Island is the opposite of busy San Diego
As a native Southern Californian, I never fail to appreciate our “paradise by the sea” here in San Diego.
For a wonderful change of pace, several weeks ago I visited Mackinac Island in Northern Michigan, staying at the fabulous Grand Hotel, one of the surviving wood-framed hotels of the Victorian Era. The most special thing about Mackinac Island is that there are no motorized vehicles on the island at all. Everything is delivered or moved by bicycle or horse carriage.
We were picked up at the ferry dock on Mackinac Island (one takes a short ferry ride from either Mackinac City or St. Ignace on the mainland) by horse-drawn carriage and delivered to the Grand Hotel, which was built in the late 1890s and boasts the longest front porch in the world.
In addition to numerous activities offered at the Grand Hotel, there are hiking trails, bike rentals and numerous historical sites to visit on the island. There are numerous other lodging and restaurant options as well as plenty of shops in the downtown area and one must absolutely sample the famous Mackinac Island fudge. It was a serene vacation totally different from life in busy Southern California where cars and e-bikes dominate.
Robin Serfass, Leucadia
Virtual travel thrilled me during pandemic
Restrictions resulting from the global pandemic left many people searching for alternative ways to exercise their passions and replace canceled plans. Although I, a hodophile, still managed to find ways to explore new places, I was able to discover new facets of my love of travel.
To fill the void of not taking scheduled trips that had been canceled, I started following travel-focused Instagram accounts and created a list of locations that I promised myself I would visit once the world reopened. I would send the highlights to my mom, my travel partner and from whom I “caught the travel bug.” Inspired by one of the photos, my mom and I built a wonderful road trip itinerary through Wyoming, Idaho and Montana for my family, which turned into our “big family trip” last year.
In addition to browsing photos and creating a physical “bucket list” to satisfy my passion, I read countless travel articles and magazines. One article discussed how Americans with Italian ancestry could potentially qualify for dual citizenship with Italy through ancestral lineage. This piqued my interest, and although I would not qualify for dual citizenship with Italy, I was able to learn more about my lineage and about my Italian ancestors’ lives before and after they arrived in the United States.
From there, I could not stop researching my family history. I learned that one of my ancestors, a tanner in Italy, immigrated to the United States, moved to California, and started making wine in Napa Valley (although there is a new owner, the wine is still bottled as “Pepi” today), and that I still have family that operates a restaurant in the Tuscan countryside today. I was sent a photo of an old village in Switzerland where some of my ancestors used to live, which I mapped and researched in depth.
I read about the potato famine in Ireland, which prompted my Irish ancestors to emigrate from Ireland in the 1800s. I even learned that my French Canadian lineage stems from a combination of castle owners from France searching for more land in Canada who intermarried with Indigenous Canadians.
I would have called myself crazy for saying this a year ago, but the pandemic restrictions provided an opportunity to find new ways to fill the void of not being able to travel. I am enthralled by the fact that I have a new appreciation for planning trips to maximize memorable moments, and I never would have thought that I would have been able to discover as much as I had about my identity.
While it will take a long time to plan, the trip that is on the top of my bucket list is to traverse all of the routes that will lead me to where my roots lie.
Megan Pepi, Rancho Peñasquitos
There is much to see so close by in Mexico
Being born and raised in San Diego, I do feel pretty spoiled compared to those from some small snowy towns I hear my classmates talk about. I mean they did come here to San Diego State University for a reason. Not only is San Diego an amazing city to live in, but being close to the motherland brings me great comfort. Whenever I can, the place I go most is Mexico. I don’t mean to be vague, since Mexico is a huge and diverse country. I can’t limit myself to just one city or state, but most often I find myself in Baja California, specifically Tijuana, Ensenada and Valle de Guadalupe.
Tijuana might not be the most touristy destination, but when I’m there I feel like I’m in another part of the world, compared to San Diego. The constant hustle and bustle doesn’t even compare to Downtown San Diego. I never go there for a long vacation, but I like to spend the day eating, shopping and seeing family. Street tacos, cafes and mariscos keep me coming back. One time my dad and I crossed the border just to eat at Tacos El Franc.
Ensenada, and the Baja coast in general, is my ideal vacation spot. If I can’t afford to take a flight on vacation, the drive down the coast is the perfect getaway. I’ve always been a beach girl, my dad had me swimming in the ocean when I was a baby, so it’s always felt comforting. There, the pace is different, the rules are different. There’s nightlife, people and, most importantly, bebidas. Honestly it is almost just like San Diego beaches except a little warmer and you can drink on the sand. Perfect for a spring break or birthday weekend.
Just a short drive away inland from Ensenada is the Valle. My parents started bringing me here when I was about 18, since it’s mostly wineries. A great place to get away from the cities, this little area offers beautiful vineyards, friendly people and relaxing times.
Even more exciting than the places I’ve been to, next month I’m planning to visit Mexico City for the first time. After only being able to go to Baja for the past year and a half, I’m ready to take a flight and see one of the biggest cultural centers of the world. I try to take pride in being Mexican American, and to me that means surrounding myself with my people and culture as much as I can.
Ariana Castro, Imperial Beach
Californians can gain much from traveling
Our 17-year-old grandson, Max, left for a week-long trip to Iceland, the red-white-and-blue tassel from his high school’s in-person graduation still warm from its hour in the sun on the Tustin High School football field.
He packed new “Iceland-friendly” warm clothes and the totally unfamiliar “rain pants” that were recommended by a fresh-faced associate at REI in Irvine.
“I’m not going to take pictures,” he said to our daughter, his mother. As a teenager who has held an iPhone in his hands since he was 7, the thought of adding one more image to his memory bank may have prompted his remark.
Of course, it didn’t happen.
He took pictures of the glacier as he walked over its creased face. He took pictures of the placid sheep and lambs outside of his window at the local farmhouse where his group of young travelers were billeted.
And in the time-honored tradition of foodies everywhere, he took pictures of the varied and unfamiliar Icelandic bill de faire: reindeer, whale, puffin and shark.
And when, a week later, he was met at the LAX terminal by his mom and dad, tired but also strangely refreshed, he declared that yes, he would love to go back to Iceland.
My grandson’s first experiences of traveling 4,390 miles on a solo journey to an island nation where meeting strangers, wrestling with the challenges of an unfamiliar bed and gracefully accepting food that doesn’t come with catsup and fries reminded me of the true joys of a vacation: Challenges. Discoveries. Rewards.
He sent text messages with photos of a few worn krona and of a crisp passport that now contains an Iceland stamp along with his two British Columbia imprints. He recommends the Icelandic chocolate bars, which — surprise — his grandmother found on the shelves of her local gourmet market.
Will my husband and I travel to Iceland any time in the near future?
I doubt it. But we will keep alive those memories of recent (Hawaii) and long-ago (Japan) vacations along with their memorable challenges, discoveries and rewards.
Regina Morin, Ocean Beach
Living here is like being on vacation
When you live in San Diego and you are retired, every day is a vacation.
We visit family in the eastern U.S. and try to take a couple of trips abroad every year, especially to countries with very different cultures from ours. We’ve been to India, China, Argentina, Chile, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Scandinavia, and the British Isles, with Morocco, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe coming up in the next 10 months (we hope).
The rest of the time we are on vacation doing this here at home.
Debby McNeil, La Mesa