La Jolla Caves. A set of stairs leads down into the “Sunny Jim” sea grotto east of La Jolla Cove.
1) Swami’s Meditation Garden: Much of the Self-Realization Fellowship Retreat in Encinitas (popularly known as “Swami’s") is closed to the public, but visitors are welcome to a "meditation garden" from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday (11:00 a m. to 5:00 p.m. Sundays). A quiet idyll, the garden is filled with glowing clusters of flowers, carp-filled ponds, solitary benches, and sweeping, cliff-side views of the surf below.
Spruce St. suspension bridge. The weight of a solitary pedestrian makes this marvel tremble.
The retreat grounds are located at 215 K Street in Encinitas. Just north of here, the fellowship (which was founded in 1920 by Indian yogi Paramahansa Yogananda) built a four-story temple in 1938, which became the biggest thing ever to fall off the cliffs (in the stormy winter of 1941).
Cuatro Milpas. Homemade tortillas have been prepared daily here for sixty-five years.
2) Boulder Creek Road: Drive along this old dirt road running from Descanso to Julian, and you glimpse what San Diego was like a hundred years ago. It winds through the backcountry south of Julian at the base of the Cuyamacas. You see wildlife and flowers; not much traffic; and an unusual view of Cuyamaca Peak, looking up thousands of feet. In the wet season, you pass springs, little creeks, and names like "Devil’s Punch Bowl." The road itself is passable with a standard passenger car. It intersects with jeep trails that go to Eagle Peak, treacherous waterfalls, and the source of the San Diego River.
UCSD sculpture garden. From granite blocks to fourteen-foot-tall bird figure to parody of historic roadside markers.
3) San Diego Trust Building: It's not hard to find downtown denizens who argue that this 60-year-old building is the finest that’s been built in the center city. Designed by William Templeton Johnson, the style has been described as romanesque revival; arches abound. The central banking hall is majestic, with painted coffer ceilings and upper window detailing. At the rear of the lobby, visitors are beckoned into a surprising little "bank museum," whose centerpiece is a full-scale reproduction of the bank’s original cashiers’ counter, complete with a teller fashioned from wax. Among the offbeat exhibits: a more than 300-year-old Spanish treasure chest filled with silver dollars; antique adding machines; a model of a steam engine. One display chronicles the “aviation beacon" that was installed on the top of the bank building in 1928 and for several years helped guide planes landing at Lindbergh Field. (10:00 a m. to 4:00 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Fridays.)
Palm Canyon, Balboa Park. Palms from China, Chile, Madagascar, Cuba, Burma, Taiwan, and the Himalayas.
4) Spruce Street suspension bridge: There’s no more civilized way to cross a canyon than on this remarkable footbridge. It was designed in 1912 to give residents on the west side of the canyon access to the street-car line that ran up Spruce Street, but today it still looks as though it’s in mint condition (unlike the ailing wooden footbridge over Quince Street, currently closed to the public pending restoration).
The 375-foot-long suspension bridge hangs seventy feet above the lowest point of the canyon floor and was designed (by one-time San Diego Mayor Edwin M. Capps) to support 164 tons. Yet even the weight of a solitary pedestrian makes this marvel tremble. (Access on the east side is at Front and Spruce streets; on the west side from Brant and Spruce.)
John Cole's Book Shop - a reminder of an older, gentler La Jolla.
5) Agua Caliente Valparaiso: This hot springs spa is an islet of tranquility amid the dusty bustle of Tijuana. The sulfurous underground water tapped here is believed to be the original Agua Caliente hot spring, which fed the city’s famous hotel and casino during the Twenties and Thirties. (The dilapidated minaret, the only structure remaining from that facility, stands less than a mile away.)
Since its opening six years ago, the spa has offered visitors a chance to soak privately in the reportedly curative waters, to receive a massage, to partake of light refreshments in a restaurant, or to loll around one of two large pools set in the imaginatively designed grounds. The spa closed this month for renovation, however, and operators say when it reopens later this summer it may operate as a club open to members only. Or it may continue to be open to the public.
