4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Have Fun on Land

100 Reasons to Love San Diego

Drive a dune buggy through the desert from Dezert Adventures in Ocotillo. - Image by Daniel Wedeking
Drive a dune buggy through the desert from Dezert Adventures in Ocotillo.

Reader writers explore the elements of America’s Finest — water, air, fire, land.

Urban Irving

If it’s true that San Diego is America’s Biggest Small Town, then it is certainly fitting that our most famous architect worked mostly in houses and churches. No monuments, no governmental edifices; rather, daily life punctuated by weekly worship. Start online by searching for “irving gill san diego google map.” (Thanks, Paul Jamason!) Then head out to survey the man’s work; it’s like the city is an open-air museum, and Gill is part of the permanent collection. Except for the Marston House. That’s more of a museum-museum. Don’t miss the First Church of Christ, Scientist, on Second Avenue, or the string of houses along Seventh, or the La Jolla Women’s Club.

A windy, winey drive

Pick a designated driver and head toward Julian by way of Highway 67, and this time, instead of merely slowing for Ramona, make a few full stops at the various tasting rooms along the way. Some are old (Schwaesdall), some are new (Milagro Farm), and some are better than others (do try Milagro). But all partake of the fantastic pioneering spirit that has built, sustained, and grown a local wine region in relatively short order. (Ramona was granted American Viticultural Area status in 2006). Many of the rooms are listed on the brochure available at ramonavalleyvineyards.org.

Place

Dezert Adventures

1198 North Imperial Highway, Ocotillo, CA

Desert dune buggy

Thrill your inner badass with a dune-buggy ride through the desert. Helmets are optional when you rent one at Dezert Adventures in Ocotillo, but the wheels will kick up a ton of sand, so you’ll want to wear the provided goggles. For $275, you can have your buggy for any four hours of daylight; $450 gets you eight hours. Adam, the outfit’s owner, will negotiate a per-person price to provide lunch, if you like. Otherwise, coolers are available for stashing whatever you bring yourself. Adam has handmade, color-copied maps of landmarks to keep you oriented. If your inner badass gets you into trouble, good cell-phone service means he can come and rescue you, so be sure to bring his number with you.

Place

Wynola Pizza Express

4355 Highway 78, Julian, CA

Place

Mom’s Pies

2119 Main Street, Julian, CA

Two pies and a great drive

Drive to Ramona, winding out Highway 78 to Santa Ysabel, then up the grade toward Julian. When you reach the tiny town of Wynola, stop at Wynola Pizza and Bistro for some thin-crusted, wood-fired perfection. Try the pesto with zucchini. The patio is a great place to meet fellow daytrippers. Then continue on to Julian (three miles), pick up a boysenberry apple crumb at Mom’s Pies in Julian; in late summer and fall, the apples in the pie are locally grown. Drive south down Highway 79 through Lake Cuyamaca and Descanso. If it’s late afternoon, you’re likely to see deer or turkeys hiding in the shadows near the road. Head back to San Diego on Interstate 8. In less than three hours, you’ll have sampled the remarkable biodiversity of San Diego County — coastal sage, inland chaparral, grasslands, oak and pine woodlands — and sampled a couple of really great pies.

Place

Mt. Woodson Golf Course

16422 North Woodson Drive, Ramona

Golf in the chaparral: Mount Woodson Golf Club

One must admire the vision of golf-course architects Brian Curley and Lee Schmidt, who looked at the steep northeast side of Ramona’s Mount Woodson and thought: “golf course.” The result is a layout that’s equally a nature preserve. Holes wind in and out of canyons and around ancient live oaks and sycamores. Wild lilac, lemonade berry, and manzanita shrubs of native chaparral line the holes. The trestled cart path that crosses a deep canyon between holes two and three is worth the price of admission alone, as are the views of the Ramona grasslands. And the price of admission is reasonable: $55 weekdays, $65 weekends. The post-1:00 p.m. twilight rate is $27, a steal for a course this beautiful.

Picnic above your pay grade

It’s almost hard to believe there’s a city park tucked into La Jolla Heights, let alone one that offers a commanding view of the village and coast below. But a steel bench and a chained-up trash can confirm it: La Jolla Heights Open Space is public land. The hard way to get there is by hiking the narrow path up from Crespo Street — and we do mean up. The easy way is to take Country Club Drive past the golf course, turn left on Romero, left again on Brodiaea. Park and walk down Encelia Drive until you get to the gate. The path is off to the left and leads to that hilariously downmarket bench. Bring a cushion, maybe some lunch, and take in a view that people pay millions to enjoy.

Tackle a “problem”

Bouldering is a form of rock climbing that’s performed without the aid of ropes on shorter (usually less than 15 feet) climbs. Because of smaller equipment requirements, bouldering can be a cool way to get into the local climbing scene. The Santee Boulders on Mast Boulevard just off the 52, and Mt. Woodson in Poway off the 167, are both popular spots. Still, there’re plenty of technique and safety precautions to be learned, and it’s a good idea for newbies to hook up with experienced climbers first. Visiting a gym like Vertical Hold in Miramar (a day pass is $16, equipment extra; punchcards and monthly memberships are available) on a weeknight between 5:00–8:00 p.m. is a good way to meet serious climbers, learn about bouldering, and perhaps find someone to try bouldering out of doors with on a weekend.

