America's finest city? Maybe. America's funnest city? Without a doubt.
Nobody can touch us. New York? A concrete jungle full of angst-ridden people. Miami? Yuck. Austin? So self-reverential. Portland? See Austin, add rain. San Francisco? See Portland, add fog. Los Angeles? Traffic, smog, sprawl, and the overarching phoniness of the entertainment industry.
San Diego stands as a counterpoint to all of those places. It starts with the perfect weather, because it's hard to be full of angst when it's 72 and sunny. It continues with the diversity of our populace; we're from every corner of this country and this planet, and we're here to live and let live. Throw in the diversity of our environment, our neighborhoods, and our lifestyles, and have we got? Ideal conditions for fun. And, boy, are we having it.
Dr. Arturo Guerra #70, Tecate, B.C., Mexico, MX: 665-654-9490, 656-654-9478
The canned Tecate brew imported into the states is made in Monterrey— with different water and less alcohol than its Tecate-bottled, spring-water counterpart — so going to the source for a tasting is a must. The behemoth Tecate Brewery lies 40 miles southeast of downtown San Diego and ¾ of a mile southwest of Mexico’s Tecate border. Reserve the free hourlong tour in advance by phone and specify language preference. The tour gets you a free beer from the adjacent beer garden, which is open Monday–Friday, 10am–5pm, and Saturday from 10am–2pm while tour hours are further limited.
Otay Sweetwater Refuge
Off SR-94 by the Old Steel Bridge, Rancho San Diego, 619-468-9245
You know the only thing harder to spot than a California gnat? A California gnatcatcher. Or maybe a least Bell’s vireo. No, no — a Quino checkerspot butterfly. But your best bet for spotting any or all of these is to take a stroll through the grasslands, chaparral-covered hills, and stream banks of the Refuge. The 3.5-mile trail loop is easy on the feet and should take you only about 90 minutes. And if you look down to watch your step, you may catch a glimpse of the San Diego horned lizard. (Now there’s a name for local sports team.) Just keep an eye out for the rattlesnakes, too. The Refuge has two access points; call for directions.
Become a ukulelist at Rebecca’s Coffee House
3015 Juniper Street, South Park
There’s something about the uke. The Portuguese really invented it, but when the instrument turned up in the Sandwich Islands (as Cap’n Cook called them), the Hawaiians took it, adapted it, and in the end owned it. Maybe it’s not so challenging, not so romantic as a guitar. But it’s lighter of spirit, easier to carry around, and with four strings, way easier to play. And it’s back in vogue. Ronnie Seno’s teaching it at Rebecca’s Coffee House on the first Wednesday evening of every month. Bonus: Rebecca’s bakes what could be the best scones in the universe.
Play Bike Polo
The horse version is the oldest team game in the world, they say, but even bike polo goes back to 19th Century British Raj days in India. Soldiers would use the new-fangled bikes to practice for the real thing. Today’s hardcore players seem to be mostly bike messengers, but anybody can play. Two ever-changing teams of three try to get the ball into the opposition’s net without falling off their bikes. Just turn up Wednesday nights at 7:00 p.m. on the tennis courts at the Linda Vista Recreation Center. But other locations, too. Check San Diego Bike Polo’s Facebook page for locations and times.
UCSD’s Stuart Collection
9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, 858-534-2117
A 12-foot-high red shoe among trees; a house perched on the edge of a seven-story building; a 370,000-pound, 23-foot-tall stone bear sitting in a grass courtyard. Eighteen site-specific works by 18 artists dot La Jolla’s 1200-acre UCSD campus. Known as the Stuart Collection and under agreement with UCSD to consider any spot on campus for installations, it has been growing since its inaugural work — now a campus icon — was erected in 1983. Called Sun God — it’s a 14-foot multi-colored, golden-crowned bird perched on a 15-foot concrete arch. While walking the 3.4-mile sculpture “loop,” don’t forget to carve your name into the lead-encased eucalyptus trees.
