24 hours in: San Diego
IT’S SUNDAY. Wake up. Your husband is already up walking around and says, “Wanna go to the beach?” He is going to surf, probably at Dog Beach. You distinctly remember saying that you would hang back this morning and get some writing done, but you want to go.
Put on a bathing suit, your favorite linen pants and a sweater. Grab a cup of coffee, a notebook, and the Economist (which you always bring but never read). Let him put sunblock on your tired face and follow him to the car. Don’t offer to carry anything. You’re so tired, you’ll just drop it.
Go back inside and get your flip flops.
Park at Dog Beach in a spot facing the water. Sit on the hood of the car and scope out the waves together. Try to help him decide where to paddle in. “It looks fun near the jetty; there’s only a couple of old guys out there.”
Pick up the Jimmy Buffett blanket that you always have in the back of the Element. Walk through the volleyball courts and lay the blanket down in an area away from the seaweed (flies). Lie down. Watch your husband surf. Relax.
Sit on the tailgate and wait for him to get out of the wetsuit. Listen to the Outlaw Country channel on Sirius. Talk about surfing. Talk about the conversations you overheard on the beach.
Do not lie if you didn’t see the awesome wave he caught. There is no way to recover from, “What did it look like from the beach?” if you didn’t see it.
Drive home and cook. Something like medium boiled eggs, bananas, and toast and cheese. Feel really European.
Write a grocery list and walk to the organic co-op. Pet the dogs outside. Read the classifieds on the bulletin board that say “Wanted: roommate who practices NVC.”
Pick up bagels, juice, milk in a glass bottle, and the ingredients to make tacos. This is your favorite place in the neighborhood. Get overwhelmed by how much cool stuff they sell, like 20 kinds of seaweed, and forget for a second that you are not Alice Waters. Sneak a lavender chocolate bar onto the conveyor belt as you’re checking out. Your husband says it tastes like laundry.
Go for a run on Sunset Cliffs. Start on Voltaire Street and run up the hill and onto Point Loma Nazarene University. Take a sandy path up another hill. At the top, stop and watch the waves exploding against the cliffs below you. Run downhill, through the park until you are on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard.
Alternate between loving the whole world because of the wild scenery to your left, and hating everything in the world because you have three miles to go.
Stop being mad at your husband about the run being too long and bring some work out on the front porch. Sit on the rocking chair that you got from Target with some of your wedding money and chat with your neighbors when they walk by.
Walk through the alley between Lotus and Greene to Chris’ Deli (where they sell beer that is 42 degrees cold says their sign). Order a Navigator sandwich (turkey, cheese, avocado, lettuce, and bacon) and a 22 oz beer. Something local like Ballast Point. Eat it on the patio outside.
Disregard all your plans to get work done and go to the zoo. Take your refillable cup with the giant plastic panda on the top.
As soon as you get there, head to the only vendor (I’m serious) who sells Mr. Pibb. It’s a churro stand. Then go say hi to your favorites animals, the giant tortoises, the kookaburra, the wombat, basically anything that doesn’t have a multimillion dollar display built for it. The kookaburra never sold out like those damn polar bears.
Eat an early dinner at Kaiserhoff, San Diego’s best German restaurant, four blocks from your apartment.
Sit at the bar in the biergarten and order a pitcher of Spaten Optimator from a waitress in lederhosen.
Ignore the squawking birds in the giant cage in the back. Remember the first time you ate there, when the birds got out of control loud, and the chef came into the biergarten, grabbed them and brought them into the kitchen and no one said anything and you hoped no one had ordered parakeet.
Order a couple of huge German dinners. Laugh when the one waitress that is actually from Germany tells your husband he’s got a great tan.
Say something like, “It’s still early!” and walk back to the beach. Give away your leftovers to a homeless man almost immediately. Take off your shoes and walk on the sand, past the fire pits where big crowds are listening to music and smoking weed or just two or three people are sitting around the fire not talking.
Walk home on Newport Avenue, past the tattoo parlor where Hells Angels always hang out, past the pizza place your mother-in-law loves because their motto is “No crap on tap,” past the surf shop with a mini half pipe in it where little kids are always skating, past the parking lot where that really nice lady used to sell tamales and Mexican cokes, past that restaurant with the fish tacos that is always packed and you can’t figure out why, past the Cuban bakery where your friend bought a cake for you and his girlfriend topped with awesome fondant animals, past drunk college kids and way-too-young-to-be-homeless kids, past families with strollers and Navy guys partying, and past lots of dogs tied up to bike racks.
After four or five blocks, it’s quiet and now you pass a rec center and a school, and then you are surrounded by houses. Make a left in front of your favorite house in the neighborhood. In their front yard there is a huge wooden man, painted with big eyes and wild hair, holding a sign that the owners change every now and then.
Right now it says, “Live Now.”
10 tips for visiting Ocean Beach
- You may need a car to get into Ocean Beach, but once you’re here, walk or bike as much as you can.
- To get a sense of the eclectic mix of residents, plan your visit around a festival (OB Jazz Fest, OB Christmas Parade, OB Street Fair and Chili Cook Off, etc.) or, at the very least, the farmer’s market.
- If you’re visiting bars, make sure to get off Newport Avenue. Some of the better beer and more low key bars are on Voltaire.
- If you like to surf, bring a wetsuit. The water temps don’t get above 70 and are usually much lower.
- Get up early and walk around the neighborhood. The idea of a “cookie cutter” house doesn’t exist here. Every house and garden is unique (and sometimes hilarious).
- If you’re an Almost Famous fan, watch the movie before you get here, and scout out some of the locations.
- Don’t be afraid of the mini-standalone coffee huts. They have saved my life on multiple occasions. My husband drinks hammerheads (coffee with espresso).
- Be prepared to give away your leftovers and maybe some change near Newport Ave.
- The bonfire pits go fast — get there well before dark to reserve one.
- We have a reputation for beautiful weather, but it’s not always warm and sunny at the beach. Bring a sweater is what I’m saying.
Matador articles for San Diego trip planning
- Escape to adventure: San Diego
- 94 summery things to do in San Diego
- Notes from The Grand Del Mar Hotel, San Diego
10 Best Eats
- Chris’ Liquor and Deli
- Session’s Public
- Third Corner
- Newport Pizza & Ale House
- OB Noodle House
- Newbreak Coffee & Cafe