Give something back

San Diego County is rife with opportunities for volunteers to get out and do a little good in the world. The Surfrider Foundation (sandiego.surfrider.org) has beach cleanups three times a month — how hard can it be to pick up a little trash from our city’s beaches? Volunteering is also a great way to meet the nicest of the nice among your fellow citizens. If beach cleanup dates prove inconvenient, volunteermatch.org has a search function that provides information on dozens of ways to give back to the community. 858-792-9940.

Run with the SEALs

Who doesn’t dream of joining the French Foreign Legion, or, closer to home, the Navy SEALs? Nearest thing, and probably the most fun for most of us, has got to be running with the SEAL trainees. During training, their run usually takes place near the crack of dawn (though times vary). If you’re on the beach below the Hotel Del, you can catch platoons noisily busting out from the Amphib base and heading along the two miles of Coronado’s Central Beach to the gates of North Island Naval Air Station. And back. You can’t join them, of course, or get anywhere close, but you can trail at a respectful distance and see how long you keep up. Good luck with that. 619-435-6611.

Herbology classes

Popular knowledge would have you believe that medicine comes only from a pharmacy, but in reality, the earth offers many natural remedies. Grow your knowledge of beneficial plants at the Self-Heal School in Ocean Beach (619-224-1268), with six-week courses ($180) in subjects that include Herbal Fundamentals, Practical Application of Herbs, and Medicine Making. The school also offers herb walks around the county and perks such as the Psychedelic Shamanism mini-series. If you like what you find, you can become licensed with Self-Heal’s 231-hour certificate program ($2560, or $2300 when paid in advance).

Place

Lions Tigers & Bears Big Cat Rescue

24402 Martin Way, Alpine

Lions, Tigers, Bears

Lions, Tigers, and Bears sanctuary in Alpine

Lions, Tigers, and Bears is a big-cat sanctuary and rescue facility located in Alpine. At 94 acres, it’s just six acres shy of the San Diego Zoo’s size. The facility boasts 52 animals and is open to the public. A yearly membership is $50. Daily memberships can be purchased for $25 for children, $35 for adults. Visitors must call ahead to make an appointment before showing up. Lions, Tigers, and Bears can be rented out for bachelor/bachelorette parties, weddings, and birthdays. The zoo also hosts two family-friendly campouts a year, as well as an annual Easter egg hunt. Behind-the-scenes tours of the facility are offered for a $500 donation. Across from the tiger pen is a two-bedroom cabin that can be rented for $550 a night. They even offer a private chef. Make sure to wear tennis shoes — the zoo was built for the animals, not visitors, and there are no paved sidewalks.

Place

City Farmers Nursery

3110 Euclid Avenue, San Diego

City Farmers Nursery

City Farmers Nursery is an excellent adventure. Tour the grounds, checking out the goats and chickens, and view unique plants and gardens. Several times a month they host classes; most are free. Workshops include everything from the obscure (Raising Chickens from the Farm to the Table, for instance; or Raising Goats in the City) to the kid-friendly (Pumpkin Growing).

Trolley

You can see a lot of San Diego by jumping on a trolley with a $5 day pass and a camera. From Old Town, take the Green Line out to SDSU: you’ll be taking pictures out the window while the trolley hugs Interstate 8 — you won’t be able to help it. After touring SDSU’s beautiful campus, head up to Gillespie Field and catch the Orange Line. Ride it back to downtown and Seaport Village, then Petco Park. Jump to the Blue Line and take in the shipyards. Continue all the way to the border. sdmts.com/trolley/trolley.asp

Urban bridges walk, uptown

Hikers seeking a change of scene from ocean/mountain/desert trails can head uptown for an urban trek to explore San Diego’s hidden and not-so-hidden pedestrian bridges. Depending on your speed and route, in about 90 minutes, you can cross half a dozen or more historic spans, including San Diego’s only suspension bridge, at Spruce and Front, which sways thrillingly beneath your feet. Take in the impressive mountain vista from the Georgia Street Bridge. Hike your way to Bankers Hill to cross the more covert Upas and Spruce Street spans. The variety of views — snow-capped mountains, the rush of traffic through the 163 canyon — is worthy of a camera-phone slideshow. Suggested tour: start at University Avenue and Georgia Street, head northwest to the Vermont Street footbridge into Hillcrest, then continue west on University to Sixth; then make your way south with detours to the Upas, Spruce, Quince, and First Avenue crossings; conclude with a triumphant crossing of the Cabrillo Bridge into Balboa Park.

hillquest.com/history/timeline_bridges.html

Turista Libre Rad Tijuana Tours

Turista Libre takes people to places in Tijuana that aren’t typical tourist destinations: large swap meets, lucha libre matches, roller-skating rinks, bars not on Revolución, remote beaches, and piñata factories. The idea is to experience native life in a city built for tourism. You meet on the U.S. side of the border, cross into Mexico, and hop on the “fun bus.” Each voyage always includes a food destination and a drink destination. These monthly events have a limited capacity and do sell out, so plan ahead. Payment ($40 for an upcoming Tijuana museum hop) is required in advance.