Rube Powell Archery Range in Balboa Park
Not much compares to holding a bow steady with your entire body, letting the arrow go with a swoosh, and hearing it fwoomp into the target a moment later. Beneath the east end of the Cabrillo Bridge in Balboa Park lies the Rube Powell Archery Range — one of the two remaining public field archery ranges in Southern California. Put $2 in the drop box at the southwest corner of the Alcazar Garden parking lot in Balboa Park for access to this 40-target, 28-acre walking course. Nestled among the palms and eucalyptus, you’ll feel like an elf in no time.
Disc golf at Morley Field
3090 Pershing Drive, Balboa Park
Disc golf. Frisbee golf. Frolf. Its golf’s stoner kid brother who dropped out of Humboldt instead of graduating with honors at Yale. In fact, Morley Field’s 11th hole was once reputedly name-checked by High Times magazine as a standout place to smoke Jah herb, and — despite the course’s no drug/alcohol policy — both beers and buds seem to be endemic in the sport. Built in the late ’70s, Morley’s crowded course features short (most under 300´), technical shots over shrubs and around eucalyptus trees. Open 365 days a year from sunrise to sunset — $3 weekdays, $4 weekends, $1.50 disc rentals.
Limos are so 2009. Instead of touring San Diego neighborhoods in a traditional gas-guzzler way, why not opt for something eco-friendly? Social Cycle is a 16-person Dutch bicycle bus that can be rented for private parties for city tours and pub crawls. Six passengers are required to pedal the bike, but each bike bus can carry up to 16 people per tour. Weekend rental goes for $200 per hour, while weekdays will set you back $185 per hour. The company offers four different guided city tours. Pick from the Gaslamp; North/South Park; Bankers Hill/Hillcrest and Hillcrest/University Heights. They are also open to custom tours. 619-846-9436.
San Antonio Necua Campground
Off Ensenada-Tecate Hwy 3 (at Km. 73.5 take dirt road; continue approximately 5 miles; pass L.A. Cetto Winery; follow signs to Necua), Valle de Guadalupe, B.C., Mexico. Reservations: Horacio Moncada: 646-108-9278, 646-178-8093, [email protected]
Take a multi-day trip of the dozens of wineries in Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe on the cheap by camping in between. Bibayoff Winery sometimes offers camping, which has included a wine & lamb dinner for $40 in the past, but call ahead to check (646-176-1008.) Your best bet is the 14-site tent campground located just north of L.A. Cetto Winery in the Kumeyaay village of San Antonio Necua. Shaded by ancient oak trees, the grounds have modern amenities such as grills, restrooms and showers, and a general store. Explore the sacred land by hiring a guide for $3 per day. Reservations required; $6 per night; no motorcycles.
Not many bicycle rides start with taking a ferry, but the 24-mile Bayshore Bikeway ride can. Although the loop is designed to end with the 15-minute ferry ride back to its Broadway Pier starting point, opting to reverse the ride — biking from Coronado to downtown San Diego — will generally save you from a gnarly headwind on a seven-mile stretch of the Silver Strand. With a nature center, wildlife refuge, salt flat, railroad spurs, bay and skyline views, and palm trees lining the way, no wonder it’s named one of Sunset magazine’s “Top 20 best bike paths in the West.”
LARPing at Morley Field
3350 Jacaranda Drive, North Park
Ever had one o’ them days when, in a moment of clarity, you realized, Hey, at least it ain’t medieval warfare? Well, it’s time to own up to those negative attitudes towards brutish battle arrangements and reclaim your Worst Case Scenario with the Andor fighters of Belegarth. San Diego’s premier clan of Live Action Role-Playing warriors (not as steamy as it sounds) meets every Sunday afternoon at Morley Field, just southeast of the swimming pool, to duke it out in an anachronistic clusterfunk of old-school combat with weaponry fashioned out of pool noodles. Armaments and training provided for newcomers.
Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve
Farmers Road and Julian Orchards Road
Split into separate west and east sections with three trailheads between the two, Santa Ysabel preserve’s 3800 acres have 18.5 miles of trail options from easy to moderate. The trails are dotted with picnic areas, boasting beautiful views of pristine chaparral, woodlands, riparian habitat and grasslands, a creek, and even cattle grazing in the meadows.
The west trailhead, which opened in 2010 (the east in 2006) is only two miles from Dudley’s Bakery and Julian Pie Co. It’s also hilly, therefore more difficult than the east, but worth it.
