Today’s mission was to explore San Diego county via public transportation and by bicycle!
The current trend in public transportation is to have bike-friendly buses and trains. The buses in Park City and San Diego have a 2-bike rack on the front and the trains have set aside spaces for bikes with restraining straps against the walls. For $14 practically every form of public transportation (regional trains, trolly, buses) in the county is open to unlimited use. The all-inclusive day pass as well as monthly and multi-day passes require the purchase of a $2 compass card. Much like NYC’s metro card you can load money onto it, or purchase multi-day privileges.
There are a variety of options including a day pass for $5 (which excludes the Coaster train and premium express buses), the $14 pass, 14 day, monthly passes and of course single and round trip ride tickets, which do not include transfers. I decided to pay the $16 for the compass card and the $14 regional pass which included the coaster. I drove from Vista down to the Carlsbad Poinsettia station (due to time restraints) and cycled along the coast to the Encinitas station to get my morning ride in.
If someone wanted to, they could start all the way from Oceanside on the coaster, or in fact, could connect to the San Diego public transport from Amtrak at the same location. The Amtrak and airport shuttles that go to John Wayne and LAX will connect you to anywhere in the world, so possibilities are endless!
The aptly named ‘Coaster’ is a high speed train that runs close to historic highway 101 for most of its route. The rail track runs even closer to the ocean than the interstate, and is a great way to take in a scenic ocean view without having to turn your head while driving. If this would be your first time to the southern California coast there would certainly be a lot of head-turning!
The timetable for the Coaster both in North and South directions includes several convenient options during morning and evening commutes, but is seriously lacking in mid-day options. The recent addition of Sunday service (though only in the summer), and late night Friday and Saturday trains is definitely a plus, but I would assume the locals would find the overall schedule too restrictive to use on a regular basis, or a night out. Still, the fact that a high speed train can get you from Oceanside to downtown in an hour for $5.50 is quite convenient in itself. Most vehicles would eat up more than that in fuel, and even without traffic it would take about the same amount of time to drive.
I rode from Encinitas down to Old Town and locked up my bike against a post outside of the Tea House, my all-time favorite tea shop. As it was still morning I selected an Indian Chai tea with the usual chai spices and a strong cumin flavor – yum! I walked with my tea towards the women outside the Mexican restaurants making tortillas and purchased a strawberry and a cinnamon for a dollar.
I strolled down the main street of Old Town to the tourist center and picked up a few maps and bus schedules and decided to take the 901 bus to Coronado to get to the farmers’ market. I walked back to Old Town transit center and hopped on the blue trolly line and got off downtown.
The trolly runs in the general downtown San Diego area and there are three main lines. The orange line runs through the mission valley area and services the general suburban sprawl of shops including the Mission Valley and Fashion Valley malls. The blue line begins at Old Town and goes all the way south to the international border. In other words, you could begin your journey up in Oceanside, or inland from Oceanside, such as Escondido, and take San Diego county’s public transportation all the way to Tijuana!
I rode my bike through the Gaslamp quarter downtown, along the Martin Luther King Jr promenade, past the convention center (where they have Comicon!!), around Petco Park, to the 12th and Imperial transit center.
I waited only a few minutes to catch the 901 across the bridge to Coronado. The first few stops were rather quick but as we headed down Orange St the bus filled up quickly with high school students and it was taking so long to get down the road I almost jumped off thinking I had gone too far. I actually should have jumped off much earlier and biked the rest of the way to the Hotel Del Coronado because biking is generally much faster in traffic!
I reached the Hotel Del Coronado in all of its spectacular high-priced touristy glory and walked my bike down to the beach. I wasn’t particularly concerned about locking it up, although the water was quite a ways from the sidewalk. I hiked up my bike shorts and splashed around in the shallows for a few minutes, enjoying the cool water on my feet and the light coastal breeze cooling my skin.
I rinsed my feet from the tap provided by the hotel and changed to my flip flops. I put on my long-sleeve shirt to protect from the sun and instead of taking the main road I biked the side streets down to 1st street and then along the north side of the small peninsula.