To reach the spa, take Avenida Paseo de los Heroes through the river zone until you see the Lucerna Hotel on your left. Go around the traffic circle until you’re heading east over the bridge. Small green signs along the side of the road indicate the way to the spa; follow them, even though at one point they direct you onto a frontage road that doesn’t look like it’s open to two-way traffic (it is). Around a bend, you’ll see the spa entrance.
6) The 428 Hidden Steps of La Mesa: They go up one side of the hill and down the other through a pleasant, old neighborhood with lovely views of the East County. Start at the corner of Normal Avenue and Windsor Drive, southeast of La Mesa’s business district. Walk up Windsor to where it intersects Canterbury. Directly across from the street sign, you find the first set of steps. Interrupted twice by streets, these end at Summit Drive near the top of the neighborhood.
To find the set of steps leading down, turn left, and walk past a half-dozen houses. On the left side of the street, between numbers 4250 and 4258, you’ll find the descending concrete staircase. At the bottom, turn left, and walk to the intersection of Beverly Drive and Acacia Avenue. Turn right on Acacia, and follow it as it immediately bends around to the left. At Vista make a left again, and walk to Pasadena, then turn right, and proceed for several long blocks, one of which curves around the impressive Hodgson House. Turn left at the intersection sign that points to Fairview Avenue. Follow Fairview around to the left, and go to Normal. A left turn on Normal and five more minutes’ walking will bring you back to your starting point.
7) Carlsbad Flower Auction: Perhaps the most interesting of the several ways in which San Diego County’s $232 million flower industry sells its product. Every weekday morning at 7:00 a m., retail flower vendors gather for a fast-paced “electronic auction." Visitors need not worry about making a false move and unwittingly buying 200 carnations; qualified bidders signal their intent to buy by pushing buttons when a digital display board shows a price they want to pay. Arrive a few minutes early to stroll up the warehouse aisles and take in the sights and smells of the blooms, most of which are grown locally. (606 Avenida Encinas.)
8) Villa Montezuma: The inside of Jesse Shepard's house is a wonder. A mystic, musician, and author who charmed San Diego society from 1887 to 1889, Shepard died in 1927, but the San Diego Historical Society restored Shepard’s Victorian "villa" to its original extravagant glory. The blood-red exterior bristles with towers and elaborate wood detailing; the inside seems stuffed not only with eye-catching fixtures (stained glasswork, tiled fireplaces) but also with Victorian appliances and furnishings that do a lot to illuminate how much households have changed in a hundred years.
Located in one of the city's seedier neighborhoods, the villa (1925 K Street) is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., with docents available to give tours.
9) Border Field State Park: If you want to stand in the southwesternmost corner of the conterminous United States, you come here. Do not walk south on the beach and cross the border. (It’s just as illegal for Americans to enter Mexico here as it is for Mexicans to come north, and the not-so-friendly eye of the border patrol is often watching.) Do walk north up the beach to the mouth of the Tijuana River estuary. Winter brings flocks of migratory ducks, egrets, and herons here; periodic Mexican sewage spills bring nasty-smelling muck.
The parking lot next to a 137-year-old stone border monument affords great views of the Coronado Islands and downtown San Diego to the north. The park is open from 8:30 a.m. to sunset daily. (Take the Coronado Avenue/Hollister Street off-ramp from I-5 South, and go south on Hollister for two miles to Monument Road. Turn right, and continue for two miles to the entrance.)
10) The Wells Fargo stagecoach: A modest gem, tucked inside the Broadway entrance of Wells Fargo's main office downtown, this is a genuine "Concord" coach built in 1868 and used in actual service. Maintained in a state of glossy splendor, the coach can be seen by visitors during hours when the bank is open. (10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, 101 West Broadway.)
11) Cuatro Milpas: Handmade tortillas are a rarity on either side of the border, but they’ve been prepared daily for sixty-five years at this landmark down-home eatery (1857 Logan Avenue). After eating, you can burn off some calories by strolling around the murals at Chicano Park under the Coronado Bridge, a block to the south.
