When I first caught a glimpse of that skyline, my heart felt content. It’s not every day that you visit a new location, somewhere made up completely of unfamiliar streets and a different culture, and feel so much at home.

Late night In-N-Out Burger was a must, considering we were in California, so we happily welcomed ourselves to the Golden State animal style. Even at 11pm there was a line out the door, but it was worth the wait. We returned to my cousin Hannah and her roommate Neil’s cozy North Park apartment where I curled up on a couch and fell asleep from travel-induced exhaustion.

Torrey Pines became day one’s primary focus, and we probably spent about three hours trekking up and down the large hills and stone steps of the park. It was absolutely breathtaking looking out over the coast; looking at the ocean never fails to make me feel so small. I apparently found it so breathtaking that I got caught up capturing a selfie and didn’t see the steps we were approaching. I took a tumble, dropped my belongings and got a scuff on my brand new white low tops, but it’s okay because the selfie turned out pretty great. There, the joke of the trip was born. It became sport over the next few days to see how many times I would trip or fall on our journey throughout San Diego. (The least amount of times I tripped in one day was twice, but that hardly counts, as Jenn pointed out, “Because you were sitting on the beach for the majority of the day.”)

We finished off our first day by jamming out to Passion Pit at The Observatory North Park, formerly North Park Theater. I almost didn’t get to see the show because I had a small camera in my bag, apparently seen as a threat, but they finally realized that I was a clueless Texan and let me in. Coin opened for Passion Pit and I nommed on some Skittles which made the synth even better. Cloud 9 Hookah and breakfast burritos from Saguaro’s made for a solid end to the night.

Jenn and I had every intention of going kayaking in La Jolla the next day, only to find out when we arrived that there was a 100% chance we would get wet thanks to a red flag and choppy waves. Needless to say we skipped that adventure and decided to walk the beach instead. I somehow ended up laying in the sun in my bralette and shorts, covered in sand, defending Jenn from seagulls. We managed to escape without a scratch, but decided it was time to move on to other forms of marine life such as the renowned La Jolla Cove sea lions. Everyone told me they would smell bad, but not letting them steal my excitement, I chose not to believe it. I should have. They smelled horrendous. I saw a sweet little old Chinese woman taking a picture right next to a sea lion, and filled with jealousy immediately rushed to do the same. When I got close to the sea lion, however, it growled at me which not only weirded me out but also drew a notable amount of attention from the other tourists. Done with its bad attitude, I ditched the sea lion and went to find another, more amiable one.

re-discovered my love for gelato in La Jolla, thanks to Bobboi Natural Gelato, and later ate award-winning salmon at Pier Café. Pier café is directly on the water, so I got to spend my evening with a stunning view of the sunset. Tired from a long day, we all curled up with cupcakes from Frost Me and the last three episodes of American Horror Story season one.

Day three was a challenge considering I forgot to caffeinate in the morning, which resulted in my wandering aimlessly around Balboa Park by myself. (Still sorry about my attitude problem, Jenn. I’m never going a morning without caffeine again.) We started the day by dropping $50 on the San Diego Zoo, which ended up being worth the splurge when we found out a baby giraffe was being born. Plus we got unlimited Skyfari rides, which I enjoyed just as much as the 5-year-old boy in front of me. I was able to meet my spirit animal, the great panda, who acknowledged my panda status by turning around and posing for a picture. Thanks to Freddie, our Über driver that morning, we had a good sense of what we wanted to see in Balboa Park after the zoo. Balboa is a huge area that includes the San Diego Zoo and many museums, but being of poor college kid status, we opted for free attractions. We started with the Spanish Village Art Center, a space I originally saw on Pinterest. I was intrigued by its colorful stone sidewalk, but had no idea just how many art galleries it had. Some favorite pieces of mine included sculptures with moving parts and switch plates made of polymer clay.

Hannah picked us up from the park and dropped us off for some shopping time in North Park. We ended up getting locked out of the apartment after we shopped, however, and decided to go to dinner at Alexander’s a few blocks away. Neil finally got home and let us in, and we changed into warmer clothes for the Padres game (yes, San Diego is still chilly this time of year.) We were only four innings late to the game, kind of remarkable after the long day we had. Dead-set on getting a baseball cap and some ice cream, we left early. I’m not sure how much baseball I actually watched, but I got a kick out of people watching.

Up until day four our trip had zero chill, so we decided to take a much-needed beach day. I found out via Instagram a few days earlier that a guy from my high school was in the marines and stationed at Miramar just outside of La Jolla. After Michael copped my digits and I realized he was off work that day, we decided to meet up at Coronado and spent all day beaching. Not only did all three of us get awesome sunburns, but we had an interesting talk about verbs as well. Wrapped up in our towels burrito-style to shield the cold, we stayed until the sun was about to set. We headed to Ocean Beach for OB Noodle House, a restaurant Hannah and Neil hyperventilated about every time it was mentioned. After a wait of approximately 117 minutes (don’t worry, Michael counted) we were finally seated and given free appetizers on the house due to the awful wait.

The next morning brought a bitter goodbye to a beautiful California sunrise, though my feelings were numbed due to the ungodly hour we had to rise and shine for the airport. As I sat on the airplane, slightly dazed thanks to jet lag and five nights of sleeping on a couch, I reflected on my trip. 

There were selfies. There were pandas. There was even a moment in which Neil and I connected on a spiritual level concerning our love for Starburst Jelly Beans. But most of all there was wonder. And that’s the most important thing you can pack when traveling—a sense of wonder and awe that keeps you ever-exploring and never settling.