Back in 1998 when I flew to San Diego, Southwest wrote Sandy Eggo on the sign at the gate. That’s always stuck with me. That and I was seated next to two 20-something guys who were talking in-depth about the Iran–Contra affair. Thankfully I had headphones. Then of course there’s Anchorman. But as someone who lives in the Pacific Northwest and constantly hearing from people who don’t live here about how it rains all the time (it doesn’t), I imagine those living in San Diego get tried of hearing the Anchorman references. Along the same lines of people who call California, Cali. Whenever I hear someone say Cali—after my ears recover—I immediately know they’re not a native Californian. That was all over the place. The current state of my head after getting back into real life after our trip. Real life includes having five kiddos at home right now, two of whom aren’t mine, and the three who are mine are wound up having friends over. After feeding them all a second lunch, they’ve been set free upstairs. All I can think about is how my mom used to tell me—when I was about six—that I sounded like a herd of elephants when I was upstairs. I digress.
San Diego wasn’t supposed to happen until September. The original plan was to go to Legoland the first week of September, again. We went back in 2018 and it was dead, perfect. Like we’d get to go on rides over and over because there were no lines. They didn’t even make us get off. The lack of people was glorious. I was looking forward to a quiet Legoland in September. Plans changed. Instead of going in September, we went mid-week in early February. Turns out it’s also a perfect time to go. Except there was a heat advisory.
Laine has a meet in Arizona coming up and we were all going to go. That was the plan back in December, when I bought tickets for all seven of us to fly to Phoenix. The thing with gymnastics meets is they tell you which weekend the meet will be held but not the day or time of the competition. Each level competes at different times, often different days. Kind of annoying but it’s normal for us. We got word after the first of the year that Laine will be competing at 8am. We were set to arrive the evening before. The thought of getting everyone settled in late at night just to wake up early to get Laine to her meet at 7:15am—her required arrival time—sounded awful. And Bob and Tara were going to meet us in Phoenix but their plans changed and could no longer go. We made the call to only send one of us with Laine.
Southwest may be a budget airline but it’s always been my favorite. Hawaiian Airlines is a close second. But with Southwest, you get all of your money back to use on future flights. No fees. And no checked baggage fees. I also like how they don’t use service carts in the aisle. Not that it really matters. We looked at where Southwest flies and decided to go with the $60 flight to San Diego (and $63 back to Seattle). I opened our calendar and picked a Wednesday-Saturday in early February. I applied our travel funds for flights, booked a hotel, and rented a car. The trip was on! Even though it was about five weeks out, it was last minute for me. And bonus: we had enough flight credits left over that we have another trip booked and on the calendar.
We left on a Wednesday morning. This was the first time we were flying as a family of seven. And the first flight for Saige, Baby, and Maive. After getting up and out, and dropping off Mel at his BFF’s house, we headed for Sea-Tac. I paid for parking at the airport to make life easy. The thing with getting older, I’ll happily pay for time saved. Kind of like how I’ll never paint or move by myself anymore. Some things are totally worth the expense. We parked and managed to get all of our luggage—including a carseat and two boosters—into the airport and checked. We also had a stroller. But that was checked at the gate. The airport was dead for Sea-Tac. There was no line at Southwest to check our bags; we walked right up. And security had maybe two people in front of us. But because we are a family of seven, a separate security guy called our family over to check our tickets. And then he sent us to a separate screening line. All of our stuff went on the conveyor belt as we went through the metal detector, and then the stroller had to be patted down. Success! We made it to the terminal with about an hour-and-a-half to kill.
We settled in near a window, watching planes take off. Brian grabbed some breakfast sandwiches, and we waited until boarding. I hadn’t flown in years. And I’m not a fan of flying. I used to be fine with it until I had Laine. I did some traveling before I had kiddos. And once I had Blaise, he and I would fly to California all the time. But once Laine was born—and we flew to California a few times—something switched in me and I haven’t liked it ever since. The last time I flew was July 2013. Flying is totally safe. I know the statistics. But I still don’t like it very much.
Pilot gals! The pilots left the girls to explore on their own.
