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California can only mean one thing – the beach! Or in our case, many beaches: Manhattan, Mission and Pacific Beach San Diego — and throw in Mission Bay for good measure! But was the lure of all that sand and sun enough to convince a college-age daughter that a week-long California road trip with her mom in a Buick Enclave would be #BetterthanCabo?
Disclosure: The writer was hosted for this trip.
California Road Trip
I was on a mission – don’t pardon the pun! My daughter had passed up a spring break in Cabo with friends to spend a week with me on a California road trip. I was determined she wouldn’t regret that choice.
After spending the first part of our California road trip in Mission Beach, we packed up our Buick Enclave for another adventure. Our next stop was only two miles away in north Pacific Beach, but a whole different vibe. While Mission Beach was family-friendly, college students and young San Diegans ruled the Pacific Beach San Diego area. (That indicates to me a robust nightlife that we did not have time to check out). College students were surfing and paddle boarding (and it was NOT that warm) and sampling fish tacos, happy hours and eateries along the beach boardwalk. It is all walking distance from the resort.
Catamaran Resort Hotel in Pacific Beach San Diego
In Pacific Beach, we stayed at the beachfront Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa and enjoyed gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean. Like the Bahia Resort Hotel where we stayed on the first part of our trip, the Catamaran is owned by the Evans Hotel Group. The Catamaran is the company’s four-star hotel on Mission Blvd. The luxury is evident in the service: Everyone here really wanted to take care of us.
Our room was pretty, roomy and situated for perfect views of Mission Bay. Our suite faced the water and we had a separate room with two queen beds and a big bathroom with a dressing area. Unlike our suite in the Bahia Resort, there was no kitchen. There is plenty to do in all directions – 15 minutes from downtown San Diego, Seaworld, Tourmaline Surfing Park, and near all of the major roadways like Grand Avenue, Mission Boulevard and Pacific Beach Drive.
Read More: Awesome Road Trip Ideas Across the USA
Wish They All Could Be California Meals
Now, can we talk food? Once at Catamaran, we ate most of our meals at the on-site restaurant, Ocean Coastal Kitchen. I would go back for the Oceana Roll, a sushi sensation with homemade eel sauce and the chickpea skinny burger even if I were not staying at the resort.
Sit outside! The outside tables and cozy booths face Mission Bay. It was chilly at night, but our heat lamp worked so well that we had to turn it off more than once. If you do choose to sit inside, don’t miss the jellyfish aquarium – it’s colorful and mesmerizing.
Chef Riemer is dedicated to local sourcing and new ideas. Sushi chef Tat Nyugen has been making sushi for 20 years and he is an enthusiastic teacher. His sushi lessons are available to guests and I highly recommend it as the perfect vacation souvenir for all ages. We took his class and now we will always think of the Catamaran Resort, Chef Steve and Chef Tat when we make sushi at home.
Read More: Where to Find the Best Beaches in California
What’s California Spring Break Without Wine?
Oh, and we have to talk about the wine. After all, California is wine country, right? I told our very patient server at Oceana Coastal Kitchen that I knew I wanted a fruity light wine (not a fan of tannins) but I didn’t know the name of what I liked. She brought me a couple of samples, but they just weren’t doing it for me. Then the manager, Matt, stepped in and brought over four samples, including a fruit-forward Pinot Noir that was perfect.
This is something he does for all his guests — not just travel writers visiting to write about the area. Matt is as passionate about California wine as he is about exceptional customer service. He educated us about the life of wine and developing a palate. He is an expert, but not a snob and I walked away with some new favorites.
SheBuysTravel Tip: One of our favorite things to do when taking a beach vacation is to hire a photographer for family photos. This is a special gift and souvenir that we cherish. We use Flytographer to book a local photographer located in the area that we're traveling to. Use this link and you will get $25 off your photo session.
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Save Room For Dessert
Finally, what’s dinner without dessert? It was more bananas, but this time it was the New School Banana Pudding, a banana cake with cream on the outside and a vanilla cookie crumble. I never had anything like it before – creamy, fruity, and a happy ending to a wonderful meal.
Catamaran Resort Activities
True to my host’s love of animals, parrots, cockatoos, turtles, ducks and fish share the beautiful walkway between buildings. Every day at 3 p.m., there is a parrot “show,” where the parrots demonstrate their speaking skills (we are waiting for one of them to say “SheBuysTravel”).
