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 Cafe for their freshly-baked corn tortillas, made right on the premises.

Carnitas at Old Town Mexican Cafe

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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