The border crossing had become busier as the afternoon grew old. Guards herded us into single-file lines for U.S. Customs, which allows 1 liter of alcohol and $400 worth of goods to be brought back. I declared my chewing gum, and soon we were on the trolley, bound for a nap in the hotel.
Inside that one, Zagarella, the hostess warned us that the kitchen was running behind because of a large party in the back room. But we could have a table, one of only seven in the cozy front dining room, which is embellished with murals of Mediterranean towns and clouds painted on the sky-blue ceiling.
If the kitchen was behind, we couldn't tell. Within 20 minutes, the cheerful server brought our appetizer, pepperoni arrostiti, a 12-inch plate smothered in olive-oil-dressed roasted peppers, tart capers and a few salty anchovy fillets. Marc dug into his perfectly done salmon, while my pollo al limone con pinoli, a lightly breaded chicken breast in lemony sauce with pine nuts and an occasional golden raisin, transported me to food heaven.
For dessert, the tiramisu looked tempting until I thought of how it would look on my hips. So we sought a thinner alternative: a cup of coffee at any little place in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. We took the trolley north three stops to the Old Town Transit Center, only to find all the little places closed.
As we walked past Seeley Stable, we heard pop-pop-BOOM behind us. Beyond the plaza's tall trees sparkled fireworks, the show that explodes about 9:45 to 10 p.m. every day at Sea World. Alone by the stable, we watched chrysanthemums, chandeliers and heart-shaped rings glimmer and fade. It was time to go.
The Bristol describes its 102 guest rooms as colorful, and they are. Ours ($99 a night plus tax, energy fee and $12 for parking) was painted deep gold, except for a white wall at the head of the bed that set off a purple Matisse print. The yellow-and-orange awning-striped comforter, coir-print carpet and tan-and-black striped draperies gave the room a warm, outdoorsy feeling.
We snuggled into the hotel's thick terry bathrobes and snapped on the tTVelevision,, which offers WebTV and video games. No WebTV for us; the channel changer didn't work. A front-desk clerk told us to turn a little gizmo on top of the mini-bar lens -side -out and try again. Voilà! Some guests, the clerk explained, mistake the infrared switch for a Web camera and get quneasy about having it aimed at the bed.
In the morning, we roamed the halls to see the hotel's pPop aArt collection. We found a Peter Max in the lobby, an Andy Warhol and a Romero Britto outside the ballroom, a Keith Haring and a Roy Lichtenstein in hallways. We grazed the hotel's continental breakfast--pastries, yogurt, fresh fruit and cereal, all included in the nightly rate--before starting the day's adventure.
The Blue Line trolley ends at the Mission San Diego station. The mission is a leisurely 15-minute walk away, past a health club on Ward Road and about a quarter mile oneast on San Diego Mission Road.
A self-guided tour let us imagine what it would have been like to duck from the sunny meditation gardens into the adobe buildings' cool gloom when they were new in the wilderness. In the mid-1700s, there would have been none of the oodles of statues here of Juníipero Serra, the Franciscan friar who founded California's missions with Mission San Diego.
Next stop: the American Plaza station to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art branch at Kettner Boulevard and Broadway.
The museum, easily seen in an hour, offers changing exhibits. The weekend we visited, it featured creations in architecture, fashion and multimedia from a Tijuana artists' consortium, plus pieces from the permanent collection.
We walked past some big names, such as Claes Oldenburg and Cindy Sherman, but also saw work by San Diego-area artists. We muffled giggles at Eleanor Antin's photos titled "100 Boots," which, the exhibit notes said, "follows the hero (100 rubber boots) on a journey from the quiet life in the suburbs to unemployment, war and finally to their own exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York." After all, this stuff is serious.
But we weren't. Our car-free weekend had left us carefree. At the hotel's garage, a valet retrieved the truck, which looked beautiful after two days' rest. On the way home, the odometer rolled up 272,000 miles.
Holly Ocasio Rizzo is a freelance writer based in Orange County.