Frisbee golf

Disc golf — well, it’s exactly what it sounds like. The challenge is to get your frisbee into each hole in as few throws as possible, though the holes are actually metal pole-and-chain contraptions that are moved around periodically throughout the year. Morley Field, San Diego’s Disc Golf Course, is located where Redwood and Pershing Drive meet in South Park. The 19-hole course takes 1–3 hours to play, depending on how crowded it is. The price is $3 on weekdays, $4 on weekends. Frisbee rentals are available for $1.50 each — including putters, drivers, or an all-purpose frisbee.

DrinkAbout

On the third Wednesday of every month, you don’t have to make an either/or decision: jump on the DrinkAbout bus and wind your way through Normal Heights, University Heights, North Park, and South Park. You can hit as many or as few of the ten bars on the route as you like, places like Blind Lady Ale House, Live Wire, Sea Rocket, and the Station. The bus leaves every half hour. Download a schedule from the DrinkAbout website or just jump on the bus and see where it takes you.

Drink beer on 30th Street

If you haven’t wet your whistle on 30th Street, you can’t yet call yourself a hophead. In October 2009, Men’s Health Journal referred to 30th as “easily the nation’s best beer boulevard.” In January 2012, the New York Times dubbed San Diego #12 on its list of “The 45 Places to Go in 2012” for its collection of brewpubs, including Hamilton’s Tavern (1521 30th Street). From Hamilton’s to the Linkery, to Toronado, to the Ritual Tavern, this two-mile stretch of road running from South Park to North Park is a beer-lover’s dream.

Best thing about hunting statues? They don’t move.

Alonzo Horton and Roscoe Hazard were not legendary personal-shopping assistants, they were businessmen. But two malls were named in honor of their contributions to San Diego’s history. They even got statues for their trouble, just like Native “Mr. Indigenous” American, Juan “Mr. Explorer” Cabrillo, Junípero “Mr. Mission” Serra, Kate “Mrs. Balboa Park” Sessions, George “Mr. First Citizen” Marston, Tony “Mr. Padre” Gwynn, Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, Pete “Mr. Politics” Wilson, Don Diego “Señor Del Mar” Alvarado, Lawrence “Mr. Music” Welk, and a bunch of Tuna Fishermen. Hunting for them all makes for an interesting day trip. Bonus points for locating non-locals Bob Hope, Benito Juárez, and a Prisoner of War.

Over, under, through San Diego’s urban canyons

From Switzer Canyon to Tecolote Natural Park to Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, San Diego is cracked with canyons. You may not get the views of Mount Laguna or Palomar Mountain, but you can still find great natural scenery — and have a terrific workout — while saving yourself the 45-minute drive to the edges of the county. Notable adventures: hike over the bridges of Rose Canyon in University City, under the bridges of Bankers Hill, and through the Torrey pines in Del Mar’s Crest Canyon.

Place

San Diego Velodrome

2221 Morley Field Drive, San Diego

Ride the Velodrome

Adult classes at the San Diego Velodrome run all summer long. You’ll probably never go pro, but you can get a taste of what it’s like to race a track bicycle during a six-week class that introduces the ins and outs of fixed-gear bike racing. All you need is a helmet and a willing set of legs. Plus, it’s way cooler than spin class. The $120 cost includes a loaner bike and all the expertise the coaches have to share.

Tuesday night racing!

Speaking of the velodrome, every Tuesday night from April through September, the best free show in town is at the San Diego Velodrome. Racing starts around 6:30 p.m. and usually runs until about 9:00. Track riders compete in lightning-fast, high-intensity racing for nothing more than the love of the sport (and the occasional beer). World-class riders go head to head with local heroes and mustache-wearing hipsters. It’s fixed-gear bicycle racing at its finest, and it’s free to watch. Bring food and drinks, family and friends, or all of the above.

Place

Skateworld

6907 Linda Vista Road, San Diego

Get all disco at the roller rink

Adults’ skate night falls on every Tuesday at SkateWorld Roller Rink (6907 Linda Vista Avenue). Bump, shuffle, and roll to the DJ’s favorite skate jams from 7:30-10:30 p.m.; $12 gets you in the door and strapped into a pair of rented skates; it’s $8 if you have your own wheels. Tuesdays are reserved for the 16-plus crowd. That’s when the more skilled skaters come out to demonstrate acrobatic techniques. Everyone’s style has a place, from armored derby girls, to the sharply dressed old-schoolers laying down their moves, to vintage Michael Jackson wannabes.

Hash Harriers: join an international organization

The San Diego Hash House Harriers have staged thousands of runs since the group was founded in the 1980s. Hashing is a mix of medium-distance running, scavenger hunting, social gathering, and invariably a little drinking. Part of a (very) loosely structured international organization, the Hashers welcome anyone to come along at any time. All they ask is a small fee, usually a token $3–$5, to cover supplies for the event. Check the group’s website for where and when the next run starts, and show up with enough time to ask an experienced Hasher for a little guidance.

