Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Six hours in San Diego

I occasionally enjoy reading the New York Times, and their Travel section in particular is typically well worth a read. One of the more interesting regular features is their "36 Hours" column, which offers up a sample 36-hour itinerary for a given destination.

Their most recent "36 Hours in San Diego" feature, however (published in tomorrow's newspaper, but available online now), showed sufficient lack of "insider knowledge" that I'd guess it was written based on a 6-hour layover reading travel brochures, not a 36-hour visit talking to locals.

Go read the article now, and then come back here to read the locals-only tips the Times missed.

1) EASE ON DOWN. Good: Walk on the Embarcadero. Better: Avoid Seaport Village. What the Times missed: "Free" concerts in Embarcadero Marina Park. The concert venue is not free, but the music is amply audible in the park right outside the fence, so bring a blanket and cooler and enjoy some free live music.

2) GASLAMP GLAMOUR. Good: Avoid the hipper-than-thou W. Better: The abundance of frat bars is "depressing." True dat. What the Times missed: The Ivy?? Recommending an L.A. icon's San Diego satellite as the place to go is beyond lame. The bolder choice would have been to warn people away from the overcrowded and overrated Gaslamp to begin with. Or at least recommend a true San Diego Gaslamp original like Croce's or Cafe Sevilla.

3) CULTURE CLASH. The Casbah is a good rec, but if you're really musically adventurous, go to Brick by Brick, a 10-minute drive away in the seedy Morena Blvd. district. Alanis Morrissette would get her ass kicked there.

4) GREENSWARD GIANT. Good: "No visit to San Diego is complete without taking in Balboa Park." Better: The recommendation to take a walk or drive, probably the best way to sample this large park in a very brief 36-hour trip. What the Times missed: Um, everything? They can be forgiven here, though, because you could spend your entire 36-hour stay in Balboa Park alone and still miss a lot. But, as worldly as the Times likes to think of itself, you'd think they would have at least mentioned the International Cottages in passing.

5) CALIFORNIA PAST. Good: Mention of the Old Town Mexican Cafe where, contrary to their advice, the food is decent. Better: Mention of the "tortilla ladies" at same. What the Times missed: No mention of the Whaley House, San Diego's famous haunted house? Or the Presidio and site of the very first Spanish settlement in 1769? That is why they call it Old Town.

6) TACO TREAT. Sigh. The Times just shouldn't have gone there. New Yorkers don't know tacos. Okay, if you're already in Old Town, grab a bite at the rebranded "Plaza del Pasado" (I'll always know it as Bazaar del Mundo, but the business people behind Plaza del Pasado were willing to pay more when the lease came up for renewal). If you want the best tacos in San Diego, go to Robertos. Or Albertos. Or Aibertos. Or any hole-in-the-wall taco shop with the suffix "-ertos," named by the many Robertos imposters. Better yet, get in your car in Old Town and drive 5 minutes away to Jimmy Carter's Mexican Cafe for the best Mexican food in the whole city.

7) BEACH BUM. Good: Recommending O.B. over one of the other, more frat-boyish beach communities. Better: The Antique Mall, several blocks' worth of antique stores, something even some locals don't know about O.B. What the Times missed: When you talked about tacos in the previous paragraph, how can you possibly not mention the uber-famous fish tacos at O.B.'s South Beach Bar & Grill, just a short stroll from those antique shops?

8) SALTY SEA AIR. Good: Sunset Cliffs, along with La Jolla is indeed one of the jewels in San Diego's coastline crown. Better: Brief mention of tidepooling, one of the best ways for those not familiar with the sea to get up close and personal with the ocean and its denizens without getting anything more than their hands and feet wet. What the Times missed: Cruising the streets above Sunset Cliffs to see some amazing, multi-million-dollar homes, and then keep driving a bit further to the crest of Point Loma and the million-dollar views of the city.

9) DINNER AT A DINER. Good: Recommending some casual dining, which better suits San Diego's personality. Better: Corvette Diner is a lot of fun. What the Times missed: Corvette's burger with peanut butter. To those adventurous enough to try it, you'll never stop talking about it. Yum.

10) THE FOX ROCKS. Good: Mentioning a quality dive bar, of which San Diego has many. Better: The Red Fox is one of the best. What the Times missed: Ould Saud, the Lamplighter, the Alibi, NuNu's, the Morena Club, to name a few.

11) IF THEY BUILD IT. I'm sure Legoland appreciates the nod. The place needs all the buzz it can get. There's a reason why it's not crowded, though as the Times mentions, it's worth a visit if you have kids. But a "hot and dusty" snub of the deservedly "world famous" San Diego Zoo? Three letters: WTF? Well, okay. If you're a New Yorker, then I guess all that open space and nature can get on your nerves real fast. Maybe one of the monkeys threw poo at the writer.

If you've got more than six hours to spend in San Diego, I hope these tips help you enjoy your stay.

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