Thursday, June 21, 2012

San Diego Zoo and the best Italian meal I've ever had

I was a kid whose television entertainment was heavily weighted toward PBS: Sesame Street, Mr. Rodger's Neighborhood, Reading Rainbow, Wishbone, 3-2-1 Contact, you name it. And when I think of the animal-education segments on those shows, it seemed like the San Diego Zoo was always featured as the go-to organization for experts. So when I got the chance to spend time in San Diego, visiting that famed zoo was near the top of my list of must-do activities.
And boy, is it a zoo. You can definitely spend most or all of a day exploring it, especially if the weather is nice and your companions are up for walking and have long attention spans. Our weather was pretty crummy: the temperature didn't get above 61°F, and it stayed gray and overcast all day. I was cold enough to contemplate buying a sweatshirt in the gift shop, but I ended up toughing it out.
The Zoo is definitely built to take full advantage of San Diego's (usually) nice weather: all exhibits were outdoors. Having visited the Indianapolis Zoo many times over the years, which encloses many of its exhibits indoors (i.e., Deserts Building, Oceans Building) to enable year-round visitation, this definitely struck me as different. Even all of the restaurants and cafes were outdoors, which on a chilly day when you're looking to get warm was a little inconvenient.
I also noticed that the Zoo features primarily land (and air) animals, with very few water-centric creature exhibits. I wonder why? Could it be because of the area's naturally dry climate, or perhaps because of its proximity to water-focused SeaWorld?
One exhibit I found particularly interesting blended exotic and domestic animals. The Zoo has at least two cheetahs, and each of them has a domestic dog buddy—an "animal ambassador"—in the exhibit with them. They've found that when raised together from a young age, cheetahs and dogs can bond very well, and the dogs help to keep the cheetahs calm. They all looked pretty chill to me!

I think this was also the first time I've seen a peacock displaying its tail in full glory. He seemed like he might have been a little confused, though, because he spent most of his time flirting with the wall behind him, then fending off the native ducks between us. Confused or not, he made quite a statement.
The giant pandas were definitely the headlining act of this show. They're the only ones in captivity in the United States, so I did really enjoy seeing them. They had two males out for us to see, and a female off-exhibit because they were monitoring her to see if she's pregnant.

These two pandas were much smaller than I pictured. When I hear "giant panda," I picture a bear about the size of a grizzly bear or polar bear. But these were much, much smaller (and I do think they're full-grown), and looked like they'd be small enough to just about sit on your lap.

One of the pandas was sleeping, but the second guy looked like he was enjoying watching us as much as we enjoyed watching him. That, or he was so oblivious to visitors anymore that he was just chilling and enjoying his bamboo.
We called it a day around 4:30, dragged our tired feet back to the car, and warmed up. For dinner, we ventured into San Diego's Little Italy. When I make it back to San Diego again, this is an area that I really want to spend more time exploring.

The area felt truly authentic, especially owing to the old men calling across the street to each other in Italian. We read in a blog post on Design*Sponge that you could pretty much choose any Italian restaurant on India Street and get a great meal. So we consulted our Yelp apps, looked at some menus, and picked one that looked good, Trattoria Fantastica. And let me tell you, this was the best Italian meal I have ever had. No joke. And I'm a girl who loves her Italian food, and always has. I had the Contadina, and my friend, Sarah Lynn, had the Lasagna. All through dinner, we kept pausing in our conversation to say things like, "Oh my god, this is so good!" We both cleaned our plates.

After dinner, we walked down the street a bit and saw some great-looking local shops that had closed for the evening, and we wished we'd discovered them earlier. I'll just have to go back!

The finale for the great day and evening—which happened to also be my birthday—was a treat of gelato right next door to the restaurant. Oh so good.
The weather in San Diego may not have been ideal, but I had a fantastic time and enjoyed exploring the area. I can't wait to go back and see more of California.

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