The flight to San Diego stopped in Oakland before continuing on. We didn’t have to deplane. We had to hang out on the plane while the Oakland passengers exited and the San Diego passengers boarded. The pilots let the girls in the cockpit; Blaise was deep in a game on his Switch. Each flight was about half-full. And both flights were smooth. I watch the flight attendants like a hawk, haha. If they’re calm, then I can stay calm. And I learned on TikTok what the ding sounds are for—if there are three then there is a problem. The only thing worth noting on the flight to Oakland was the pilot used the restroom five times. On a two-hour flight. Poor guy. Either he partied hard the night before or he ate something questionable.
After the quick flight from Oakland to San Diego, we gathered our checked bags and set off on the shuttle to the rental car place. Chevy Tahoe rented, car seats and boosters installed, kiddos and baggage loaded, and the stroller barely tucked in the back, we were off to Carlsbad. It was about 2:30pm and our hotel check-in was at 4pm. Being extreme creatures of habit, we went to Denny’s. Just like we did in 2018 when we arrived in Carlsbad. Late lunch? Early dinner? Whatever. We ate and then left for the hotel driving down the 1 along the ocean.
West Inn Suites is three blocks from Carlsbad State Beach. It was the hotel recommended by Legoland. Last time we stayed at the Legoland Hotel, which was great, but I wanted a different experience this time. Not a creature of habit on this. We have limited options with seven. Not that we can’t squeeze into a room meant for fewer people, but we need the bed space and square feet. Being packed into a standard hotel room with five kiddos is not ideal. Not ideal at all. Our room at the West Inn had two king sized beds and a separate living space with a pull-out couch bed. It was perfect.
After checking into the hotel, it was time to hit the store for supplies. Eating out is the biggest expense with our crew. We probably spent more on food in San Diego than what it cost for the hotel. I don’t want to do the math because I know it’s true. With the kiddos older, I give them a packing list and leave it all to them. We haven’t had an issue with any packing since I started the lists about a year ago. Until San Diego. Saige forgot to pack her swimsuit. Heading to the store to pick up supplies turned into a trip to Target so we could get everything at one place. Saige scored a super cute swimsuit. And of course I grabbed another one for Maive because why not? Swimsuits, supplies, success.
Because we had a late lunch/early dinner, we decided it’s vacation, let’s get the kiddos milkshakes since nobody was super hungry for a meal. A few milkshakes and McFlurries later, we were on our way back to the hotel. The kiddos quickly suited-up and we hunted for the hotel pool. It wasn’t heated. Ugh. And the spa heater wasn’t heating up the water very much. We have bad luck with hotel pools. The kiddos didn’t seem to care and enjoyed the spa all to themselves. Baby and Laine took dares to get into the cold pool. The evening was winding down from the early morning travel and the excitement of being in San Diego with Legoland the next day. It was time to call it a day.
A few things to note about being in San Diego, back in California again. We have completely adjusted to driving in Washington. Driving in San Diego on the 5 in the slow lane—going 75mph—we were the turtles. I forget how fast Californians drive. Which isn’t a bad thing! I drive fast for Washington; slow for California. And the people! I forgot how incredibly populous California can be, in popular cities. People everywhere. Cars everywhere. Houses everywhere. King County is the most populous county in Washington. But it feels so small compared to San Diego County. And the highlight of being back in California, I felt more at home. There’s a California vibe that I still—and likely always will—relate to that is different than up here in the Seattle area. I relate to the Seattle vibe also but it’s more of an assimilation than a natural vibe. If that makes any sense.
Thursday was all about Legoland. I love Legoland. It’s not outrageously priced—even the food is cheap for a theme park; the rides and attractions are perfect for the age range of our kiddos; and it’s totally doable in one day. I’ve already told the kiddos that if they ever want to do Disneyland, they’re on their own and can go as adults. I cannot stand Disney. For a variety of reasons. Legoland is more my thing.
It was busier than I thought it would be for a random Thursday in February. But still relatively dead. Other than the heat, no complaints. My luck, there was a heat advisory the days we were in San Diego. It hit 91 degrees at the hottest part of the day, around noon. It started to cool and a nice breeze hit early afternoon, making it much more pleasurable to be outside. But still warm, mid-80s. I have completely adjusted to the Pacific Northwest weather and have no desire to ever live in sunny California again. Never say never though.
