Clip #6: Salads, Sunsets, and San Diego

We encountered our second stainless steel “doggie bowl” meal one evening at an all-salad restaurant where you pick your bowl size, then head down the line pointing to really fresh veggies, fruits, protein sources. and an array of dressings—pretty much anything you might want in a salad. A gorgeous sunset across the plaza from the restaurant patio was the perfect complement.

From the outside, the River City Grill in Yuma, Arizona,  looked like a typical Mexican restaurant taking up a dusty corner in the Old Town District. Inside, however, the walls were decorated with a broad array of artwork, including this metallic, blue-lit fish and several colorful art quilts adorned with beads, golden threads, and tiny mirrors. The menu was a total surprise, featuring “regional cuisines of the Mediterranean, Pacific Rim, India, and the Caribbean.” Too bad we weren’t hungry enough at lunchtime to choose any of that.

We ordered salads, and “basic Bob” ordered his usual Coors Light despite the array of craft beers on the menu. After a few minutes, our server announced with a smile that our lunch would be slightly delayed because they were out of Coors Light and someone from the kitchen had gone to the grocery to get some!

Neither of us had been in San Diego before, but I’d heard forever about its perfect weather, kind of like that last bowl of porridge Goldilocks tried—not too hot, not too cold, but just right. The place was once referred to sarcastically as Rabbitville because many early attempts to build by the bay failed, leaving empty, excavated expanses quickly taken over by the prolific local rabbit population.

In 1867, Alonzo Horton ignored previous failures, bought up several hundred acres along the waterfront, and built a wharf. This time, San Diego thrived. When the city installed 50 gas lamps along the streets, the wharf area became known, and is still known, as the Gas Lamp District. We spent a sunny, blue-sky, weekday afternoon wandering this section of downtown, which was bustling with electric scooters, bright red buses, open-air bars and restaurants, and all manner and size of people walking all manner and size of dogs.

I’d also heard forever about the grandeur of the Hotel del Coronado, so having now reached the west coast, we made reservations to spend our evening on that hotel’s expansive patio so we could savor a Pacific coast sunset.

When the hotel opened in February 1888, it was an instant success with wealthy travelers from the Midwest, the East Coast, and Europe who arrived with their servants (mostly by seven-day train trip) and often stayed for months. The hotel featured modern amenities like steam-powered elevators, private indoor bathrooms, telephones in the lobby, and a sprinkler system in case of fire. At the time, it was one of the largest buildings in the country with electric lighting.

Hotel del Coronado

We entered the perfectly landscaped, bustling grounds of the Hotel del Coronado on a mild evening with just a hint of ocean breeze. Not only was the hotel and its setting elegant and beautiful, but every nook and cranny whispered of its legendary past—L. Frank Baum settling in for months at a time between 1904 and 1910 while writing three of his Oz books, W. C. Fields and Douglas Fairbanks checking in, Charlie Chaplin playing polo. Nearly 1,000 people gathered in the Crown Room in September 1927 to celebrate Charles Lindbergh and “The Spirit of St. Louis,” which had been built in San Diego. They feasted on Salad Lindbergh, Lone Eagle Stuffed Eggs, and Spirit of St. Louis Striped Bass.

In 1958, Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon arrived to star in “Some Like It Hot,” which was later named the #1 comedy of all time by the American Film Institute. The Hotel del Coronado was the perfect setting for that 1929 story. In 1977, the hotel became the backdrop for “The Stunt Man,” starring Peter O’Toole and Barbara Hershey—that production requiring the construction of a fake tower atop the hotel roof and the staging of a dramatic explosion.

In September 1970, in the Crown Room, President Richard Nixon hosted the first American “state dinner” ever held outside the White House to honor Mexico’s President Ordaz. Among those in attendance were former President and Mrs. Lyndon Johnson, California Governor and Mrs. Ronald Reagan, Frank Sinatra and John Wayne.

No state dinner, stuffed eggs, or striped bass for us, and no movie set, but Bobby and I did feast on an appetizer tray of assorted olives and delicious artisan pizzas after we made our way to the tiered patio and beach area. It was a festive evening, enjoying the wide vista of the ocean and, back across the wide curve of the Coronado bridge, the twinkling lights of the city. In the interlude between sunny afternoon and twilight, the west coast sky and its horizon staged an unforgettable and gorgeous show all around us.

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