Reader writers explore the elements of America’s Finest — water, air, fire, land.
Up close with birds of prey
Let’s face it, the closest most of us will ever get to a true bird of prey is handling a silver quarter with the bald eagle on the back. But if you’re game, most weekends in Alpine you can get up close with a real bald eagle, and a golden eagle, too, each with a six-foot wingspan — along with 35 other hawks, owls, falcons, and eagles that have been rescued from cages, roads, or kids with bb guns. You might call these magnificent raptors San Diego’s unseen “air force,” casualties in man’s never-ending war against the county’s wildlife. Think of Nancy Conney as their field-hospital nurse. Conney, who is a master falconer, can explain how to hunt rabbits and pheasants with birds, exactly as they did it in medieval times. Call ahead to Sky Hunters, 619-445-6565, and be prepared to visit between noon–4:00 p.m., Saturday or Sunday. There’s no fee, but donations are accepted. skyhunters.org
5370 Napa Street, Linda Vista
Cirque Arts of Studio Revolution has a range of classes in high-flying circus arts, from beginner to expert. The foundation of the program begins with aerial silks, which teaches the basics of all aerial skills: learn to climb, wrap, suspend, fall, and swing your body in long silks hung from the ceiling. Lyra classes are a combination of spinning, contortion, and aerial maneuvers. Also known as an aerial hoop, this steel apparatus is suspended in the air for swinging or spinning/aerial acts. Trapeze lessons are available, too. Contortion-training techniques are taught using safe progression methods. You’ll learn forearm, chin, or standing balances, handstands and movement on the ground, or the contortion platform/table. From there you can move on to partnered balancing acts. You’ll be all set when Cirque du Soleil has an opening. Classes are $18 each, with package deals available.
35899 Canfield Road, Palomar Mountain
You won’t be able to peer through their five giant telescopes, but visit Palomar Observatory any day from 9:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m. and check out the imposing 200-inch Hale Telescope. You’re already at 6000 feet — more than a mile — above sea level here, and it’s the next best thing to magnified viewing; skies can be as clear as you have never seen them. So make a night of it. You could also book into the mountain’s other marvel, the 1888 Bailey House (33650 Bailey Meadow Road, Palomar Mountain, 760-742-1859), 15 minutes from the telescope. You’ll pay from $125 for a cottage (for up to four people), less at the campground. Shower, eat, and put on your woolies, then head out into the 60-acre nature preserve and catch those spectacular stars with your naked eye.
Borrego Springs sky art
Spread out over three square miles of desert in Borrego Springs, you will find 129 metal sculptures. Created by artist Ricardo Breceda, the full-sized sculptures include prehistoric mammals, historical characters, dinosaurs, and even a 350-foot-long serpent. You’ll easily spot the massive art from your car window as you zoom down Borrego Springs Road. The sculptures were commissioned by Borrego landowner Dennis Avery. His private property, called Galleta Meadows, is open to the public (free) for viewing and short-term camping. 760-767-5311, galletameadows.com
910 N. Harbor Drive, Downtown San Diego
There are three flight simulators aboard the USS Midway Museum, which is a (real) aircraft carrier. One of these virtual-reality rides, called Naval Combat Mission, is the Star Tours of the Gulf War. For $8 a head, up to 12 people at a time have their senses fooled into experiencing what air-to-air combat is like, while actual pilot conversations enrich the experience. The other augmented-reality cockpits are user-controlled two-seaters — one is based on WWII aircraft; another was used to train pilots for the Vietnam War (it’s since been upgraded to an F-18). Pricing for virtual combat does not include the museum’s entry fee (general admission: $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, $10 for retired military, and $10 for kids, with $2 off for booking online). 619-398-8277.
4945 Heise Park Road, Julian
Camping with the stars
Once a month, between May and November, the San Diego Astronomy Association (SDAA) goes camping and shares its telescopes with the public (for free) at the William Heise Park campground in Julian, where light pollution is minimized. An astronomy slideshow highlighting what’s visible that night is usually offered in the amphitheater on the campground. Event coordinator Doug McFarland tells me Saturn and Mars will be “primary targets” for the rest of the year. Normal campground fees apply (tents to cabins, $19–$75 per night). sdaa.org.
3750 John J. Montgomery Drive, Suite D, Serra Mesa
Barnstorming Adventures at Montgomery Field Airport in Serra Mesa offers 20-to-60-minute flights for one or two in vintage aircraft. With an assigned pilot in the front cockpit — and you in the rear — of a 150-horsepower Varga 21, you do most of the flying, which includes turns, climbs, and glides. Try your hand at aerial dogfighting with the Air Combat flight. You’ll be partnered with an assigned pilot, but you take the controls in a hands-on combat mission. There’s also the Warbird Flight in a 1943 North American SNJ-4 Texan, the aircraft used to train World War II aviators. Or tour the coast in a 1920s Travel Air 4000 biplane. Flights from $177–$795. No flight experience necessary.
Watch a movie under the stars
Throw a couple of lawn chairs in the back of your pickup and head to San Diego’s two remaining drive-ins: Santee (13 and over $8; 5–12 $4, cash only) and South Bay Triple (adults $7; kids 5–9 $1, cash only). Additionally, in Mission Hills, Cinema under the Stars (topspresents.com; $15, $90 for an annual membership) screens flicks outdoors April–September (with an Oscar party in February), offering ambience, a variety of seating, and concessions. If you’re looking for free movies, you can bring your own blanket to Petco’s Park at the Park for special screenings. You paid for the park, you may as well get your money’s worth: petcoparkevents.com.
Yours truly held the job of Off the Cuff street reporter here at the Reader for a year and a half. One of my favorite questions to ask was “If you ever move away from San Diego, what will you wish you’d done while you were here?” Most people responded with a single word: “Nothing.” I think they’re onto something. Here’s to doing nothing, San Diego. Here’s to throwing away our to-do lists, to chillaxin, to lying on the beach all day, sipping a local brew, and flaking out on whatever it is you didn’t want to do anyway. Very San Diego. Cheers.