Monthly Archives: March 2016

Goodbye San Diego!

two pigeons on the railing of a pier

Queen’s Town Public House

Matt did a search on Yelp for the best brunch in the city and the Queen’s Town kept coming up. We had walked by the place many times but never gone in as it looked very chic. However, the matter was settled by the fact they had chicken and waffles – Matt’s latest obsession.

We got in line at 8:50am. I admired people’s Sunday’s best and we listened to the church bells mixed in with the Beatles and Wings music coming out over the patio speakers. It didn’t take long for us to be seated – and we were in for a treat!

The restaurant was a prop artist’s dream – I kept thinking how some of my friends would have a ball decorating a place like this. The outside was all farmhouse themed antiques, the bar had an old boat over it, and the washrooms had coo coo clocks. The most impressive room however was sheep themed – plushy lambs upside down on the ceiling In a perfect meadow theme with sheepskin backed chairs below at each table. It was like something out of the looking glass!

plate of chicken and waffles

It was hard to decide what to have. There were so many interesting brunch options on the menu! I ordered the Fried Green Tomatoes (green tomatoes, feta, frisée, poached egg, and balsamic reduction) with a Vanilla Ginger Cocktail (fresh ginger, vanilla beans, Pol Clement champagne), and Matt ordered the Chicken and Waffles (fried chicken wings, house made waffles, and cinnamon butter) with a Bellini (Pol Clement champagne with fresh strawberries and peaches). All was delicious.

lifeguard truck on the beach

Imperial Beach

We drove over to Coronado, which many people had recommended for the view. Unfortunately it was too cloudy to see much though. We parked at Imperial Beach and walked along the water.

The Tin Fish

The pier at Imperial Beach was lined with fishermen and below were surfers riding the waves. We even saw two cormorants.

At the end of the pier was a take-out joint, called the Tin Fish. We were still full from brunch, but I wanted to try the swordfish stew. We got a small bowl for $3.95 which was overflowing with veggies and white chunks of swordfish in a thick tomato broth with Italian spices. Neither of us had never had swordfish before. It had a nice flakey texture, but lacked flavour. It was like firm tofu or tender chicken!  

yellow cliffs in the sun 

Black’s Beach

Once back in the car, we drove to Black’s Beach in Torrey’s Hill Natural Park. The trail down to the cliff was rather treacherous, but I made it in one piece (with Matt merrily skipping along). The drop was 300 feet!

The beach was a mix of charcoal grey, plum purple, and burnt orange sand. It was below a powered parachuting school, which meant lots of colourful sights to watch in the air.

Matt went for a swim and I soon followed suit. Generally I’m not a water person, but the waves were so much fun! I had a grand time running into the water and jumping up with the waves. It wasn’t until the sun started to go down that I came back in.

 a couple hugging on a cliff iverlooking the water 

Sunset Cliffs

The last thing on our to do list before heading to the airport was to see the sunset at Sunset Cliffs. Unfortunately the sky had gotten cloudy by then, so we didn’t get to see the sun set over the ocean. It was still beautiful. The cliffs were like the setting of a children’s novel, perfect for smugglers and pirates!

We sat on a bench and made ourselves some tomato and pesto sandwiches with the last of our groceries. It was a lovely end to our trip.

San Diego Airport

We dropped the car off at Hertz in a matter of minutes and hopped on the shuttle to Terminal 2. Matt had already checked us into our flights on his phone, so all we had to do was get in line for security.

Getting through security was a breeze. It didn’t take long at all. Once we found our gate, Matt went on a search for Duty Free while I stayed with the bags and uploaded photos to Instagram. Sadly, Duty Free had closed at 8:30pm, so we were out of luck on that front.

Now onto the plane home!

photo of sand and stones on a beach


Saturday in San Diego

We woke up at 5:00 for no reason and stayed up for awhile, resulting in us missing breakfast at the hotel. However, we got a good parking spot at 5am now that all the party-goers had gone home. So, Matt got out his phone to check Yelp for recommendations.

 cacti against the wall of a building 

Tazza d’oro

We went to Tazza d’oro for breakfast which was the cheapest place to get eggs locally on Yelp. However, once we got there, we found out they hadn’t updated their website in 5 years and prices had doubled. The staff were accommodating and charged us the old rate for a bagel with egg and cheese. They had kambucha on tap, so for kicks, I ordered some to go with my bagel.