Bring your own water. Closed after inclement weather. 760-765-4098.
Skydive San Diego
13531 Otay Lakes Road, Jamul
From 13,000 feet, you see Tijuana, the ocean, the Laguna Mountains, and Otay Lakes directly below. Just seconds into your minute-long free fall, you are careening toward the ground at a deafening 120 miles per hour. The chute pops at 5000 feet, and you lilt back to earth for about five minutes before touching down on a grass field in the hills of Jamul. After your tandem jump ($189 online, $209 day of) you quit your day job and go for a solo certification and then an A-license to start your new life as a jump instructor.
Spotting Saint Elmo’s fire in Shelter Valley
County Road S2 and State Route 78
Ball lightning, also known as Saint Elmo’s fire, is a mysterious phenomenon witnessed as a sphere of light ranging in size from under an inch to several meters in diameter. Though 10,000+ cases have been reported, the spectacle is still not well-understood. Theories cover everything from microwave radiation to vaporized silicon to microscopic black holes to electricity-induced hallucinations. Whatever the case, ball lightning has been observed in Shelter Valley (12 miles east of Julian on SR 78), especially in dry, windy conditions. Tent camping is available at Stagecoach Trails ($27/day) and Blair Valley Campground (free) 5.6 miles to the southeast.
Campo Depot and Railroad Museum
State Highway 94 and Forrest Gate Road, Campo
In 1919, entrepreneur John D. Spreckels completed the “Impossible Railroad,” linking San Diego to the East Coast via the Southern Pacific Railroad terminal in El Centro. The 148-mile stretch of track crossed into Mexico at San Ysidro, returning stateside east of Tecate. Since 1986, the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum has offered 12-mile round-trip rides on the Golden State Limited from Campo and westbound to the border tunnel at Division. The ride ($15 for adults, $5 for kids) lasts about 90 minutes and departs at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on select weekends. Check the website to reserve a spot on the diesel-electric locomotive.
Of over 40 species of spiny lobster worldwide, California has one of the largest, with males reaching up to three feet long and weighing as much as 26 pounds. Spiny lobster season runs from September 28 to March 19, during which time you can join La Jolla Water Sports (call for rates: 619-788-6416) on a nighttime free-dive in La Jolla or Mission Bay. The package includes a 7mm wetsuit, hood, fins, gloves, goggles, snorkel, gauge, and dive light. Anyone over 16 years old must have a valid fishing license ($20) and the elusive crustaceans must be caught by hand (no snares or spears).
San Diego Velodrome
2221 Morley Field Drive, Balboa Park
One of just 20 or so outdoor velodrome tracks in the United States, San Diego Velodrome’s 333-meter concrete, oval track sits at the edge of a canyon beyond the baseball diamond in Balboa Park's Morley Field. It hosts Tuesday-night bicycle races from April through September. Admission is free for spectators, who sit on the bleachers and are treated to racing events. Many former and current world champions are among those competing for bragging rights and free beer.
Look forward to bringing your own grub, your own adult refreshments, and leashed dogs; the track will provide the downtown views and the excitement.
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.
Mine games on Mount McGinty Preserve
A refreshing alternative to the well-traveled trails of Cowles, Mt. McGinty offers a 4.8-mile round-trip hike about 25 minutes east of downtown. An ascent of about 1300 feet means views across Proctor Valley to the south and, on a clear day, the harbor and ocean shimmering to the west. The trail can easily take over three hours if you stop to take in McGinty’s aromatic collection of native flora and numerous mines along the way. A dirt lot and trailhead are located a quarter-mile west of Jamul Community Church. Turn right at the gate where the hill crests.
El Cajon Boulevard near 49th Street
Little Saigon Association, 4654 El Cajon Boulevard, suite C, City Heights, [email protected]
Park along El Cajon Boulevard in East San Diego between Chamoune Avenue and 49th Street: you are now surrounded by testament to the Vietnamese who came to America during the 1970s. Between the used-car lots and the muffler shops are dozens of merchants who serve the mixed Asian neighborhood with everything from powdered aphrodisiacs and dentistry to clothing and tax preparation. Food is another thing entirely. It swims in grocer’s fish tanks, it crabs about in paper cartons, or it waddles in back-room pens. Here is where you go to choose a duck and have it slaughtered and dressed for family dinner.
