Stay Classy, San Diego


Photo credit: Ashley Jeanson.

You know the saying, ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade’? It’s all about making the best of a bad situation, turning it around into your favour and enjoying yourself. Well I’ve got a new saying: ‘when your birthday comes around, grab a good friend and get your ass down to San Diego’.

I’ve had my birthday once before whilst in America (Portland, obviously) but I’ve never had a birthday like this. It practically lasted for three days, it was crazy, it was fun, it was awesome, and San Diego? San Diego is incredible. When I was planning my trip I deliberately chose to be in town for my birthday because my very good friend Ashley lives there (or at least does at the moment because she’s about to up sticks and move to Turkey for a year! Super brave girl and I am incredibly proud of her for following her dream!). I was worried that we were going to miss each other, but she, being the rockstar that she is, not only made sure she didn’t leave for Turkey until after I had left, she also totally took me around town, introduced me to her lovely friends, and made my 24th birthday one of my best.

Ashley calls me her ‘Oven GF’ because of my passion for food, but the story of how we met is kind of brilliant. Y’see, when I was living in Portland I was writing a blog for my friends and family back home, all about being a Brit living in America, and Ashley found me randomly. We became “Blog Buddies”, then when she came to London two summers ago I insisted that she come and stay with me. One night out at my favourite bar in Convent Garden where Ashley told the bartender that we were a) not lesbians but she was buying me a drink, b) I wasn’t a prostitute, either and c) that despite those things we did meet on the internet; and our love was solidified. Ever since, though we rarely see one another, we have been great friends. I was so excited to hang out with again, see her city, and also spend my birthday with some awesome people. And wow, if you need somebody to help pack as much stuff as possible in a city into three days: call Ashley. She’s on it.

Photoshoot In The Bathroom

Photo credit: Ashley Jeanson.

Ashley’s friends Bethany and Christian have this amazing mirror in their bathroom that has a light running around the edge. That means that when you look into the mirror you have circles of light in your eyes. I saw this whilst washing my hands and basically freaked out – it was amazingly trippy. After dinner I insisted that we head back to their bathroom for a photoshoot, where Ashley and Christian both obliged, posing in front of the mirror whilst I stood on top of the bathtub to snap their photos. Ashley also took a couple of photos of me under my direction, as I taught her how to manually focus my camera, despite her being incredibly tired and having to balance precariously upon the bathtub and sink. The result came out fairly pretty, don’t ya think?


I’d barely got off the plane when Ashley informed me that we were going to her favourite taco shop in town, Trujillo’s. Located in the middle of the University of San Diego campus, it was a faved haunt of hers from her college days with, apparently, awesome tacos and burritos. We arrived and she made my order for me: a California burrito, one that you apparently can’t get from anywhere else in California. It consisted of carne asada, pica de gallo, cheese and fries. Wait, what?! Yep, there were fries inside the burrito. One of the most bizarre (and incredibly starchy) things I’ve ever eaten, I couldn’t finish it. I tried my hardest but at the end of the day it was a little too much Ameri-xican for this little Asian girl.

If you’re in San Diego you should head down there, though, as they do brilliant tacos and burritos. And hey, maybe you can handle the Californian: apparently I can’t.

5119 College Ave
San Diego, CA

Hotel del Coronado

Hotel del Coronado (or Hotel Del, as it’s affectionately called) is one of the oldest buildings in San Diego. Not as old, Ashley was keen to make sure I understood, as most of London, but still, very old. Old enough, in fact, that it even has a haunted tower. It also has tunnels in the basement of the hotel that used to be used by ex-Presidents to escape quietly, but are now commercialised and full of pricey (and touristy) shops.

Photo credit: Bethany Mink.

We wandered around for a good hour or two, snapping photos, running around and generally having a good time – it was just great to be hanging out and catching up in such beautiful surroundings. San Diego had even got its sunny face out for me, but this was apparently San Diego on a “cold” day, as evidenced by Bethany’s fur coat!

Hotel del Coronado
1500 Orange Ave
Coronado CA

Balboa Park

Balboa Park is where all of the museums are located in San Diego – it’s actually pretty random when you think about it, a park built to house the museums and random cultural buildings, but it’s also incredibly beautiful. Ashley and I wandered around for a good hour or so, me snapping photos and remarking at “how California” the people around me were (so many tiny dogs!) – definitely one of my favourite spots in San Diego.

