I need time after a trip, before I write.

(To let things settle.)

Everyone’s different, of course, but I allow experience to morph into memory, then share the stories.

Occasionally, I’ll rush to judgement, (as I did with the New-Orleans-travel-piece late last year,) but only when I know we’ll be doing more articles down the line.

As it happens, I’m going to break down the best work I saw at PhotoNOLA into two articles, but ironically, this will not be one of them.

 

Owen Murphy, long-time APE fan and Co-founder of the New Orleans Photo Alliance, during the PhotoNOLA portfolio walk, December 2021

 

No.

As I’ve written many times, to encourage the creativity spirits to shine upon me, lo these 10.5 years with a weekly deadline, I’ve learned I am but her/his/their humble servant, and follow the energy where it takes me.

Today wasn’t quite the day for New Orleans.

So I promise we’ll get down to NOLA soon enough, (twice,) but today we’re going in a different direction.

Literally.

Instead of going South-East to the bayou, we’re heading due South, then due West, to drive through Arizona, all the way to the Pacific Ocean in sunny, Southern California.

(San Diego, if we’re being general. South Mission Beach, if we’re getting specific.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Truth be told, the first vacation Jessie and I ever took together was a road-trip from Northern New Mexico to North County San Diego.

We stayed in a little, now-defunct, beach motel in Leucadia, on the North side Encinitas.

That was early ’98.

It fit our style, so we’ve been back a dozen times over the years, for vacation, or the Medium Festival of Photography. (Where I’m headed next month.)

 

The kids at Moonlight Beach, Encinitas, 2018

 

In 24 years, and all those visits, I’d never been to Mission Beach before.

Was Sea World over there, maybe?

But I trusted the internet, and found us a screaming-deal on a big condo on Airbnb, just three houses off the sand in South Mission Beach, with a private roof-deck-hot-tub.

 

View from the “shared” roof-deck, but I never saw another person there.

 

(I know that sounds like a lot, but I swear, it was super-reasonably priced.)

The rub was, I booked four of five months in advance, which was early enough, (because the condo was popular,) and we rolled the dice on Winter season, which can be rainy.

Plus, the ocean is cold then, as it is most of the year.

In July and August, the Pacific is beautiful to look at AND warm enough to swim, but it’s super-crowded, and more expensive.

(Just a heads up.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

But the massive state of Arizona sat between us and the Golden State, on our huge New Year’s Eve adventure.

We booked a hotel in Tucson, (morning of departure,) and for the first time, I can properly recommend one chain as being distinct from the others.

(Though it was a small sample size, so maybe it was just one solid hotel.)

Assuming it’d be close to the Interstate, I went with something near the airport, and found the Home2 Suites by Hilton.

Not sure which marketing firm rigged-up the concept, but consider me their target demo.

The rooms were a bit more expensive than your average joint, maybe in the $160/night range.

 

View from the hotel room, Tucson, the morning after a massive desert storm

 

But you get a very-large-suite, with a sitting room, a kitchen, and a big, two-bed sleeping space. (They separate with a well-designed curtain.)

The place had sleek, “design-y” details, and the room rate included a huge, all-you-can-eat-breakfast-buffet, filled with a surprising variety of options

(Waffles, fruit, muffins, bacon, egg & cheese tarts, fruit, cereal, coffee, you name it.)

If you’re not on a budget for two rooms for the family, (or you’re just spending a few hours to sleep, on a road-trip,) it’s great value to get one huge room, but the kicker is, breakfast for 4 costs $40-$60 at a restaurant, in these inflationary times.

So if you factor in not spending for breakfast, the hotel, (which was also immaculate,) seemed a cost-and-time-efficient option.

My other travel-hack for the two-day drive was to stock up on great New Mexican road food: carne adovada burritos from the Frontier Restaurant in ABQ.

 

 

It’s a not-large amount of shredded, long-stewed, sweet/spicy red chile pork, in a house-made flour tortilla.

Only two ingredients.

But man, the depth of flavor and complexity are insane, and they keep well in the car all day. (The Frontier sells them by the six pack.) We put the left-overs in the hotel fridge, and ate them on the way to San Diego the second day too.

For my New Mexican readers out there, I’m telling you.

This is the way to go.

Frontier Restaurant
4 out of 4 stars

 

 

 

 

 

But we’re not here to write about New Mexico.

(Or even Arizona, really.)

Before we made it to SoCal though, we did pull off the Interstate to see some Saguaro cactus, up close. We were miles from anywhere, in Western Arizona; the desert beauty captivating in every direction.

These Saguaro cactus trees, though, they have gravitas.

 

 

Theo unintentionally modeled his streetwear fashion, among the trees, and I remember telling myself, “Make this a memory.

Make this a memory!”