7575 University Avenue, La Mesa
“That’s the first time it’s eaten,” says a man, an aquarist, who has just eye-droppered some tiny undulating brine shrimp in front of the snout of a six-inch-long brown-banded bamboo shark. “It hatched three days ago.” He taps the egg case whence the nascent fish emerged with the tip of his long eye-dropper. “They have these at Birch Aquarium,” he says. “They get about two, maybe three feet long.” Just another day at Fountain’s, a tropical-fish store that first opened for business 60 years ago. We stand in the purplish dark, surrounded by dozens of gurgling aquariums, and we watch the shark nibble.
James & Joseph Spearfishing Supplies, 2040 Harbor Island Drive #100, 619-295-3705
Explore San Diego’s underwater kelp cities while hunting sea bass on a chartered spearfishing adventure out of Point Loma. The experience, for beginners to pros, is led by expert divers and spearfishermen. A 27-foot fishing boat accommodates groups up to four people. Enjoy a day of offshore paddy-hopping for pelagic or diving the Pacific for white sea bass. A half day (around five hours) charter costs $675, a three-quarter day charter (about seven hours) is $875, and a full day adventure (about 11 hours) goes for $1100. Included are food, drinks, and fish cleaning and icing.
Sophia Isadora’s School of Circus Arts
Sophia Isadora’s School of Circus Arts offers weekly classes in the circus arts, ranging from aerial arts, tight wire, stilts, ball-walking, and juggling. Sophia Isadora’s boasts two locations — one in North Park at 4241 Park Boulevard and another in La Mesa at 5288 Baltimore Avenue (619-301-1207). The school hosts spring and summer camps for children. They also book shows and individual entertainers for private events using circus artists that have worked with the Moscow Circus, Cirque du Soleil and the Ringling Bros.
Go-kart racing at Miramar Speed Circuit
8123 Miralani Drive, Miramar
Not sure what to do during your lunch break? Head over to Miramar Speed Circuit, where, Monday through Friday, $23 will get you a sandwich, a soda, and ten minutes of adrenaline-rushing go-kart racing. Professional racers designed the track to include four hairpin turns and two straightaways. The karts travel up to 40 miles per hour and are equipped with Honda 6.5HP engines. Lap times are electronically recorded in each kart, giving drivers the ability to see how they stack up against other racers. In July, Miramar Speed Circuit will open a two-story laser-tag facility to up the fun ante.
3138 Roosevelt Street #K, Carlsbad
San Diego is nationally known for our bustling craft-beer scene. Scavengers Beer Adventures, a Carlsbad-based company, offers a unique take on the beer-tour circuit. Guests are driven around in a 12-passenger Swiss military truck. Scavengers offers both weekday and weekend tours. Each tour includes a visit to three breweries, a production tour at one brewery, up to six tasters at each stop, a Phil’s BBQ meal, a beer-geek tour guide, and a Scavengers souvenir tasting glass. The tours run from Thursday–Sunday and range in price from $89–$119.
Breweries frequented include Lost Abbey/Port Brewing, Iron Fist, Stone, Mother Earth, Rip Current, Latitude 33, Belching Beaver, Offbeat, Breakwater Brewery, Ballast Point, Coronado, Mission, and others.
Dig some dirt at the Morning Star Ranch
1258 Keys Creek Road, Valley Center
Forty-five minutes northeast of the city lies a community of growers where one can find organic, pesticide-free avocados, grapefruit, persimmons, and other produce. The Morning Star Ranch is part of an international network of religious communities known as the Twelve Tribes. They aim to be a community of agricultural people, living to serve God and care for their earth. The drive to the ranch is a constant, grand display of the brushy, floral beauty of Southern California, ending with fields of lavender, fruit trees, farm animals, and open-armed owners. Morning Star Ranch is also accepting WWOOFers (worldwide opportunities on organic farms) where guests can stay for a time and help farm in exchange for room and board.
The Morning Star Ranch is always welcome to visitors, but they prefer to be contacted ahead of time.
