Sand Castles and Pirate Ships

Red mask pirate ship
Falling Asleep at the Wheel

Imagine cruising down the road going 85 miles per hour with no worries about speeding tickets, gridlock, sig alerts, or fender benders.  The road is actually a railroad and we are talking about riding on the train!! In our case it was the Coaster which services Oceanside and 6 other stops on its way south to its final destination of San Diego.

On any given day in California, a train leaves a depot transporting travelers to work or for play. In our case it was play as we were heading to San Diego for the annual Sand Sculpting Contest at the ’B’ Street Pier.

Also leaving that terminal is Amtrak and the Metrolink trains. Amtrak travels up and down the entire state of California and can be a great option for a weekend trip out of town or a one day excursion.

Great Stops
With the Oceanside Transit center nearby, we have often jumped on the train to visit places just for the day . On one such occasion, we took the train and traveled just 30 minutes up the road to San Juan Capistrano for a leisurely lunch and a visit to the mission which is only steps from the train. Another time we took a short hop over to San Clemente where the train traverses only a few feet from the beach and stops across the street from the base of the pier. We have also journeyed as far north as scenic Santa Barbara to enjoy a traffic free weekend away from home.

Either way, it is always fun to take the train!!

All Aboard!
On this outing, we decided we didn’t want to mess with traffic or parking, so we took the Coaster to its final stop at Santa Fe station in San Diego.

The seating on the Coaster includes regular train type seats facing the same way, seats facing each other for groups, and tables which allow you to eat, play games, or work on your computer.
Wi Fi is also included.

Coaster Seating

The hour or so ride to San Diego can be scenic as it passes through stretches that give you an unobstructed view of the ocean and the lagoons nearby.  Once you arrive at the Santa Fe Station, the trolley is right across the street and, from experience, we knew it would take us to the stop we desired.   So we easily strolled over and hopped on it to take us to the Embarcadero.     For twelve dollars, we bought a round trip day pass which also included the trolley.

View out windowView out window 2
The view from the train.

The Embarcadero is home to attractions such as, the USS Midway museum ship , the Star of India, and seven other historic vessels belonging to the San Diego Maritime Museum. It is a bustling area that offers every type of boat tour or dinner cruise imaginable and restaurants and hotels are nearby.   Just to the south is Seaport Village with more restaurants and a variety of shops.

B Street PierThe midway
‘B’ Street pier and the U.S.S. Midway

Sand Castles
The Sand castle event was held on top of the ‘B’ street pier.   Along with the event, local vendors displayed their goods, live music played on a stage, and food trucks were available with an eclectic mix of cuisines.     At the sand castle competition, a few artists were still working on their masterpieces while others were completely finished. It is interesting to see them work at their craft as we took note of the tools, techniques, and the patience it takes to build something from a shifting substance such as sand. One 3D art piece allowed you to look through the middle to see the tiny figure at the end and I was in wonder on how they could build such large square structures out of sand. I remember trying to work on my own castle as a kid only to have it crumble when I tried to square off a wall.   It is testament on how much these artists know about their medium and how advanced it has become from its beginnings as a childs activity at the beach.
They also don’t have to worry about their big brother casually coming over and yelling ,”Earthquake” as he kicks down their creation. Just saying.

Sand castle tube 2 Sand Castle tube Sandcastle 2Sand castle 4
SAnd Castle 1

The Bay
The star of the show for me was the bay itself.   At the end of the pier you have a clear 180 degree view of the harbor and the entire action taking place in front.   Pirate ships sailed by slowly and you could see the passengers happily enjoying the ride.   As two of the ships passed by each other you soon heard the loud explosions coming from old time cannons.  Of course there were no actual cannon balls flying from one ship to the other as I think that might wipe the smiles off of most of their faces. However, the illusion of a battle was what it was all about.

Two pirtae ships firing
Engaging in battle.

Two pirate ships approaching
Pirate ship white mask

Speed boats and personal watercraft flew by with the huge military ships as their backdrop. A massive aircraft carrier moored across the bay reminded us that we shared these waters with an actual working naval port.  As you looked south, the Coronado Bridge stood high and mighty hovering far above the sailboats that were gliding easily among the warm summer breezes.

Blue boat
Close to Seaport Village sits a small marina with an active fishing fleet.

F;ag by submarine
Submarines also find their home in the harbor.

Pirate ship docked
Pirates ships seem to be aplenty.

On a wonderful summer day like this I can make any excuse to go to San Diego, they could have had turtle races and I would have still made the trip.

Hop on a train and discover your area or any place nearby. Happily, you will never hit traffic, you will always find a parking space, and you’ll never have to worry about falling asleep at the wheel!


Story and Photos: Debbie Colwell


Lions Tigers & Bears, Oh My!

We are always on the lookout for unusual and interesting things to do here at Staycations California. So perusing through our trusty Groupons we came across the Lions Tigers & Bears Sanctuary in Alpine, California.