There’s nothing much to note about the fun-filled day; it was smooth sailing and we were able to hit everything we had our sights set on. Smooth-sailing includes all the bickering between kiddos, like who gets to ride with whom and whatnot. Standard kid nonsense. The only big bummer was the one roller coaster that Maive could ride was shut down for the day. She has no idea she missed out, so no biggie in the end. And the one roller coaster the big kiddos were looking forward to riding shut down for a few hours mid-day. We were able to hit it later in the day, but there was a line since everyone else wanted to ride the sucker. And by line, we had to wait one rotation of the coaster. The horror! Haha. The kids rode it about four times before we started to wrap up the day, hitting a few more rides a second or third time on our way out.
Ice cream, there’s something to note. Brian took the oldest four on a roller coaster that Maive was too small to ride. While they were on the ride, I took Maive to get ice cream. There was a mom with five kids ordering and she’s a genius. A one-scoop cone is about $5. A two-scoop cone is about $6. And a three-scoop cone about $7. She bought two three-scoop cones, asked for extra cups, and then removed the extra scoops and stuck them in the cups. All five of her kiddos and herself each ended up with one scoop. Perfection. I took note. We have kiddos who aren’t cone fans, so it would work for our five. Although, I know Brian and he would rather simplify the whole ordeal and just get each kid a cone with one scoop. He like easy and I get that. He humored me though and when the four kiddos finished riding the roller coaster, we did buy two, two-scoop cones and removed the second scoops into cups. Haha.
Thursday night was lazy. We hit the In-N-Out drive-thru on the way back to the hotel. Nobody was super hungry from a late lunch at Legoland. And I didn’t want to deal with a sit-down restaurant with tired kiddos. I was looking forward to getting Round Table Pizza because it has been a few years, but we ate pizza for lunch at Legoland. And as much as I love pizza, I can only eat so much pizza in one day.
Back at the hotel, the kiddos ate and everyone settled in for the night. We debated about hitting the spa again but decided with tired kiddos, bedtime was calling. All the kiddos watched TV in the living area before Saige, Baby, and Maive called it a day and passed out in one of the king-sized beds. Blaise and Laine weren’t far behind, passing out about a half-hour later. They’re funny. They were lying in bed, Blaise on his Switch and Laine on her iPod before they passed out. Brian and I called it a night about 9:45pm. We were tired also. And we knew we had a busy Friday ahead of us.
Friday was jam-packed. We started the day at the San Diego Zoo. Hit Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá after zooing. And then Carlsbad State Beach for the sunset.
San Diego Zoo
It was either going to be the San Diego Zoo or the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. I wanted the zoo; Brian wanted the safari park. In the end, I said I didn’t care and Brian picked. While he wanted the safari park, he went with the zoo because the safari park is more inland with less shade. And with the heat wave, anything cooler was the winner. No complaints from me.
The zoo opens at 9am but unlike Legoland, we didn’t plan to arrive right at opening. It was more expensive than I thought it would be. It was just over $300 for the seven of us (Maive’s free) and that’s with a corporate discount. For a zoo. I’m selfishly used to the Woodland Park Zoo here in Seattle, where I can get in for $7 with Prime. And even still, it’s under $20 for the Seattle Zoo without a discount. San Diego Zoo was a bit of a sticker shock.
We pulled in around 10am, and I fully expected to have to pay for parking. Because everything costs money these days. Legoland was $25 to park, in the second class lot. To my surprise, parking was free! There’s a win. And we scored one of the few spots under shaded structures. We parked and unloaded, and headed for the zoo entrance with everyone else. For a Friday morning, a school and work day, there were so many people. Wikipedia tells me the San Diego Zoo is the most visited zoo in the world. Makes sense now.
Walking to the entrance, Blaise and I spotted several license plates from different states. In the years we’ve been looking, we’re only missing Maine. I love how Maine had (until recently) an anything goes for vanity plates. Still no Maine plates, but several other states. South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Montana, and like 10 others. No Washington plates though, that we saw in the few aisles we walked down. At the entrance, we attempted to take a picture with everyone else but decided we’d grab one on the way out.
