A weekend of firsts in San Diego, CA

3 people, 450 miles, 2 days

by Johnny L.


Living in Los Angeles can sometimes leave a lot to be desired when it comes to nature and the great outdoors — especially since I was born and raised in the nature-rich city of Boise, Idaho. Growing up, I was often surrounded by nature and I took for granted how accessible it was. As a new father, I want to figure out how to introduce that world to my son in the midst of this concrete jungle. Plan as I may, he most likely will not remember these memories but I hope he will read this — once he learns to read!! To kick things off right, my wife and I decided to take our toddler on his first camping trip ever!

I imagined, day dreamed, and planned for this trip as best as I could. What I thought would be a relaxing trip ended up being a serious adventure. Keep in mind we have a toddler, and if there’s anything I learned on this trip, it is that we need to be able to go with the flow, be prepared to have a plan B and even C.

For this trip to San Diego, we rented Akira’s Jeep Renegade, an awesome car we’re considering buying, and that we got to test well beyond a typical dealership test drive around the block. Akira’s Jeep would also later prove to be exactly what we needed in a very muddy situation.

Packing and leaving LA for the weekend felt great — though it was done at a very slow, traffic pace. Once we got to the 405 South, we were golden, and we made our way to stop number one: a hotel in beautiful Downtown San Diego. Our Renegade was turning heads in the valet. It’s such a “cute” looking Jeep, but don’t let that fool you, it packs a punch.

Our hotel greeted us with a reception: free food and drinks. My son was glad to be out of the car seat and, of course, eating. He loves eating— everything and anything, all the time. We checked into a hotel with atrium facing elevators, and my son loved watching and riding in those.

After settling in, it was dinner time. We walked over to Seaport Village where we spotted an awesome carousel. This was my son’s first time seeing this wonderful, wooden horse extravaganza. While my wife and I were definitely enjoying it, my son was not having it! Afterwards, we checked out Seasons 52 for some filet mignon.

Back at the hotel, we took our son for his first swimming pool experience. He was mesmerized by a nearby swimmer and the aqua blue “moving ground” below him. After the dip, it was almost time for bed.

The next morning we were packed up and ready to go. My son got a last quick glimpse of the view from our window before we headed out to go play along the shores of Downtown San Diego. At the park he picked all the little flowers and then tried to eat the rocks! Guess it was time for lunch at Ironside.

We stopped by a Korean market just before heading up to camp at Doane Valley in the Palomar Mountains. This is where things started to get very interesting. After a very windy and dark climb, I let my wife know that our campsite was actually around 5,000 ft above sea level. The rains were coming down hard and it was getting very cold. We could see our breath, and the ranger let me know that it would likely snow that night. The temperature was a brisk 36 degrees, which wasn’t exactly the plan.

After about 30 minutes with very cold hands, we decided it was too cold to camp. It was a sad turning point, but we had to be safe so we headed back down the mountain.

Remember the scene in Jurassic Park where Dennis Nedry steals the DNA and the Jeep to escape? This was that chaotic scene, except the Dilophosaurus was performed by my toddler, screaming to get out of his baby seat. Thank goodness for the Renegade. We whipped it into the 4x4 mud mode and it was a true life saver on the shifty cliffs! My wife even changed our son’s diaper half way down the mountain, definitely a Supermom.

After coming back down, we went straight for Oceanside and checked into a hotel. The Renegade handled like the mini beast that it is; I was impressed. We loved this car. It took us safely through a dark night and a relationship had been forged! After a long night’s sleep, the morning greeted us with the ocean breezes. We had breakfast, hit up the rooftop pool, and then headed to the beach.

As we got ready to leave, I took the roof hatches off so we could see the beautiful palm trees zip by. Just before we took off on the long road ahead, I stopped for a moment to reflect. Everything didn’t go as planned but we did have a great adventure. Sometimes adventure is when the unexpected happens. I’m happy that my son got to do so many things for the first time, I loved that I got to spend time with my family, and I can’t wait to eventually tell him about this trip. Back to LA to tell the story!