About LTB
Lions Tigers & Bears is a non-profit rescue facility that provides a safe haven for unwanted and abused Big Cats and other exotic animals.

The facility allows the animals to live out their lives with love, safety, and medical care.

Founder, Bobbi Brink, started LTB after witnessing the abuse affiliated with the “exotic animal trade” where animals were subjected to terrible care and conditions. The facility started out helping big cats but soon ended up taking in a few different types of bears.

Take a Tour
Walking tours are offered at the facility to view and feed these wonderful animals. Guides offer up information along the way and all questions are answered by the informative staff. There are double fences around each enclosure which made it safe for separation of the animals but made it hard to get a photo without a chain link fence in the shot.

Lions 1 Lions Cage in distance
LIons-Bears area

Feeding the animals is an extra fee and you are allowed to go beyond the first fence to get up-close. You also get to pick which one you want to feed. Will it be the hungry lion, tiger, or bear? Don’t worry, the 30 foot plus fence stands between you as dinner. Did I say “as” dinner?   I meant, you “and” dinner.

All kidding aside, these animals were born into captivity and it is always uncertain how they would react with human contact as they grow older.   So best to stay behind the barriers and admire them from afar. During the feeding an extra long barbecue type fork is used to offer up the meal between the links of the fence. There is plenty of room for safety, yet it is close enough to see the whites of their eyes, or the yellow of their eyes in some cases.

I choose the tiger and was mesmerized on how big his paws were. They were the size of a human face! This magnificent animal gladly accepted each bite of food it was offered and you almost felt like petting it if you could…almost. You can participate in the two feedings daily or just sign up for the tour. Seeing the size of the tiger, I was glad I live in California where these cats don’t roam around freely.   Still, you can’t help but appreciate these large animals and feel happy that they have a great home.

Lions 2 feedingtiger
Lions- 3 Tiger with lion in background
Lions 4 Tiger with lion in background

On to the bears which are a part of California wildlife. The sanctuary had a few different breeds including Black and Grizzly. The bears were brought out of their pens to hunt for the meat chunks that were earlier placed in their habitat. One bear bypassed the food and headed straight for the pool of water. The big beast was in heaven as it splashed around in the mid day heat. Again, you marveled at the size of these animals and it made me feel glad yet again, that I live in a city where my only concern about getting bit is by a mosquito.

Lions Bear bath 2
Lions 6 Bear Bath
Lions 15 Black bear

The big draw was the leopard with most of the group holding out to feed this colorful and spotted animal.   Because of a generous donor, Conga the leopard had her own enclosed skyway that allowed her to view all action taking place below.   She knew it was almost feeding time as she paced back and forth eyeballing the volunteers while waiting for them to arrive with her meal.   Showing off her climbing abilities, she easily ascended high on the chain link fence to pick off the food from your outstretched fork.

Lions 8 Congas run
Lions 7 Leopard 2
Lions 9 leopard
Lions 10 glenn feeding Leopard

The facility also had bobcats and mountain lions.   It was the first time I have seen a mountain lion and again this is an animal we could possibly run into on California hiking trails. They told us that they can chirp like birds and it is an unusual sound to be wary of if you hear it in the wilderness.   Best defense is to be prepared with pepper spray and a whistle.

Lions 16 Mountain Lion
Lions- Mpountain Lion
Lions ocelot

Most of these animals cannot be returned to the wilderness for one reason or another, so they happily live out their life under the guidance of the founder and volunteers.   Their beginnings may have been terrible but this part of their life at the sanctuary will be filled with love and care.

Bobbi Brink has a home on the facility and there is also a retreat where you can stay overnight and enjoy the sounds of wild animals at night. Imagine going to sleep with the sound of a lion roaring or a tiger growling.   That is something we don’t experience every day.

There is also a fully operational medical room on site for immediate animal care.

We made our way to a shaded area with chairs and tables to enjoy a cold drink after the tour.   The grand finale was announced and all eyes glanced towards the large but empty area just a few feet away. Out came the lions searching for the food that was strewn about in the enclosure.   After the munch-out, they drank from the pool of water and then settled in for a well deserved nap.   One lion growled a little at the tigers that were caged close by but soon joined the others for the afternoon siesta.   It was awesome to see them roam free in their own habitat. You were then allowed to walk freely around the facility to take a look at all the animals again.

Lions 12 Lion Drinking
Lions 13 Lion Eating
Lions 14 Lion eating
Lions 11 Male lion

All and all, it was an interesting tour and experience. It is not every day you can be so close to wild animals, especially these magnificent cats. As dangerous as some of these animals could be, we couldn’t ignore the fact that they had been animals that were abused, neglected, or unwanted by man.   Thankfully, the Lion Tigers & Bears Sanctuary is around to care for them unconditionally.

If you want more information or want to help, please check out their website link:

Or Browse:

Story and photos: Debbie Colwell
Photo of Debbie feeding tiger: Jolan Schmidt


Parting Shot:

Lions face close

Seeing this lion eyeball me made me glad there were not one but two fences between us.