Sunday, August 5, 2012

The SD Bucket List

Our days in San Diego are well into the single digits now, with only two days left to enjoy the fun and sun.  Over the past month and a half, I have been embarking on what I kept referring to as my 'bucket list'.  I know the term is unoriginal, overused and cheeky, but it sums it up well and everyone knows what you're talking about (which is always a plus for a mumbler like me).

Friends keep asking me what is on said bucket list.  I rattle off a few and then we invariably veer off into a conversation about one of the places and the list never gets finished.  Then a few weeks ago, another friend mentioned he wanted a copy of my list and that gave me an idea.

And without further ado, the SD Bucket List (these are in no particular order):

1. Torrey Pines Golf Course

If you haven't heard of Torrey Pines Golf Course, then you either live under a rock or are not interested in golf, and possibly both.  But Torrey Pines, is a beautiful golf course set along the hills of La Jolla, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  To say the view from some of the holes is sweeping, would be an understatement.  You can see to the small area of La Jolla known as the cove and all the way to Carlsbad (that's about a 30 mile coastline view).  To boot, as a San Diego county resident, I have only been paying $65 for the South and $45 for the North.  Those are killer rates compared to the tourists, who shell out over $100 for the North and I think it is over $200 for the South.

There are two course here, the North and the South.  The South is far more famous, and for what reason I have no idea.  On the South, there are less holes with ocean views and the tee times are always out for months in comparison to the North.  The North is a great course, less expensive and more ocean view holes (though the holes not along the ocean, particularly 16, 17 &18 are less than attractive).

Finish your round.  Have a few final practice putts and then enjoy a moscow mule (served in the traditional copper mug) or other tasty beverage at the bar and go sit outside and enjoy the famous California sunset.

2. Craft & Commerce

The majority of my list are bars and restaurants.  I like to eat.  I like to drink.  I like to eat and drink.  And you can happily do both at my favorite spot, Craft and Commerce.

Thursday through Saturday nights here can be awful.  While I love the drinks and the food (if you want a vodka based drink or traditional ketchup, go elsewhere...cause they don't have it) the scene is, well...super scenester.  The bartenders are all decked out in early 20th century gear with haircuts that would make Daniel Day Lewis fall back into his Bill Cutting role, and consequentially his face appears to be their mascot.

If you don't want to deal with the hassle of the overly crowded bar atmosphere, Sunday brunch is the way to go.  I think most of the folks living in the area, or who would typically haunt this place, are still passed out or grazing on breakfast burritos elsewhere, so the place is relatively quiet at this time.  On top of that, the food and drink are still great.  Go with the chicken and waffles, the sizzling bacon and their twist on the bloody mary, the Queen Mary (simply gin or tequila with bloody mary mix...go with the tequila and thank me later).  If you are feeling particularly spry, and have company, go with one of the punch bowls.  It's always more fun to drink from tiny porcelain tea cups spooned from a matching punch bowl!

3.  Noble Experiment

Is it trendy?  Yes.  Is it a pain in the ass to get a reservation?  Yup.  Is it all worth it?  Do bears sh*t in the woods?

To say the least, I love this place.  I guess to be more specific, I have a love hate relationship with it.  While on one hand it irritates the hell out of me that you have to text to get reservations there, and depending on who the hostess is, you can either text anytime after midnight one week before the day you wish to make reservations (yes, I am serious about want 9 PM Friday night? you had better be texting at 12:01 AM the week before) or you have to text when they feel is appropriate (blind? squirrel? nut? yeah, something like that).  Then on the other hand, once you get yourself through the magical keg doors inside the equally awesome Neighborhood (bernaise burger...oh yes, don't mind if I do) then you are welcomed into this sanctuary of delicious cocktails and knowledgable bartenders.

This is not the sort of place where you are reaching over people from six deep at the bar or shouting over the newest Armin Van Buren track.  This place is small.  Very small.  Intimate, even.  You can have a conversation here without yelling.  Conversation?  At a bar?  Without yelling?  WHAAAAT???  Where else can you do that?

But at the end of the night it's about the drinks (no food or beer here folks, just spirits...that's what Neighborhood is for), and these people know their drinks.  You can choose from about six drinks on their rotating menu or you can get frisky and go with bartenders choice.  This doesn't mean you get whatever they feel like making, no sir.  You telling the waitress what sort of liquor you like and then whether you like it sweet, on the rocks or spirit forward (mixed, but without losing the essence of the liquor being used).  In all of my times going here, I was never disappointed with this option.

One other great attribute of this place is that they are willing to make you whatever you want, provided they have the ingredients.  I have come in with specific cocktails in mind (yeah, I know it's sort of douchey) and though they didn't have the recipe, they would hammer it out if I provided the list of ingredients.  Most places are too busy, and frankly too lazy, to do this for any customers.  Not Noble.  They have always been happy to oblige.

One more tip: sit at the bar.  Drinking here is like eating at the bar of a good sushi restaurant.

4.  Comic Con

You can read my whole review and see my pictures of the event here.