Place

Keys Creek Lavender Farm

12460 Keys Creek Road, Valley Center

Keys Creek Lavender Farm

While everyone else in San Diego is at the Carlsbad Flower Fields this spring, why not head out to the Keys Creek Lavender Farm in Valley Center? San Diego County’s only certified organic lavender farm has more than two dozen varieties of lavender spread out over eight acres of land. During the bloom season, in May and June, they offer free walking tours on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. They also have distillation demonstrations, speakers, vendors, and workshops. Visit their website for a list of upcoming events.

Place

Urban Solace

3823 30th Street, San Diego

Bluegrass Brunch at Urban Solace

Urban Solace’s weekly Bluegrass Brunch transforms their North Park restaurant’s patio into a Southern backyard. Occurring every Sunday from 10:00 a.m.–2:30 p.m., the menu (items run from $3.75–$11.75) features Kitchen Sink Biscuits N’ Gravy, Buttermilk Griddle Cakes, and a Bluegrass Banjo cocktail made with mango purée, sweet-tea vodka, fresh lime juice, and Sparkling Brut. Four different bands rotate on Sundays. Performers include Chris Clarke, Prairie Sky, Virtual Strangers, Gone Tomorrow, and the Shirthouse Band. Call ahead to make reservations. The patio fills up quickly.

La Mesa secret stairs

Three staircases, dating from 1913, climb the side of La Mesa’s Mount Nebo. There are three different starting locations: Windsor Drive, Canterbury Drive, and Fairview Avenue. Of the three, Canterbury is the most challenging course, with 245 steps to reach the top of Summit Drive. Once there, the elevation is 830 feet. Downtown San Diego and the Pacific Ocean are visible to the west, Mount Helix to the east. Windsor Drive is similar to Canterbury, but shorter and shadier. Fairview Avenue offers the easiest workout at around 60 steps. The inclines are steep, so prepare to sweat. cityoflamesa.com.

Pigment

Nestled between Urban Solace and Bar Pink in North Park, Pigment is a gift shop that hosts its own plant lab. The setup makes it easy for customers to create their own one-of-a-kind terrariums. Pick out a glass orb, large or small, and fill it with colorful sand or rocks. Next choose from a variety of air or earth plants to finish off your terrarium. Prices range from $22 to over $100. A knowledgeable sales staff is on hand to help you with the process. They also offer preassembled kits and host occasional terrarium workshops for $70.

Place

Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum

2040 N. Santa Fe Avenue, Vista

Antique Gas & Steam Engine

The Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum in Vista is dusty, and on most days, quiet enough to resemble a ghost town. The property houses buildings filled with antique tractors, plows, and steam engines. There is a weaving room and a blacksmith workshop where visitors can view artisans at work. The museum hosts a spring and fall Tractor Show, a Summergrass festival that features live music and onsite camping, and an annual Civil War reenactment. The museum is open seven days a week for self-guided tours from 10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults; seniors 65 and over are $4, children 6–12 are $3, and kids under 6 get in free.

Spanish for güeros, bicycle tours, and art/dance classes in Tijuana

Anyone who has studied a foreign language knows there’s a vernacular gap between speaking in the classroom and speaking on the street. Brush up on your Tijuana “lingo for gringos” with lessons from a local. Gilberto Gonzáles offers private and group street-Spanish lessons, in addition to custom bicycle tours to local bars, entertainment venues, and other sites of interest. You may even end up at Gonzáles’s oceanfront studio in Playas de Tijuana (Avenida del Pacifico no. 801), where he teaches African dance and percussion, capoeira, yoga, meditation, painting, and sculpture throughout the week. 044-664-165-5118.

Mud caves

Arroyo Tapiado, Anza-Borrego State Park

More than just sand and wildflowers, the desert speaks to something primitive in the human soul. A couple of hours from San Diego’s beach playgrounds lie the mud caves of Anza-Borrego, a geological wonder formed about five million years ago. Longtime mud-caver (“spelunker” is out of fashion) Michael observes that the caves offer a relatively safe adventure even for novices: “You can’t fall off a cave.” Walk and sometimes crawl along dark, twisting passages, and emerge into chambers with 50-foot ceilings, chimneys, and skylights — an experience to stir naturalist and metaphysical impulses alike: total darkness and silence are rarities in Southern California. Bring a flashlight; four-wheel drive is helpful. From San Diego, take Interstate 8 to S2 north and exit Palm Springs or Vallecito Wash; head east about 4.5 miles to Arroyo Tapiado Wash Road and turn left.

Explore more elements of America’s Finest:

Explore a Water Wonderland

Seek Adventures in the Air

Stoke Your Creative Fire

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Drive a dune buggy through the desert from Dezert Adventures in Ocotillo. - Image by Daniel Wedeking
Drive a dune buggy through the desert from Dezert Adventures in Ocotillo.