There was a child quartet playing outside the restaurant, dressed in turn-of-the-century clothing. It was fun listening to classical music as we munched on jalapeño bagels and sipped kambucha.

Saturday Farmers Market in Little Italy

There was a farmers market practically outside our hotel door at Cedar Street in Little Italy. It went on for blocks and blocks and was crowded with people.

Mikolich Family Honey

We went on a mission to find tiny jars of honey to take home on the plane, setting on a four pack of Californian raw honey from the Mikolich Family for $10: avocado, orange blossom, alfalfa, and sage buckwheat. There were also vendors selling little jars of jam and salt, but I was won over by the little bears.

There were samples everywhere – ice cream, cheese, mouse, everything! You could buy green smoothies by the gallon for $32, quaint bouquets of lavender, eat Korean or Mexican, buy fancy dog biscuits or catnip – it was a gourmet’s haven! There were musicians on every corner, people holding tiny dogs, bouquets of flowers, and wicker baskets of veggies.

 Photo of a sea urchin on a plate 

Papa’s Fresh Fish Company

The most exciting thing we saw at the market were live sea urchins. They were being served cracked open in their spiky shells. We got one to share. It was like salty custard and made for a great vacation photo op!


After our sea urchin, we decided to go for ice cream. We ended up at Pappalecco for gelato, a cafe in Little Italy. It had a long lineup and I chose pear and pistachio. Unfortunately the gelato wasn’t very flavourful, but it was fun to sit in the sun eating our gelato with tiny spoons.

Village Hat Shop

For my birthday, Matt had offered to buy me a new black beret, as I had lost my signature black beret on a dark bike ride home one night. We had gone to every shop in Toronto, and now he had set aside two French made berets at the Village Hat Shop in San Diego.

The Hat Shop was a warehouse with a slightly dusty feel to it. I spent some time in front of the mirror with a 57 basque beret, but it didn’t feel quite right. I decided my existing navy hat was sufficient.

 photo of a telephone pole and cacti 


We walked back along India Ave., checking out the happy hour specials along the way and popping into boutiques to browse along the way. We found a good spot to watch the planes coming in and out of San Diego airport and I took lots of pictures of cacti.

Back at the hotel, we put on CBC radio to catch the blues show and sang along to the music while drinking beer and photo editing. We did a load of laundry at the laundromat too!

 old ship against the sunset 

San Diego Port

We walked down to the port to watch the sunset over the ocean. There was a maritime museum with all sorts of ships docked: tall ships, submarines, a steam boat. I had fun taking pictures – made me think of family back home.

Matt and I had dinner at a pizzeria where you could get two slices of pizza and a pint of beer for $10. We sat on the street and watched people go by in Little Italy, talking about the past and future. This was continued this back at the hotel too. We drank some beers on the patio, listening to the crickets and admiring the palm trees. It was a peaceful way to spend our last night in San Diego!

San Diego and the CSUN Conference

colourful condo buildings and elongated trees

Condos in downtown San Diego

Day One

Matt walked me to the CSUN conference at the Hyatt Hotel from where we were staying in Little Italy. Once registered, I scurried off to my first session. My favourites from the day were on WordPress backward compatibility and accessible PDF design. I saw a couple friends from the Canadian accessibility scene – and lots of cute guide dogs!

After the conference, I went back to the hotel where Matt and I had a disco nap before heading back out into San Diego for the night’s festivities. We had a social with accessible karaoke and networking with beer ahead of us!

blue sky and contemporary building

View above the pool at the Hyatt Hotel

San Diego was a very strange city. It looked as if everything had been built in the last 20 years, kept sanitary, and manicured. A Lyft driver told us the city had been built on a dessert – every palm tree had been placed with purpose.

Matt and I went to the Deque social in the evening, but it was loud and we both felt awkward. We then made our way down to the hotel lobby bar, Redfield’s, which I was told was the place to be, but I didn’t see anyone I know.

