Gemological Institute of America Museum
5345 Armada Drive, Carlsbad
Bring an ID and a gemstone and spend some time with the fancy folk of the Gemological Institute. You’ll need the ID to get through security surrounding the Institute. You’ll want the gemstone for professional grading and analysis, or possibly for laser engraving. Currently making your eyes sparkle with desire: brilliant-cut gems from 7-140 carats and carved ivory. The Vault Collection includes gem pieces from the Victorian era, through Jazz and Art Deco, and including somewhat recently discovered stones, such as tanzanite and tsavorite. Call ahead to set up a free tour: 760-603-4116.
Hold fish, pet parrots at the Catamaran Hotel
3999 Mission Boulevard, Mission Beach
The Catamaran Hotel has one thing nobody else does. An exotic garden filled with chatty birds and friendly fish. You can spend an afternoon with these guys, and you don’t have to be a guest. Yes, it’s a tourist trap, but who cares? Eleanora the cockatoo and Scooter the lilac-crowned Amazon will hang out and chat. And, most charming: koi and giant, ancient catfish are so tame you can actually hold one or two of them out of the water for a minute in your hands, stroking them. Under supervision, of course.
Creepy abandoned homes in Hellhole Canyon
19324 Santee Lane, Valley Center
In Valley Center, curious, stray pedestrians have found abandoned homes just off Paradise Mountain Road.
With children’s rooms, drawings on the walls, cluttered kitchens with pots and pans splattered across the countertops as if they were dropped on a whim, and even a TV satellite dish, the hiker’s hunch is that it’s an abandoned commune. The small houses bursting with garbage and domestic debris project the eerie feeling of a family on the run. Oddly enough, the electricity is still running, though the homes have obviously been deserted.
They can be accessed from Calle De Encinas Court, or one can walk down from Paradise Mountain Lane.
Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA Skate Park
200 Saxony Rd., Encinitas
Ecke Park isn’t free; it’ll cost you $47 for a yearly membership, plus $5 for sessions ($2 on Tuesdays).
Not a bad price to skate an X-Games vert.
San Diego Chinese Historical Museum
404 Third Avenue, Downtown San Diego
Hey, remember when the Gaslamp wasn’t a soul-deadening morass of trendy eateries seeking to entrap conventioneers through a canny blend of olde-timey architecture and modern-day hipsterism? Remember when it was a soul-deadening morass of brothels and opium dens seeking to entrap pioneers through a frightening blend of olde-timey lawlessness and modern-day hedonism? The Asian-Pacific Historic Collaborative and the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum hold walking tours of the area every second Saturday at 11 a.m. Because the Stingaree also housed Old Chinatown! $4 donation. Reservations required.
The Water Conservation Garden
12122 Cuyamaca College Drive West, Rancho San Diego
Are you really still decorating your front yard with grass? A man’s home is his castle, but it doesn’t have to look like an English manor house. Lower your water bill and learn new gardening techniques. Get tropical levels of brilliant color and lush foliage without tropical levels of water. Explore the 17 exhibits, from the cactus and succulent garden to the bird and butterfly garden. Free docent-led walking tours every Saturday. Admission by donation; $10 gardening class fee for non-members.
Lions, Tigers & Bears Big Cat & Exotic Animal Rescue
Bobbi Brink and her husband Mark have over 55 animals from over 17 species — including, yes, lions, tigers, and bears —housed on some 20 acres at their no-kill, no-breed, no-sell sanctuary. All the animals have been rescued, some from deplorable conditions. Now you can visit them, and even spend the night within earshot of a big cat’s roar. Visits are by appointment only; “member-for-the-day” passes run $25 per adult and $15 for children 12 and under. Your stay includes a 90-minute introduction to the animals and their homes.
The Brickyard batting cages
5355 Grant Street, Linda Vista
You played a little ball; you know how to hit a curve. Right? The Brickyard’s Cage #1 has a pitching machine that will let you find out. Fastballs, curves, sliders, and changeups, from 40 to 90 miles per hour. Left- or right-handed. Balls and strikes. If you’re feeling especially confident, let a friend program the pitches. $30 gets you 30 minutes. But if the glory days have passed you by (Cage #1 is restricted based on age and ability), there are five other cages that’ll pitch ’em up straight.
Ice skating at Kroc Center Ice Arena
6737 University Avenue, Rolando
6737 University Avenue, San Diego, kroccenter.org, 619-269-1498
There is no reason in the world why the poor saps who live in the frozen north should get to lord it over us in the ice-skating department. Joan Kroc and the Salvation Army have seen to that. And on Sundays, admission and skate rental will run you just $7 (and it’s only $5 on Wednesday nights.) The best part: no cell phones allowed. You and your date will have time to talk. You know, when you’re not falling down.
Rent an electric bike
2021 India Street, Little Italy
Not feeling like tackling the hills of San Diego? Or you want to treat Aunt Suzie to a tour of San Diego? Rent an electric bike. Ivan Stewart’s Electric Bike Center rents an assortment of electric bikes to those interested in touring the city at ease. Ivan Stewart’s rents out eZee’s, Hebbs, Ejoes, Juiced Riders, and Pedegos. For $40 you can see the streets for two hours, for $80 you can spend six hours touring. Rentals include a helmet and lock. Renters need photo identification and a credit card. If you’re not sure you are ready for this electric-bicycling thing, swing by the Little Italy farmers’ market on a Saturday morning for a test ride.
Old Mission San Luis Rey de Francia
4050 Mission Avenue, Oceanside
Named after the 13th-century French king Louis IX, the mission was home to 3000 Payomkawichum people, also known as Luiseño. Building of the church started in 1811. And, says their website, “By 1830, the mission was the largest building in California.” San Luis is unique among California missions in that it’s domed. The wood for the dome was brought down off of Palomar Mountain. After touring the rustic yet ornate church, check out the museum full of articles from daily mission life 150 to 200 years ago. Stroll through the cemetery where some graves date as far back as 1798. Relax under the gnarly old pepper tree in the courtyard. Planted in 1830, it’s believed to be the oldest pepper tree in California. Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for children 5–18. Under five and military are free.