This is a great San Diego tradition.  It is a cluster*ck, but it is a great tradition.  From the nerdery of comic book character dress-ups to the insanity over getting free schwag bags (just the bags, nothing in them...I watched people climb over other people for these things...seriously), Comic Con does not disappoint.

Are there a ton of people?  No doubt.  Are the lines to see the panels absurdly long and nearly impossible to get into?  Yes, you will spend all day waiting in line if you want to see something even remotely popular.  Are there lines everywhere?  Yep: lines for the bathroom, lines to take pictures of scantily dressed Comic Con-ers, lines for schwag, lines to get wristbands to be able to get into other lines for limited release toys and of course lines for food.  Sometimes you see lines, ask what the line is for and some people have no idea.  They just wait though, because they may be rewarded with a limited edition Portal arm cannon...then again they may be rewarded with a picture with Kevin Sorbo (for the nominal fee of $40).

But Comic-Con is what makes San Diego economy stay afloat.  130,000+ fans flood the city for four days.  It is worth whatever you have heard to go and see it, just don't go on Sunday - it's family day, it's the cheapest of the four days and it is also the busiest.

5.  Pizza Port Brewing Company

Honestly, the pizza here is not that good.  It's just not.  That isn't to say it's terrible, it's just not that good.  But somehow, when you mix good beer and mediocre pizza you have an oral fixation orgasm that would even make Fred Willard blush.

The pizza is overly crusty, the toppings are thick chunks and the sauce is meh.  But between the beer they brew in house (you can watch them add hops to the huge vats right there in the restaurant...and there is no separation so you can really get a whiff of everything going on), the fact that you eat a giant picnic tables and the guest taps they have from other local breweries, you can't go wrong.

Add to it that you can easily take the train up from San Diego, and if you have kids they will love that part, and Pizza Port is a pretty solid place.

6.  San Diego Zoo

Most places that tout the phrase "world famous" in front their name are full of sh*t.  But the San Diego zoo is the real deal.  From the exhibits to the seasonal schedules, the San Diego Zoo is my favorite attraction.

After nine year, we finally made it to their summer time gig called Night Time Zoo, which simply means the zoo is open late (until 9 PM).  There is something far more interesting about seeing the zoo at night as compared to the day, especially in the summer.  The air is cool, the majority of the days visitors have left and some of the nocturnal animals are making their way out.

Whether you want to bring your kids to the playground, the petting zoo, to watch one of the live dance shows or sit and watch one of the bands play at the entrance the folks at the San Diego Zoo have thought of everything.  Add to it that they recently opened up a craft beer and margarita shack (only in San Diego...what a country!), and you have something really special.

My personal favorites are the elephants.  You can get so close to these guys that it is unreal.  Just last night, I took the Big Guy and Taz there and we watched three elephants feeding off of a straw bag about 20 feet in front of us.  Then just at the end of the elephants exhibit (aptly named Elephant Odyssey), they have a big cat display with one side devoted to jaguars and the other side to lions.  Last night the lion was pacing the front of the enclosure (which is a far stretch of the word considering the "enclosure" is a large net) only 4 feet from me and the boys.  When you come up to the exhibit, there is a warning sign that you may be sprayed (as in marking territory spray) - so beware.  Where else can you get that close?

A truly unique experience.

7.  Underbelly

I love ramen.  Underbelly makes delicious ramen.  They add in a soft boiled egg, pork belly and brisket.  Please stop me when I have said something not delectable.

For some reason, however, my stomach (or perhaps intestinal tract) have issues with their 6 spice blend that you can add to the dish.  The next day I always pay dearly for my choice.  But the spices make it taste so damn good.  And if you are feeling spry, they also have some ghost chilies in the back if the spice blend isn't hot enough for you.

8. Sandbar

Good chicken wings are hard to come by.  Some places serve them so soggy and over sauced.  Some places serve them over breaded.  But Sandbar manages to get them right every time.

Now if you are looking for some crazy assortment of flavors and sauces, or you prefer the giant wings, then keep going.  These are small, crispy and delicious; though they don't come this way unless you know how to ask for them.  As one good friend taught me, the only way to ask for them is plain with the sauce on the side.  And being from Philly, I am appreciative of having to order something a certain way in order to get it the right way...or the good way.  Yes, I am saying that my way is better than your way if you don't agree.

To boot, they also serve a very respectable breakfast burrito, which during football season on Sundays is only $3.

What else can you ask for?  Probably more parking and a better beer selection, especially in San Diego, but I digress.  You have the beach, you have great wings and you have NFL football.  So don't get greedy.

9.  Roberto's (Del Mar)

If you had never been to San Diego, then you don't know about breakfast burritos.  And if you don't know about breakfast burritos then I feel sorry for you.  You live a meager existence.

Also, if you have never had a breakfast burrito in San Diego, then you don't know that there are a myriad (or panoply - thanks Mark) of places serving them all day.  Add to that there are also a lot of places that sounds the same and some that have the same name but have no relation to one another:  Filiberto's, Aiberto's, Rigoberto's...but the only one that matters is Roberto's and specifically of Del Mar.