 

 

Later in the trip, Theo would intentionally model some streetwear, so we could show the photos to the Taos-based fashion designers, whom the kids had befriended in their store near the plaza. (I totally forgot until just this second, but now that it’s back on my radar screen, I’ll see what they think.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The reason why I can so firmly recommend this part of San Diego to you, as a little spot to drop out and chill, is it’s easy to live with no cars. (Or at least, minimal exposure.)

South Mission Beach, as a little neighborhood, is actually surrounded by water on three sides.

 

South Mission Beach, a mostly-car-free slice of California Beach Paradise

 

And the residential streets, going East-West, are pedestrian only, with little sidewalks, and nothing else.

Additionally, the Strand, or boardwalk, is also car-free, just for pedestrians, scooters and bikes.

(It runs along the beachfront for miles.)

 

View along the Strand

 

So we parked our car in the garage, when we arrived in South Mission Beach, and didn’t take it out again until we left town.

 

 

 

 

 

While it was winter, we still walked around in T-shirts, shorts and flip flops at the hot point of each day, as the mid-60’s California sun felt like 75.

And having the place to ourselves, (more or less,) in perfect weather felt like the thanks-for-gritting-out-the-pandemic gift to our kids we hoped it would be.

Lucky us.

No, seriously. For real.

Lucky us.

 

 

The week before we got there, there were ferocious rainstorms, and in some places it even snowed!

Like, Climate-Change-level record rains.

That would have sucked.

And then, the weekend after we left, they had a Tsunami warning, and the entire beach had to be evacuated.

But we were lucky.

We had perfect weather, and walked miles each day, along the beach and the bay, to burn off the burgers, pizza, tacos and burritos we ate.

(And boy, did we.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our first night there, we went for takeout at the closest possible place.

One guy owns both Capri Pizza and Grill, and Sara’s Mexican Food, which share one building on Mission Blvd.

We tried pizza the first night, and got a good Margherita pizza with meatballs.

I thought it was solid, if unspectacular.

 

 

The next morning, desperate to be a teenager, free and alone in a city, Theo went out to bring back some breakfast.

Not knowing it was the same owners, he ended up at the Mexican place, and got excited, ordering Carne Asada burritos with guacamole. (Something I’d told him was a staple in the local Mexican food culture.)

They were excellent, and along with the accompanying salsas, much better than anything we can get in Taos.

Unfortunately, the third time was not a charm, as we went back to Capri one too many times, and got a kind-of-dry chicken parmesan sub, and an almost-inedible Taco Pizza.

We’d chatted up the counter-guy the previous night, and because he liked us, he gave us extra meat, to be generous. But lacking nearly enough fresh tomato, or chile-heat to cut the richness, it was waaaaaaaay too much for me.

 

Capri Pizza and Grill
2 stars out of 4

Sara’s Mexican Food
3 stars out of 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a killer restaurant corner, on the other side of the Belmont Amusement Park, that was worth writing home about.

My cousin, Daniel, who’d told us about the excellent, if expensive sports bar Guava Beach Bar and Grill, also recommended Mr. Ruriberto’s, which is quite the name.

 

Waiting for fish tacos at Mr. Ruriberto’s

 

Their fish tacos had a bit too much remoulade for my liking, but were otherwise flavorful and excellent.

The Carne Asada burrito was standout too, so I would make friends with Mr. Ruriberto, if he wanted to be my friend.

 

 

Can you imagine?

{“Hello, Jonathan. Como estas?”

“Well, hello, Mr. Ruriberto. I’m fine, thank you, how are you?”

“I too, am well, Jonathan. I have a question for you, Jonathan. Would you like to be my friend?”

“Yes, Mr. Ruriberto, I would. I would like to be your friend.”}

 

Mr. Ruriberto’s Taco Shop
3 stars out of 4

 

As to the NY Style Pizza joint next door, ZoZo’s, that place was legit.

I only felt bad we discovered it at the end of the vacation, as I would have eaten myself sick on their food for sure.

The Margherita pizza was special, alive with flavor, and the slices I spied on their mega-pie were monstrously big.

 

Inside the pizza place

 

It was also more-reasonably-priced than Capri up the street.

 

ZoZo’s Pizza
4 stars out of 4

 

 

 

 

 

I wanted to make memories on our vacation, and so we did.

I remember Jessie telling me, on the first full day there, “The cops must be brutal here, because there are no homeless people.”

She meant it mostly as a joke, but also not, if you know what I mean.

Given what I’ve seen in San Francisco, and read recently about LA, it was true, the lack of a sizable unhoused community was noticeable.

But as San Diego was known to lean conservative politically for a long time, and has a big Navy base one bay to the South, I could see how things landed where they did.

I also noticed many of those cute little side streets, (and accompanying alleyways,) weren’t very-well-lit, so it is likely the cops keep it quiet and “safe,” given how much all those condos are worth these days.

(Daniel asked how much I thought the place we were staying would run, and I guessed, “$2 million?”

“Yeah,” he replied, “that’s about right.”)

