounded by eager movie fans, perhaps due to the opening this weekend of the sequel: Top Gun : Maverick. Fun kitsch. We need to see it.

Saturday started with check-out. Evaluation of our Best Western: OK, enough. Very busy with holiday weekend visitors, but friendly staff, clean, and roomy enough. Kind of a soft recommendation.

From there it was off to find someone who could do nails for Marianne. When traveling, hair and nails still need tending, but it's a little random about where one might go. This time, the little shop in Oceanside was OK. A travel success.

enterWe had not particularly planned the day, but the San Diego Zoo Safari Park was not far, so we figured we'd give it a try. On a holiday weekend. What could go wrong? Driving in, we hit the first of several lines and ended parking ($15) far from the entrance, but close enough to a shuttle bus stop. And a line. Up at the park itself we paid our fee ($120.60) and joined the crowd going in. Just a small line.

There are two parts of the Safari Park: walking among cages and riding through open plains. The highlight of the cages should have been gorillas, but only one young Western Gorilla, "Frank"(?), was outside for crowd entertainment. Otherwise, here's a little of what we saw on our walk:

parrot birds
sign not Frank
flamengos ballon tree

signlineThe tram through "the plains of Africa" was a challenge. First, the boarding station was quite a hike from the entrance gate. This was not too bad, since we did get to see birds and a few animals, but mostly we saw families with excited little kids. After walking, the boarding line said "60 minutes wait" and waiting that long among crowds was not what we wanted to do. Fortunately, the Zoo has a solution: pay extra ($40 for both of us) for expedited boarding. This cut the wait to about 20 minutes.

On-board, our driver/guide took us on a 20-minute swing through the park, explaining all sorts of animal behavior and details. That was actually pretty informative. For my pictures, however, we stayed so far away from most animals that they were little more than dots in the fields. Here's a couple shots, cropped way down to show what I could:

field giraffe cow

There are other ways to enjoy the Zoo Safari Park. Rides through the African plains can be 45-minutes guided in an open truck, or in even more extensive tours in small private groups. Visitors can even stay overnight and reportedly hear the lions roar. Any extra, however, is pricey. It's cheaper than airfare to Africa and five-star jungle glamping, but still the most expensive place in Escondido, California.

hotelFrom the zoo, we drove the 40 minutes into downtown San Diego to check into another Best Western. The hotel is a remodeled, two-story motor court, probably built 50 or more years ago, but it is surrounded by several new apartment buildings, each towering over the downtown streets. We had not expected such an urban setting. (Complete with sidewalks filled with camping homeless.)dessert

For dinner, we walked a few blocks down to Bud & Rob's New Orleans Bistro, based on no more than relative closeness and adequate internet reviews. It was just past the homeless encampments, but not yet into the more famous Gaslamp Quarter. Our main courses were good and the desserts were even better!

As we were finishing dessert, at 5:05pm, I received a text from Cousin Maryetta, asking if we were really having our Zoom meeting with cousins at 5pm Pacific. Oops! I had completely forgotten. We paid our bill, hustled past the homeless, sorted out the hotels wifi connection, and cranked up Zoom at 5:30.

Tom, Kathleen, Maryetta, and Tim all connected up. Thanks for being patient. It was great to hear everyone's news. Tim's official move to Lisbon is progressing. Tom and Kathleen have apparently sold their lake house and are contemplating moving to Italy. Maryetta is still a working psychologist, but promises to visit cousins in such interesting places. (Probably not Fresno.) These calls are fun, with plenty of laughing. (We wanted to to hook in Cousin Kim in Australia, but learned that she is suffering from debilitating complications from Covid, or from Covid-innoculation. We are thinking of her.)

Sunday, our only plan was to see Balboa Park and that was more than enough. The 150-year-old, 1,200 acre, park includes the San Diego Zoo, but we confined ourselves to the more limited area centered on the El Prado and the rebuilt areas of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and the 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition. That was more than enough to wear ourselves out.

building 1
building 2 protest walkway

Art CenterOur first stop was the Spanish Village Art Center, an ersatz village square, populated with artists' galleries and shops. The work of dozens of artists are on display and a few practitioners are available for chatting, a favorite activity of Marianne's.

courtyard seriografer seriagraphs

pixelated us

MOPANext came the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA). Just inside the entrance was a large screen, filled with hundreds of small portraits. The array would change, based on who was standing in front. The effect was mesmerizing.


