I peeked up at the ceiling above through sleep-crusted eyes, and experienced a fleeting moment of temporary disorientation; the kind that always appears when waking up for the first time in an unfamiliar place. It took me just a second to remember that I was in my Airbnb in San Diego, with Derek already awake in the bed beside me.
I checked my phone: 5:30am.
Despite the cloud-like bedding and refreshingly chilly breeze blowing in through the open window, the combination of my apparent jet lag and my excitement for exploring a new city had me feeling wide awake and ready for the day ahead before the sun was even in the sky.
…Let’s backtrack a moment, shall we?
We had been talking about planning a trip out to the California coast for so long, and I was thrilled when Derek came home from work one day and announced that he wanted to take a long weekend trip out to San Diego later that same month.
We booked our flights just a few days later, and it was only a matter of weeks before we found ourselves in the midst of California’s second largest city.
Our first evening in San Diego had been promising, and I could hardly contain my excitement as I hopped out of bed on the morning of our first full day in the city. We had big plans for the day: exploring the beaches of La Jolla, driving up the coast to check out the flower fields in Carlsbad, and sunset hikes in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.
After jumping in our rental car and grabbing a scrumptious acai bowl for breakfast, we headed north to the parking area at La Jolla Cove. Thanks to our early start, we easily snagged a prime spot to leave our car while we did some exploring.
Since we didn’t have much of a plan for our time at La Jolla, we decided to just walk south along the coast to see where it would take us.
Long story short: we weren’t disappointed.
The La Jolla area is made up of many smaller beaches, and we saw plenty of them as we spent the next several hours making our way down the coast.
We strolled along sandy patches, climbed over boulders, peeked into tide-pools and coves, gazed out at the massive waves crashing into the rocky shorelines, and stared up at the sandy-colored cliffs that towered over the beaches above us.
Everything about La Jolla was absolutely magical: the way the flowers bloomed so close to the sea, the contrast of colors, the crystal clear tide-pools, the abundance of wildlife, the striking landscapes, the superb weather. In all honesty, I knew even that morning that this day in La Jolla was something special; it just had the feeling of one of those rare perfect days where every last detail falls into place.
We spotted seals and sea lions lounging in the sun and darting through the cerulean seas, pelicans and seagulls gliding overhead, and chipmunks scurrying in and out of their burrows in the cliff walls. I snapped photos, we talked about the views and the ocean and the homes overlooking the sea, and at times we simply held hands and walked in silence.
The sun was bright and strong but very much welcome, especially given the cool misty breeze and mild temperatures. The light danced along the breaking waves, the sand, the rocks, and the vibrant tropical flowers and trees.
Several miles of coastline later, we were both tired, thirsty, and had rumbling tummies, so we decided to seek out a shady lunch spot. We decided on a covered rooftop restaurant, George’s Ocean Terrace, which ended up being the perfect location for both great food and stellar ocean views.
After I had filled up on fish tacos and Derek had devoured his portobello panini, we hopped back in our car and headed north along the coast, towards the seaside town of Carlsbad. We drove past various small towns, each with their own collection of coffee shops, surf shops, beach bars, and boutiques, but kept our eye focused on the prize: the flower fields at Carlsbad Ranch.
The fields are home to more than 50 acres of colorful ranunculus flowers, creating a dazzling floral display for visitors. We roamed the entire length of the fields, admiring the blossoms and enjoying the flawless weather.
It was getting later in the day, so we discussed heading back towards Torrey Pines to wrap up our day of adventures. As we piled back into the car and drove south, we talked about which trails we wanted to explore and where we might want to go for dinner. Derek suggested the Razor Point trail and the beach trail for their views and level of ease. After parking at Torrey Pines, we learned that the two trails were actually interconnected, making them easy winners.
We walked along the dusty pathways, talking and laughing and snapping photos of the cactuses and flowers and seaside cliffs. I was in awe of the way the textured sandstone cliffs loomed over the sapphire seas, the sage scrub and yucca flowers fluttering in the wind below them.
The breeze was refreshing and mild, and the late afternoon sun was partially concealed by a hazy set of clouds. The early evening light was soft and delicate, pale and white with just the faintest hints of purple and pink and blue and gray.
As we made our way down towards the beach, Derek commented once or twice that he wished the sun would come out more; I replied that it was perfect exactly the way that it was.
Torrey Pines felt like the most peaceful and calming place I had ever visited. Between the soft breeze and the gentle sun on my skin, the sweeping natural views, and the presence of no one but my best friend in the world, I was in heaven.
We made our way down the trail and onto the beach, but after seeing that high tide had flooded most of the beach with water, we decided to enjoy the sunset views from the top of the cliff instead. We headed back up and grabbed a seat on a piece of driftwood that was secured into the rock, and watched the waves roll in towards the shore in silence.
The sound of the waves crashing below echoed off of the cliff walls around us as high tide rushed in, and the wind that swept in through the cliffs brought in the salty scent of the ocean. I felt soothed and untroubled, and the atmosphere was perfectly tranquil and idyllic.
As the sun sank lower behind the fluffy gray-white clouds and the sea breeze became cooler, I shivered and pulled on my sweater, rubbing my arms to make the goose bumps go away.
Derek looked over at me. “Ready to go?” he asked.
He stood and helped me to my feet, and still holding both of my hands with both of his, smiled at me, kissed me once…and got down on one knee…
Yes, we’re ENGAGED!
As absolutely perfect and unforgettable as this day was, I know that this was only the first of a lifetime of new adventures. After more than five years of incredible ups and downs, long distance struggles, solo travel decisions, laughter, love, and learning about each other, I’m so happy that my best friend is now my fiance.
I mean, how wild and crazy and cool is that?!
I’ve had some incredible experiences in my lifetime so far, and yet I know this to be true: this weekend was the start of the greatest adventure of my life, and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.