They make the most delicious breakfast burrito I have ever tasted.  I happily drive the near 30 minute drive just to enjoy one (or sometimes two) of these bad boys.

I always go with the hash brown burrito with bacon and sausage (yup, that's how I roll).  The hash browns are nice and crispy (adding some great texture), the sausage is juicy, the bacon is thick cut and they don't skimp on the cheese or the egg.

The Big Guy, who is not a fan of any one of those ingredients, loves it.  And since there is this understanding that kids seem to find the subtle joys in life, you know this has to be good when he gets into it!

As I mentioned, I am originally from Philadelphia so I associate locations with their best foods and San Diego absolutely OWNS the breakfast burrito.  Sure there is other great Mexican food, but this nifty hybrid of deliciousness is where it is at.  I would happily wait in line for a hour to enjoy these.

With just two days left here, I still haven't satiated my cravings for a breakfast burrito.  But between tomorrow and Monday I plan to get after it.  After that the list will be complete and my time here will be done.

10.  Station Tavern

Every time I go here I am amazed that no one had tried to copy their design.  There is nothing fancy about this place.  The food is simple.  The decor is simple.  Though the place has won architectural awards, you wouldn't know it as it fits into the surroundings so well...maybe that's why they won the awards.

Being a stay at home Dad (or mom), its bought o come up with things to do with your kids everyday.  Furthermore, sometimes you just want to sit down relax and let your mini-yous run around while you enjoy some time to yourself or with friends.  Station has it covered.  You enjoy a beer and your kids play in the play area.  Yep, you heard me a bar/restaurant.

Sure, you need to be aware of what you kids are up to, hopefully they are not throwing or eating gravel.  And yes, sometime to you have discipline someone else's kid as their parents are too busy socializing or just have their head up their asses.  Nothing like dumb parents.  But I digress.

The menu is simple: burgers, cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, veggie burgers, hot dogs, grilled cheese, and a variety of carbs (sweet potato fries, regular fries & tater tots).  They have a decent selection of beers and a full bar.  What else do you need?  Did I mention the play area?  If you want to read about this place and my thoughts on family friendly joints, check this out.

11.  Petco Park

The Padres suck.  Perennially.  There is no discussion there.

Sure, the games versus the Dodgers is always interesting, but frankly it's like going to a Chargers.Raiders games...I'd rather stay at home.

But Petco Park is an amazing stadium.  I don't care if you like baseball or not, there is something to enjoy on all levels.

Want to get bombed and forget where you are?  You can do that here.  Want to enjoy some craft brews and take down a Rubio's fish taco?  You can do that here.  Want to build a sandcastle in right field with your kids?  You can do that here.  Want to have a picnic in the grass and watch a baseball game?  YOu can do that here.  Want to take your kids to the playground?  You can do that here.  Are your kids into playing whiffle ball?  They can do that here.  Want to pay no more than $5 for a ticket to a game?  You can do that here.

It really is a great, great stadium.  It is the most family friendly venue I have ever been to and the organization goes out of it's way to continue that trend, from Fan Fest to letting the kids storm the field after some games to having a mini-ballpark for kids to play whiffle ball.  They thought of everything...oh yeah, then of course there is the playground and the sand area.

The downside to the games are parking.  San Diego doesn't have even close to enough of it and what they do have is overpriced.  But all that aside, Petco Park is a gem.

Hope you can make it out and take my list for a spin.

***Honorable mentions: Fidel's Mexican in Del Mar, Hotel Del (best family day at the beach without all the riffraff), LegoLand (it's no DisneyLand, but it's still fun), San Diego Botanical Gardens, Basic Pizza, Hoboken Pizza, Torrey Pines State Park & Beach, The Linkery, El Take It Easy, PrepKitchen, The Brigantine (the best swordfish tacos), South Beach Bar & Grill (best fish tacos - but not family kids allowed but you can order to go) and the Wine Vault (best prix fixe and pairing dinners ever).  There are probably another dozen places I could name, San Diego is a great place to live but for now it will be a fun place to come back to and visit.



  1. Went to my last Padres game as a San Diegan today and couldn't agree more. 13 games this season, all with kids under five and sometimes several -- sometimes for only $5 a ticket. As for the parking, there's always space in that lot across the street which is, admittedly, $15, but $10 is the least you could expect, so, considering how close it is, I can't complain.

    Headed to the Bay Area, I don't deign to expect the same at the Giants or the A's. :-)

    1. I took my boys to today's game as well.

      Great to go out on a high note here in SD: 3 homers and a win!

      I think we have reached that great point in the season where San Diegans (for the most part) have given up on the Padres and thus I think the games are more enjoyable, in my opinion. There are less people, tickets are easy to come by and as you were saying, there is ample parking. But frankly, I have just as much fun singing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" whether the Pads are in a pennant race or struggling to stay out of last place. With a 3 year old and a 1 year old the game is a second thought anyways.

      Best of luck in the Bay area. In a few years you can take your kids out into the bay and net a few home run balls!