The sound of the incoming Amtrak train was exciting, but not new.
My family has taken Amtrak across the country to Illinois a few times before, but this particular experience kicked off an adventure for my husband and me.
While our twins were on a school field trip to Catalina Island, it was our turn to cut loose and experience our first journey to San Diego by train. Our train left Flagstaff at 9 p.m. and got into San Diego at about 10 a.m. the next day.
This trip was a gift from my husband for our wedding anniversary, and my birthday. Anybody who knows us, knows we'll jump at any opportunity to see an ocean and sail if possible.
After a fitful night sleeping sitting upright (I need a bed in order to sleep), we changed trains in Fullerton, Calif., and headed down the coastline toward San Diego. The trip was smooth and the views of the coastline and water was incredible. I believe San Diego is a terrific vacation destination and we love going there.
Once at the San Diego train station, we chose to buy three-day transportation passes, which offer unlimited trolley and bus rides. This was definitely the way to go. It might have taken us longer to get around the city, but finding parking is nearly impossible and it's expensive.
When you have only three days and two nights to visit the city, you have to plan. A couple of adventures topped my list of fun things to do.
We took a two-hour cruise on the Stars & Stripes sailboat. This sailboat is the original 80-foot boat from the 1992 America's Cup held in San Diego. The acclaimed sailor and skipper Dennis Connor owned the boat at that time. He is certainly one of the most recognized names in America's Cup racing.
About 20 tourists climbed aboard and readied for sail in the San Diego Bay. We wished the experience wasn't so commercialized, sharing space with 18 others was a bit tight, but still it was an enjoyable time.
The wind was decent, and the huge sails stretching across the 11-story mast helped move us along at a pretty good clip. The cruise includes close-up views of the USS Midway and the downtown skyline.
For five minutes or so, each guest was allowed to take the helm. On my turn, I actually got us up out of the water a bit on one side, nobody screeched, and I thought it was fun. Many of us were also assigned jobs on the boat, grinding the winches.
Compared to our 19-foot Prindle sailboat, this boat required a lot of people to manage. Overall, for $80 a person, it was a good time and it gave us bragging rights to say we were on this famed vessel.
Walking along the boardwalk on Pacific Beach, while it's loaded with tourists, is actually enjoyable. On a limited budget, the people watching made up for the expensive excursions. If you've never seen people kite sailing, you are really missing out.
We witnessed guys and girls strapped to sur boards getting lifted out of the ocean at incredible heights. They flipped over huge waves and expertly caught another wave. Amazing sailing talent and balance is needed for this one.
On our last day, we jumped on a bus and headed about 10 miles up the coast to La Jolla. With only about four hours to play, we walked along the coastline, saw the Children's Beach and ate at a wonderful Thai restaurant.
The unofficial story behind the Children's Beach is actually pretty funny. The town of La Jolla set up a special beach intended for children, but sea lions invaded and took it over. While the sea lions are interesting creatures, they have very sharp teeth and a loud imposing bark.
So, as this situation was less than child-friendly, it became a beach for these marine mammals, and the children, they had to snatch up small sections of beach between the La Jolla cliffs.
A 20-minute bus ride back to the train station, and eventually we were back on Amtrak heading home.
While this was a short time, we were incredibly fortunate to have nearly perfect weather, new experiences and time without restless kids. We grew closer and fell in love again. Isn't that what should happen on such trips?