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Don’t try this at home unless you’ve trained with the Foreign Legion.

Kidding, but I swear, what a hike. I get off the Blue Line trolley at 24th Street National City. Dark already, around six. I head south to Mile-of-Cars Way (aka 24th street), turn right, head west, dive under the trolley and then the 5 freeway, and come out into kinda satellite civilization.

There are a couple of new buildings on the left, including a Best Western motel, and there’s an ancient railroad depot. Then: nothing.

Now I’m pointing south down Marina Way, heading into complete silence with bushes climbing over the fence reaching out to you. It’s California before it became California.

And then: Tijuana! You come to the end of the road and the beginning of the water and the blaze of lights, like spilled diamonds: Tijuana on the near horizon.

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Beyond National City's marina, the blazing lights of Tijuana

This is Pier 32 Marina, National City's own.

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You pass a sculptured skeleton of a boat...

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...and then decks with tables and chairs.

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Upstairs on the deck of the marina building I spot this lady Kimberly, grilling chicken thighs and potatoes on a grill. Turns out she’s on a boat that’s moored in this marina. She's just sailed around the world and is cooking her meal here on a grill provided by the marina. Cool.

Then, whew. Into the warmth of the Waterfront Grill (3201 Marina Way, at Pier 32 Marina, National City, 619-718-6240).

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This is what I’ve been looking for. Feels small in this chill night air, with the windows closed. But I can see everything opens up and out onto the deck when the sun’s up.

I flop back in a chair and check the menu. Hey hey! Happy Hour, 4-7 p.m.: $2 beers, $2 fish tacos. I order one of each from Derrek, the guy in charge here.

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Derrek

Three-generation family of five at the table next door says this is their first time. “We were riding the bayside bike track and came across it,” says David, the dad.

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Happy campers: Marilyn, David Sr, ("Bud"), grandson Orion, mom Laura, dad David Jr.

His own dad, David (“Bud”) has had "British fish and chips." Cost $9.95.

“Good,” he says. “Really good.”

His son David Jr. had the “new bigger half-pound beef burger," as the menu calls it ($10.50).

"I’d’ve liked it rarer,” says David Jr., “but it was good.”

I have my delish fish taco, glug the MGB, and order their beef burger to take home to Carla. It's not part of happy hour. And it's $10.50. Most regular dishes are this price and up. But it sounds good: Half-pound patty with roasted garlic aioli, red-leaf lettuce, tomato, onion fritters, and blue cheese (or you could have smoked gouda, mozzarella, or pepperjack). And it comes with a side of garlic fries, or salad, bean salad, potato salad, or coleslaw. I go for the bean salad.

I hate to leave, actually. Desperate to come back at sunset, drink some Green Flash (which they have) and watch for the green flashes.

This National City waterfront is kinda like Bali Hai. It’s been here for years, but nobody’s done anything about it till now. I feel like an explorer who’s discovered sophisticated life on Mars.

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Burger and the bean salad. Together, what a hit

P.S. The burger is a hit with Carla, and for me it is a beautiful success -- not just because of the huge patty and tons of blue cheese but because of the deelish bean salad, which includes black beans, garbanzos, red and green chili-pepper chunks, tomato, and pineapple. I stuff it into the burger and presto: the National City Burger is born!

Next time: either sunset or one of their weekend breakfasts, out on the balcony. Meantime, all I’ve got to do is make that long walk back.

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