On our way out, we managed to take a less crowded entrance picture.
It felt incredibly busy as we entered the zoo, with everyone else arriving. But once we all got moving, it was more quiet as people spread out. Thankfully. Crowds, ugh. My friend lived in San Diego from college on, until a few years ago, and sent me a marked-up zoo map with the best route to take. We followed her map exactly. Brian had been before, like 30 years ago, and things have changed since then. Shocker. Her map suggestion was perfect. We followed it exactly, and then backtracked a bit to catch the aerial tram. I was at my height limit between flying and the tram, so I enjoyed most of the ride with my eyes closed, haha.
Exiting the tram, there is a food place. We decided to grab lunch. And thankfully we found a shaded table where we could eat. Pizza for lunch again. They have a vegan burger but it’s a black bean patty. Eh, no thanks. We all ate and recharged before hitting the other section of the map my friend marked off.
We passed back by the entrance heading to the Africa Rocks section. Like my friend said, it’s not the most exciting part of the zoo. I mean, the animals are are adorable but it was hot with minimal shade, and the poor jaguars. Their exhibit is pretty sad. I hope they have a more open space that we couldn’t see. Maybe they’re making a bigger space and they’re only in the small space temporarily?! Either way, they are such beautiful animals. We visited the rest of the Africa Rocks animals before almost heading out. Snakes. Brian wanted to check out the snakes.
Animals at the zoo! I love listening to others, like the two women who called the reindeer a moose. I’m curious if they figured that one out.
But first, a speedy turtle! This guy was super cute (last picture above). He was booking it over to see us before we entered the snake house. After we oohed and aahed over him, we hit the snakes. Saige and I aren’t snake fans. I mean, they’re cute in their own way but I’d rather not see them. I’ve gotten used to snakes on the trails, and no longer jump when I see them. But I’d still rather not see them. Brian and the four other kiddos continued on with the snakes while Saige and I found a shaded bench to wait. I like people watching, so that’s what I did. And I found a mango tree above us. The rest of the crew met up with us before we called it a day at the zoo.
These animals aren’t official animals. We caught them nosing about on their own. I suppose the peacock is an official animal, but it wasn’t in an enclosure. A flower making me want spring! And a mango tree.
San Diego Zoo, check!
Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá
Everyone humored me. I wanted to check out a mission. I didn’t really care which one but it worked out that we hit Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá. Turns out it’s the mission Brian did his school report on back in the day. I think every kid in elementary school living in California has to do a mission report. There’s something about the missions that interest me. Maybe how old they are. Maybe the architecture. Maybe nostalgia. We lived one block over from the mission in San Luis Obispo. We’d walk past or through it almost daily. Whatever the reason, everyone agreed to swing by the mission on our way back to Carlsbad.
Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá was the first mission in California. Back in 1769 before California. Hell, before the United States. It felt old. And historic. We paid for the self-guided tour, a whopping $12 for all of us. Kids are free. Finally, something cheap. And really, I would have happily paid more if it helps maintain the mission. The kiddos didn’t seem too impressed. They were still hyped up from the whole trip and coming down from the excitement at the zoo. But they went along with the tour, not really taking it all in but whatever. At least they went and saw the mission, and read a bit about the history on the signage scattered about.
As someone totally not religious and not a fan of organized religion, I’ve always loved Catholic churches. They are so ornate and beautiful. Although whenever I think anything Catholic, I always think of this fabulous monologue from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The mission did not disappoint—it was ornate and incredibly beautiful. We nosed around the open inside areas and then the courtyard, before making our way back to the entrance walking along the perimeter of the mission.
It was a quick stop, maybe 45 minutes, before we decided to load up and make the drive back to the hotel. But first, Carlsbad State Beach!
Carlsbad State Beach
It was approaching sunset. And my plans to hit up Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve fizzled. By the time we drove over there, we’d have maybe 30 minutes before sunset. And then we’d have to deal with traffic heading back to the hotel. GPS to the hotel was already close to an hour from the mission. And sure enough, there was traffic on the 5. All I wanted was to be on a beach for sunset. Plans were revised to hit Carlsbad State Beach, three blocks from our hotel.
