{getaway} Weekend in San Diego

San Diego! Land of enchantment. Oh, wait, I think that’s actually New Mexico. Anyway, I love San Diego, and since I went to college there (Go Tritons!) AND since San Diego doesn’t change and morph as quickly as certain other cities (Brooklyn, I’m looking at you), I still know a lot of cool places to go there. At least, I think they’re cool. Let me know if you disagree.

If you’re like me, the first thing you’ll do Friday night when you arrive in town is drop off your bags, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars, just make a beeline for the Turf Supper Club to get directly and immediately into vacation mode. My husband puts this in his top 5 favorite restaurants in the world. I will have to go top 10. But still! It’s a must, especially if you like tasty cocktails and hunks of meat.

The short version of the story is that this spot was hip and happening back in the olden days, the neighborhood went downhill and the joint closed for about 30 years, and was reopened in ’99 and kept almost exactly the same decor-wise and vibe-wise. The vaguely horse track theme and the dim pinkish lights are the perfect ambience for a pint-sized cocktail and a hunk of raw steak–which costs about 7 bucks. Why so cheap? You cook it yourself on a communal grill.

Now that you’re sated with steak and possibly a little tipsy, head to the Gaslamp District just down the hill for a post-prandial beverage at some over-crowded, over-designed bar. I’m a supersucker for the newish Searsucker, which boasts specialty drinks like the “Best Served Cold”, which combines gin, watermelon, jalapeño, and citrus. Yowza. On the other hand, If you’re feeling adventurous, low-key, poor, and have a designated driver, my favorite kitschy-tacky 1970s mermaid-themed bar, Pacific Shores, is all the way in Ocean Beach but it just happens to have good, strong drinks that range from two to five dollars. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever actually paid five dollars there. The blacklight-heavy, under-the-sea ambiance will either delight or horrify you (me=delighted.) Hint: if you want to sound like a local, call it PacShores.

Wake up! It’s breakfast time. There is only one place to head for mouthwatering breakfast pastries and a whole litany of very best and fanciest coffees, teas, and hot chocolate, which is Extraordinary Desserts. Technically there are two places because they have two locations–the original location (where yours truly used to work, in fact) on 5th Street between Hillcrest and Downtown, which is quaint and cozy, and the newer Little Italy location which offers a va-va-voom design, with its super modern design and lofty concrete and metal. Everything there is both gorgeous and incredibly delicious. Top marks from me!

What to do once you’ve recovered from your post-breakfast mini-coma? For the culturally inclined, the La Jolla branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art has an astoundingly well-curated collection in a small, manageable package. (Then again, in that ritzy neighborhood they probably aren’t hurting for donations.) I am a big fan of small modern museums and this is one of my absolute favorites. The sculpture garden out back looks onto the Pacific Ocean and features a breadth of works, including Nancy Rubins’ fabulous sculpture “Pleasure Point” hanging off the building’s backside.

Another excellent choice is a visit to the USS Midway. Now I’m not the most militarily inclined, but this once-active aircraft carrier is a fantastically interesting historical site with an excellent audio tour to boot. Kids will like it too–as long as you let them up on the deck with all of the old planes. For the tequila-inclined, there’s always Old Town, the original historical location of the town of San Diego and the site of the first Western settlement in California. Old Town is a state park that has a couple of historical sites, wide pedestrian roads, kitschy Mexican tourist shops, and some fine margaritas. Learn about some of San Diego’s Spanish founders then mosey on over to the big courtyard for some live mariachi, traditional dance performances and a strong margarita with a side of guacamole. You can even find out what the Mormon Battalion is! (I’m not going to tell you, because that would ruin the surprise.)

After all that art, tequila, and/or historic military airplane action, you’ll be famished once again. No trip to San Diego is complete without a stop for cheap and tasty carnitas at Porkyland. Trust me, I know my pork! If you’re with a group, the family platters of crispy, salty pork, fresh tortillas, and all the fixin’s to fill you up will not disappoint. The original location in the barrio has shut down since I moved away, but luckily for you, if you went for art, there’s a La Jolla location. If you went for tequila or airplanes, there’s a Hillcrest location.

Now, a few more suggestions on proper lollygagging. You didn’t come to this laid-back beachtown to, like, put effort into stuff, did you? If you’ve rented a car, you might fancy a trip across the Coronado Bridge, just south of downtown, to the famed Hotel Del Coronado. The hotel’s red roofed, old-fashioned charm has been featured in several movies (including one of my favorites, Some Like It Hot) and still delights with an updated, outdoor comfy lounge bar by the beach. It can get over-touristy on the weekends, but a walk along the white sands of Coronado will quickly get you back to chill mode–especially if you happen to be there on one of those lucky days when the dolphins frolic just off shore.

If that’s not your scene, maybe you’ll feel more at home in a house of hipness. Two come to mind–one in Pacific Beach and one downtown. The bar/restaurant at Tower23 Hotel, JRDN (pronounced “Jordan”) is a good choice on a warm day. If you’re lucky, you can snag a seat poolside on the mezzanine level to sip and snack. But I’ve got a real soft spot for rooftop bars, even more so when it’s a tucked-away, secret-seeming one like Beach Bar at the W Hotel. A late afternoon here is a divine way of enjoying the last rays of the day without having to contend with the scantily clad, club-going hordes that descend upon it at night. You can take off your shoes, wiggle your toes in the sand, and all but forget you’re smack in the middle of downtown.

Dinnertime again! Sushi’s on tap for tonight. Sure, you could wait 2 hours for a table at the crowded, crazy RA for one of their funky rolls. The combinations are delicious, the sake is flowing, the skirts are miniscule, and the heels are high. If you would like a sushi experience that is approximately the exact opposite, a few blocks away you will find Kiyo’s, one of the oldest sushi places in town. You will get no ambiance, many friendly Japanese people, extremely delicious fish, and no scenesters. Not a one.

If sushi doesn’t suit your fancy, or you have something romantic in mind, supper by sunset at Georges at the Cove will treat you right. (It’s a little confusing because they have a fancy indoor restaurant, a bar, and a rooftop bistro called the Ocean Terrace. The Ocean Terrace is the nicest setting and the best food.) You may want a reservation (even if you just call the same day) to try and request a table on the water side for the splendiferous sunsets.

Did you perhaps have one too many last night? Or are you on your way to the world famous San Diego Zoo and need sustenance to tackle Panda Canyon? What you need is one of the specialty benedicts, an eye-opening  jalapeño cheddar cake, or a short stack of pizza-sized Cap’n Crunch raspberry pancakes (pictured below) from Cafe on Park. Try to drag your ass there by 10 or you’ll probably have to wait. If you’re a hair-of-the-dog type or if the aforementioned zoo trip involves whiny kids, may I recommend one of their excellent Bloody Marys?

Wait to digest all of that before you head out to Belmont Park for a ride on the Giant Dipper. Just before the big plunge, you’ll see ocean views for miles! The perfect way to say goodbye to sunny San Diego.

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2 Responses

  1. Kay says:

    What a great weekend in San Diego! I love the photos! You can really tell that the city has so much charm. I hope I get the chance to travel to San Diego!