I even sampled a tamale for the first time from a stand in the park, a food I’ve been curious about for a long time but never been able to try. It wasn’t the best tamale in the world but it was interesting – I expected it to be chewy but instead it was incredibly crumbly. I’m curious as to how a “good” tamale is different – I’ll keep you posted!

Balboa Park
San Diego CA

More Pho

My pho obsession is getting a bit ridiculous, isn’t it? We had been trying to go to a local sushi place but it was closed and Pho on Fifth was right around the corner – who am I to turn down a bowl of pho? Especially as both Ashley and I were battling colds – a huge bowl of fragrant broth seemed just the trick.

We shared some Vietnamese rice rolls, then tucked into our bowls of pho – mine was essentially everything but the kitchen sink: fatty brisket, sirloin and tripe all nestled together amongst the noodles and soup. The noodles weren’t amazing, but the broth was fantastic. Our server was incredibly excited to see an Asian in the restaurant and kept coming over to harass me, until I casually hinted that Ashley was my girlfriend, at which point he disappeared. Typical. Still, the service was good (probably because he was trying to hit on me), the restaurant was pretty clean and the food arrived promptly. It didn’t break the bank either, coming up around $10 per head. Go for the broth – it’s intense and wonderful.

Pho on Fifth
3807 5th Ave
San Diego CA

The Cottage & La Jolla

Ashley had been raving about The Cottage practically from the moment I arrived in San Diego. Located in the middle of La Jolla, it apparently served one of the best breakfasts in town. We headed over to meet another friend for brunch on a beautifully sunny day, though somewhat chilly, and this totally warmed me to my core.

I had a glass of clementine juice (it was fabulous), a Mexican Mocha (it a lovely hint of cinnamon) and the Chicken Baja Hash (sausage, chicken, peppers, corn & house potatoes on a crispy tortilla shell, topped with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce), whilst the girls had Chilaquiles (a Mexican-style omelette with potatoes, a sweet biscuit and strawberry jam). I love breakfasts in America. I rarely eat breakfast but when I do I go all out, because it’s just so good. The choice and vibrance of your plate is unlike anything you can get in the UK, the eggs are always perfectly cooked to your liking and not at all greasy, and it’s just good. I’m not ashamed to say that I polished off my plate whilst both the girls left a good third of their meals! I couldn’t help it – it was too good!

The Cottage
7702 Fay Avenue
San Diego CA

Afterwards we went for a wander along La Jolla Cove where the animal-lover in me freaked out when I saw seals sunbathing on the beach. The pups were out with the mothers, lazing in the sun, frolicking in the water, and generally having a good time. Of course there were a gazillion people out there too, snapping photos, jostling and generally being obnoxious, so I snapped a few photos and then wandered off down the coast with the girls, before heading off for cupcake goodness.

La Jolla Cove
San Diego CA


Sprinkles opened up in Beverly Hills back in 2004, boasting the title of ‘The First Cupcake Bakery in Beverly Hills’. Now an institution in cupcake-ry and a firm favourite of San Diego-ites at its La Jolla location, punters have been known to queue outside for over an hour, just for a bite of their goods.

We luckily only had to wait maybe five minutes, but the queue was already starting to snake outside the door, a door that had to be kept shut to “maintain the integrity of our cupcakes”. Ashley and I paid for a Red Velvet cupcake each (apparently their best), then took it outside to eat in the sunshine. I enjoy cupcakes, I wouldn’t say that I love them though, and I’ll be glad when the cupcake fad is over, frankly, but I must admit: these were really good. The frosting was a little heavy but the actual cake was incredibly moist and delicious. I couldn’t finish mine, it was very sweet, but it was a pretty good cupcake. They’d earned their bragging rights.

8855 Villa La Jolla Drive
San Diego CA

Birthday Meal #1: In-N-Out

Is it weird that we went to In-N-Out for my birthday breakfast? I’m going to go with ‘no’, because a) it’s a real California institution, b) I had to have a burger whilst in Cali, c) I’d been told by a gazillion different people to go and d) this was the only time we had to go. So, for the first meal of a celebration of 24 years on this earth, off to In-N-Out we went!

Ashley and I both got a cheeseburger and shared some fries “Animal Style”. In-N-Out apparently has a “secret” menu that locals in the know order off, which consists of strange combinations of food, or secret toppings. I’d been told that I really should’ve had a Double-Double “Animal Style” (double meat patties, double cheese, smothered in burger sauce and onions) but at close to 11am this was perhaps a little intense.

