Discovering another side of San Diego

Leaving San Diego (24 Nov 2013)

What a nice weekend in San Diego. What I liked was that it wasn’t your typical touristy weekend, instead I got to live like a local for a few days which was really nice with Antonio, Lori and their border collie Lucy Bear.

If I’d stayed in a hotel downtown, I’d have done all the usual stuff (which is still great) like walking around the Gaslamp Quarter and Embarcadero, as well as visiting Pacific Beach and Mission Bay. However by staying about 45 minutes north of downtown, in a housing estate outside Escondido, I really felt like I saw another side of SoCal life.

Antonio and Lori were so hospitable, going out of their way to show me lots of their local favourite places. They have a lovely house in a new housing estate a good bit out of town, off the freeway heading north. Their nearest grocery store is a 15 minute drive – quickly I discovered that everything is far away (on my scale) from their place, but for them driving 30 mins for dinner is no sweat. They had a really nice dog, Lucy Bear, who was really friendly and quiet. No mad barking or jumping, just a placid adorable dog.

I landed at 5pm so Antonio picked me up after work and we headed to get pizza and beer in a place called Pizza Port in Carlsbad by the sea. Thursday was an odd day for San Diegans – they had RAIN. It caused chaos on the roads, as they struggled to deal with this rare phenomenon of slick surfaces, puddles, streams. It was the opposite of what I’d expected – hell, Seattle had blue skies and sun when I left. Anyway, after that drama the weather picked up for the weekend.

Balbao Park and Old Town

Friday morning we headed back towards town and had a nice walk around Balbao Park, which hosts most of the museums of the city. We checked out the Museum of Photographic Arts which had a cool exhibition of local photographers – my favourite was the early Google Streetmaps snapshots from 2007 which captured street life in the Bronx. It was still pretty cold – last thing I imagined was wearing my winter jacket in sunny SD! We happened across some guys doing Laughing Yoga on the grass – check out this video, it’s infectious really.

We went back to Old Town, which I’d spent many a day in, on our daily commute downtown on the red trolley from PB. It’s an “old town” literally, recreating the origins of the city back in the 19th century. Old Town is a bit touristy, but has some charming stores – the coffee store has tons of flavoured coffee, including Dutch apple pie flavour coffee (Americans “infuse” or “flavour” everything!).

I also got laughed at for not knowing that a snickerdoodle cookie was – the girl rightly accused me of not being American (apparently it’s a sugary/cinnamon flavour). The cigar shop was great – the smoke smell attracted us in, where the staff are all dressed in 19th century garb and are puffing on nice cigars. It was odd not seeing Cuban cigars – instead they had all sorts of Panamanian and Honduran cigars.

It was great to spend time with Antonio just talking about everything from the lack of success of the Padres and Chargers, to their favourite places to eat, to their travels around the world and future plans, to our memories of living in Maastricht together 11 years ago. I hadn’t seen Antonio since he visited Ireland in 2009, but he’s the same as ever – calm, thoughtful, always interested, easy going.

Eating is a pleasure in San Diego

Over the 3 days, we had some great food. My only regret is not getting time to go to In N Out Burger. In Carlsbad we visited Pizza Port. It’s a craft brewery and pizza joint, so I enjoyed an IPA and some thick American pizza slices. Another craft brewery we tried was Stone Brewing Company in San Marcos, which has a huge new beer garden built right beside the brewery. They’d hot fires and heaters to create a really nice atmosphere outside. I sampled a powerful Russian Imperial Stout, a hoppy citrusy IPA and their Stone Pale Ale. I also loved the names of some beers: Arrogant Bastard and Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale (best of all: Polygamy Porter, tag line “why have just one?”).

We also had some great sushi in Sushiya in Escondido. I’d never had eel, but it was fine, and luckily not electric. In Old Town, we got lunch in Miguel’s Cocina, which had great carne asada tacos as well as a cheesy dip for the nacho chips. My favourite meal and experience was Phil’s BBQ in San Marcos. It’s an award winning BBQ joint, with succulent baby back ribs and a good choice of beer. I mistakenly ordered a full rack of 12, which was way too much, combined with beans and fries (luckily doggy bags took the remainder home). For next time, I’ll know there’s now a Phil’s in the airport – right beside the departure gates, perfect.

Hiking in Daley Ranch

Antonio and Lori love to hike and explore the stunning national parks that cover the United States. Lori is from Colorado, so it’s in her blood. It was cool to hear about their hikes up to 14,000ft at Mount Whitney, as well as going up north in Montana through Glacier National Park to Banff in Canada. They started one hike at 2am and didn’t finish until 7pm that night – impressive endurance on a Subway footlong!

Saturday morning we went for a 3 hour hike around Daley Ranch, close by their home. It gave me a great sense of the landscape in that area, full of hills and valleys where oranges and avocados grow. The trails were really quiet, only a few people and mountain bikers. Lucy the dog really liked the walk. It looked perfect for a trail run – but I’d already been for a run that morning, so gave it a miss.

Revisiting Pacific Beach

I wish I’d had more time to spend in PB. I only had time to check out a few old sites, which was still great. I spent many a morning in Louis’s Donuts on Grand Ave, so got a few for the flight home. Just as yummy as I remembered. Across the road from the 7Eleven was the AM/PM gas station and the girl’s house, 1855 Grand Ave. The licor store where we sent our few 21+ year old friends is still there. Down the street was our apartment on Ingraham St – it looked like such a crappy hole of an apartment, but as Kev said “it was our crappy hole.” I can’t believe 4 of us squeezed in there.

We got to walk along Mission Bay, where it was unbelievably devoid of bodies. I guess it’s “winter” and locals take the good weather for granted, so 65F is on the chilly sideJ Just a few paddle boarders (a few doing yoga on the boards!) as well as volleyballers. We wandered along the boardwalk in PB, then dipped my toes in the Pacific Ocean, before hopping in the car and beginning my long journey across the US and Atlantic Ocean.

Good times, good times. Memories never to be forgotten. Ten years ago and now.

View the photo albums below


Map of San Diego

Map picture

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