12) Hare Krishna temple: Outside, the noise and traffic exhaust of Grand Avenue assaults one, but inside India beckons. The Hindu religious devotees here have transformed this mundane building (a factory and an Elks Club in earlier incarnations) into a serene, incense-scented refuge brightened by glittering chandeliers, lulled by a burbling fountain, ornamented with sensuous bas-relief paintings.
The best time to pay a casual visit to the temple is in the evening. Devotees serve three-dollar, five-course vegetarian dinners at 6:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday; a ten-course feast is offered every Sunday at 7:30 p.m. A certain amount of proselytizing comes with the meal; for a chance to observe unobtrusively the Hare Krishna religious experience, drop in for the chanting (weekdays at about 7:15 p.m., Sundays at 7:00 p.m.) The drums and finger cymbals and transported devotees almost make the walls themselves pulsate. (1060 Grand Avenue, Pacific Beach)
13) UCSD Sculpture: To visit the Stuart Collection of sculpture at UCSD, you can’t go to one specific location. The seven works of art currently installed are spread all over the campus — but that’s part of their charm. Tracking down and viewing all the pieces is a little like embarking on a treasure hunt, one expedited by obtaining from the public information office (534-UCSD) the informative brochure that explains the collection. The works are varied, ranging from Richard Fleischner’s severe granite blocks to Niki de Saint Phalle’s fourteen-foot-tall bird figure to William Wegman's humorous parody of historic roadside markers.
A very different art form is played out summers on the campus when the San Diego Charger rookies gather for their training camp from July 13 through August 27 on the new field at the north end of campus, the North Campus Recreation Center. Visitors are welcome to watch that action from the sidelines.
14) Tourmaline mine: Amateurs can still dig for and find precious stones in at least one of the mountains in San Diego County’s backcountry, the one where the Stewart Lithia Tourmaline Mine is located. The world’s leading producer of gem-quality, pure, pink tourmaline, the mine has operated for almost a hundred years. Tours of the mine don’t actually take visitors down into the mine shaft, but tourgoers are permitted to comb the tailings (the debris left after explosive blasting) for tourmaline crystals the commercial miners have overlooked. Although the mine tours have currently been interrupted by a dispute between the tour operators and the surrounding Pala Indian tribe, operators expect them to begin again soon.
15) Our Lady of the Rosary: Before the freeway came through and destroyed their neighborhood, Italian families filled the area around India Street just north of downtown. The center of that community was Our Lady of the Rosary Church (1659 Columbia Street). From the outside, the building is undistinguished, but the interior is surprisingly European in flavor; when the church was built in 1924, parish members brought an artist to San Diego from Italy to paint the frescoes that cover much of the wall space.
16) Palm Canyon: One of the most distinguished collections of palm trees in the world lies in the canyon at the bottom of the wooden staircase located across from the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park. Established as one of the garden attractions of San Diego’s 1915 Expo, the canyon faded into obscurity for some years but recently has been revived with the addition of more than fifty exotic palm species from such countries as China, Chile, Madagascar, Cuba, Burma, Taiwan, and the Himalayas. You don’t have to be a palm fanatic, however, to enjoy the ten-minute stroll down this frond-filled garden path.
17) PSA crash site: Now the quiet streets are filled with bland apartment buildings and uninspired bungalows, but on September 25, 1978, this North Park neighborhood was transformed into a scene from Hell. That morning a Boeing 727 collided with a single-engine Cessna, and 150 people died. The center of the devastation was the 3300 block of Dwight Street, where the jet liner crashed; the small plane hit the ground at about Polk and 32nd streets.