The amazing main exhibit was by Nick Brandt, entitled This Empty World. The imagination to conceive such a shoot was remarkable. The technical difficulty of both the animal shots and the photos staged with actors and sets were worthy of a big budget movie, not still photography. We can easily say we have never seen such photography. (Note that the "set" was returned to its original grassland state.) Do open the small thumbnails!

exhibit statement artist
hyenas rhino

FriedmanFriedman 2Elsewhere in MOPA were more excellent examples of photography as art. The collection of Doctor Lawrence Friedman was interesting from the standpoint that he was a patron of photographers, not a practitioner of the art itself. Nonetheless, his mark on the local photography scene was apparently immense in terms of both support for photographers and for the community generally. Patron matter.

Housed in a set of cottages first built for the 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition, was the International Village. Each house was staffed by volunteers and most were offering the country's small baked treats, in trade for donations. We stopped at a few, notably Ukraine and Hungary. In the later, Marianne got a chance to use her native language chatting with a 1956 refugee. A new comer, in comparison.

czech slovak inside Ukraine
Hungary chatting scene

Farther along, we headed to the San Diego Auto Museum. This relatively small auto show was in another of the 1930s exposition buildings. There were plenty of cars to see in a quick visit, but we limited ourselves: A 1955 Chevy, that reminded Marianne of her first car, and a 1932 3-wheel Morgan Super Sport, maybe a precedent for our Aptera?

enter cars55 ChevyMorgan

air and spaceNear the south end of Balboa Park was the San Diego Air & Space Museum. Again housed in a 30s Exposition building, one original built by Henry Ford, the Air and Space Museum has a large variety of aerospace memorabilia, despite the fact that the original collection largely burned up in a 1978 fire, just before being moved into the Ford building. By now, our stamina was failing, so we zoomed through, not really giving justice to the place. Maybe you could visit for us?

st louisAmelia Erheart's plane

signWe had one more art stop: the Mingei International Museum, a place specializing in folk art, craft, and design. (We first stopped at the on-site Craft Cafe, because we were reaching the end of our energy and we hoped for a sugar boost.) The ground floor of the museum is free, but I have little memory of that part - and no pictures. The second floor, however, had more than enough to exhaust us. And here are pictures of things that struck my camera's fancy: a dragon, a cigar-band dress, paper mache, colorful porcelain and tiny beads. Fun art.

cigar bandsroom mache
Niki sign colorful
beaded horse world detail

After all we did at Balboa Park, we were exhausted. We drove back to the Best Western for "toes up" time. Nevertheless, I still felt a bit restless so, while Marianne continued to rest her pains, I walked in our urban neighborhood. A couple blocks away, I stopped at the 1927-hotel-now-condomium, El Cortez. This building once towered over the San Diego skyline, but now it ranks far below #1 in height. Still, it's a pretty place.

El Cortezlobbymemorabilia

Back from my little walk, Marianne and I chatted about our trip overall, specifically about where from here. The penciled-in plan was: Yuma, Tuscon, El Paso, Santa Fe, and return. Three-and-a-half more weeks. Covid is increasing. There are fires in New Mexico. Mostly, though, we have to admit that extensive travel just a couple of weeks after ending chemotherapy may not have been prudent. We are turning around. We will finish Monday in San Diego and return north on Tuesday.

chargeMemorial Day started early with a stop at a Tesla charger. So far, on this trip, we have had no range anxiety, although stations can get crowded. Our preferred practice has been these 5:30 am charge sessions when the time waiting is also spent writing. There's really no wasted time.trees

Our initial tour stop was back to Balboa Park. We had purchased a two-day pass, and we needed to visit more to get our money's worth. However, so much of the park is free, including just walking around among trees and buildings from the 1915 exposition. We also read about the nudist colony that was established then, giving more meaning to "expos-ition".

nudistsppond viewSD Art M

Nathan AlexOn our way into the San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA), we stopped to listen to Nathan and Alex as they performed/practiced. Their very proud moms said this was their first "public" performance and the boys had looked forward to it. We certainly appreciated and gave them applause and a couple bucks toward their college funds.

Inside SDMA, we were again overwhelmed with more art than we could digest. Here is a sampling:

Asian Art M solouette budda

The Art of East Asia was far more extensive than I can show. My favorites were the large Japanese temple Buddha with almost-human eyes and and old map of 1850 Edo - today Tokyo. It was interesting to imagine a sophisticated city with canals as extensive as those of Venice.

