October 22nd, 2022
After a really intense 4 days, traveling 5000+ miles, visiting 3 theme parks, and a seriously intense horror night, it was time for something a little more chill. We were spending the day traveling down the So-Cal coast for a couple of days in San Diego. This is a 100+ mile drive so we broke it up and visited a few of the attractions included on our 4-day attraction pass from Go City.
The first one that was really standing out was the Whale Watching tour in Newport. We have done whale Watching before from San Diego, but it’s very seasonal and we were well out of season, but Newport is a year-round whale-watching destination. So we headed there for our pre-booked tour.
Whales are on the whole seasonal visitors to the California Coastline, but we have seen whales year-round out of Moss Landing up near Monterey. The whales visit here year-round as there is a DEEP submarine Canyon that wells up nutrients and hence food year-round for the Whales. What we didn’t know is there is a similar anyone off the Coast of Newport. it’s not quite as dramatic as the Monterey canyon or as productive but it still supports year-round whale and dolphin activity. Even so, this was still not the best time of year for whale watching so our aspirations we fairly low, but as long as we got a present ride out on the ocean and some kind of Wildlife sighing we would be pretty happy.
We are however pretty lucky usually when it comes to our Whale Watching Trips.
Newport Landing Whale and Dolphin Watching – $55
We really didn’t want an early start after such an arduous start to the trip but we had a pretty long journey and another attraction to do today, plus ocean conditions are more often than not better in the morning so we booked our tour for 9:30 am meaning we would need to be on our way for 8 am. We grabbed a Starbucks and hit the road early, however with jet lag still with us and repeated early starts 8 am didn’t really feel all that bad.
We arrived at Newport in good time with little in the way of traffic. There is ample parking at the beach and rates are pretty good. We paid abt $5 for 4 hours which by L.A. standards is basically free! We then walked over to the meeting point at the store and checked in.
While we were waiting to board we were offered an upgrade to “VIP” for $20 which included sitting on the upper deck, free binoculars, and an extra free drink, one was already included with the pass anyway. As the trip was included in the pass, $20 did not feel like it was an overly expensive upgrade so we decided to go for it. This proved to be a really good idea as we got to sit right near the captain and hear exactly what was going on.
We all then boarded the catamaran and headed out to find some wildlife. The first, and last, part of any trip from Newport is out through the harbor, this is a 1.5-2 mile sail along the calm flat waters of Newport bay. It’s a beautiful area to sail through and our position atop the Vessel gave wonderful views of the very expensive real estate that lines the hills and the equally pricey yachts and vessels that line the bay. The gentle cruise set the scene for the slightly more rugged ocean conditions outside the harbor.
As we cruised out we were chatting with the onboard naturalist and the Captain and also listening in on the radio conversations between the other boats that had already sailed. Despite some good activity the last few days, things looked pretty bleak today. There had been no Whale sightings and only a few small pods of dolphins.
Due to the choppy seas, our captain didn’t seem keen on trying to show us a small, 20-30, pod of dolphins, due to the difficulty in picking them out in the waves. The day was also pretty overcast and the temps had plummeted, and after the stunning late fall weather, we had been having it was a bit of a shame. The trip really was looking like a bit of a bust.
However, our captain was not really having any of this nonsense. We never really judge a tour like this on what we see. This can be outside the control of the crew and sometimes the wildlife just does not want to play ball. Instead, we look for crews that try their best to get us the good stuff. Some boats just go through the motions and if whales turn up, then great but if not, that’s nature. We look for captains that really try and go the extra mile to get us to the action.
This is exactly what Captain Larry did and taking in the dire reports of other boats he deemed to avoid all the spots they had already visited and prospected out a new spot that had not been worked that day. On the steam out we were served the first of our included drinks, and we enjoyed the cruise and listening to the captain and his reasoning for his direction. He was constantly peering through his binoculars, scanning the ocean, looking for signs of life, not just whales, but birds, disturbances in the water anything that would indicate some action.
Eventually, we found a small Pod of dolphins, but again these were not adequate for Captain Larry, who seemed intent on finding us something bigger and better. We really do appreciate this kind of effort and it really shows the quality of the tour. At the very least, he did find us the sun, which made the ocean voyage even more enjoyable. As optimism began to fade, Larry instructed us to head to the bow of the boat as he hoped he had come upon a pretty sizable Pod of dolphins…
At this point, the water in front of us seemed to be boiling, a large mass of really turbulent water just out in the middle of the ocean. The captain was on the loudspeaker explaining every one of those splashes, and there were hundreds, was an individual Common Dolphin. Captain Larry had hunted out for us a giant Super-Pod of dolphins.