Reader writers explore the elements of America’s Finest — water, air, fire, land.

Urban Irving

If it’s true that San Diego is America’s Biggest Small Town, then it is certainly fitting that our most famous architect worked mostly in houses and churches. No monuments, no governmental edifices; rather, daily life punctuated by weekly worship. Start online by searching for “irving gill san diego google map.” (Thanks, Paul Jamason!) Then head out to survey the man’s work; it’s like the city is an open-air museum, and Gill is part of the permanent collection. Except for the Marston House. That’s more of a museum-museum. Don’t miss the First Church of Christ, Scientist, on Second Avenue, or the string of houses along Seventh, or the La Jolla Women’s Club.

A windy, winey drive

Pick a designated driver and head toward Julian by way of Highway 67, and this time, instead of merely slowing for Ramona, make a few full stops at the various tasting rooms along the way. Some are old (Schwaesdall), some are new (Milagro Farm), and some are better than others (do try Milagro). But all partake of the fantastic pioneering spirit that has built, sustained, and grown a local wine region in relatively short order. (Ramona was granted American Viticultural Area status in 2006). Many of the rooms are listed on the brochure available at ramonavalleyvineyards.org.

Place

Dezert Adventures

1198 North Imperial Highway, Ocotillo, CA

Desert dune buggy

Thrill your inner badass with a dune-buggy ride through the desert. Helmets are optional when you rent one at Dezert Adventures in Ocotillo, but the wheels will kick up a ton of sand, so you’ll want to wear the provided goggles. For $275, you can have your buggy for any four hours of daylight; $450 gets you eight hours. Adam, the outfit’s owner, will negotiate a per-person price to provide lunch, if you like. Otherwise, coolers are available for stashing whatever you bring yourself. Adam has handmade, color-copied maps of landmarks to keep you oriented. If your inner badass gets you into trouble, good cell-phone service means he can come and rescue you, so be sure to bring his number with you.

Place

Wynola Pizza Express

4355 Highway 78, Julian, CA

Place

Mom’s Pies

2119 Main Street, Julian, CA

Two pies and a great drive

Drive to Ramona, winding out Highway 78 to Santa Ysabel, then up the grade toward Julian. When you reach the tiny town of Wynola, stop at Wynola Pizza and Bistro for some thin-crusted, wood-fired perfection. Try the pesto with zucchini. The patio is a great place to meet fellow daytrippers. Then continue on to Julian (three miles), pick up a boysenberry apple crumb at Mom’s Pies in Julian; in late summer and fall, the apples in the pie are locally grown. Drive south down Highway 79 through Lake Cuyamaca and Descanso. If it’s late afternoon, you’re likely to see deer or turkeys hiding in the shadows near the road. Head back to San Diego on Interstate 8. In less than three hours, you’ll have sampled the remarkable biodiversity of San Diego County — coastal sage, inland chaparral, grasslands, oak and pine woodlands — and sampled a couple of really great pies.

Place

Mt. Woodson Golf Course

16422 North Woodson Drive, Ramona

Golf in the chaparral: Mount Woodson Golf Club

One must admire the vision of golf-course architects Brian Curley and Lee Schmidt, who looked at the steep northeast side of Ramona’s Mount Woodson and thought: “golf course.” The result is a layout that’s equally a nature preserve. Holes wind in and out of canyons and around ancient live oaks and sycamores. Wild lilac, lemonade berry, and manzanita shrubs of native chaparral line the holes. The trestled cart path that crosses a deep canyon between holes two and three is worth the price of admission alone, as are the views of the Ramona grasslands. And the price of admission is reasonable: $55 weekdays, $65 weekends. The post-1:00 p.m. twilight rate is $27, a steal for a course this beautiful.

Picnic above your pay grade

It’s almost hard to believe there’s a city park tucked into La Jolla Heights, let alone one that offers a commanding view of the village and coast below. But a steel bench and a chained-up trash can confirm it: La Jolla Heights Open Space is public land. The hard way to get there is by hiking the narrow path up from Crespo Street — and we do mean up. The easy way is to take Country Club Drive past the golf course, turn left on Romero, left again on Brodiaea. Park and walk down Encelia Drive until you get to the gate. The path is off to the left and leads to that hilariously downmarket bench. Bring a cushion, maybe some lunch, and take in a view that people pay millions to enjoy.

Tackle a “problem”

Bouldering is a form of rock climbing that’s performed without the aid of ropes on shorter (usually less than 15 feet) climbs. Because of smaller equipment requirements, bouldering can be a cool way to get into the local climbing scene. The Santee Boulders on Mast Boulevard just off the 52, and Mt. Woodson in Poway off the 167, are both popular spots. Still, there’re plenty of technique and safety precautions to be learned, and it’s a good idea for newbies to hook up with experienced climbers first. Visiting a gym like Vertical Hold in Miramar (a day pass is $16, equipment extra; punchcards and monthly memberships are available) on a weeknight between 5:00–8:00 p.m. is a good way to meet serious climbers, learn about bouldering, and perhaps find someone to try bouldering out of doors with on a weekend.