I have always like biking and kayaking with my kids and at Mission Beach, Action Sport Rentals offers that and a variety of water sports and boats for rent. Biking to downtown San Diego would have taken more time than we had so surfer-mom and stained glass artist, Jeannie, who worked at Action Sport Rentals, directed us to a bike trip around Belmont Park and Mission Bay Park.
Back to School: San Diego to Tucson Road Trip
Tack on a 6 hour road trip for more conversation opportunities with your college kids. If you think you might be talked out after a week together, turn on “your” tunes. That will spark some opinions.
When I mentioned how Buick’s hashtag, #ThatsABuick was so apropos, my daughter was like, huh? She had no concept of my father’s Buick (we had one) and was totally into the technology and the comfort of the car.
We soaked in the California rays through our double sunroof and took in desert views through the huge cargo area. Three rows of spacious seating meant room for family, friends and surfboards. And with a push of a button, we could lower the third row and increase the cargo space. Convenient as a front row seat to take in sunsets and dangerously large for power shoppers!
I am a get-in-and-go kinda driver, with little patience for things like studying manuals or exploring features. My knowledge of a car evolves as I use it, and I was happily surprised as I stumbled onto features of the Enclave. I mean, who knew I needed to kick to open the trunk? I also liked the extra USB ports. Eventually I would have found the built-in WiFi hot spot.
Buick Enclave Useful Tech
The 2018 model Enclave Buick loaned us to drive on this trip was a 21st century Buick with all of the tech you could want: automatic braking with forward collision alert (it’s like having another set of eyes on the road, especially helpful in stop-n-go Cali traffic), adaptive cruise, lane change and blind spot sensors, Apple Carplay, OnStar and the sleeper feature that I didn’t know I would like so much: rearview mirror auto-dimmer – no more blinding bright lights in your mirror.
Apple Carplay was awesome, not only because of our music competitions. It also allowed me to plug in my phone and use my own navigation system (though the car has its own, of course). I had my map and instructions up on the screen, so I never had to look down while navigating unfamiliar territory. Our Buick Enclave really came through for us. If I could add about 10 more mpgs, I could promote it as the perfect large SUV (we got 20mpg).
On our road trip back to Tucson, my daughter made full use of Apple Carplay, thus the tunes, and introduced me to her favorites (including some 80s music!). Paybacks for the music I made her listen to on the first part of the trip – and honestly, I think we both enjoyed the quasi-competition.
Lessons Learned on Our Mother Daughter Trip
The window on one-on-one vacation time with my young adult children is slowly closing, so I’m glad I persuaded Sophia to give me one more spring break together. My only complaint about this Mother Daughter California road trip? It wasn’t long enough! But of course my daughter had to head back to school.
On the 300 mile road trip from Pacific Beach San Diego back to Tucson, we shared memories, lots of laughs, and made plans to return to California and check out more of San Diego. Old Town, Mission Valley, the gorgeous Gaslamp Quarter downtown and Coronado are just a few of the places on our list.
Parenting lesson learned? Your kids really do want to spend time with you. They might just need a little nudge to remind them. Throw in a beach town, beach hotels and ocean front walks and consider it done! My daughter said that her friends who spent time with their parents for spring break had no regrets (OK, they were mostly shopping but still beats Cabo).
I also think that if I am footing the bill for college, my kids are not entitled to a spring break party. You may start off sounding like the not-so-cool mom, but your vacation may just end up being #BetterthanCabo.
What you need to know about the Buick Enclave
- Creature Comforts: spacious, heated and ventilated front row seating (in leather) kept us cool in the Cali sun, which we enjoyed through the double moonroof
- Back Seat: The Enclave has three rows of roomy seating, including SmartSlide second row seating, which allowed quick access to the third row. Hit the power fold button and part of the back row disappears to allow for surfboards, bikes, or power shopping
- Technology: The Buick Infotainment System includes an 8 inch diagonal screen, Android capabilities and that awesome Apple CarPlay which we used to provide the soundtrack to our road trip.
- Safety Package: Visibility for miles thanks to surround vision (a system including front, side and rear vision cameras). And the car could alert me to a variety of situations, including lane change alert, blind spot alert, forward collusion alert and rear cross traffic alert.
- Gas Mileage: Dealer estimates were on target. The Enclave drove 17 miles per gallon in the city and 25 on the highway. I averaged 21 overall.
- Price: Standard vehicle price on the 2018 model new was $50,315; options like the dual moon roof (worth it!), satin steel metallic finish, surround vision and aluminum wheels brought the Enclave I drove to $55,480.