It really was a stunning sight as everywhere you looked there were just hundreds of Dolphins. They played in the bow of the boat, lept from the water as they swam along with the vessel, and as far as the eye could see in all directions was the continuous splashing of dolphins as we cruised along with the Pod as they searched for the next meal. It is one of the most incredible sights we have ever seen, and we have done a lot of these trips, the sheer number of these stunning creatures really took your breath away. As ever, pictures tell a thousand words…
After tracking along with the pod, changing direction a few times, and seeing a few stampedes of the pod we realized time was getting on, and on the whole, the pod had been luring us further and further out to sea, so it was time to head back.
It had been a bit of a rough journey on the way out, but coming back was due to be a bit calmer as we would be with the wind and the swell. A few people down below had gotten a little green with the conditions but the captain did his best to keep everything s calm as possible in the rough conditions. The boat was really stable and was handling the swell really well but some people are just susceptible to a little seasickness.
The captain remained optimistic we would spot some more life, maybe even a whale on the way back, but it seemed we had peaked at the Super-Pod and just enjoyed the cruise back in the now quite warm and sunny conditions, enjoying the second included drink of the day.
Back near the harbor, the Captian explained he had wanted to take us around near the coastline to see some Sealions, but due to the number of people green at the gills, he thought it best to head into the calm waters of the bay.
We do a lot of Whale Watching, in Maui, California, and even Iceland and Australia, and this trip had been one of the best trips we have been on. We know we didn’t see whales but the Super-Pod was truly inspiring and not something we had seen before. We also love seeing the captain working so hard to get us a great experience on what was a pretty poor day on the water for most people! He also explained that the pod was running fast for deeper water and no other crises were going to get to see them that day as they would be miles offshore in no time. We really had lucked out!
We were really happy to have found this tour and will definitely be back as more often than not when in San Diego we seem to be out of the two Whale seasons so often miss out, so it’s great to know there is year-round whale-watching at Newport.
The other great thing about Newport is it’s the setting for one of Kate’s favorite TV shows from her Youth…The OC. While not much of the series was actually shot in Newport, the Beachside town was the actual setting for the Drama so we thought we would take some time to explore. We had spent plenty of time on other trips actually hunting out filming locations from the show so this would be more about actually enjoying the area.
Before leaving our tour, the captain gave us one final gift, the name of his favorite Seafood Restaurant that served the best fish tacos in the area. This was no tourist trap but the place locals eat at and one of the few places he will actually eat fish at. So we had to give this spot a try.
We headed over to the restaurant, the Bear Flag Fish Company, in the very upmarket Lido area. Bear Flags was one of those Fish places where they operated as a fish monger and restaurant, so the fresh seafood was on display to buy and cook at home, or you could grab some ready-cooked in a variety of styles. We ordered some Mahi Mahi and Ono Tacos and a Balck Cod Burrito to share and they were the best Fish Tacos we have ever eaten. With huge slabs of Mahi Mahi with all the toppings and perfectly cooked fish, we can see why we got the recommendation. The Burrito was really good but not quite as spectacular as the Tacos.
The outdoor seating area was really nice and the whole experience felt very OC as we relaxed in a nice upmarket setting surrounded by upmarket people thinking we could get used to this! However unfortunately our visit to New Port need to be brief as we still had to get to San Diego and visit the San Diego Safari Park before dark.
San Diego Safari Park – $65
The next leg of the trip had us heading down toward San Diego. This was around a 1-hour drive but traffic was showing really bad. It seems there is perpetual bad traffic on the 405/5 and we always seem to get stuck in it. For this reason, Google sent us down the 73, which is a nice newly built road that cuts quite a bit of your time and is largely free of traffic…this is because it’s Tolled. Oh well, $15 (due to rental car fees) shaved us quite a bit off our time.
We arrived at the Safari Park around 3 pm, a little later than planned but still plenty of time to take in this amazing attraction. San Diego Zoo is probably our favorite wildlife attraction we have visited and Its sister attraction is equally as compelling.
Set in 1,800 acres of open land the Park is unlike most zoos as the animals roam freely on the san Diego plains. This makes it a bit of an issue to navigate but the layout of the Zoo is really clever. Many of the exhibits reside in a smaller area that is easily walkable and then the more distant exhibits, out on the “savannah” are visited by Safari Trams.
We first headed to the walking exhibits and the first thing we noticed was a little bit of a disappointment. There were very few animals on display in the first exhibits we visited. As we wandered through the opening parts of the Zoo, there were just lots of empty cages and really nothing to see. It was really disappointing and wasn’t until later that we found out the reason for this. We thought maybe they had been moved indoors for the onset of winter (it was still mid-80 so…) but we found out that it was down to Bird-Flu and all Avian exhibits had been moved indoors for their safety.