18) Chula Vista Nature Interpretive Center: If you want to know why environmentalists get so worked up about wetlands, this is a good place to start. The facility opened in 1987 and contains extensive exhibits that explain the ecology of salt marshes such as the three surrounding the nature center (Sweetwater Marsh, Vener Pond, and E Street Marsh). The most peculiar attraction has to be the outdoor pool, where visitors can pet and hand-feed leopard sharks, bat rays, and stingrays that have been debarbed.” The center also has an outdoor platform where one can view avian marsh visitors. But you can’t drive your car past them. Instead, in order to reach the center, one must park in a lot about 200 feet west of the E Street exit off I-5 in Chula Vista. A shuttle bus carries people from there over the wetlands to the center, leaving at five minutes past every hour and half hour. The center is open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
19) La Playa Trail: This quiet pathway combines great views of San Diego Bay with a chance to ogle close-up the backyards of some of the city’s choicest dwellings. Start at the west end of Anchorage Lane (right next to the tony San Diego Yacht Club), and follow the beach side trail. Among the waterfront residences you pass is the home of Mayor Maureen O’Connor. At the intersection of San Antonio Avenue and Qualtrough Street, the trail seems to end. but if you follow San Antonio for a few short blocks, you will pick it up again and can proceed all the way to the property line of the Naval Oceans System Center (where navy scientists work on such puzzles as developing better ways to track Russian subs.) Here you can retrace your steps back to the yacht club.
Or you can walk a bit farther to what may be the most famous scenic view of the bay and the downtown skyline. To reach it, retrace your steps along the beach to Owen Street, then the two blocks leading to San Elijo Street. Turn right, and go to the corner of San Elijo and Rogers streets. Voilà: the Vista. A forest of sailboat masts in the foreground. Azure bay. Downtown skyline set against distant mountains. Return to the yacht club by continuing until you reach Talbot Street and turning right, then walking three more blocks. (This longer route can be covered in about 45 minutes.)
20) Tijuana dog racing: The horses seem to get most of the attention, but the greyhounds run every night but Tuesday at the Agua Caliente racetrack, at 7:45 p.m., and at 2:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons. (From downtown Tijuana, take Revolucion south. It becomes Agua Caliente Boulevard, and the track is about two miles south on the right.)
21) San Diego Railway Museum: Every weekend the train-loving volunteers who run the museum operate restored trains over the old San Diego & Arizona tracks through the scenic countryside near Campo. Visitors also can tour the museum’s collection of historic locomotive, freight, and passenger cars; watch restoration work in progress; and patronize a gift shop that sells everything from books to children’s toys to antiques.
22) Indian bingo: Visiting the Sycuan or Barona Indian reservations on a summer night will not expose one to any hint of traditional native American culture. It will expose one to hordes of eager bingo enthusiasts competing for jackpots that commonly range up to tens of thousands of dollars while taking advantage of the reservations’ special status as sovereign territories, not subject to state laws governing bingo.
Evening and matinee games at the Sycuan bingo palace are scheduled daily. Weekend games on the Barona reservation will be expanded to weeknights during the summer months.
23) Civic Center garage rooftop: It’s not the best high-rise view from downtown San Diego, but it’s certainly the most accessible. You can take an elevator up from inside the Community Concourse or you can drive in, entering on A Street between First and Third avenues. The rooftop is eleven stories up; from there you can view San Diego Bay and all the higher skyscrapers that inexplicably lack rooftop restaurants or viewing pavilions.
24) Panteon Numero Uno: Mexican cemeteries aren’t as manicured as their gringo counterparts, but somehow they manage to be homier, livelier, even exuberant. One of the most interesting ones to visit is this old burial ground, located about a mile west of the downtown business district.
A special attraction here lies about halfway up the central pathway, on the right. You can’t miss the shrine to Juan Soldado, a bright-blue, wooden structure topped with a figurine representing a military man. The man buried here was a young soldier who was gunned down in 1938 for raping and murdering an eight-year-old girl. Legend has it he was innocent but took the rap for a guilty officer. Over the years, a certain cult has grown up around the reputed martyr; today people from all over Tijuana and beyond come to ask Juan to intercede in helping them with various problems. The shrine is studded with countless plaques and decorated with satin wreaths, fresh flowers, inventive crosses, dozens of votive candles, and other assorted testimony to people’s faith in Juan’s ability to work miracles.