So, we wandered over to a park in a marina where we saw lots of small rabbits by the water. Matt pointed out constellations in the stars to me, guessing which were stars or planets. We walked up the the convention centre where locals were exercising on the steps, making our way to the Gaslamp District.

I thought I might see some friends on the patio as the Gaslamp District had been applauded at the Toronto Accessibility Meet-up. We didn’t, but found cheap tacos and $2 beers at a Mexican bar to end our night that didn’t quite go as planned, on a tasty and economical note.

My notes from Day 1 of the CSUN Conference.

open doors into an old train station

Santa Fe train station in downtown San Diego

Day Two

Matt packed me a sandwich lunch while I got ready (CSUN does not offer snacks or lunch) and walked me to the conference before parting ways to do professional networking of his own in the Los Angeles’ film industry.

My favourite talks at CSUN that day were on Accessible Maps and a discussion on diversity, focusing on Whole Food’s orange controversy. At lunch, I went and sat by the marina to eat my sandwich where I watched the boats and tourists go by. It was very relaxing to sit in the sun listening to the birds in the trees, the water lapping the rocks on the shore, and the breeze in the leaves.

After the conference, I went and sat in at the Hyatt’s bar, Redfield’s, where I was told all the good discussions happen. Unfortunately, I didn’t see anyone I knew and the Narwhal stout I decided to try was undrinkable (fizzy water with corn syrup anyone?). So, I left my full beer at the bar and wandered about outside, taking pictures of downtown San Diego until it was time for the CSUN Tweet-up.

palm trees against a sunset

Palm trees outside the Hyatt Hotel

Usually I thrive at accessibility meet-ups, but instead anxiety took over despite knowing people there. I went and sat outside for a bit, admiring the sunset behind the palm trees before going back into for Round Two of the Tweet-up. However, I felt even worse the second time that not even the prospect of free pastries or booze could entice me (two of my favourite things!). So, I wandered back to the hotel feeling like the worst human being to have passed up the best opportunity ever to hangout with the crème de la crème of my industry.

My notes from Day 2 of CSUN.

photo of a low rise condo building

Condos and office buildings in downtown San Diego

Day Three

The last day of CSUN went by very quickly. There was a live broadcast of the Viking & Lumberjack with pizza and beer. I always enjoy their performances – it’s so great to laugh about one’s own industry and shared experiences.

I went to two sessions by Adobe, both uninspiring, but had some big news dropped: Adobe is adding an undo function to Acrobat for tagging, reading order etc! No release date set yet, but this is pretty major. I made sure I had heard correctly 3 times before I tweeted out the news. It’s a game changer.

Matt returned from LA at the same time I got back to the hotel after CSUN finished. We walked up India Street to a new part of town we hadn’t explored yet. It was lined with breweries, little boutiques, and old cottages, which was a pleasant change from the overly touristy downtown core.

photo of a plane flying overhead of a patio at a bar

A plane flying above the patio at El Camino

We ended up at El Camino, a chic Mexican bar under an airline approach path. We sat on the patio and watched the planes come in while enjoying $3 and $5 Mexican food during a very happy hour(s). We had a great time! It was perfect way to cheers the end of our big feats – my time at CSUN and Matt’s trip to LA.

My notes from Day 3 of CSUN.

The Great Big List from CSUN 2016 (slides and other attendee’s notes)

photo of Nell's CSUN badge on a table

Post-conference celebrations at El Camino

Driving the Californian Coast

 Big Sur mountains and beach 
We awoke groggy and tired. Neither of us had slept well. When we went down for breakfast, CNN was showing footage of a terrorist attack on an airport in Brussels. We ate our blueberry waffles and yogurt in silence.

It was 8:30 by the time we hit the road. The drive along the coast was beautiful. Moss covered trees, cliffs, and huge waves! Big Sur was particularly beautiful and we even saw some seals a little later on. They looked like dead bodies in sacks to me.

 Big Sur mountains and beach 
As we were pressed for time to reach San Diego by nightfall, we didn’t make many stops along the way. We took the Cabrillo Highway until it ended, then continued as close to the coast as possible.