Artist Marianela de la Hoz presented a series of tempura paintings "from confinement" - that Covid-induced isolation we all have endured (are enduring?).

Fernando Casasempere brought 12 tons of copper mine waste from Chili to London and created imaginative pieces using high temperature ceramic processes as old as art itself. How does someone conceive of such an audacious project?

Notre Dame
sunset sign city

Some of SDMA's offering are strictly classical. On this day, I was struck with 18th and 19th Century impressionist and realist scenes of in-the-day travel. In a much more humble way, that's what I try to do with photos during our travel. However, I doubt the pictures will ever hang from museum walls.

One museum is all we managed. Our other possibility, the Institute of Contemporary Art was not open on this Monday. Next visit.mapcity

After some toes-up time back at the Best Western, we went out for a drive, without too much of a plan. Of course, no San Diego drive would be complete without passing over the towering Coronado Bridge to see the city and harbor.

city waterfrontlittle boatsbig boats

Once over the bridge, we had to see the Hotel del Coronado. On the holiday weekend, the place was thronged, but it was still possible to imagine its original life as a quiet and isolated resort for the middle class and above. When it opened in 1888, the Victorian beach hotel was it was the single largest resort hotel in the world. Maybe we could stay here next time? (Although my $28 hamburger for lunch might indicate a price range beyond our budget.)

del Coronadoinner

From Coronado, it was back to the mainland and Little Italy for some walking and dessert. Real gelato! And the city center scene was good for just wandering around (or driving around if one has a vintage Porsche.) Next time, we will be driving our Aptera.


From downtown we continued out Point Loma to the Fort Rosecrans military cemetery, appropriate for Memorial Day. The last resting place for sailors, Marines, soldiers and airmen, the site enjoys views of both the harbor and of the open Pacific. I'm glad we made it here on this day.

That's how we ended our last San Diego day and almost the last day of the South West Road Trip. We did review the previous day's decision to head home and confirmed that it was the right thing to do. Round 2 will have to wait.

Heading home. San Diego to Fresno is nominally about six hours of driving, a reasonable distance for most travelers, but too far for us. We did not want to drive across Los Angeles, since we'd already spent too much time being challenged by those freeways, so we opted for a desert route. Somewhere, Marianne had heard Temecula was a small town worth looking at, so we might even make that a real stop.

We did stop in Temecula and, as we often do is new towns, went to the tourist office to ask for guidance. The friendly attendant was hard pressed to point out enough to hang around for. We visited the City Hall, just because it was close. We wandered in the town, just for exercise, and then we left.

Temecula sign art? city hall

As a fourth grader, Marianne had been drafted by her teachers to serve as a translator and guide for a new Hungarian student coming into the fifth grade at Santa Catalina. That was Maria. Now, on just a few hours notice, we were going to visit Maria in San Jacinto, another almost-desert town not far from Temecula.

The drive over passed through vineyards and past wineries. For various reasons, Marianne and I no longer "do" alcohol, so we just drove past, but maybe you should stop. The places seemed inviting and the wine is reportedly decent.

In San Jacinto, we stopped at Maria's home, not really knowing what to expect. She turned out to be very welcoming and we were welcomed into a back yard patio that was a real oasis. Maria and Marianne caught up on the years, remembering that Maria had visited us about 5 or 6 years ago on her way back from an orchestra concert o r violin training up in Sacramento. That's her passion.

From there is was over to Sizzler for a great lunch, heavy on salad, but with some steak for tradition. The conversation continued and we all resolved to get together as we can. I think this was a nice last-event from our four weeks, because it pointed out that seeing friends may be the best part of travel.

That night, we stayed at a nondescript Best Western in nondescript Palmdale. It really felt like we were on the road.valley

On June 1, we left Palmdale, drove past Mojave, climbed over Tehachapi, and descended into the San Joaquin Valley. The flat farmland felt like home. Back at 904 E. Cambridge Avenue, everything was in order. Our watering and cleaning crews had done their jobs.

It was nice to be home. Hopefully, we will catch up with local friends and family, get the required medical tune-ups, prepare for a mid-summer art show, celebrate family birthdays, and then think about going on the road again.

Stay tuned.

John and Marianne