Give something back

San Diego County is rife with opportunities for volunteers to get out and do a little good in the world. The Surfrider Foundation (sandiego.surfrider.org) has beach cleanups three times a month — how hard can it be to pick up a little trash from our city’s beaches? Volunteering is also a great way to meet the nicest of the nice among your fellow citizens. If beach cleanup dates prove inconvenient, volunteermatch.org has a search function that provides information on dozens of ways to give back to the community. 858-792-9940.

Run with the SEALs

Who doesn’t dream of joining the French Foreign Legion, or, closer to home, the Navy SEALs? Nearest thing, and probably the most fun for most of us, has got to be running with the SEAL trainees. During training, their run usually takes place near the crack of dawn (though times vary). If you’re on the beach below the Hotel Del, you can catch platoons noisily busting out from the Amphib base and heading along the two miles of Coronado’s Central Beach to the gates of North Island Naval Air Station. And back. You can’t join them, of course, or get anywhere close, but you can trail at a respectful distance and see how long you keep up. Good luck with that. 619-435-6611.

Herbology classes

Popular knowledge would have you believe that medicine comes only from a pharmacy, but in reality, the earth offers many natural remedies. Grow your knowledge of beneficial plants at the Self-Heal School in Ocean Beach (619-224-1268), with six-week courses ($180) in subjects that include Herbal Fundamentals, Practical Application of Herbs, and Medicine Making. The school also offers herb walks around the county and perks such as the Psychedelic Shamanism mini-series. If you like what you find, you can become licensed with Self-Heal’s 231-hour certificate program ($2560, or $2300 when paid in advance).

Place

Lions Tigers & Bears Big Cat Rescue

24402 Martin Way, Alpine

Lions, Tigers, Bears

Lions, Tigers, and Bears sanctuary in Alpine

Lions, Tigers, and Bears is a big-cat sanctuary and rescue facility located in Alpine. At 94 acres, it’s just six acres shy of the San Diego Zoo’s size. The facility boasts 52 animals and is open to the public. A yearly membership is $50. Daily memberships can be purchased for $25 for children, $35 for adults. Visitors must call ahead to make an appointment before showing up. Lions, Tigers, and Bears can be rented out for bachelor/bachelorette parties, weddings, and birthdays. The zoo also hosts two family-friendly campouts a year, as well as an annual Easter egg hunt. Behind-the-scenes tours of the facility are offered for a $500 donation. Across from the tiger pen is a two-bedroom cabin that can be rented for $550 a night. They even offer a private chef. Make sure to wear tennis shoes — the zoo was built for the animals, not visitors, and there are no paved sidewalks.

Place

City Farmers Nursery

3110 Euclid Avenue, San Diego

City Farmers Nursery

City Farmers Nursery is an excellent adventure. Tour the grounds, checking out the goats and chickens, and view unique plants and gardens. Several times a month they host classes; most are free. Workshops include everything from the obscure (Raising Chickens from the Farm to the Table, for instance; or Raising Goats in the City) to the kid-friendly (Pumpkin Growing).

Trolley

You can see a lot of San Diego by jumping on a trolley with a $5 day pass and a camera. From Old Town, take the Green Line out to SDSU: you’ll be taking pictures out the window while the trolley hugs Interstate 8 — you won’t be able to help it. After touring SDSU’s beautiful campus, head up to Gillespie Field and catch the Orange Line. Ride it back to downtown and Seaport Village, then Petco Park. Jump to the Blue Line and take in the shipyards. Continue all the way to the border. sdmts.com/trolley/trolley.asp

Urban bridges walk, uptown

Hikers seeking a change of scene from ocean/mountain/desert trails can head uptown for an urban trek to explore San Diego’s hidden and not-so-hidden pedestrian bridges. Depending on your speed and route, in about 90 minutes, you can cross half a dozen or more historic spans, including San Diego’s only suspension bridge, at Spruce and Front, which sways thrillingly beneath your feet. Take in the impressive mountain vista from the Georgia Street Bridge. Hike your way to Bankers Hill to cross the more covert Upas and Spruce Street spans. The variety of views — snow-capped mountains, the rush of traffic through the 163 canyon — is worthy of a camera-phone slideshow. Suggested tour: start at University Avenue and Georgia Street, head northwest to the Vermont Street footbridge into Hillcrest, then continue west on University to Sixth; then make your way south with detours to the Upas, Spruce, Quince, and First Avenue crossings; conclude with a triumphant crossing of the Cabrillo Bridge into Balboa Park.

hillquest.com/history/timeline_bridges.html

Turista Libre Rad Tijuana Tours

Turista Libre takes people to places in Tijuana that aren’t typical tourist destinations: large swap meets, lucha libre matches, roller-skating rinks, bars not on Revolución, remote beaches, and piñata factories. The idea is to experience native life in a city built for tourism. You meet on the U.S. side of the border, cross into Mexico, and hop on the “fun bus.” Each voyage always includes a food destination and a drink destination. These monthly events have a limited capacity and do sell out, so plan ahead. Payment ($40 for an upcoming Tijuana museum hop) is required in advance.