I have to say, I found it a little overrated. There was so much hype surrounding it but it was, at the end of the day, just a fast food burger. I did, however, appreciate the fresh lettuce and tomato, but it made me feel greasy and full of stodge afterwards. The “Animal Style” fries, too, were no big deal. In fact, they were kind of weird – In-N-Out’s fries are pretty soggy and limp, so the congealed cheese, burger sauce and onions on top just made them a little sickening.

I also must mention that my server was hilarious. He asked me when I was ordering, “you’re not from around here, are you?” – seriously, dude? Then spent the whole time watching us eat until he finally came over and cleared my table for me, something which apparently doesn’t happen. We then had the following exchange:
“How was your burger, then? Was it the bomb? That’s what we say over here in America: it’s the bomb.”
“Er… it is… the bomb?”
“Yeah, it’s the bomb!…er… I have to go now…”
Too funny.

Still, I’d had my Californian burger and I’d tried my In-N-Out. I know it’s not much of a comparison for The Great Burger Mission but I didn’t have a whole lot of time to eat multiple burgers! Portland still reigned supreme and it was time to move on.

Photo credit: Ashley Jeanson.

3102 Sports Arena Bl.
San Diego CA

Birthday Meal #2: Karl Strauss Brewery, La Jolla
Ashley and I headed over to La Jolla again to meet up with a few other fabulous people for my birthday lunch at the Karl Strauss Brewery. Kim U. and her husband John had decided to take a little break from the craziness of Las Vegas and drove to spend a couple of days in San Diego for my birthday. Joining us, too, was another lovely Kim K., who’s based in San Diego.

Photo credit: Kim Ulmanis.

The lunch was pretty hilarious. Our server, Steve, was from Boston and so had a pretty awesome accent which I remarked upon quite early on and after that he kept calling me “Birthday Girl” and practically bending over backwards to do things for me. My beer was free, I got a free Karl Strauss signature pint glass, two shots/”tasters” of the house brew special (a dark almost Guinness-like beer with a hint of cherry; everybody else got one shot) and finally a list of places to go in Boston with his phone number at the bottom. It was ridiculously funny and both Ashley and Kim K. called it. I didn’t see it, but Steve also apparently nearly walked into a wall holding handfuls of dishes, he was staring at me so hard.

I had my first ever Fish Taco for lunch, but only a half portion because I was still pretty full from my In-N-Out breakfast. It wasn’t bad, but I can’t help but feel I could’ve had a better one from a taco stand. The rice, however, was delicious, though I can’t quite pinpoint what it was about it that made it so good.

Kim K. had the Rollos Locos: crispy chicken avocado rolls, pepper jack and cheddar cheese, pasilla pepper, cilantro, chipotle tortilla, and roasted Amber Lager-ancho chili sauce. She described them as “Mexican sushi” and whilst I didn’t try any they looked delicious. Both Kim U. and John had variations on the mac ‘n cheese which I didn’t manage to snap (too many cameras at the table!) but looked pretty decent. They enjoyed it!

I left with a happy beer buzz having had some fabulous conversation and laughs, and also a Bostonian’s phone number. Hilarious.

Photo credit: Ashley Jeanson.

Karl Strauss Brewery
1044 Wall Street
La Jolla CA

Birthday Meal #3: Family Away From Home

After the lunch we disappeared home, Ashley to get back to work and I to do some work of my own, but when Ashley’s parents came back they came bearing completely unexpected gifts. Her beautiful mother gave me a gorgeous scarf and bracelet, and her generous father had picked up a slice of chocolate cake and vanilla frozen yoghurt to share. When Ashley got home later that evening they stuck a candle in it and sang happy birthday to me before we all had a bite.

It honestly made me feel so warm and fuzzy inside, I was incredibly touched that they had gone to all the trouble for me, especially after only really meeting me a couple of days earlier! It was time to get ready for the big dinner.

Birthday Meal #4: Extraordinary Desserts

A long while ago I had started planning with Amanda to go to Extraordinary Desserts for my birthday dinner. However, when it came to the actual evening Amanda was feeling really unwell, which meant that the dinner she’d planned she couldn’t even attend! It was very sad, but I gave her a call and we had a good giggle on the phone before I headed out for dinner.

