Planes, Birds and Friends – Metro San Diego Area, CA

We initially thought our six week stay in the San Diego area might be a little long and tedious with all of the noise and traffic.  But there were so many people to see and things to do that the time just whizzed by.  While here we stayed in three different campgrounds: Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve, Sweetwater Summit Regional Park and the San Diego Metro KOA.  The weather was perfect – dry, sunny and warm with only one day of rain from a passing winter storm.  We can handle winters like this one!

Pacific Ocean
My ritual each time we return to the ocean – it’s been a while!
San Diego skyline snapped from the Coronado Bridge
A fading sand castle with Cabrillo National Monument in the background

Having visited San Diego in our prior working life, we focused on some new experiences this time.  We were impressed by the many urban trails that wind in and out of cities, under freeways and up to lakes and mountains.  There were plenty of things to keep us busy, and lots of friends to see:  RV’ers here for the winter like us, new friends we met in Europe, and old friends who drove down from the Bay Area to hang out with us.

San Diego International is the busiest single runway airport in the United States, and we were able to enjoy watching the approaching aircraft from our campgrounds and from the roof of a building in the city:

The birds waiting to fly at San Diego International Airport

Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve

There were seven lakes at Santee Lakes Preserve, all just a short walk from our campsite. The lakes are water reservoirs for San Diego, and the Preserve is run by the Water District.  The sight of so many birds upon our arrival made me giddy, and I grabbed for my camera:

Lake 3, Santee Lakes
Snowy Egrets are all focusing on one fish, I’d hate to be him!
I got dinner tonight! says the Great Blue Heron
Mission Trails Regional Park
Mission Trails Regional Park nearby has miles of trails to choose from
U.S. Navy Ospreys flew overhead every day
Steve’s good deed for the day, locating an electrical problem on our neighbor’s coach

Sweetwater Summit Regional Park

After two weeks at Santee Lakes, we moved about 20 miles south for the next three weeks.  We were glad Hans and Lisa had introduced us to this park.  Our site was spacious, with access to hiking practically at our front door.  Our site was up on the summit, overlooking the 54/94 freeway and a golf course and with Sweetwater Reservoir just down the hill.  We spent many hours sitting outside, watching the birds around our feeders and making sure the planes approaching SAN were doing a good job.

Betsy’s right there in the center of the closest row, site# 121
John and Pam came for a visit and of course we took a hike around the reservoir
We were mostly chilling out while at Sweetwater, our stay was over the holidays

These were my practice shots in the hope of capturing airplanes during full moon, but cloud cover stopped me during the critical time:

Sometimes I get crazy/creative with my shots along the trail.

The reservoir was open only on weekends, but I got plenty of “bird time”
This guy didn’t hang around long after I took the shot

For bird lovers click here for my updated bird photos.

There were lots of Steller’s Jays at our friend’s site during our visit, they love peanuts!

San Diego Metro KOA

We spent our last week here and didn’t like the RV park (way overpriced and cramped with lousy utilities), but it was convenient to the things we wanted to do with our friends from the Bay Area:

At USS Midway, with Vic and Pam
On a cloudy day at Cabrillo National Monument

Balboa Park is a must see if you ever visit San Diego!

Botanical Garden at Balboa Park

With two National Wildlife Refuges nearby, I made sure to check out the birds at San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge and at the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge:

San Diego National Wildlife Refuge on a hazy morning, we took a long walk here
A flock of Black-necked Stilts resting along the bay
Tijuana Slough Wildlife Refuge
A quiet day at the Tijuana Slough Wildlife Refuge
Last days of Century plant flowers
A lone surfer at Imperial Beach
A sign at Liberty Station.  This was a cool place to walk around with restaurants galore!
Trail under the freeway just outside San Diego KOA
Historic Hotel del Coronado.  We had to have an overpriced drink with our friends there!
Lobby at Hotel del Coronado
Alone on Coronado Beach

It may appear we were constantly on the go, but we actually had a lot of “chill time” during our 6-week stay.  And we were both satisfied –  I, with the birds and Steve watching his airplanes.

The last setting sun of 2017




  1. Your bird photos are just spectacular! I especially love the Jay with the peanut. Awesome photo of a beautiful bird. You definitely have me looking forward to our trip to San Diego in a couple weeks. I have yet to hear of anyone who didn’t love San Diego… It’s just one of those places that everyone seems to appreciate. Thanks for giving us some more great ideas for our time there!

  2. We, also, enjoy spending time in SanDiego. The access to the Ocean, the birds, the planes, the restaurants all make our time there pleasant. But the traffic and people get to us eventually and we flee to the desert to breathe. Loved your bird pictures, especially the line up of Egrets in Santee!

  3. Hi Mona Liza, I don’t know if you remember me but my husband and I met you guys in Tucson at the KOA there. I just received your post in my email and was looking at your recent blog. You said you stayed at the San Diego Metro KOA and did not like it. My husband and I have reservations there for 9 days in March. Can you tell me what you didn’t like about it? I love your pictures, you are a great photographer! And it gives us ideas of what to visit while we are there, thank you!

  4. I think Sweetwater campground is truly a hidden gem in San Diego…even though the freeway is nearby and audible it’s not too bad and the sites are definitely the most spacious you can find in this city! Great shots from your stay…and it was good seeing you guys!

  5. Nice that you varied your stay with various areas of San Diego. I’m not a birder, as you know:) But I must say I enjoyed your photos so much. You caught the birds and ducks in such great poses. I loved the “choking” pelican. The stellar jays are so hard to photograph. Nice photo with the peanut. The wood duck yelling at the poor cinnamon teal is awesome:) See you in Tucson soon!! Love you final sunset for 2017:)

  6. Nice that you both got to enjoy your favorite flying objects while you were in San Diego. :-)) Your Stellar’s Jay photo is fantastic. You certainly made the most of your time in the city! Love your sweet last sunset photo of 2017. Here’s to many more beautiful sunsets!

  7. So much fun. We love the San Diego area. Most of our visits have been to the city itself, with just a few outings to the outskirts, so I know there’s a lot more for us to see. Love all the bird photos … your kind of birds 😉

  8. Wonderful that you both got to experience what you love so much, you those feathered birdies and Steve those big guys in the sky. Here’s to lots more beautiful sunsets for us all! Safe travels!

  9. Wow! You got so many great bird pictures. It’s hard to believe you were in an urban area. Love the very first shot of you at the ocean. Your surfer picture is fantastic and so many really artistic pictures like the one of the century plant. Wonderful photography!

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