Disappointing but understandable, and as we moved further in we transitioned from Avian to Mammals, and the first big Exhibit was the stunning Gorilla Enclosure. There is a large troop of lowland Gorillas housed here and they are really remarkable to watch. The Zoo is front and center in keeping these animals alive in the wild.
While Zoos can get a bad Rep San Diego is really a remarkable organization and had been key in saving a number of nearly extinct species. Several functionally Extinct and Extinct in-the-wild species have been brought back from the brink due to the efforts of the Zoo. Giant Panda, Californian Condors, Sea Otters, and many others have all been saved by the zoo’s activities. Even now the Zoo is battling to save the Northern White Rhino which is down to just 2 individuals, both Female and unable to carry calves. They intend to save them through invitro fertilization and implantation into the less endangered Southern Whites they have at the Park. Really incredible stuff!
From here we headed around to the Lions, The elephants, and the other African enclosures. As time was getting on we decided to jump on the Africa Tram and head out to see the various larger enclosures out on the plains.
There are several Safari options offered by the Park, but the Africa Tram is the free one that is included with your entry ticket. This 30-min tram takes you right around and through the main enclosures and gives you a look at most of the zoo’s many exhibits.
It’s not very well explained on the website and really makes you think you need to pay for one of the other options but in reality, the Africa tram is all you need and it really does cover most of the attractions the other safari options offer. These are worth considering as they get you closer and offer more time with the animals, but the Africa Tram is really impressive.
The route is narrated and you get to see many types of deer, gazelle, and antelope. All roaming the many acres of the Parks Reserve. There are also Giraffes, Wilderbeast, Zebra, and the Parks Southern White Rhinos. There are even wild deer that have taken up home in what is now a wildlife haven.
It’s a really wonderful experience well worth the journey out to the park from the City, or as we did stop in on your way to San Diego.
After the Tram, we still had Tiger trail and Aussie Outback to visit but time was just getting along and they are right at the top end of the park. Instead, we finished our day off at the various overlooks that look out over the safari side of the park. Here you can rent a tent and sleep under the stars while watching, and listening to the animals, this is something we have to get back and do at some point.
You can also get married here, and that is exactly what one happy couple was doing today, which was lovely to see!
After the Safari park, we finished off the short drive into San Diego. We had been a bit loose with the Fuel gauge and really we were getting a little short on Gas as we left the Park. Still, before getting back on the I15 we filled up and headed into San Diego as dusk fell.
We had opted to stay in the Old Town District of San Diego as the Día de Muertos was approaching and we knew the Old Town District would be a real Hub of Excitement. Unfortunately, this did mean the Hotels in the area were pretty pricey.
We had booked into the Hilton Garden Inn right on the edge of the District, but we were not exactly enamored with the location when we arrived. Lots of hidden charges and pretty poor service greeted us, on top of what was already a very pricey stay considering the level of accommodation.
Still, we checked in and the room was pretty decent, certainly an upgrade from the Motels we had been staying in so far.
It was now late and we were pretty tired. We considered heading into the Old Town district but instead took one of the few opportunities we had to grab an In-N-Out Burger. We can’t hit the west coast and not do In-N-Out and we really didn’t know when we would get one again. We hit our now go-to order of a Double-Double, a 3×3 Animal, and Cheesy Fries!
Old Town can wait until tomorrow. We then just relaxed in the room for the evening, the first time we had really managed any real downtime all trip!
Walking Total – 11,284 Steps – 5.7 Miles
Only the Safri Park really counted as exercise today so the Steps are the lowest for a few days, and TBH our feet REALLY needed it!
Go City San Diego Pass – Day 2
Today we started to get proper use out of the Pass. 2 Attractions, both fairly expensive got our running total to only $50 off break-even, with two full days of fun left to go!
We also noted that our Whale Watching Trip was priced by the Pass at $55, this is pretty hard to quantify. Booking Direct the tours are advertised at $28! But the pass also includes a free drink and Free Binocular rental ($5) and includes all Taxes and Fees, there is nothing extra to pay and there are very few bookings available for $28 the best we fund was $34 very early in the morning. Most were $44 and with the Drink and binocular addons, that’s $55.
However, our particular tour was priced at $77, so upwards of $87 with the add-on, and still, when we added our code for the Pass the price dropped to $0. So you can save quite a bit more with the pass than the guide price suggests.
This can be one issue with the passes, the list price is only one figure, and so many tours and entry fees are variable so it’s so hard for Go City to know what a fair indication is. We think the $55 is typical but it could be less or more. The flip side is it does not really matter, once you have the pass, everything just feels free!
- No Of Attractions – 2
- Cost of Attractions = $120
- No Of Attractions – 3
- Cost of Attractions = $219
- Cost of Pass – $279
- Total Savings – -$50