The further south we drove, the more exotic the roadside became. The scenery changed from lush, old growth forests to shrubs and palm trees, red stone cliffs to yellow stone covered in low lying wild flowers. Architecture had a distinct Spanish influence, pale yellow with red tile roofs. 

 Matt taking a photo of the ocean 
The weather remained constantly sunny, but gradually grew warmer until I could discard my spring jacket. We sang along to 80’s music, accompanied by Matt giving me rock music history lessons and answering science questions I had on passing phenomenons.
 mountain in southern california 

Once we got into Santa Barbara, the horizon was lined with oil rigs against the hazy backdrop of the Channel Islands of California. We drove through Malibu and Los Angeles (LA). We hit rush hour traffic in LA where it was stop and go for about 3 hours through a combination of diners and shops, including a thrift store that doubled as a HIV testing clinic.

The sun began to set outside of LA. The sky had hints of lavender blue, pink and orange smog over distant jagged mountains with a large, bright moon overhead. Looking back, the sky was pale blue with candy floss pink clouds. 

We arrived in San Diego around 8:30pm. Once we checked into our hotel, Urban Boutique Hotel, we went on a mission to find beer and tacos. However, everything was closing at 9pm on a Tuesday. The only place that had an open kitchen was a pasta and pizza place where we shared a plate and each had a beer. Fed and watered, we went home to bed. island off the coast of california 

San Francisco

coffee and a croissant

Matt enjoying an almond croissant at farm : table

Day One

We started off our day with breakfast at Farm : Table, a small but very popular cafe near our hostel on Nob Hill. Matt had a quiche, i had an egg and ham croissant with a Pug ‘n Honey latte, with an almond croissant to share on the sidewalk patio.

We walked all over San Francisco. The morning air was full of the scent of jasmine, the song of birds, and the rustle of leaves in the breeze of exotic trees. Our first stop was Crooked Street, a steep and windy road in a leafy residential district. Matt wanted to climb every steep road we could find and eventually we found ourself in a surreal district of billionaires’ mansions overlooking the city.

palace of fine arts

Palace of Fine Arts


We made our way back down to a historic fort with cute military cottages that reminded me of the Bain Co-op in Toronto. Then we went to Fisherman’s Wharf where we had our first good view of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. We walked along the water until we got to the Palace of Fine Arts, an ornate neo-classical structure overlooking a peaceful water garden.

Approaching noon, we made our way to the jazz district. Matt wanted to catch the Palm Sunday service at the Church of John Coltrane. The colourful little room was full of people playing musical instruments, singing with big smiles on their faces, all in the style off the jazz musician John Coltrane. They handed out palm leaves which everyone waved around to the music, which was fun. I enjoyed looking around at the audience – in classic Californian style, there was even a smartly dressed woman with a tiny dog in her purse!

Civic Centre in San Francisco

The Civic Centre


We walked past City Hall and the ornate performing arts buildings, through interesting low income housing. We stopped in a cafe my friends had recommended to have an americano and lemon square before wandering back to our hostel to nap before meeting Matt’s friend Ted for dinner.

Ted took us to Hog Island Oyster Co at the San Francisco Ferry Building. The lineup was quite long, but we had a great time chatting in the rain about Toronto food and drink destinations. We shared an oyster sampler, chicken fried oysters on waffles (Matt loves waffles), chipotle grilled oysters, and Old Bay fries. We sat on the patio overlooking the water and the ferry, cozy under a heat lamp in the rain.


stormy ferry dock

Bike on the ferry port near Grey’s Bridge

We finished our evening at an ice cream parlour in the Ferry Building. After tasting a couple flavours (including savoury pepper and mint), all three of us settled on bourbon and cornflakes – with Matt adding caramel-bourbon sauce to his! Then we went home to bed and CBC radio.


seagull on the ferry dock

Seagull outside the Ferry Building


Day Two

We found a small sandwich shop using Yelp for breakfast. They had great coffee, very strong – and we each had an turkey egg sandwich while reading the San Francisco Chronicle. I quite enjoyed the newspaper – interesting stories and nice layout.


beetle parked on a hill in front of a row of town houdes

Beetle on a residential street in San Francisco

I was really feeling in from the day before. I’m not used to so much walking. We made slow progress to the Painted Lady, ornate pastel coloured houses, then to Haight and Ashbury on our way to Golden Gate Bridge.

