Rolling Through San Diego

We were on a quest. Not to see and experience all of the wonderful attractions that were the reasons I chose to bring my family to San Diego for the kids’ spring break vacation. No, the Grizzles and the Grizzlettes had something much more important in mind. We were on a quest to find — steady yourself reader — shoes that roll. Not skates, but something very much like them, one of the latest California fads, Heelys (company tagline: “Freedom Is A Wheel In Your Sole”).

It all started in Legoland (we’ll get back to Legoland in a moment), where we saw kids in what looked like ordinary shoes hovering above the ground. At least they appeared to be hovering. They actually were rolling, we learned after investigation (meaning that our kids asked other kids). Miniature wheels were inserted into the heels of tennis shoes. Every few minutes, kids would gracefully glide past, causing our children drool with envy. From their look, we knew there would be no family vacation until we satisfied that most basic of our children’s primal urges — to shop.

Fortunately, our hotel, the Manchester Hyatt, was near San Diego’s downtown. “You’ll want to hurry to Horton Plaza,” the desk clerk at our hotel told us when she realized the urgency of our quest.

Horton Plaza is an attraction in and of itself. The 6.5-block, open-air shopping center resides in a dramatic architectural setting that calls to mind a Technicolor M.C. Escher drawing. With its five staggered levels, Horton Plaza offers 140 specialty shops, restaurants and attractions, including a 14-screen movie theater and live theater performances at Lyceum Theater.

And so our kids, ages 8 and 9, dragged us along for several city blocks to Horton Plaza, marched us into a department store and to the shoe section where we doled out $40 each for Heelys. We fitted and purchased. The kids had barely crossed the threshold of the front door before making the switch from ordinary shoes to Heelys.

For the first hour, it was like the kids were walking on ice. They lurched and slipped and fell. My wife and I were certain they would never glide as gracefully as the kids we’d seen at Legoland. But after much hand-holding, they got it.

The Heelys made going afoot in San Diego much quicker. In a flat five minutes (we’re not recommending that you try this), we made our way through Gaslamp Quarter, founded in 1867 and home to interesting Victorian buildings (the legendary Wyatt Earp ran three gambling halls in this notorious “red light” district).

We browsed Gaslamp’s eclectic shops and made our way to Seaport Village. There, we would find four miles of meandering pathways and 14 acres of waterfront shopping, dining and entertainment — and, I’m not kidding, two Ben and Jerry’s within 100 yards of one another.

Our hotel was conveniently located at Seaport Village, and with much pleading, we convinced the kids to hang up their Heelys so that we could pedal along the San Diego’s harbor.

At Wheel Fun Rentals, located beside Holiday Inn on the Bay directly across from San Diego’s cruise terminal, we rented a three-wheel recumbent bicycle ($20 per hour, with the second hour free during our visit) that carried four people (with two pedaling and two being pedaled). Also available were four-wheel surrys that could carry four pedaling passengers.

We biked along the waterfront for about an hour and a half and returned to browse harborside kiosks offering all sorts of excursions, including whale-watching during the season. We opted for a short excursion to Coronado Island.

Coronado Beach is recognized annually as North America’s best family beach. We walked on the beach in front of the famed Hotel del Coronado. Opened in 1888, the hotel has played host to many movies, including the 1958 film, Some Like It Hot, starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe.

The next day we visited the San Diego Zoo, home to 4,000 animals representing 800 species on 100 acres. Two lifesavers for tired children: the double-decker express bus and skyfari (an aerial tram that costs $3 per person each way – children 3 and under free.) Both are great ways to get an overview of the park.

There are also escalators that make quick work of getting from one tier of the zoo to the next. The exhibits were wonderful. Our kids’ favorite: panda bears, here on a 12-year loan from China.

The San Diego Zoo also operates Wild Animal Park, a 2,200-acre nature preserve 30 miles north of downtown. The animal preserve features more than 3,000 wild animals that roam free over expanses resembling their native habitats. The one-acre Lion Camp habitat allowed us to come face to face with lions. We also enjoyed the guide-narrated monorail tour and the 1.75-mile Kilimanjaro Hiking Trail that took us through lush botanical gardens and past the homes of gorillas, elephants, cheetahs, lions and many other species.

Animal lovers could hardly do better than San Diego. Our next stop was Seaworld San Diego, a 189-acre marine park featuring trained killer whales and other marine life situated on Mission Bay. My son and I couldn’t wait to jump on Journey to Atlantis, the park’s newest thrill ride, based on the tale of the “lost city.” The six-minute journey includes a 60-foot plunge and a heart-pounding negative G force drop set against a backdrop of the sunken city.

Of course, the real attraction here was Shamu Adventure, which features the world-famous killer whale, Shamu, performing in a 2.5-million-gallon pool.

Back to Legoland California, the only family park of its kind in North America. Located 30 minutes north of downtown San Diego in the coastal community of Carlsbad, the 128-acre theme park features more than 40 interactive attractions and rides that are “kid powered” where kids push, pull, steer, pedal, squirt, climb or build their way through a wonderland of activities. Ideal for kids 2-12, Legoland also features more than 1,000 LEGO models (made from, according to my son, “950 zillion LEGO pieces”). Legoland’s “minilands,” miniature cities constructed of Legos, were wonderful, especially the skyline of New York City.

Back in North Carolina, where we live, our kids still wear their Heelys. Other kids stare, nudging their parents with their elbows. Looks like someone else is about to begin a quest.

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