Frisbee golf

Disc golf — well, it’s exactly what it sounds like. The challenge is to get your frisbee into each hole in as few throws as possible, though the holes are actually metal pole-and-chain contraptions that are moved around periodically throughout the year. Morley Field, San Diego’s Disc Golf Course, is located where Redwood and Pershing Drive meet in South Park. The 19-hole course takes 1–3 hours to play, depending on how crowded it is. The price is $3 on weekdays, $4 on weekends. Frisbee rentals are available for $1.50 each — including putters, drivers, or an all-purpose frisbee.

DrinkAbout

On the third Wednesday of every month, you don’t have to make an either/or decision: jump on the DrinkAbout bus and wind your way through Normal Heights, University Heights, North Park, and South Park. You can hit as many or as few of the ten bars on the route as you like, places like Blind Lady Ale House, Live Wire, Sea Rocket, and the Station. The bus leaves every half hour. Download a schedule from the DrinkAbout website or just jump on the bus and see where it takes you.

Drink beer on 30th Street

If you haven’t wet your whistle on 30th Street, you can’t yet call yourself a hophead. In October 2009, Men’s Health Journal referred to 30th as “easily the nation’s best beer boulevard.” In January 2012, the New York Times dubbed San Diego #12 on its list of “The 45 Places to Go in 2012” for its collection of brewpubs, including Hamilton’s Tavern (1521 30th Street). From Hamilton’s to the Linkery, to Toronado, to the Ritual Tavern, this two-mile stretch of road running from South Park to North Park is a beer-lover’s dream.

Best thing about hunting statues? They don’t move.

Alonzo Horton and Roscoe Hazard were not legendary personal-shopping assistants, they were businessmen. But two malls were named in honor of their contributions to San Diego’s history. They even got statues for their trouble, just like Native “Mr. Indigenous” American, Juan “Mr. Explorer” Cabrillo, Junípero “Mr. Mission” Serra, Kate “Mrs. Balboa Park” Sessions, George “Mr. First Citizen” Marston, Tony “Mr. Padre” Gwynn, Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, Pete “Mr. Politics” Wilson, Don Diego “Señor Del Mar” Alvarado, Lawrence “Mr. Music” Welk, and a bunch of Tuna Fishermen. Hunting for them all makes for an interesting day trip. Bonus points for locating non-locals Bob Hope, Benito Juárez, and a Prisoner of War.

Over, under, through San Diego’s urban canyons

From Switzer Canyon to Tecolote Natural Park to Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, San Diego is cracked with canyons. You may not get the views of Mount Laguna or Palomar Mountain, but you can still find great natural scenery — and have a terrific workout — while saving yourself the 45-minute drive to the edges of the county. Notable adventures: hike over the bridges of Rose Canyon in University City, under the bridges of Bankers Hill, and through the Torrey pines in Del Mar’s Crest Canyon.

Place

San Diego Velodrome

2221 Morley Field Drive, San Diego

Ride the Velodrome

Adult classes at the San Diego Velodrome run all summer long. You’ll probably never go pro, but you can get a taste of what it’s like to race a track bicycle during a six-week class that introduces the ins and outs of fixed-gear bike racing. All you need is a helmet and a willing set of legs. Plus, it’s way cooler than spin class. The $120 cost includes a loaner bike and all the expertise the coaches have to share.

Tuesday night racing!

Speaking of the velodrome, every Tuesday night from April through September, the best free show in town is at the San Diego Velodrome. Racing starts around 6:30 p.m. and usually runs until about 9:00. Track riders compete in lightning-fast, high-intensity racing for nothing more than the love of the sport (and the occasional beer). World-class riders go head to head with local heroes and mustache-wearing hipsters. It’s fixed-gear bicycle racing at its finest, and it’s free to watch. Bring food and drinks, family and friends, or all of the above.

Place

Skateworld

6907 Linda Vista Road, San Diego

Get all disco at the roller rink

Adults’ skate night falls on every Tuesday at SkateWorld Roller Rink (6907 Linda Vista Avenue). Bump, shuffle, and roll to the DJ’s favorite skate jams from 7:30-10:30 p.m.; $12 gets you in the door and strapped into a pair of rented skates; it’s $8 if you have your own wheels. Tuesdays are reserved for the 16-plus crowd. That’s when the more skilled skaters come out to demonstrate acrobatic techniques. Everyone’s style has a place, from armored derby girls, to the sharply dressed old-schoolers laying down their moves, to vintage Michael Jackson wannabes.

Hash Harriers: join an international organization

The San Diego Hash House Harriers have staged thousands of runs since the group was founded in the 1980s. Hashing is a mix of medium-distance running, scavenger hunting, social gathering, and invariably a little drinking. Part of a (very) loosely structured international organization, the Hashers welcome anyone to come along at any time. All they ask is a small fee, usually a token $3–$5, to cover supplies for the event. Check the group’s website for where and when the next run starts, and show up with enough time to ask an experienced Hasher for a little guidance.