5800 Adobe Falls Road, Mission Valley
With an urge to explore, but with little time for an all-day trekking venture, the Mission Valley Adobe Falls is a ten-minute hike off the freeway. Located by I-8 across from San Diego State University, two multitiered waterfalls channel Alvarado Creek on its way to join the San Diego River a couple of miles to the west. To get to the falls, park at the west end of Adobe Falls Road. Walk around the fence and follow the dirt road toward the freeway. When the road ends, follow the trail that will lead to the Adobe Falls rock formations. You will have to scramble and crawl up a few rocks to spot the falls. The rock graffiti, reminding passers-by of the close proximity to a college campus, adds an interesting touch, depending on one’s outlook.
Disney cartoons at the 805/52 interchange
Where two prominent San Diego highways meet are works of art known only to a few locals. Painted on the pilings that support the bridge is a slew of life-sized cartoon murals. From Daffy Duck to Snow White and all seven of her dwarfs, the display makes an ideal photo-snapping shot. The cartoons can be accessed on foot — walk through Marian Bear Memorial Park. Go east under the freeway and look for the giant patch of color under the bridge.
La Jolla Cave Store
1325 Coast Boulevard, La Jolla
Dazzling with shades of ruby iron oxide and pinkish purple iodine, Sunny Jay’s historic cave is a near-literal hidden gem in La Jolla. Perched on the seaside cliffs of California’s coastal elite, La Jolla’s oldest store rests atop the only ocean cave in California accessible by land. You can reach the cave by way of a 145-step stairway that was carved more than a century ago into one of La Jolla’s natural sea caves. The store at the top of the tunnel sells the usual hats, T-shirts, and postcards as well as handcrafted jewelry. Snorkel gear is rented year round for $20. Entrance is $4 for adults and $3 for children.
Rainbow Drum Circle
Whether you march to the beat of your own drum or just like to watch, the Rainbow Drum Circle is open to participants and observers every Sunday afternoon in Balboa Park. The group meets in the southwest section of the park, near Marston Point, just north of the old Fire Alarm building, on the east side of Balboa Drive as it turns north. The rhythmic banging usually begins between 2:30 and 3 p.m. The drummers lay out various percussion instruments in the center for anyone to explore and play with. Enter from Sixth Avenue by turning on El Prado. Turn right and go south. The Rainbow Drum Circle gathers on Balboa Drive.
Bald eagles in Ramona
18030 Highland Valley Road, Ramona
For the first time in Ramona’s recorded history they have nesting bald eagles. Head out to the Wildlife Research Center’s surrounding grasslands off of Rangeland Road to catch a glimpse of two adults and one baby bald eagle that have set up in a eucalyptus tree. The Ramona Grasslands and the Wildlife Research center are open year round for bird-watching. View golden eagles, wintering ferruginous hawks, red-tailed hawks, prairie falcons, and red-shouldered hawks, to name a few. Nineteen species of raptors have been sighted in the Ramona Grasslands. In January-February, the Wildlife Research center hosts a guided hawk tour with lectures and scopes for public viewing. Check their website for ongoing lecture series and upcoming events.
The Mushroom House
Secluded section of beach beneath the bluffs of Torrey Pines, La Jolla
Sun spotted flesh and flab aren’t the only surprises La Jolla’s clothing-optional Black’s Beach has to offer. Pedestrians wandering south along the shore’s jagged edges will find what looks like a house from The Jetsons. The Pavilion, also known as the Mushroom House because of its fungal shape, has been dubbed by This Old House magazine one of the world’s wildest houses. Built in 1968 at the bottom of a 300-foot cliff, the concrete abode was built to withstand earthquakes and high tides. Original owner Sam Bell wanted a unique guesthouse connected to his mansion. Although the 300-foot tramway connecting the house to the road is out of commission, the Mushroom House is reachable to curious trekkers.
Go Flying with the San Diego Kite Club
It’s like taking a dog for a walk: it gets you out. Aficionados call kite-flying “happiness on a string.” Psychologists say it forces you to “soak up the restorative power of blue space,” the sky we always forget to look at. People have been flying kites for 3000 years, but the big craze came in the 1300s, in Thailand. San Diego Kite Club meets every second Saturday of the month at Mission Bay Park (East Mission Bay Drive), off I-5, north of Sea World Drive. Funnest kite to buy: Balinese boat kite from World Market, $13 (small), $20 (large).
