Recently, I attended a conference in San Diego, and while the convention center is near the Gas Lamp in the Marina, I actually spent the majority of my limited free time in Balboa Park (I spoke on a panel, where I made parkour and dragon jokes, so I guess you can say it was a success).
First things first, the particulars of the Gas Lamp, which is one of San Diego’s trendier districts. It is a great night spot, or in my case getting a beer and a hamburger to watch a basketball game before heading back to the conference. If you are staying in the neighborhood, there is no shortage of good food, but I tried the following spots:
Puesto – A local chain that is light on south of the border flavor and heavy on the creativity. If you are looking for traditional tacos, this restaurant in the marina isn’t for you. If you are looking for fun fusion food served on a tortilla, this place is the spot. It’s also good for groups and makes a solid margarita.
Werewolf – It looks like the kind of bar that serves flaming shots, but this is a classic case of not judging a book by its cover. They have an excellent brunch spread with some creative menu items. Don’t miss the Pork Belly Benedict and the Irish Coffee.
Fuego – Located just outside the Gas Lamp in East Village, this fashionable joint makes a carnitas taco that can compete with the best of ’em.
Pro Tip: There is a delightful path that runs the length of the marina, and while you can catch a neon-colored bicycle cab up and down, I recommend strolling it. There are also shops that you can rent a bike and enjoy an easy ride along a gorgeous view in the fresh air.
Y’all, Balboa Park might be the best thing in San Diego. I know, it is a bold statement, but hear me out. The parkland was established before California was admitted to the union, so it’s got a very cool, exceptionally American history that makes it worthy of special attention. For about 80 years the park was mostly wild space with a few gardens and features here and there. Then, in 1909 San Diego decided it would make a big deal out of the Panama Canal opening, planning a massive exposition to take place in the park (Gotta hand it to 1900s San Diegans, connecting the two was an impressive mental leap, and they made it!). Many of the buildings and features in the park stem from that expo, but the park has had many lives including serving as a navy barracks and training ground for both world wars.
The park featured far too many sites for me to check out in the six hours I had before I needed to get to the airport, but I did my best and managed to take in the botanical gardens, history center, an outdoor organ concert, and wandered over to see The Old Globe and the Museum of Man. (That organ concert was free and delightful! I hope someone is playing the next time you are there.). All of these things are lovely, but I want to pay special attention to the history center, where I learned a lot about the city, it’s community and the prominent families and activists that have shaped San Diego.
If you only have an hour to spend, the history center is the spot to spend it. Seriously. It isn’t a big space, but while there I saw; a film on the park’s unique history; an exhibit on the Jewish pioneers who heavily influenced and shaped 1850s San Diego; a spectacular reflective on the Black San Diegans who worked on local; and, national civil rights issues, art of the west, and a heartbreaking, and resilient exhibition on Japanese American Internment and how it affected those individuals living and working in San Diego. Moreover, the display did a good job of exploring how the individuals featured fared before, during and after WWII. It was a small, but important look at how the internment affected the local community. And a big reminder that sometimes people are far better than the country they live in.
Pro Tip: While some activities, including the San Diego Art Museum, cost money, other spots are entirely free. So, if you’re short on dollars and big on dreams, hit up Balboa Park with a picnic and have a ball!