Just south of Mission Beach, lies a little cove, a stretch of sand bordered by an inlet and a rocky outcrop...Ocean Beach.
The southern most beach is Dog Beach. Bella's dream. We found a little hotel, Ocean Villa, just across the parking lot from this beach. I've never seen so many dogs at all hours of the day and night!
When I say 'Bella's Dream', it is. She LOVES the beach! She digs in the sand and likes to run in it. She absolutely loved getting into the surf, over her head and riding the waves!! Afterward, lying in the sand resting up for her next run/body surfing session.
But...Bella does not like dogs!! I think it is because she believes she is human. You should see her 'herd' the bambini in the house and if one does not cooperate, she will wrestle them to the ground using her body and forearms - it is funny and amazing to watch! She'll sit in a chair at the dinner table (but, if we all walk away, she will jump up on top of the table searching for scraps). And has claimed not only the couch as her own, but one of the 'red chairs', the Lazy Boy recliner in our living room.
She is good as long as no dog approaches - but there were a lot of dogs unleashed, running free, who wanted to make friends with Bella. She would crouch down low, and a rumbling snarl would start deep in her chest, her lips wrinkling back slightly in a nervous smile...most dogs got the message....several did not and Bella would spring like a mountain lion, barking as loud as she could. I did a lot of apologizing...
"Sorry!" I'd shout above the din. "Bella does not realize that she is a dog" I'd throw in for levity. Most of the time that would do the trick, as people gave me encouraging words, like - keep trying, that's how they learn to socialize! But, there were more than one passerby that gave me dirty looks, cold shoulders and 'hrumphs' as they retrieved their errant pooches.
At least my dog was on a leash.
But...before you can get to the incredible sands of the Pacific ocean, you must pass through some treacherous territory! Gila Bend (two four letter words), is a dead spot about two hours northwest of Tucson. It features a McD's and a Shell gas station that sells pottery on the side. It is usually our first stop as we head west. This year, they added a charming array of dinosaurs...Tonio puts on his best frightened face between the dueling dino's.
It's funny, we've always stopped here - hitting the restrooms and then going through McDonald's drive through for breakfast. And coffee - we'd still have Yuma to deal with you see. Kim always like to see the pottery and other various trinkets at the Shell. We'd always be amused at McD's, where Cody once rode a donkey in the parking lot, led by a man claiming to be walking across America to the Pacific.
Autumn captured the sun rise as we hurtled across the desert...
Followed by some Kimmy clouds - a welcome sign...
6.5 hours later....we made it!
It has long been our custom to make our first stop Little Italy in downtown San Diego...always parking at Filippi's. The bambini amused by my banter with the parking lot attendant a.k.a. "The Man with the Yellow Hat" from Curios George. This guy could easily pass for his brother - tall, slender and sporting a comically large brimmed hat that is not quite a sombrero. He has worked there for years and I steer the conversation in the exact same direction every time. He always asks: "Are you eating at Filippi's?" And I always answer "Of course! Is there any place else to eat here?" And then I bring up baseball, which I know he loves to talk about his Padres and when I tell him I'm a Phils fan, he always goes into his analysis of their team...And then we have lunch at Mimmo's, instead ; )
Autumn, casual as a summer day, waiting for her food.
Cody amuses Antonio with Vine videos as they wait...
And it is always worth it! The boys split a Sicilian pie, Autumn gets a big bowl of pasta, and I always get their Italian sub.
After lunch, we checked into our hotel and get right to the beach!
We stayed in Ocean Beach this year - Angie's family always loved it there and they have a huge dog beach!
Bella loves the surf and sand.
Autumn spent the day boogie boarding, despite chilly ocean temps.
Hordes of pelicans flew by in formation...
Autumn wades out into the surf.
And then gets Bella into the action.
Bella loves the waves so much. I think, if we unleashed her, she would just swim and swim.
Tonio is literally wiped out!
Cody shows Autumn how to catch a wave
In the ocean, the bambini find common ground. Felt like it strengthened their bond...
It seems we have been at the beach the last three June 13th - the half year anniversary of Kim's passing. I would stare hard at the waves and up and down the beach, looking for her...
Right off the beach, the kids wanted to go to the Belmont Amusement Park at Mission Beach.