Make bongo gourds at Welburn Gourd Farm
40635 De Luz Road, Fallbrook
Just in time for the “Gourdstock” Festival (June 29th and 30th, Bates Nut Farm, 15954 Woods Valley Road, Valley Center), you’ll be wanting to perfect your gourd-transforming skills, right? So you can turn those funny squash-type shells into water containers, musical instruments like bongos, ukuleles, or just abstract art. You won’t be the first. Our ancestors have been using and carving them for about 11,000 years. For classes, you can’t do better than Welburn Gourd Farm. For $20 you can attend a starter class at the farm.
Nurture 1000 baby trees along the San Diego River
Alpine, sandiegoriver.org, 619-297-7380
Big news for river rats: on May 20th, the San Diego City Council approved a master plan for the San Diego River. Now they can start seriously bringing the globally-recognized diversity hotspot back to life. One project especially needs you: to help water 1000 young live oak trees they’ve planted in the Peutz Creek Preserve in the Alpine area near El Capitan Reservoir. Purpose: protect our drinking water and revive a vital wildlife corridor for the likes of rare native ringtailed cats. If you can carry a bucket, you can do this. Contact Rob Hutsel: [email protected]
Help keep the San Diego River mouth healthy
Ocean Beach, 619-297-7380, sandiegoriver.org/rivermouth
Can O.B. keep the San Diego River mouth from clogging up with weed, polluted storm water, and garbage? This is one of the few coastal wetlands still functioning in California (we have destroyed 95 percent of them). Friends of the River Mouth try. And have fun doing it. You can join them. They start with a cleanup every other month, collecting trash, planting native species, marking trails, and monitoring endangered coastal saltmarsh birds like the rare light-footed clapper rail. It’s a great way to meet soul mates. Think of it as a dating service for the eco-minded.
Visit the center of the Earth
1 Center of the World Drive, Felicity, California, 760-572-0100, felicity.us
Jacques-André Istel, the “father of sports parachuting,” made his money with parachute schools, then decided to spend it creating the “Center of the World” on this side of the river from Yuma. He has built a 21-foot pink granite pyramid over the bronze disc he swears is Earth’s center. Yes, eccentric. He wants this to become mankind’s “central point for memories,” and has plaques recording histories like the exploits of the French Foreign Legion. Check your time here at his sundial, which is a 15-foot bronze sculpture based on Michelangelo’s Arm of God on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Get married in the chapel he built. Only open in cool months, December through March.
Find the oldest sidewalk in San Diego
Do you ever think about what ancient feet have trodden the same pavement you’re pounding? Okay, we’re not talking Pompeii. But, hey, this is the birthplace of California. There’s been a town on this spot since 1820. And the guys who laid the concrete sidewalks over the dirt tracks always signed their names, plus the year they laid it. Mr. O. E. Winders laid sidewalk at Union and Beech in 1895. It’s still marked there, being walked on every day. Can you find one from earlier? Make a contest out of who spots the most ancient piece of sidewalk in your neighborhood. Hold a party, right there.
Race like the America’s Cup
Next Level Sailing, 1492 North Harbor Drive, 858-922-5322
With the America’s Cup starting in San Francisco July 4th, why not organize your own contest right here? Race Dennis Conner’s 80-foot America’s Cup yacht Stars and Stripes against the Hawaiian-New Zealand racer Abracadabra. Get two teams together (7 to 18 people each), sign up on a Friday, and be racing on Saturday. Three professional crew make sure things don’t get out of control. It’s not cheap: $99 each. But you don’t have to be experienced or fit. They can even take wheelchairs. Contact Warren Allan at Next Level Sailing. Vessels are moored near the maritime museum on the Embarcadero.
Desert View Tower
Desert View Tower in Jacumba resembles something you would see on a dusty 1920s postcard. The quirky museum and gift shop are located off Interstate 8 on In-Ko-Pah Road, near the Mexican border. Admission to the top of its 70-foot tower is a well-worth-it $4.50. A panoramic view of Imperial Valley and the Anza-Borrego Desert can be magnified when using a quarter-fed telescope. Ben Schultz, proprietor and longtime San Diego activist, is almost always on hand to answer questions. Before leaving, make sure to check out the site’s Boulder Park. Enjoy the whimsical sculptures of W.T. Ratcliffe, an out-of-work Depression-era engineer who carved into the caves and boulders surrounding the tower. The Desert View tower is open daily from 9am–5pm. Call ahead to verify.
