How I Found My Bliss Again in Southern California

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This winter was tough on our family. The Chicago area is known for heavy clouds and bitterly cold temperatures – combined with lower-than-average snowfall, this winter felt particularly difficult to endure. When we found out where the Army is sending us next before Christmas (the earliest we’ve ever found out!), it was hard not to focus on our impending move this summer and everything that awaits us upon our arrival. It’s not that we don’t like Chicago – we adore the Second City! But the northern suburbs of Chicago isn’t where we’re meant to be long-term.

We chose Southern California for our Spring Break location because it checked multiple boxes – it’s warm, it has great hiking opportunities, and of course, Disneyland. We flew into John Wayne International Airport and drove down to San Diego for the first leg of our trip. Clay and I had traveled to San Diego when I was 5 months pregnant with our oldest but we hadn’t been there since so it was cool to explore the city as a family.

We stayed at the Manchester Grand Hyatt (that’s where we stayed almost 13 years ago too!), which is on the water near Seaport Village. The hotel has a fantastic pool, multiple bars and restaurants, and is in a fantastic location. We were tired from our day of flying and driving (in Friday afternoon traffic – poor planning on our part!) so we decided to eat dinner at one of the restaurants adjacent to the hotel – Sally’s Fish House and Bar

Oh my goodness – it did not disappoint! Not only was the outdoor seating area divine, the food was absolutely delicious. I had swordfish with a charred cauliflower steak, crispy Brussels sprouts, pickled red onions, and guajillo butter sauce and Clay had the Chilean sea bass with linguini, rock shrimp, baby spinach, herb-garlic cream, and a tomato-olive caper relish.

And the kids menu had steak, so the kids were happy too! 

After dinner, we spend the next few hours walking around San Diego Bay and visiting the various military memorials that comprise the ‘Greatest Generation Collection’. San Diego is home to our country’s largest concentration of military personnel and the Navy is very much part of the city’s landscape.

When planning our visit to San Diego, we were most excited to visit the USS Midway Museum. The following day, we spent almost 6 hours exploring the decommissioned aircraft carrier and we consider it to be one of the best military museums we’ve every visited. Visitors are encouraged to explore on their own and touch the various pieces of equipment. Volunteers are posted throughout the museum to answer any questions you may have and you can even order beer at the restaurant on board – what’s not to love?

Later that afternoon and evening we spent time at the pool and then walked around San Diego Bay again at night. The next morning, we packed up and drove back north – we opted not to visit the famed San Diego Zoo this visit, instead choosing to go for a long hike en route to our next location.

We decided to hike a 5 mile loop at Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach. We purchased a $15 day pass and chose the ‘Difficult‘ Moro Ridge trail which has an elevation gain of 1053 feet.

It was exactly what we needed. Our last hike with that much elevation gain was during our visit to Colorado last summer. Illinois is the second most flat state in the US so a lot of the hiking we’ve done around Fort Sheridan has left us quite underwhelmed.

I haven’t been my best self in a couple of years. Pandemic life combined with the Army sending us to an area that doesn’t mesh with me 100% during that said pandemic has resulted in a period of my life where I struggle to find the extraordinary in everyday life. I’m not unhappy but my motivation and focus are not as vibrant as they once were and as a result, I aimlessly go about most days with a general feeling of blah.

But during our time in southern California, my windshield wasn’t foggy. Our extremely well-timed trip was a much-needed break from our routine – with sunshine! The four of us were able to eat, unplug, and enjoy each other. We returned to Illinois recharged and ready to make the most of our remaining four months in the Land of Lincoln. But not without visiting Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland Resort first…stay tuned.

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