It was fairly busy on the 1 driving to the beach. Brian took a detour through a neighborhood trying to find the house he’d spend summers at back in his youth. He has fond memories of spending weeks at a time down in Encinitas. No luck finding the house but a nice tour of a local neighborhood.
We eventually made it to Carlsbad State Beach and went for it, looking for parking in the actual beach lot. We scored a spot. And of course, you had to pay. Shocker. We managed to get our toes in the sand and water right as the sun was setting. There were several groups of people also enjoying the beach. A group of about five 14-15-year-old gals caught my attention. They were cute, hugging and dancing with each other, taking photos for Instagram. Or Insta as they called it. Living life. The beach life. Sometimes I dream about living back near the ocean and beach—or moving to Hawaii—and having a different lifestyle. But I’m not at the point where I want to make anything happen.
And beach kiddos, running from the waves.
Beach sunset, check. Dinnertime. Again with pizza for lunch, I didn’t want Round Table for dinner. And we were all tired and the thought of heading to a restaurant on a busy Friday night, nope. And so it was easier—and cheaper—to just grab McDonald’s, Bob-style. Brian says growing up, his dad would just order a ton of hamburgers and cheeseburgers instead of taking individual orders. Brian was one of six boys in his house, and this made life easier when fast-fooding. We made a deal with the kiddos that if we got McDonald’s for dinner, we’d get each of them an ice cream cone also. The drive-thru was relatively busy and we ordered fine, cones and all. But when we made it to the first window to pay, they said the ice cream machine was down. No surprise. There’s a website that tracks all the McDonald’s ice cream machines and when they’re down since it happens so freaking much. But as we drove away from the second window, we could see a worker making an ice cream something. We think they didn’t want to deal with five cones and the drive-thru. Big family problems.
A while back I was reading a Buzzfeed article about rude things people do. One of the comments was calling out large families who go through the drive-thru. Hahahaha. Clearly this person doesn’t have kiddos. Because the thought—and logistics—of parking and taking five kiddos inside to place a to-go order, and carrying all the food and drinks back to the car, sounds absolutely miserable. And then there’d be people who say it’s rude to have so many kiddos inside in line, taking up space and not standing still. And the inside orders being held up. Eh, we can’t always win at life.
Back at the hotel, the kiddos grubbed before we had another lazy evening in the hotel room. The kiddos watched whatever was on TV while I packed up. We had an early flight again. Rather, an early morning driving to the San Diego airport, returning the rental car, checking our bags, getting through security, and all that jazz. At bedtime, we were in a good spot to get up and go. I had all the kiddos sleep in their clothes for the next day, haha. All that needed to be packed in the morning were toothbrushes.
Saturday morning we were up and out of the hotel by 6:15am. We returned the rental car, checked our bags, and made it through security with little time to spare before our flight at 9:10am. The airport was incredibly busy. Weekend and all. The flight was smooth, stopping in Sacramento before continuing on to Seattle. Because we’re seven and the rows are three, one kiddo had to sit separately. It wasn’t a half-empty flight like on Wednesday. We made the deal that whomever sits solo would get a king size candy bar. Saige took us up on this offer. Which is kind of funny because she doesn’t like sweets; she likes the idea of sweets. We made the same deal flying down and Laine took us up on the offer, and cashed in at the airport before flying down. But that flight had ample space so she totally scored.
Traveling kiddos and a flight selfie! And a passed out Saige and Baby the first night back home. We were all exhausted.
It felt good to land, knowing we had the rest of the day ahead of us. We grabbed Mel on our way home and arrived around 3pm. We all unpacked right away and I started laundry. The house was in good shape because I cannot leave unless it’s clean and everything is put away. For starters, I’m a clean freak. And then I have this ridiculous worry that if anything were to happen to us, I want our home to be spotless for whomever would enter after our demise. Haha.
Back home, we took the rest of the weekend off—skipping Blaise’s archery class and Saige and Baby’s skiing lessons, all on Sunday. We have no real excuse other than we wanted a day off.
Until the next trips(s)! Laine is off to Arizona soon. And then we’ll all be on a plane again in a few more weeks.