Be an extra in movies
Samuel Warren and Associates International Casting Services, 8340 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard #207, 619-264-4135, samuelwarrenandassociatescasting.com
Psst. Wanna be in movies? Sam Warren can get you in. If you can send him your 3˝x5˝ photo and list your skills (dancing? lion taming?). Be prepared to drop everything if he calls you for a crowd shot tomorrow morning. Be on time. Prepare for a lot of waiting. Bring your own costume, make-up, lunch. And never hog the camera. Prima donnas are ejected and don’t come back.
Learn to play cricket with the San Diego Weekend Cricket Club
12350 Black Mountain Road, Rancho Penasquitos
Cricket here has been mainly played by the UCSD-Qualcomm axis, among “technology workers” from places such as India, Pakistan, the West Indies, Australia, and the U.K. So, how does someone who has never played before get into the game? The San Diego Cricket Club promises that “from beginners to professionals, there is a place for you!” But the San Diego Weekend Cricket Club is the most casual and social. Just turn up at the Canyonside Recreation Center at 8 o’clock any Sunday morning. Pretty soon you’ll be holding your bat vertically and yelling, “How’s that!”
Play Ice Hockey
4545 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla
UTC Ice Sports Center makes ice hockey accessible to all of us. The Golden West Adult Hockey League has five divisions of skill, ranging from Platinum level, for true hockey players, to Copper level, for novice and intermediate players. No checking — body hits. Lots of space for oldies and first-timers. Coach-mentors who teach the game and positional team play. Two seasons each year. Cost: $475 per season. Games Sunday through Thursday evenings.
Potato Chip Rock
14644 Lake Poway Road, Poway
Far out in the Blue Sky Reserve, Potato Chip Rock doesn’t just look like a potato chip, it juts out into empty space with a view of the entire county. To reach the rock, park at Lake Poway and begin to traverse the trail on the southern side of the lake. The journey to the chip is just over three miles — six miles round trip. However, about half of the trek outbound is similar to climbing a mile and a half of stairs. The final test of mettle before you take that epic profile picture is a leap from one boulder out to the potato chip.
The Stein Family Farm
1808 F Avenue, National City
You long for a simpler time? A time when people were more connected to the world around them — especially the food they ate? You think it would be grand to go full artisanal, get back to the land? Now’s your chance to try it. Stein Family Farm is a living history farm museum that emphasizes agricultural practices similar to those used in the 1900s. Gardens! Orchards! Animals! Pump water from a cistern and learn about composting, city kid. Open Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Donations welcome.
851 Showroom Place #100, Eastlake
Sky Zone’s indoor trampoline park offers well-padded wall-to-wall trampoline setups. Flip into a pit of foam blocks! Use a trampoline to dunk like a person who can actually jump that high. Destroy your friends at ultimate dodgeball. Or just work on your extreme parkour, bouncing off walls and floors with impunity. Cost is $10–$25, depending on how long you jump.
Museum of Making Music
5790 Armada Drive, Carlsbad
Before you can make music, you have to make the things that make music. I mean, sure, you can sing, but unless you’re a chanting monk, it’s kind of nice to have some instrumental backup. The Museum of Making Music’s five permanent galleries trace the development of those instruments from the ’20s through the ’80s, when synthesizers made everything else irrelevant. Each gallery explores the popular musicians and innovations of the day, and the whole museum traces the history of the industry behind the recording industry. Plus, there’s a live concert series (next up: harps!) Cost is $8; $5 for students.
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.
Painting & Vino
The Picasso in you is waiting to awaken. All he needs is a little wine. Painting & Vino offers painting-and-wine events where an art teacher walks a group of people through creating their own 16˝x 20˝ canvas masterpiece. They provide all the art supplies, including an apron. The two- to three-hour events are held either in your home or at select venues, including Village 631, 98 Bottles, Jake’s on 6th Wine Bar, and Roppongi. Check the calendar on their site. Private events run $45 a person and require a 15-person minimum.