To reach the cemetery, take Third Street west through downtown Tijuana until the road ends, then turn right. Go three blocks, and turn left on Carranza. You’ll see the cemetery, open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily, about four blocks down on your left.
25) San Elijo Lagoon: A dirt path leads from the right side of the northern foot of Rios Street in Solana Beach into a jungle of fennel, ferns, and nasturtiums under a dark canopy of castor bean trees. Tiny footbridges, trickles of water, drop-offs, and caves distract the eye. But after emerging from this jungle, the trail leads down through acacia and pampas grasses to your goal — the southern rim of the lagoon. Here a family of gray-headed coots can be seen among the nearer sedge, and farther away, in the middle of the lagoon, snowy egrets, great blue herons, and other shore birds compete for your senses with the sea gulls flying inland from Cardiff State Beach. Ignore the low rumble of Highway 101 and I-5, which border the lagoon. Another interesting trail system leads straight ahead from the foot of Rios around the western edge of the lagoon, close to the railroad tracks and Highway 101.
26) La Jolla caves: Eighty years ago, one of the biggest tourist attractions for miles around was the set of stairs that lead down into the “Sunny Jim” sea grotto east of La Jolla Cove. (An eccentric German professor reportedly hacked away with a pick and shovel for two years to open up the passageway.) Today the stairway, accessible through the kitschy La Jolla Cave and Shell Shop (1325 Coast Boulevard), can get lost among the flashy, more commercial attractions that have sprouted all over this neighborhood. But the cave retains an eerie charm.
The shell shop charges a minimal fee for admission to the subterranean stairway, but the half dozen or so other sandstone caves just to the east are accessible for free. The only hitch: they're usually filled with water. They can be reached on foot, however, when the lowest tides (-1.5 feet or less) occur. (That won’t happen again during daylight hours until November.)
27) The Tallest Flagpole in America: It used to be the tallest flagpole in the world and for years was recognized as such by the Guinness Book of World Records, but the Canadians unveiled something taller at their recent world’s fair. Nonetheless, the local pole is still way up there — more than 191 feet up, to be precise. It's the creation of a patriotic gentleman named Jerry Leaf, who runs a surplus-steel yard and hints that he may take some action to boost his flagpole once again into world dominance
Leaf’s handiwork is clearly visible from I-5 around the Main Street exit in Chula Vista. (2585 Main Street)
28) Cowles Mountain: The top of Soledad Mountain in La Jolla gets a lot more visitors, but the highest peak in San Diego city limits is Cowles Mountain, at 1591 feet. On a clear day, the view extends all the way to Mt. San Gorgonio in the northeast. Catalina Island to the northwest, and Table Mountain behind Tijuana. For the past few years, Cowles Mountain has been open to pedestrians only, and the hike up and down takes roughly two hours. The most popular trail leads from the corner of Navajo Road and Golfcrest Drive
The mountain is also the gateway to the Mission Trails Regional Park, a 6200acre reserve of open space in an increasingly urban landscape
29) The View from Tijuana: From downtown Tijuana, take Revolución south until it bends left and becomes Agua Caliente Boulevard. At the first opportunity, veer to the right up the big thoroughfare called Boulevard Fundadores. You’ll go past the white Torre de Tijuana on your left; continue on the wide road that leads up Mount San Antonio straight ahead. You’ll be heading for the tall television towers at the summit; the road passes an interesting mix of the typical Tijuana architectural jumble: impressive residences next to dumpy shacks The mountain top is crowned by the broadcast offices of the two Tijuana-based television stations. XETV (Channel 6) and XEWT (Channel 12), and offers an extraordinary view of Tijuana, the border, and San Diego to the north. It’s also a good place to see the grid pattern in which much of the Mexican city is laid out, including hillside developments that would seem to dictate otherwise.
