North Fortuna Mountain
One Father Junípero Serra Trail, San Carlos
Located in Mission Trails Regional Park is a laidback alternative to the overcrowded Cowles Mountain. At four to five miles round trip, depending on which trailhead you use, and with steep winding trails, the hike is more strenuous than Cowles. Mount Fortuna’s summit offers a view of Mexico to the south, the Laguna Mountains to the east, Mt. San Jacinto to the north, and the Coronado Islands and Pacific Ocean to the west. When you reach the top, you’ll find a special treat — two metal military boxes contain notebooks that have poems, geocaches, and letters from previous hikers. The trail is reached from Fortuna Mountain Saddle, accessed from five Mission Trail trailheads: the Visitor Center Loop, Jackson Drive Staging area, Old Mission Dam, Grasslands Loop, Clairemont Mesa Boulevard in Tierrasanta, and Calle de Vida in Tierrasanta. Visit the website for a detailed map of the trail.
UCSD’s Shroom Room
Mandeville Hall, 9500 Gillman Drive, UCSD ucsdwiki.com/index.php?title=Graffiti_Room
Though many college students will claim that a trip to USCD’s “Shroom Room” looks the best while tripping on ’shrooms, the colorful ladder is well worth seeing sans hallucinogens. Located in Mandeville Hall, the concrete stairwell is too smothered in graffiti art and poetry to expose any of the original white of the walls. Messages from “I [heart] so and so” to deep, profound poetry can be deciphered through the spray-paint orgy. One concrete slab is consistently erased so new visitors can make their own mark. Whether sober or intoxicated, walking down the stairwell gives one the sensation of toppling down Alice’s rabbit hole.
Stargazing with the San Diego Astronomy Association
If you’re looking to impress a date without spending a dime, check out the San Diego Astronomy Association’s calendar of free events. The association hosts monthly gatherings open to the public. Among their more interesting offerings is a public sky viewing night in Balboa Park on the first Wednesday of every month. Beginning at dusk, telescopes are set up west of the Reuben H. Fleet space museum on the Prado. Likewise, at Sunset on the second Friday of each month the group sets up at Kumeyaay Lake Campground on the Santee side of Mission Trails Regional Park in the day-use parking lot. For those residing in North County, San Diego Astronomy Association hosts Stars at Sycamore Canyon on the third Friday of the month at sunset. Meet at the Sycamore Canyon/Goodan Ranch Open Space Preserve at the Highway 67 Staging area. There are no homes or businesses near the viewing, creating a breathtaking panoramic view of the city below.
Indoor rock climbing at Vertical Hold
9850 Distribution Avenue, Miramar
Whether you prefer technical boulder problems, sport lead climbing, rappelling, or harrowing dyno leaps, Vertical Hold’s 24,000-square-foot facility offers over 325 routes fit for climbers of all skill levels. Beginners’ lessons are $31 and include everything you need to get off the ground: gear, knot skills, belaying, lowering, introduction to holds, and a run-down on common terminology. Check the website for clinics (including a few freebies) and private lessons to refine your technique, or grab a day pass ($16) and a gear package (harness, chalk bag, shoes — $6) and hit the walls. Free yoga Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Lake Murray exercise path
5540 Kiowa Drive, San Carlos
“Look up when you pass,” says a total stranger. “The osprey, she’s on her nest this morning.” A proprietary feel circulates among many of the regulars, the daily walkers, bikers, skaters, and joggers along the seven-miles of trail that borders Lake Murray. The lake proper constitutes a smallish wilderness in plain sight of fishermen and civilization. Wildlife resounds among the ducky reeds in the rasp of a redwing blackbird, the natterings of goldfinches, a bullfrog’s lament.
Mount Hope Cemetery
3751 Market Street, Mount Hope
“Mr. Chandler? Old Mr. Ray?” The grounds attendant points a visitor past shade trees and rows of marble and granite headstones sinking into Bermuda grass like old cracked teeth and on toward the final resting place of the crime fiction author Raymond Chandler. The former La Jollan is in good company. Mt. Hope Cemetery, established in 1869, is home to a slice of local history. Horton Plaza namesake Alonzo Horton is there, along with Balboa Park arborist Kate Sessions, Elisha Babcock (builder of the Hotel del Coronado), and Kate Morgan, the suicide who is said to haunt it. She’s in Division 5, Section 1.
Albercas El Vergel
Camino Al Vergel 1, Tijuana, B.C., Mexico, USA: 619-735-9586, MX: 664-621-3066, albercaselvergel.com/_english/index.php
Baja California’s largest water park beckons just seven miles south of the San Ysidro border. It boasts a wave pool, 12 other pools, and 16 slides that bear more of a resemblance to rickety carnival rides. With names like Medusa, Avalanche, near-vertical drop Kamikaze, year-old 330-foot Anaconda, the Whip, and toilet bowl-like Twister, it’s no wonder many leave El Vergel bruised. But that’s why you go. That and the offerings of Tijuana street food, 20-peso Tecate cans, grills for BYO BBQs, and palapas to languish in the shade. Admission, depending on conversion rate: $6.25/adults over 4 feet, $5/kids, kids under 3´3˝ free.
Secluded section of beach beneath the bluffs of Torrey Pines, La Jolla
Earn your beautiful, secluded beach tanning session with a mildly strenuous hike along sandstone cliffs to and from swimsuit-optional Black’s Beach. For trail access, head to the south end of Torrey Pines Glider Port’s free dirt parking lot at 2800 Torrey Pines Scenic Drive. Ignore the “DO NOT USE” sign — the path is well-maintained by Black’s regulars — and start the steep half-mile trek down from the 300-foot bluff, where gorgeous views await. At the bottom, opt to disrobe anywhere from 100 yards south to a mile north at the beached steel buoy. Say hi to the Black’s Beach Bares if you see their flag flying.
Learn to sail on Mission Bay
Mission Bay is the largest man-made aquatic park in the country, and its placid expanses make for an ideal place to dial in your sailing skills. Lessons are available for $30 per hour at Paradise Point, Dana Landing, and the Hilton. Practice your tack and jibe off the shores of Fiesta Island or just kick back and let your skipper do the work. Once you’ve got the hang of it, rent a 14´ to 27´ boat ($50 and $175 per two hours) and set off with a few friends. Ask about a free membership in the Sail Club for discounted rates and prepaid hours. actionsportrentals.com.