Place

Keys Creek Lavender Farm

12460 Keys Creek Road, Valley Center

Keys Creek Lavender Farm

While everyone else in San Diego is at the Carlsbad Flower Fields this spring, why not head out to the Keys Creek Lavender Farm in Valley Center? San Diego County’s only certified organic lavender farm has more than two dozen varieties of lavender spread out over eight acres of land. During the bloom season, in May and June, they offer free walking tours on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. They also have distillation demonstrations, speakers, vendors, and workshops. Visit their website for a list of upcoming events.

Place

Urban Solace

3823 30th Street, San Diego

Bluegrass Brunch at Urban Solace

Urban Solace’s weekly Bluegrass Brunch transforms their North Park restaurant’s patio into a Southern backyard. Occurring every Sunday from 10:00 a.m.–2:30 p.m., the menu (items run from $3.75–$11.75) features Kitchen Sink Biscuits N’ Gravy, Buttermilk Griddle Cakes, and a Bluegrass Banjo cocktail made with mango purée, sweet-tea vodka, fresh lime juice, and Sparkling Brut. Four different bands rotate on Sundays. Performers include Chris Clarke, Prairie Sky, Virtual Strangers, Gone Tomorrow, and the Shirthouse Band. Call ahead to make reservations. The patio fills up quickly.

La Mesa secret stairs

Three staircases, dating from 1913, climb the side of La Mesa’s Mount Nebo. There are three different starting locations: Windsor Drive, Canterbury Drive, and Fairview Avenue. Of the three, Canterbury is the most challenging course, with 245 steps to reach the top of Summit Drive. Once there, the elevation is 830 feet. Downtown San Diego and the Pacific Ocean are visible to the west, Mount Helix to the east. Windsor Drive is similar to Canterbury, but shorter and shadier. Fairview Avenue offers the easiest workout at around 60 steps. The inclines are steep, so prepare to sweat. cityoflamesa.com.

Pigment

Nestled between Urban Solace and Bar Pink in North Park, Pigment is a gift shop that hosts its own plant lab. The setup makes it easy for customers to create their own one-of-a-kind terrariums. Pick out a glass orb, large or small, and fill it with colorful sand or rocks. Next choose from a variety of air or earth plants to finish off your terrarium. Prices range from $22 to over $100. A knowledgeable sales staff is on hand to help you with the process. They also offer preassembled kits and host occasional terrarium workshops for $70.

Place

Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum

2040 N. Santa Fe Avenue, Vista

Antique Gas & Steam Engine

The Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum in Vista is dusty, and on most days, quiet enough to resemble a ghost town. The property houses buildings filled with antique tractors, plows, and steam engines. There is a weaving room and a blacksmith workshop where visitors can view artisans at work. The museum hosts a spring and fall Tractor Show, a Summergrass festival that features live music and onsite camping, and an annual Civil War reenactment. The museum is open seven days a week for self-guided tours from 10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults; seniors 65 and over are $4, children 6–12 are $3, and kids under 6 get in free.

Spanish for güeros, bicycle tours, and art/dance classes in Tijuana

Anyone who has studied a foreign language knows there’s a vernacular gap between speaking in the classroom and speaking on the street. Brush up on your Tijuana “lingo for gringos” with lessons from a local. Gilberto Gonzáles offers private and group street-Spanish lessons, in addition to custom bicycle tours to local bars, entertainment venues, and other sites of interest. You may even end up at Gonzáles’s oceanfront studio in Playas de Tijuana (Avenida del Pacifico no. 801), where he teaches African dance and percussion, capoeira, yoga, meditation, painting, and sculpture throughout the week. 044-664-165-5118.

Mud caves

Arroyo Tapiado, Anza-Borrego State Park

More than just sand and wildflowers, the desert speaks to something primitive in the human soul. A couple of hours from San Diego’s beach playgrounds lie the mud caves of Anza-Borrego, a geological wonder formed about five million years ago. Longtime mud-caver (“spelunker” is out of fashion) Michael observes that the caves offer a relatively safe adventure even for novices: “You can’t fall off a cave.” Walk and sometimes crawl along dark, twisting passages, and emerge into chambers with 50-foot ceilings, chimneys, and skylights — an experience to stir naturalist and metaphysical impulses alike: total darkness and silence are rarities in Southern California. Bring a flashlight; four-wheel drive is helpful. From San Diego, take Interstate 8 to S2 north and exit Palm Springs or Vallecito Wash; head east about 4.5 miles to Arroyo Tapiado Wash Road and turn left.

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Comments
1

Yes, PLEASE catch the Drinkabout bus and come drink beer on 30th in North Park!!! We just can't get enough people here drinking ! You neglected, however, to to let people in on the fun activities that take place after 2:00 am when the bars close: 'Drunks Returning to Their Cars in Residential Neighborhoods" !!
It's a hoot! Yell, urinate, vomit, ---hell, even have sex in somebody's yard ! Great fun for drunks and residents alike!

Bus them in! Bring them in from all over the country, please! It's what North Park is all about!

May 9, 2012

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