I reached the ferry port on the north side of Coronado and searched for the farmers’ market. I found the dock, and a small selection of touristy shops and cafes.
Just on the other side of the shops I began to see the tell-tale white tent tops of the farmers’ market. I sampled cheeses, almonds and various fruits. I decided to buy some of the multi-colored heirloom tomatoes (which I was tasting for the first time), a fuji apple, some delicious figs, and blood orange juice. The blood orange juice had a more mild, less acidic taste, and had hints of a berry-like flavor – very tasty! There were a few of the same vendors that had been at the market in Encinitas, but at least half of them I hadn’t seen before. It was a relatively small farmers market (I can’t recall more than 12-15 vendors), but had good variety.
I rode down to the Naval Base and caught the 901 bus back downtown. I had been contemplating biking over the bridge but it’s a good thing I didn’t try because it’s strictly prohibited. Apparently they worry about suicides, and as I took the bus over I realized the bridge itself had an extremely short barrier and it would be far too easy to fall over the side by accident!
I enjoyed the bus ride, as I had been chatting with a group of co-workers both at the bus stop and during the ride. Most people exited the bus at 12th and Imperial, where I had hopped on, but instead of jumping right on the trolly I decided to bike around the Gaslamp Quarter and up towards Little Italy. I stopped at Del Sol, a shop whose products all change color in UV light. I especially like their nail polish, and was disappointed to find their Old Town location had shut down, but for $9 I may have to get some when I return from my travels.
I rode up Pacific Highway to Grape St and had a feeling I had already passed Little Italy (which I had) and headed across the train tracks and back south. I had only intended to cruise the street on my bike, but it was frustrating that it was a one way going north! I navigated the few blocks south and waited for the blue trolly to come pick me up again.
I parked my bike against the back of a wooden bench in front of the tea and coffee shop again, and went straight to the Hawaiian Cocoanut Rooibos tea container and asked for an iced glass. This tea tastes like a non-alcoholic sugar-free pina colada. All the flavor and no calories, alcohol or caffeine! Super tasty and refreshing on a hot day. The day had actually started to cool off a bit, being that it was almost 6pm, and I had only an hour in Old Town before the last Coaster would come by.
I had a nice chat with Mike and Jason who work at the shop and I found out that the reason the shop looks so different now is because the previous owners retired, and I believe Jason said that the owners of the Silver shop next door took it over. Perhaps I just thought that because there is now a doorway on the far wall, where more teas used to be, leading next door to the silver shop. They no longer sell the teas in wooden boxes, and their selection is not as large. Still, since I no longer live in the area it would be difficult for me to exhaust their still vast selection!
I wandered up the street and got cinnamon and chocolate tortillas while deciding where to get some dinner before heading on the train. The main street of Old Town (outside of the historic area) is lined with Mexican restaurants; one has taco specials on Monday, one has Taco Thursday, one does more of a happy hour special than a real taco night. I arrived at the bar of Coyote Cafe and decided to indulge in their Taco Tuesday specials. I got two fish tacos, an ‘al pastor’ taco with pork marinated in pineapple (the meat was good but I didn’t taste a strong pineapple flavor), with some avocado sauce on top. My meal was completed with some home made chips and salsa.
On the way to the transit center I stopped back into the tea house and picked up some Vienna Cinnamon flavored Mexican high altitude coffee for Michelle. They use cinnamon sticks to flavor the beans and the scent and taste are quite strong! I am not a coffee drinker but I always love the smell of good coffee!
The twilight was setting in and the air was cooling down as I waited for the train at 7pm. Along the way the last bits of light were leaving the sky, but not before I got a chance to scope out the bike trails in and around Rose Canyon, connecting UTC with the inland area near Pacific Beach and Mission Bay.
I returned, exhausted, to my car and loaded up my bike. I lowered the windows and turned on the radio as I rode out of the train station parking lot. Electronic dance music accompanied the rev of my engine as I drove out into the cool air of the night.