Washington, D.C., may have its Cherry Blossom Festival, the South may celebrate its azalea season, but San Diego County has — well, what are those trees with the explosion of white blossoms anyway?That was the question before us as our group of six — the No. 1 Ladies Hiking Club of North County — stood in the plaza fronting the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center and San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park. We marveled at the mystery trees whose full blossoms seem to fighting for space on the delicate limbs. Despite regular visits to the park, I couldn’t recall seeing such a show.
Had I been that unobservant all these years? Or maybe these mystery trees were just having a particularly spectacular season.
Thanks to Google, we discovered that the trees are ornamental pear, also called Callery pear. They certainly are not native to our area, but they are oh-so-beautiful and quintessentially spring. (Don’t tell me that San Diego has no seasons.) In any case, we couldn’t get our cameras and smart phones out fast enough.
The park’s plaza was only one of many stops our hiking group made during the 7 Bridge Walk, a route designed by the Canyoneers, volunteers at the Natural History Museum who lead regular interpretive nature walks.
To begin, we caught the 7:47 a.m. Coaster south from Carlsbad Village Station, hopped off at Old Town, then transferred to the #10 bus which took us to the intersection of University and Park avenues. Public transportation dictated that we begin at Bridge #7 on the map, a historic structure that spans University Avenue. (In reality, you can begin your trek at any point along the circular route.)
Warning or spoiler alert, depending on your age, interests and whether you are traveling with children: On the northeast corner of Park and University is an S&M store called The Crypt; its large display windows are not easily missed.)
From Bridge #7, we walked south on Park Avenue to Bridge #1, which took us into the Prado and to the ornamental pear trees. From there, we strolled west down the Prado and crossed Bridge #2, the Laurel Street Bridge. Officially named the Cabrillo Bridge, it was built in 1915 to coincide with the opening of the Panama-California Exposition. It was recently rebuilt and reinforced because a 2004 fire destroyed some of the wooden infrastructure.
According to research done by the Canyoneers, Bridge#3, or the First Avenue Bridge, was built in 1931, shipped to San Diego and reassembled. It affords a breathtaking view of the harbor and Point Loma. Stay for a few minutes and you’ll see low-flying airplanes coming in for a landing at nearby Lindbergh Field. The surrounding First Avenue neighborhood is full of stately, architecturally interesting historic homes and mature, flowering trees.
Bridge #4 is a photogenic, wooden-trestle structure that was built in 1905 for less than $1,000 to create a shortcut to the Fourth Avenue trolley station.
Bridge #5 will undoubtedly be a favorite. Called the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge, it was built in 1912. Walkers can bounce or sway side-to-side as they cross, creating some rock ‘n’ roll as they cross.
At this point, we took a lunch break at a Thai restaurant in Hillcrest, then continued east on University to visit Bridge #6. I remember the Vermont Street Bridge as a white wooden trestle bridge near the former Sears Roebuck store. Both are gone now and the bridge wasn’t replaced with the current one until 1995. It was worth the wait. Three artists have created 32 laser-cut panels that include pictographs and quotations from the thoughtful and famous, and the bridge surface is etched with multiple definitions of “bridge.”
Each of the seven bridges has a unique personality and history, and discovering these as we progressed was part of our adventure. Several of the bridges span beautiful canyons that also have interesting trails or expansive views of San Diego’s harbor. The route, for which we thank the Canyoneers, offers historic and colorful neighborhoods; homes designed by architect Irving Gill; gardens public and private; interesting shops; and plenty of affordable ethnic and chain restaurants.
Hike over, we caught the #10 bus to the Old Town Station where we even had time to explore a bit of Old Town before we caught the 2:24 p.m. Coaster north.
For more on Canyoneer walks, visit http://www.sdnhm.org/education/naturalists-of-all-ages/canyoneer-hikes/ .
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.