San Diego by Foot

Since I was 15 years old, I have wanted to see California. A couple of decades later, I am flying back east after my first vacation to the Golden State.

My husband and I spent about three days in the San Diego area. For the most part, it’s fantastic. Of course, there are reminders of the drought. And the city’s homeless residents are quite visible which is understandable because of the city’s very mild weather year round.

Things we wish we had more time for:

Torrey Pines State Park

1- Torrey State Park. Beautiful hiking and beaches. A FREE beach – you know what I’m talking about Jersey. It’s about an hour bus ride from Broadway in downtown San Diego (take the 150 bus and transfer at Gilman Drive and Eucalyptus Grove Lane  and transfer to Bus 101. Get off at North Torrey Pines & Science Park Road bus). The trail we walked was an easy to moderate walk; the views were spectacular and the trail led us to the Pacific Ocean.

2- La Jolla. If you like to walk, I mean REALLY like to walk, it was a beautiful walk south along the shoreline to La Jolla. We passed through an unofficial nude beach and focused on the parasailing above. At low tide, we were able to climb over large rocks to cross over to a beach in La Jolla. We stopped at the first restaurant we saw, Caroline’s Cafe. The cafe is a causal place with outside seating overlooking the ocean.

And then we continued to hike into downtown -another hour or so- and saw sea lions that came up onto one of the beaches. The retail area extends for blocks with restaurants, art galleries and boutiques.

3- Balboa Park. We walked through the park to have dinner in the Hillcrest neighborhood. It was a nice walk, but I know we missed out on a lot in the park. Hillcrest is a lively neighborhood with a significant LGBT presence.

4. Little Italy. This neighborhood seems as different as it is far from Manhattan’s own. We spent our last night at the Urban Boutique Hotel on Columbia Street. The room was small, but clean so it was just fine. We had an amazing, fresh dinner on the front lawn of Queenstown. It’s a quaint house and the hostess described the menu as American food with New Zealand influences. Inside, the decor was off-beat but tasteful-even with the lambs on the ceiling of a side room and a American flag made of lace trimmings.

Inside Queenstown Restaurant

The neighborhood has a lot of newer construction and it is filled with niche and swanky bars and restaurants. It also reflects the craft beer craze in San Diego. There is also a small art scene; we picked up two prints from Mee Shim’s gallery – much better than a souvenir.

5. Sports. We took a ferry from the Broadway dock to the Coronado peninsula. It’s a nice trip across the bay and Coronado is similar to La Jolla – beautiful and clean, choices of restaurants as you get more inland but it’s expensive to live in.

Kayaker on San Diego Bay

We kayaked on the bay. Once I was secure that our little boat was not like to capsize in the wake of larger vehicles, I loved it.

6. Gas Lamp. Although it definitely is a tourist area, it doesn’t feel like too much of a trap. And, according to a local, San Diegans will go out there, too. It’s particularly lively on game nights because the Padres’ stadium sits at the edge of the district. A lot of restaurants and bars, a few galleries and souvenir shops. Broken Yolk on 6th Avenue was packed for Saturday breakfast.

Tijuana, Mexico. Walking back to La Frontera

7. Baja California. We took the Blue Line Trolley from downtown to the San Ysidro district. From there, it was a short walk to La Frontera. It was novel an international border on foot, but the parts of Tijuana that are accessible were not necessarily worth the two hour line to reach the United States customs when we were ready to return to San Diego. The area of Tijuana that we saw is set up to guide travelers into an area of tourist shops and restaurants. The immediate commercial district around it was mostly composed of basic retailers and lots of dentists.

We did not plan our morning in Mexico well, but it was interesting to be on line at the border. If we had more time in the region, it is likely worth a more in depth exploration further into Baja California.


Words with Musician Lydia René 

Interview by K. Cecchini @tonightatdawn

Lydia René:
Lydia René: “Vintage Heart” (album cover)

I happened upon singer and pianist Lydia René during my first visit at a more unusual venue. Hosted by Ghana Hylton, the Adinkra House in Montclair, NJ is an invite-only, intimate performance space nestled in Hylton’s home.

