Stay Classy, San Diego


Ah, San Diego.

Prior to vis­it­ing the city, the only things I as­so­ci­ated with San Diego were the zoo and Anchorman. But af­ter my (too short) va­ca­tion there, I would not hes­i­tate to rec­om­mend it as a Nice Place to Visit.

I was pleas­antly sur­prised by the clean streets – Toronto’s a pig sty com­pared to San Diego – al­though there was a dis­tinc­tive lack of waste/recycling re­cep­ta­cles. You wouldn’t even know there’s a jail in the cen­tre of the city (al­though that ex­plains the plethora of bail bonds services).

I won’t list every­thing I saw and did while I was there, but will high­light some of my favourite places and activities.

The San Diego Zoo
During the golden age of Johnny Carson, Joan Embery, the am­bas­sador for the Zoo, was a fre­quent guest on The Tonight Show. She would al­ways bring a cou­ple of the an­i­mals from the zoo with her when she was on the show. As a kid, those made for my favourite episodes.

I loved watch­ing Carson’s re­ac­tions to the cute (baby mon­keys!), the scary (taran­tu­las!) and the un­pre­dictable (watch his re­ac­tion when a Burmese python gets a lit­tle too intimate).

So the Zoo was a must-see for the kid in me. The place is enor­mous and the ex­hibits are well-organized, and even with the aid of a map, I got lost twice. The ad­mis­sion price wasn’t cheap ($40) but it was def­i­nitely worth it!

Balboa Park
Similar to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, Balboa Park houses what seems like a gazil­lion mu­se­ums, plus the Zoo. Warning: San Diego’s air­port is close to the city cen­tre, and planes fly very low di­rectly over the south end of the park, which re­ally shook me up (I’m such a wuss). I highly rec­om­mend the Museum of Photographic Arts, the Botanical Building and the Spanish Village Art Center, where you can buy won­der­ful hand-crafted jew­el­ery and other items.

Botanical Building

Download their mo­bile app for handy maps and in­for­ma­tion about the at­trac­tions (sorry, it only works on the iPhone). The park has free WiFi hotspots!

Food Truck Gathering
Until Toronto gets its shit in gear and over­hauls its street-vendor pro­gram, we’re stuck with hot dogs, sausages and greasy ham­burger trucks. For a rel­a­tively smaller city, San Diego has a vi­brant foodie scene, with a fab­u­lous out­door mar­ket and reg­u­lar food truck gath­er­ings. The one I went to was held by 57 Degrees.

My friend Erin, a re­cent San Diego trans­plant from Toronto who writes about food for Serious Eats and her own blog, brought me, and I thank her pro­fusely. The food was fan­tas­tic and var­ied from tacos to pasta to cup­cakes. As a sup­pos­edly “world-class” city with many dif­fer­ent eth­nic and cul­tural en­claves, Toronto should look to San Diego and other cities to see how it’s done right.

The Mangia Mangia Mobile

Mangia Mangia's Spaghetti "n" Meatballs

Mangia Mangia’s Spaghetti “n” Meatballs

TGS Bistro Truck — Try the sweet potato tots!!!

The SD Dog from TGS Bistro — drool.

Kal-bi-Q Moo Taco (cute name for beef taco)

Corner cup­cakes — build your own!

Suresh Doss of Spotlight Toronto, is the brains be­hind Toronto’s first food-truck gath­er­ing on July 2. Hopefully, this will be the first of many.

Coronado is­land is just a 20-minute ride on a ferry from Broadway Pier. There are too many cars to make it truly idyl­lic, but walk­ing down the main street, with its shops and restau­rants, gives it a small-town feel. The main at­trac­tion is the his­toric Hotel del Coronado (or as the lo­cals call it, “The Del”). Built in the 19th cen­tury and vis­ited by many states­men and celebri­ties (Some Like it Hot was filmed on its beach), it is quite the grand lady.

The Del

I could prob­a­bly never af­ford to spend a night at The Del, but I was able to en­joy a cock­tail and light lunch at one of its restau­rant pa­tios. I had a prime spot for people-watching and a glimpse of the white beach and blue ocean.

I could live like this

The area sur­round­ing The Del is filled with kitschy shops with over­priced wares, but the beach is a lovely way to spend the day and chan­nel your in­ner Marilyn Monroe.

Fashion Valley Mall
Because of the tem­per­ate weather, San Diego’s malls are like open plazas. Fashion Valley Mall was a great way to spend a late af­ter­noon and easy to get to on their pub­lic tran­sit sys­tem. Where else can you find mall stal­warts like Old Navy and H&M shar­ing the same space as Jimmy Choo, Tory Birch and Nieman Marcus? And when U.S. stores have sales, they REALLY have sales. Coach flip-flops for $50 bucks? A Calvin Klein bra for $11? A $30 pen­cil skirt from Banana Republic? Charge it!

Old Town
Like Toronto’s Pioneer vil­lage, it’s not com­pletely his­tor­i­cally ac­cu­rate (many of the struc­tures were re­built from orig­i­nal plans af­ter a fire or moved there from other lo­ca­tions). But it’s worth a trip to see the Whaley House (al­legedly the most haunted house in America) and Heritage Park (for the beau­ti­ful Victorian ar­chi­tec­ture). The Mormon Battalion his­toric site of­fers a very cre­ative way to tell its story but be pre­pared for a bit of pros­e­ly­tiz­ing. And it’s okay if you de­cline their of­fer of a free Book of Mormon – for re­li­gious folk, they’re an ex­tremely pleas­ant lot. For a great meal, head di­rectly to Old Town Mexican Café for their freshly-baked corn tor­tillas, made right on the premises.

Carnitas at Old Town Mexican Café

Bill Clinton ate here!

I’ve al­ways wanted to eat at a restau­rant fea­tured on Drive-Ins, Diners and Dives and now I can check that wish off my list. The ba­con patty is a taste of heaven and their milk­shakes are di­vine. And I even got to sit in the car!

Honourable men­tions:

  • Maritime Museum of San Diego. Visit the ship on which Master and Commander was filmed!
  • The Embarcadero. San Diego of­fers many venues for its artists. The path­way is dot­ted with won­der­ful sculp­tures. Be sure to visit Unconditional Surrender (im­mor­tal­iz­ing the fa­mous pho­to­graph of V-J Day in Times Square taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt) and the Bob Hope memo­r­ial. The USS Midway is parked there per­ma­nently as a mu­seum (San Diego has a large naval base). Avoid the tacky Seaport Village.

Unconditional Surrender

San Diego Photos on Flickr

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.


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