30) Point Loma Nazarene College campus: Once upon a time, a group of idealistic reformers descended upon Point Loma and planted hundreds of trees and other lush foliage. They built exotic Oriental structures topped with tinted domes, glass spheres, and flaming hearts. They opened a school of raja yoga and strove to establish a utopian community that would ground its members in the spirit and mystical teachings of Theosophy. From 1897 to 1942, this was Lomaland, brainchild of the charismatic, visionary anti-war activist Madame Katherine Tingley.
Today Point Loma Nazarene College, a small, Christian liberal-arts institution, occupies the grounds, and only traces remain of Lomaland’s former eccentric glory. But the campus still merits a visit. The luxuriant gardens and huge old trees remain. One of the only surviving architectural marvels is Mieras Hall, which houses the college administration. (You can’t miss the huge purple crystal that adorns the roof or the exterior spiral staircase to the roof.) Ninety acres remain, with most of that property commanding sweeping views of the ocean. The contemporary architecture is largely mundane, but try to visit the tiny Goodwin Chapel, an intimate refuge, complete with spiral-bound prayer books containing notes to God from students, some anguished, some serene.
31) John Cole's Book Shop: The coziest bookstore in the county and a reminder of an older, gentler La Jolla. From the sidewalk in front of John Cole’s, you can’t quite see the ostentatious boutiques and financial buildings that have muscled their way onto Prospect Street just a block or two farther north.
Once known as Wisteria Cottage, the structure housing the bookstore was built in 1904. Ellen Browning Scipps bought it in 1905 and had it remodeled by the renowned architect Irving Gill. The bookstore has occupied the premises since 1966. Today the small rooms inside are stuffed with a stimulating mix of books. The cheeriest room is the one devoted to children’s books; it looks like something out of a happy fairy tale. (780 Prospect Street. La Jolla.)
32) Balboa Park redwoods: You don’t have to go to Northern California in order to see redwoods. A substantial stand of trees estimated to be about seventy years old and ranging up to eighty feet tall can be found in Balboa Park a few hundred feet north and slightly east of the bowling green off the Prado. No one knows who planted these, but a city parks crew established another grove on the south side of Morley Field Drive between Florida Street and Park Boulevard about a dozen years ago, and some of these youngsters have already climbed to thirty feet tall.
33) Mt. Laguna: You also don’t have to go to Palm Springs to see the mountains and the desert stunningly juxtaposed. One of the tamest, most easily reached trails in the Laguna crest is the Desert View Nature Trail, which winds through a forest of Jeffrey pines to a chaparral-covered ridge. Here the earth drops away. Start at the parking area located at Mile 23.0 on the Sunrise Highway, and pick up one of the interpretive leaflets.
34) Aircraft Carriers: An opportunity to get up close and personal with the navy’s pieces de resistance is offered daily, three times every afternoon, when navy crewmen lead small groups of visitors on tours of the seagoing behemoths. Two aircraft carriers, the Ranger and the Constellation, are currently based in San Diego; you must make advance arrangements to visit them. Call the public affairs office on board the Ranger (437-5585) or the Constellation (437-5998).
35) Black’s Beach: At least part of the fun of getting there is driving through La Jolla Farms, one of San Diego’s most dense and grandiose enclaves of the nouveau riche. At the intersection of La Jolla Farms and Black Gold roads, there’s a service road that is closed to normal automobile traffic but open to pedestrians. It winds down through a pleasant canyon with excellent views of La Jolla Cove and Village.
At the bottom of the road, turn right, and walk until you reach a point where at least as many people aren’t wearing any clothes as are. Nudity on the city-owned beach here was legal for the three fey years that began in 1974. But when the majority of voters got more moral, they changed the law. They didn’t, however, change the widespread propensity of many beachgoers (sun worshipers, cancer defiers, dirty old men, horny young men) to take off their clothes and swim naked.
You’ll probably see people climbing the nearly vertical cliff face above the beach. At the top is the Torrey Pines Glider Port (one of the best spots for hang-gliding in the state). Nearby is the Salk Institute, distinguished architecturally as well as scientifically. But you should return up the road instead. The cliffs are very dangerous.