May 19 2015 07:09 PM

Skip the tourist traps and treat them to tacos, TNT and Turista Libre tours

Illustration by Carolyn Ramos

I'm lucky in that I have friends spread throughout the world. I suppose I'm also lucky that said friends, for the most part, remain single and spawnless. So when they come to visit, I do feel it's my duty to show them the real San Diego. The stuff that has nothing to do with Shamu, surfing or queuing up to see a stupid panda roll around on the ground like a fat drunken mime. If an old friend or, say, a younger cousin comes to visit me, I want them to leave being able to say either, "Wow, San Diego is a pretty cool place" or "I was drunk a lot, but from what I remember, San Diego rules!" And yeah, maybe I'll take them to the beach, but it will almost certainly be incidental.

One common misconception that a lot of out-of-town friends come in with is that we're all out here just bumming around on the beach and drinking beer from one of our umpteen million craft breweries. I can't stand the beach, and I think the local beer scene is completely oversaturated. However, I realize these are also things I take for granted, so it's understandable that one of my friends from, say, Toronto, might really want to drink a beer on the beach. I have a soft spot in my sandless heart for Ocean Beach. It has character (not a corporate chain in sight) and is filled with characters. Culture Brewing Co. (4845 Newport Ave.) and Pizza Port Ocean Beach (1956 Bacon St.) both offer up solid pints that I'm confident will impress my friends, and (bonus!) we'll be able to knock out the requisite beach visit at the same time. Pacific Beach on the weekdays is tolerable and Barrel Republic (1261 Garnet Ave.), despite having a name that conjures up images of overpriced yuppy boutiques, has the cool distinction of being a pour-your-own-pint, sample-friendly beer bar with dozens of local brews to choose from.

OK, we've gotten beer and beaches out of the way. Now I need to make sure my friend leaves knowing that, outside of Mexico, we have the best Mexican food in the world. Just as it could be argued that the British often do Indian food better than India, I could argue that Puesto (789 W Harbor Dr. in Downtown and 1026 Wall St. in La Jolla) and City Tacos (3028 University Ave., North Park) are both serving up inventive and delicious takes on traditional Mexi favorites. Tacos El Gordo (689 H St.) in Chula Vista is still an absolute must for more traditional street tacos (I have fever dreams about the adobada tacos). For fish tacos, Brigantine Seafood (multiple locations) and the Mariscos German taco truck (3030 Grape St.) in South Park will please beginners. And I can't let any friend leave without them (preferably drunk) trying a California Burrito from Saguaro's drive-thru (3753 30th St.) in North Park.

Coin-Op Game Room
Photo by Stacy Keck

Another common fallacy when it comes to San Diego is that we have no culture. Summer in San Diego is filled with cool cultural events, openings and parties, and I would hope that my friend would be visiting at a time when one of them is taking place. Museum of Contemporary Art SD (1100 Kettner Blvd.) will be having one of their must-go Thursday Night Thing (TNT) parties in July, but their La Jolla location (700 Prospect St.) is also offering their Shore Thing event series every Thursday from May 28 through Aug. 27, which includes a bar, DJs and tours of the exhibits. Monthly art events like the Barrio Art Crawl in Barrio Logan (held the fourth Thursday of the month), as well as North Park After Dark and Ray at Night (every second Saturday) remain a great way to show off the local gallery scene. 

When it comes to bars and nightlife, I have a very tidy system of go-to spots. The Casbah (2501 Kettner Blvd.) in Middletown and Soda Bar (3615 El Cajon Blvd.) in City Heights for live music; in North Park there's Bluefoot Bar (3404 30th St.) for sports, Coin-Op (3926 30th St.) for video game fun, and Seven Grand (3054 University Ave.) for douche-free craft cocktails; SRO Lounge (1807 5th Ave.) in Bankers Hill for shitfaced weirdness; and South Park's Whistle Stop (2236 Fern St.) for dancing on a weekend. If my friend simply must go to a big club, I'd grit my teeth and take them to AD Nightclub (905 4th Ave.) in the Gaslamp Quarter, simply for the awesome sound and dark design. However, I'd try to persuade them to go to Kettner Exchange (2001 Kettner Blvd.) in Little Italy instead. The new Little Italy spot's upstairs balcony has a club-like atmosphere without the oonce-oonce pretense. 

If I know my friends, we're going to be entirely too hungover for things like hiking or other outdoor activities that people seem to do. I'm sure my friend would rather lounge poolside at the Lafayette Hotel (2223 El Cajon Blvd.) in North Park, with a Bloody Mary in hand. The iconic hotel will be offering cool pool parties throughout the summer. A Padres game is always fun, but more often than not, I'd try to talk them into a daytrip to Tijuana for a Turista Libre trip to either a Lucha Libre wrestling match or a Tijuana Toros baseball game (tours are offered throughout the summer). The beer isn't as crafty, but you can't beat the price ($25-$50) and there's nary a stupid panda in sight.

Email or follow Seth on Twitter at @combsseth.


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