Although, I am sure René’s voice can fill a much larger venue, she connected with the thirty or so people in the audience by sharing personal stories that have informed her songwriting.

Tonight at Dawn was grateful for the opportunity to speak with Ms. René at this moment in her burgeoning career. She said that a high school friend, Makeda Mutema Newton, connected her to her husband and co-producer of “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” Tejumold Newton. René now works with Tejumold and his partner and twin brother Johari Newton. Since then, she has released her first studio album, “Vintage Heart” and her voice is featured in a Hollywood movie trailer for “The Perfect Guy.”

You can connect to René through her website,

Cecchini (KC): You said you write love songs because you “love love” and that you are a positive person despite the ups and downs of life – which I did perceive through your performance and interaction with the audience at Adinkra House – why do you “love love”? 

Lydia René (LR): Love is a beautiful thing and I’ve always been a romantic person. But I really believe that Love is such a powerful thing. It changes us and shapes us, and we need it. I’m also someone who thrives on relationships. All of my relationships are extremely important to me-especially romantic ones. Those relationships inspired me to begin writing songs in the first place.

KC: Your parents not only shaped your musical background, but they also seem to be a great influence in many aspects of your life. Can you explain? 

LR: I’m an only child so I’m very close to both of my parents. They were essentially my first mentors in the music industry and my father taught me how to play the piano. Also, my mom helped me get better at writing my songs and lyrics. They have always been very supportive of my choice to be a singer and always encourage me. I’m blessed to have that because not everyone has supportive parents.

KC: Are your parents full-time musicians? 

My Father is, yes; he’s a music teacher, professor and music pastor. My mother isn’t a full time musician.

KC: You said your message to your fans is: “Real love exists and they can have it.” You also said real love does not always mean romantic love. Can you please tell us about different ways that “real love” exists in your life? 

LR: I’m constantly on a journey to love myself more. I think next to God and your spouse, it’s one of the most important relationships to have. I think that when we love ourselves we are able to love others better. I love my parents and my family very much and that means a lot to me. Also I’m blessed to have found my amazing fiancé (Brian) who has shown me nothing but real love since the first day we met.

Lydia René:
Lydia René: “Vintage Heart” (Track Listings)

KC: Please tell us about one song that was inspired by circumstances in your own life.

LR: Well, every song is inspired by circumstances in my own life, lol! One song that I wrote called “Feels So Nice (Wasting Time)” is specifically about Brian. So many times we are both so busy, we have been since we first met, so when we finally have time to chill and relax by ourselves, it’s an extremely valued and precious time. When we have time to do what we want to do even if its stay in our Pjs and watch cartoons all day or binge watch Netflix all day we really enjoy that because we don’t get a chance to do it often. He’s the type of person that I can “waste time” with and its not a waste of time at all.

KC: Which of your songs is on the movie, “The Perfect Man”? What is it like to hear your music in a major film? 

LR: Just to clarify: the song I’m singing for “The Perfect Guy” is “I Put A Spell On You”. I was originally hired to sing just a 30-second clip of the song for the TV trailer which is on TV now. The editors and movie production company liked the 30 seconds so much they asked me to sing a full version of the entire song for a very special Movie Trailer. That trailer has been showing in movie theaters before the movie “Straight Outta Compton.” “I Put A Spell on you” is a cover song originally performed by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and later Nina Simone. I was asked to re-create Annie Lennox’s version.

When I finally saw the trailer in the movie theater it was really a surreal moment for me. The whole experience happened so suddenly i never really had a chance to process it. Honestly, it really is a dream come true and I’m truly blessed and also excited for what’s next.

KC: What’s on the horizon for Lydia René?

LR: Right now, I’m working on concepts for a future Christmas album. I’m also writing for my second studio album. I’d love to work on more Movie Trailers and I plan to, as well as have my original material licensed for TV, Commercials, Movies etc. I’m always performing and trying to branch out to different states for my next tour.

KC: Anything you want to add about yourself-quirky, interesting, fun? 

LR: Hmm, lol. I like to laugh a lot in general but especially when I’m nervous. I laugh so much people usually can’t tell the difference! I’ve been performing for 5 or 6 years and i still get nervous before every single performance no matter how big or small.