Tonio, finally tall enough to ride the old wooden roller coaster! And he LOVED it! He and Cody went on at least six times!! Last year, we left him in the care of the ride operator. He watched, hoody up, in silence as we whooped and shouted. This year was amazing for him.
The boys do the bumper cars...
And talked Autumn into going on the G-Force with them! The boys went on this one about six times, too!!
Autumn, combing for shells. She found some incredible ones, as usual...and this 'pose', always reminds me of Kimmy...
"We Love Viro's"! A tribute, which we took to the FB pages!!
The boys had fun burying each other!
After the beach, dinner at Anthony's Grotto! Another family favorite - right on the harbor in downtown San Diego. We always love going there and getting a table overlooking the water.
Best fish tacos in San Diego!
Cody tried swordfish for the first time and loved it!
We even hit the San Diego Zoo. Over ten years since we made it there. Cody requested the visit!! I know the window on our family vacations may be short, so, I was happy to take him there. He remembered so much more than I could believe, and thoroughly enjoyed himself.
Atop the double decker bus tour (yes, I did manage to doze off and take a good, no great, power nap!)...Tonio was amazed at the number of animals they had!! He loved the red panda and all of the reptiles, especially the giant komodo dragon.
Autumn took pictures of nearly every animal in that zoo! I loved seeing the zoo through the bambini's eyes...
The boys take in the meerkats.
Autumn's favorite were the gorillas.
They all liked watching the hippo walk under water
And they couldn't believe how the big the zoo was, needing moving sidewalks to get you to upper levels!
It was a neat visit - I was pretty wiped out by the end of this day...but we weren't done yet!
Within walking distance of our hotel, was a neat little downtown area. Mark, Angie and Andrea agreed that we had to get the New York Pizza there...it was fantastic! And the best part was, Bella was welcome!!
The slices were huge!
Cody and I split a calzone.
The lady behind the counter flipped the dough high into the air, to the delight of the bambini!
And, the beer on tap selection was phenomenal! (I apologize that this video is shot sideways. I did not realize. And I'm sure it was not the beers affecting my abilities to shoot a pizza girl flipping her dough, while she sought an update on some sort of business transaction from a man who appeared as I attempted to capture her flippery.) Bonus, considering we could walk home!!
In the morning, we were back downtown to Little Italy, at Solunto's (reminds us of Viro's!) to have breakfast with our old friend, Jeanne. Jeanne owned Bella Stanza, the shop where I loved to get Kim something for our home every year. Jeanne just retired, literally closing her doors days before we arrived. She has watched the bambini grow up...so it was good to catch up with her before she runs off to Denver and Washington state visiting grandchildren and then to Russia for a river cruise!
We walked to the end of a long pier they have at Ocean Beach.
It is easy to imaging jumping off the pier, plunging into the chill Pacific and leisurely swimming back to shore...
Tonio admires the view
Just off the pier, tidal pools, formed in some beautiful rock formations!
My damn finger!
The kids found crabs, urchins and sea anemones
They had hours of exploratory fun!
Later that night, we went to Old Towne San Diego...One of Kimmy's favorite destinations. We had a nice meal at a little place called Fandango's and walked the streets...at the end of one, Cody stopped and said 'Didn't we stay there one time?' Yes, we had. Kim had found us a little cottage at the edge of Old Towne one fabulous year. 'I remember hunting for snails in the bushes.' Cody recalled, with real nostalgia...
We watched Mariachi's and dancers in the courtyard of the old Presido...
Walking the streets, we saw many homeless. One had a chicken, perched on top of a Rottweiler, with a sign that said 'Donate for a Photo with dog and chicken'...
I noticed Tonio trailing farther and farther behind us...I let him catch up and he told me that he had been giving $2.00 to each and every homeless person we had passed, from his own wallet!!! He has Kim's big heart...
The temperatures in San Diego were so nice...the bambini needed this trip to recharge their batteries...for me, it is a lot of work, but so nice to see their smiles - especially Cody's. My plan is to hit the lottery. For just enough to afford a small shack on the San Diego beach..to spend summers with the bambini...
And, at the end of the day, we walked the streets of Ocean Beach, in search of a cold beer for dad...