 

 

 

 

Daniel lives in a beach bungalow a few miles north, in Pacific Beach, and not only did he steer us right with Guava Beach and Mr. Ruriberto’s, but he also invited us over to his apartment, for grilled monster-burgers, with grilled zucchini sticks and potatoes.

 

Drinking a White Russian with Daniel

 

(He went to culinary school years ago, but doesn’t work in the field.)

After dinner, we took his massive rescue dog, Rudi, down to a nearby beach in the dark of night, so he’d get one last walk before bed.

The moonlight on the black Pacific Ocean made it shimmer and shake, like rustling charcoal.

 

 

Daniel drove us home, as our legs were tired from the walk North, but it’s a great reminder if you go on holiday where you have family or close friends, that can help with the memory-making as well.

(Plus with local’s tips on food, it’s like having your own personal fixer. Daniel also told us about an Ice Cream Sandwich place the kids insisted on trying, and I’m not sure it’s quite as appetizing in the photo as it was in real life.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking along the waterfront makes you feel good.

(Most of us, anyway.)

The entire peninsula is barely more than 2 blocks wide, and the Bay beach has it’s own visual charm, with boats and bridges.

 

 

Walking along one morning, Jessie and I saw a family of cranes, like something out of a Chinese Landscape Painting.

 

Crane in the foreground

 

We stopped and watched for a while in the quiet, and it felt like the California Dream was still alive.

(For a steep price, as long as it doesn’t burn down, fall into the sea during an earthquake, or get subsumed in a Tsunami.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theo and I made a friend, Orrin, while shooting hoops at the public court at the beach.

He had his own portable music, which was a little trend we spotted on the Strand, (especially people on bikes or roller blades,) but it made for a great soundtrack.

I made a quick video of Theo taking in to the rack, just for fun.

 

 

We met up again the next day, and Orrin specifically chose this track for a longer video. (With his friend Brandon shooting as well.)

 

 

(BTW, I’ve finally added audio to the videos, and hope you like the step-up in my content-game.)

Further up the Strand from the basketball court, (and past the countless beach-volleyball-courts,) there’s a mini-amusement park, Belmont Park, with all sorts of games, food options, a huge pool, and rides as well.

On the last day, we decided to try the roller coaster, (a first for both kids,) and they let you buy tickets, by-the-ride, instead of only having to pay a steep entrance-fee, which I thought was pretty cool.

As to the roller coaster itself?

Well, Amelie was so scared, (and preferred to wear her mask,) that I couldn’t help making a quick video.

Listen to the way she reacts, when I say, “Good luck.”

 

 

The meta-commentary: “Good luck? What the fuck do you mean, good luck? This thing should be so safe, we don’t need luck. Asshole!”

She lived through that terror moment, (on camera,) and we were shocked at how they made it super-fast, with legit G-force we felt a few times.

The cars shook you around, with quick changes in speed, so you really felt it in your gut.

Surprisingly great roller coaster, for such a small one.

 

The Giant Dipper Roller Coaster
4 stars out of 4

 

 

 

 

 

Last, but not least, the photography part.

Sometimes I do a travel piece, and photography doesn’t come up.

But not today.

On the last day, just as we were driving East for home, we stopped at my friend scott b. davis’ house, and he showed off his new Radius book, “sonora,” which features his beautiful work, made over many years.

(After we did a quick studio visit. Check out all the old-school chemicals…)

 

 

It’s a gorgeous book, totally austere, and the high degree of craftsmanship was appropriate, given scott is an expert platinum/palladium printer, and meticulous in general.

 

 

Theo showed me that scott, and his wife Chantel, had hung one of my images in their kitchen, and I took a trippy-reflection-portrait of the three of us.

 

 

(Weird, right?)

From there, we drove through the rock mountains, windmills, and sand dunes.

 

 

 

Then on to Tucson, (this time NOT in a huge, dark-of-night rainstorm,) and we had In-N-Out burger for dinner there, as somehow we’d made it in and out of California without eating it.

 

 

(No pun intended.)

After destroying our burgers, (In-N-Out is always 4 stars, every time,) we visited with my friend, photographer Ken Rosenthal, who was recovering from an awful fall he’d taken out in nature last year.

(Wrecked his knee something fierce.)

Jessie and I checked out his studio as well.

This photo of a geyser at night stopped me in my tracks.

 

 

It is just so exquisite.

(Perfectly capturing that mysterious power one feels, in so many parts of the Great American West.)

We drove through more majesty the following day, (hundreds of miles of it,) on our way home.

Elephant Butte Lake in Southern New Mexico looked worthy of a return trip, and nearby Truth or Consequences is set in a killer locale.

 

Elephant Butte Lake, Southern New Mexico

 

On we drove, to the North, through Albuquerque, Santa Fe, then EspaΓ±ola, before we got home.

 

 

 

Road-fried, with bellies full of gas-station-burritos.

And all was right with the world.

(See you next week.)

 

 

 

 

 

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