San Diego, CA: Aquarium, Whales & Hiking Iron Mountain

San Diego, CA: Aquarium, Whales & Hiking Iron Mountain

After spending a couple weeks in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park we were excited to get back over to the coast – this time to meet-up with my sister and our parents! We booked a stay at Lilac Oaks RV Park in Valley Center and had about a twenty minute drive each day to where they were all staying in Escondido. We hosted my parents for a couple nights in the RV which is always fun but sadly we had nothing but cold and rain and so we spent most of the time just hanging out and working on small projects in the rig.

RV in a shaded RV park
This site was pretty unlevel and our steps ended up being really high off the ground

We weren’t totally in love with this RV park – it treated us well but there were some hiccups that are worth mentioning. For anyone in a big rig, you’ll want to be aware that the roads throughout the park are narrow, single lanes with large speed bumps and large cracks in the concrete. It just made for a very slow, bumpy, rocky journey anytime we came and went. Additionally, the highway to get here is pretty dang windy but definitely worse if you come straight over from I-15. It’s best to approach from the south/southwest if possible! There are definitely a lot of full-time residents at the park and there’s just a bit of a run-down, rustic look to things. I will say that everyone we met was very nice and helpful, and we always felt perfectly safe and welcome. The definite positive sides of this park were that the washers and dryers were just $1/each per load and the showers were nice and hot.


As far as activities and excursions we packed as much as we could into our weekend days when everyone was free. One of the more daring things we did was to hike Iron Mountain for sunset! It’s a 5.5 mile hike from the parking lot at Poway Road and Highway 67 but there are several different starting points to make for a longer hike if you want. We brought our Dad with us and since he hasn’t done a lot of hiking we opted for the shortest route – plus we would be coming down in the dark and didn’t need to prolong that any more than necessary!

People standing under the Iron Mtn sign
All smiles before the big hike!
Man silhouetted against a colorful sunset
It sure was pretty to be up there for sunset

With all the recent rain we saw tons of little streams in and around the trail nearly the entire way to the top and there were some pretty muddy/wet clay sections to avoid. We did this hike in late February in very cool weather and were thankful we brought hats and gloves (and lights!) for the way back down. It’s definitely a rugged, rocky trail and you need to be very aware of your footing so you don’t twist an ankle but we all had a great time and enjoyed our picnic at the top for sunset. The way back down in the dark was a little hairy and having lights is a must but it was definitely an unforgettable hike.


We are huge lovers of ocean life and really enjoy aquariums so for one of our days we packed everyone up and headed down to La Jolla to check out the Birch Aquarium. It’s a fairly small and popular aquarium but the admission rates are reasonable compared to others we’ve visited and we really love seahorses, which this aquarium had several different varieties of! They also have jellyfish, small sharks, eels, coral reefs, and much more.

Close up of a seahorse in an aquarium
It was so mesmerizing watching them glide from plant to plant

After meandering the various tanks in the dim light, it was a crazy bright contrast to step out into the sunshine on their huge patio. Out there you’ll find some artifcial pools with small sea creatures and a touch pool. You also get a gorgeous sweeping view of the La Jolla shoreline.

Beautiful blue ocean view in La Jolla
We actually went sea cave kayaking here after our wedding many years ago!


Our last big adventure during this visit was to head out on a whale watching tour! We were in season to be able to see whales migrating both north and south so we were hopeful to be able to see at least one. We were onboard a two level boat that had about 100 passengers and our guide was a marine biologist who shared interesting facts nearly the entire time. Definitely plan to bring your own snacks and drinks though because things can be a bit spendy – coolers weren’t allowed but backpacks were. We found a Groupon deal for the tour which ended up being something like $125 total for our group of six.

Group of people on a whale watching boat
Our family had such a great time together and whale watching was definitely a highlight

After much anticipation and seeing a distant spout on the horizon we eventually caught up to a magnificant gray whale who showed itself to us twice! Both times we got a tail wave which was just incredible and we loved seeing the ‘rainblow’ which is when the mist from the blowhole spout creates a rainbow :) We also had dozens of dolphins following alongside the tour boat, jumping and playing in the wake – a mix of adults and babies! It was definitely a rich experience and one I hope to have again. We later learned that a couple weeks after our tour (which was on February 24, 2019) there was a ‘humpback whale invasion’ and feeding frenzy in the area where we had been!

Whale flukes in Mission Bay, San Diego
I actually got pretty choked up seeing this -- it was magical

Be sure to watch the video for all the fun and especially our whale footage!

Maggie Pitcher

Hi, I’m Maggie! I enjoy exploring new cities but my real passion is spending time in nature. Hiking, kayaking, and photography all fill my cup to the brim, as does spending time with my sweet little family. We’ve been living and traveling in our motorhome since 2016 and it’s one of the best decisions we ever made. When I’m not scrambling up waterfalls or researching our next stop, I spend my time video editing for our YouTube channel, blogging and taking pictures – we love this way of life and have no plans to stop anytime soon!