Each month we ask one of our favorite San Diegans the question:
If you only had 24 hours to show a friend the best that urban San Diego has to offer, where would you take them?
How Long: 12 years
To show a guest what I love about San Diego, I’d have ‘em put on their flip-flops and start up the coast in Cardiff, where I moved shortly after arriving in San Diego 12 years ago. Our first stop would be a local institution: Pipes Café, a funky, laid-back, super-casual hangout that’s perfect for a sleepy Saturday morning. (How casual? Their motto is “No shirt, no shoes, no problem.”)
Pipes is where hungry surfers get their grinds after a long morning on the waves, so the portions are substantial. The atmosphere’s friendly and uber-chill, where your breakfast burrito or veggie scramble is served on paper plates. (Last time I checked, in keeping with their mellow, retro vibe, they were cash only.)
If Pipes is too crowded or we’re hankering for something a little more upscale, we’d walk around the corner to Pappalecco’s northern outpost for excellent coffee and Tuscan treats, like their eponymous dish of two eggs, mushrooms, potatoes, onions, cherry tomatoes on savory homemade bread. Either way, we’re just steps from the beach, which means we can also stroll past the famed Cardiff Kook statue, which pranksters may well have gussied up yet another costume, although no, I never had a part in doing such a thing. (Um, honest. No, really.)
Cruising back down the coast, we’d take a quick detour for further caffeination at the Cliffhanger Café at the Torrey Pines Gliderport. This tiny outdoor spot not only serves one of my favorite local coffees, Café Moto, but also affords the opportunity to sip while watching first-time fliers running headlong for a cliff before stepping into thin air and taking flight.
Then we’ll head inland to one of my favorite haunts, Mission Trails Regional Park, close to where I’ve lived for the last 5 years. If my guest has brought hiking shoes, we’ll climb to the top of Cowles Mountain for a 360-degree view of the city from its highest point, plus the mountains to the east, the Coronado Islands, TJ, and on a clear day, Catalina. Or we’ll take a more leisurely stroll starting at Old Mission Dam or behind the visitor center.
Having worked up our appetites, we’d decamp to The Purple Mint, It’s a quiet, family-owned spot in a shopping center on Mission Gorge Road featuring Asian fusion cuisine. It’s surely what they serve in vegetarian/vegan heaven. I keep trying lots of different things in multiple visits, and have never been disappointed. The yam and sweet potato curry was a revelation, and the eggplant and tofu delight addictive. Thanks to its abundance of faux meat dishes, the menu boasts more quotation marks than I’ve ever seen in one restaurant, framing words “salmon,” “beef,” “prawns,” and more – and it’s all delicious. Or just make a meal out of one of their smoothies with boba.
Next, we’ll visit San Diego’s other crown jewel, Balboa Park, and after a long afternoon there, stroll over to Azuki Sushi for the hamachi toro and a “by the border” roll, with spicy tuna, avocado topped with seared albacore, sliced jalapeno, signature ponzu, and spicy aioli, or an “r u kidding me,” with snow crab, diver scallops, tempura asparagus topped with seared tuna, white truffle oil, mixed greens, garlic ponzu, flash fried leeks. I’m partial to the delicately flavored Shiso Mojito, featuring shochu, shiso leaves, fresh lime juice, and soda.
Afterward, we’d head to the historic Lafayette Hotel on El Cajon and dig its mid-century charm. We’d drop into the hotel restaurant, Hope 46, to sample from a short but carefully selected list of local craft brews. Then we’d wander to the opposite end of the hotel, which houses the cabaret-style theater Finest City Improv (More drinks in the lobby are available from Nick the bartender – tell him I sentcha.)
In fact, it may well be a night when I’m performing with the musical improv team, Berserkus! What better way to end a perfect day than laughing yourself silly as funny songs and epic rap battles in a musical show that’s totally made up on the spot? (If Berserkus! isn’t performing there that night, we might be at Old Town Improv Company, in which case, I recommend tanking up on a pitcher of margaritas first at nearby Coyote Café or beers at Home & Away, one of the few sports bars you’ll ever find me in because the beers and fries are so darn good.)