We were a party of eleven, with Kim and John joining us, along with two of my very good friends, Tyler & Darren, whom I last saw in London in the summer, Ashley, our friend Colleen (she stayed with me in London a couple of summers ago), and four other new friends. The atmosphere was fantastic – a giant display case filled with cakes and goodies greeted you as you entered through the doors, the servers were friendly and efficient, the surroundings were beautiful, and I was surrounded by people who wanted to celebrate my birthday with me! What more could a girl ask for?

We kicked things off with a glass of prosecco each, a lovely bright little thing, before getting down to the business of ordering our food. Because it’s really a dessert place their “menu” is not much more than a selection of paninis and toasties, or cheese. I did, however, spot the intriguing looking ‘Cheddar Toastie with Bacon Jam’. Of course I ordered it, as did three of my friends! But then, great disaster, they were all out of the Bacon Jam; my server was very apologetic though – sad times but all the more incentive for me to make some when I return to London. I instead opted for the Gruyere and caramelised onion toastie, served with olives, which was delicious. Everybody enjoyed their fare – it was good quality food, simple and yet filling! Meal over it was time for desserts, which meant trawling along the glass cabinets at the front of the restaurant, inspecting the cakes.

Rachel had ordered the Lemon Praline cake to share with Ashley – it really was a thing of beauty, but then all the desserts were! Ashley even declared it the best dessert she’d ever eaten. And then my cake arrived.

Photo credit: John Ulmanis.

Photo credit: Kim Ulmanis.

Is there anything better than being sung ‘happy birthday’ to by your friends and then digging into a beautiful slice of Truffe Framboise, dark chocolate truffle cake, studded with fresh raspberries? No, I would argue that there is not. It honestly was the perfect ending to a fabulous birthday. New friends, old friends, all of us having a great time and celebrating together.

If you’re having a birthday I’d highly recommend grabbing a group of friends and getting your butt down to San Diego: it’s the only way to celebrate.

Extraordinary Desserts
1430 Union Street
San Diego CA

And so there we have it! The only way to bring in a birthday in America: in absolute style, love and happiness. Big thanks to the amazing Ashley who went above and beyond to ensure that I had the best time possible in her home town, to Kim U. & John for coming to town to celebrate with me (I saw John’s Bobblehead action in real life: awesome), to Kim K. for joining us for lunch and for the gorgeous photo cards, and of course to the other wonderful friends who joined us, sent messages, called, emailed, sent love from across the pond and otherwise, and generally made me feel very loved. You guys are the best. And, of course, thanks to Steve – if anybody wants a local Bostonian’s phone number, let me know…

That’s all for now – stay classy… world. Peace and love.

Jax x

8 Responses to “Stay Classy, San Diego”

  1. Ashley Says:

    Thanks to Steve! haha.

    I’m glad we had our time together…warding off Vietnamese men with lesbian lies :)

    Love you Jax…can’t wait to see what Andres has up his sleeve!

  2. Kim at Coffee Pot Chronicles Says:

    Absolutely wonderful write up, Jackie! We had such a great time meeting you in San Diego and celebrating your birthday. I am thrilled to have been a part of it. And John’s bobblehead? Always good for a laugh. =)

    Thanks for being a part of our trip just as much as we were a part of yours. Hopefully someday our paths will cross again either here in the States or [if we’re lucky] across the pond.

    Safe travels to you! Looking forward to what happens next! Love ya!

    And Ashley? You are absolutely awesome as well!

  3. shannon Says:

    Oh! You make me miss California with your gorgeous photos! I was just there but didn’t have a chance to get my food-fix on. It looks like you had enough fun for the both of us ;) Happy Birthday!!!!

  4. Ken?hungry rabbit Says:

    I’m glad you had a great birthday and many many many meals. Get over to NYC in a jiffy so we can continue the celebration.

  5. Tiny Urban Kitchen Says:

    Happy Happy Birthday! Looking forward to finally meeting in person!

  6. sophia Says:

    Yay!!! you met Kim! And good lord, Jackie, you’ve got friends all over the world. What a blessing, eh?

    I’m sorry you didn’t like In-N-Out too much. I’ve only had the regular cheeseburger, and I loved it, but that may have been because it was SO DARN CHEAP and yet so much better than a McD burger. I’m a sucker for cheap stuff.

    Keep on rocking!! Thanks for taking us all around the U.S. with your fun wacky travels! :D

  7. Jackie Says:

    Thanks everybody!

    Sophia – you know, it was better than Maccy D’s or Burger King, but just… I dunno. Not great. Maybe there was too much hype?

    Jax x

  8. JS Says:

    your photos are really lovely – v nice site!

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