City Farmers Nursery
3110 Euclid Avenue, City Heights
The nursery sits on an acre and a half tucked away in the center of the city at the corner of Euclid and Home Avenue. Bill Tall opened it in 1972. He’s still there every day, sporting his trademark yellow tape-measure suspenders. Amid an inspiring variety of plants, you’ll find chickens, goats, ducks, turkeys, a horse who neighs loudly for carrots, two parrots named Gimpy and Limpy, and a koi pond. Everything has a down-on-the-farm feel — weathered wooden posts hold up wire fencing, old tires become retaining walls and stairways, farm smells fill the air. Little visitors play on teeter-totters and swings and gawk at the livestock. Inside the store, gardening tools sit next to fun knick-knacks. Beside the parrots’ cage stands a case filled with old-fashioned Pez candies.
Living Coast Discovery Center
1000 Gunpowder Point Drive, Chula Vista
At the attraction formerly known as the Chula Vista Nature Center, feeding time for the sea turtles is at 1:30. The Eagles get their grub at 2:30. Living Coast Discovery Center is also home to other birds of prey, sharks and rays, and native water and shore birds. There is an interactive tank where visitors can touch the rays and view native sharks. Raptor Row houses hawks, owls, kestrels, and a turkey vulture. Out in the tidal slough habitat, you can catch a glimpse of native water and shorebirds. Take a 1.5-mile stroll from the Discovery Center down the walking trail toward San Diego Bay. Admission, $9 to $14.
1548 Quivira Way, Mission Beach
Some of San Diego’s most beautiful places are reached by water. Think Mission Bay. La Jolla Sea Caves. Aqua Adventures rents kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes from their Quivira Basin location. From there the coves of West Mission Bay are an easy paddle away. Aqua Adventures has a sister company, La Jolla Sea Cave Kayaks, which rents kayaks off the beach in La Jolla Shores, a moderate paddle from the sea caves. Prices range from $16.50 for a 1.5-hour single kayak rental to $66 for a full-day tandem kayak. Ask about Aqua Adventures’ Baja Sea Caves kayaking adventures.
35899 Canfield Road, Palomar Mountain
Sitting at 5500 feet in the Cleveland National Forest on Palomar Mountain is the Palomar Observatory. Tours of the 200-inch Hale telescope, dedicated in 1948, run spring through fall on the weekends from 9am to 4pm. One-hour-long guided tours start at 11am and 1:30pm. Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, and youth 12 and under are free. The drive up the mountain is beautiful year-round.
And as impressive as the telescope is, the sight of the glistening white dome against the green pines and clear blue mountain sky is arguably more impressive.
Adventure Water Sports
Adventure Water Sports rents paddleboards from two locations, the Dana Hotel on West Mission Bay Drive and Campland on the Bay on Pacific Beach Drive. Campland’s rental location has the benefit of easy access to Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh, where the paddler can view a plethora of wildlife, particularly during spring and fall migration seasons. All while getting a killer core workout. Forty bucks for a two-hour paddleboard rental, add another $20 if you want a lesson.
Fiesta Island, Over the Line Field, Mission Bay
“Range is clear. Sky is clear. 3...2...1!” Since the ’90s, Fiesta Island has been the only public place in San Diego County to legally shoot off model rockets. Forgo the necessary permits and instead join DART (Diego Area Rocket Team) members of all ages at their meet-ups. Expect to see low-powered rockets (motors up to Class M) that are allowed to fly up to 1000 or 1500 feet, depending on the day. DART has to take off June and July but is permitted to use the island an average of twice a month, so check their schedule before schlepping out. 619-276-6238.
Vineyard Trail Rides
18750 Littlepage Road, Ramona, 951-595-3503
Vineyard Trail Rides offers a 90-minute ride through 100 acres of olive trees, apple orchards, and grapevines on the Milagro Farm Vineyard and Winery located in the budding Ramona Valley wine region. Milagro’s winemaker Jim Hart hails from one of the pioneering families in the Temecula wine region. The ride comes with a complimentary bottle of wine and chocolates. After the ride, relax on the patio or in the tasting room and enjoy tastes of Milagro’s six reds and four whites.