I loved Haight and Ashbury! I treated myself to a small Smorkin’ Labbit figurine for my kitchen and found a nice blazer at Goodwill for $7.50. I was quite pleased!

It really started to downpour once we got to Golden Gate Park. We were hoping it would be a short spurt like all the rain we encountered yesterday, but it persisted. Matt was concerned about my limp, so we took a Lyft (like Uber) back to the hostel to check out.


golden gate bridge at sunlight

Baker’s Beach with a view of the Golden Bridge

After checkout, we went to Sushiritto for a sushi burrito. It was very good value! We got huge sushi rolls that filled us right up. By then our car rental was ready, so we took another Lyft to Hertz.

Keys in hand, we drove our little Mitsubishi across the Golden Gate Bridge, up to Battery Spenser, and to a couple lookouts along the cliff. Battery Spenser was pretty cool – abandoned military buildings and a great view of the bridge. We also went to Fort Miley, Cliff House, and Baker Bridge. I had an exhilarating time on the beach – I’d never seen waves so big in my life! They were huge!

We hit the road around 6:00pm. We had trouble finding a cheap place to stay, eventually settling on a Super 8 Motel in Salinas. I was exhausted and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.


look out over the ocean at Cliff House

Lookout by the Cliff House


And now, to San Francisco!

photo of San Fransisco from above

UP & Airports

Matt and I took the UP Express for the first time which was exciting. For $9 with our Presto card, we got to Pearson in 25 minutes! I’d refused to pay the exorbitant price they were charging before the price drop – this felt like a real treat!

We left Toronto on a 8:30am United Airlines flight to Denver, which I spent devouring the book Station Eleven. We got to Denver early, but our connecting flight for San Francisco (SF) was delayed by 5 hours, which was a real pain as we’d paid extra to get a morning flight to SF. We stood on standby and were fortunate to get two seats on the 3:30 flight.

The flight to San Francisco was pretty spectacular. I started to watch the Sleeping Beauty, an Australian drama that had been on my ‘To Watch’ list for awhile, but the Rockies were so beautiful! Mountains covered with grey trees that looked like muddy magnetic sand in the snow, the creases and folds of the mountains as we ascended, the shadows, winding rivers and roads. I love seeing the world from above.

photo of clouds and mountains as see from an airplane window

Arrival in SF

Once we arrived in San Francisco, adrenaline took over and we giddily made our way downtown. A very helpful transit rep showed us how to use the BART ticket machines, knowledge we passed onto two European tourists who were also scratching their head at the screen.

We got off at Powell Station and upon surfacing, I was in bewilderment of the opulence, grandeur, and European vibe of downtown San Fransico! It was unlike any American city I’d been before.
ice on the window of an airplane

Hostel & Dinner

We dropped our bags at the Hub, an Airbnb hostel, did a bed bug check, then when in search of dinner. I felt very under dressed in SF in my jeans and black t-shirt. Everyone looked amazing! I was in constant awe of the people, the buildings, and the endless array of high-end boutiques. There were palm trees, flowers that matched their planters, and brightly coloured buildings. This place is awesome!

flowera for sale at Union Square

A friend of Matt’s had enjoyed a sushi-burrito in SF a couple days go, so we decided to go in search of Sushiritto. Unfortunately they were closed. Apparently a lot of restaurants are closed in this area on weekends.

We settled on a quaint little Italian restaurant with a bright red awning, white table cloths, and high ceilings. I had pasta topped with crab meat and Matt had mushroom pizza. We walked over to a nearby Ghirardelli where we shared a salted chocolate caramel sundae with a brownie. We were both in food coma after, so wandered back to our accommodation.

neon light signs outside an old parking garage

Matt got out the map and started planning out our day tomorrow. I curled up in bed, listening to the sounds of the street outside. Tomorrow will be a grand adventure!