Best place to contemplate your navel and watch surfers
How about leaving the mocha frappuccino at Starbucks and indulging in a lunch-hour of food for the soul? The tangible calmness at the cliff-side Self Realization Fellowship's (SRF) Meditation Gardens is an ideal oasis. It's open to the public and you don't have to belong to SRF to enjoy it. Being that they started planting in 1937, the grounds are rich and well maintained and include ocean views, a cool koi pond with giant goldfish and lush tropical flowers that bloom all year long. The gardens are also situated above Swami's Beach (named for SRF founder, the yogi Paramahansa Yogananda) and make a perfect spot for watching the boys and girls catch waves. Pick a bench next to an oversized squash blossom bush, indulge in the ocean air and leave life's busy-ness for a while. The place is hard to miss-just follow Pacific Coast Highway into Encinitas. You'll find the gardens tucked behind a white wall capped with giant golden lotus flowers.
Best newspaper for frothing religious zealots
No, no, not the Union-Tribune, even though it did receive a Columbia Journalism Review "Dart" recently in dishonor of its fawning, overblown coverage of octogenarian Christ-peddler Billy Graham's visit in May-all 61 photos and more than 24,000 words worth. Nooo, halo fanatics will feel much more at home with a copy of San Diego News Notes nestled in your unadulterated lap. The brainchild of venomous anti-abortion activist Jim Holman (also publisher of the San Diego Reader), News Notes prides itself on skewering local Catholics who stray even slightly into the modern world-you know, the world that's round, not flat. It also serves as Holman's soapbox to bash homosexuals, pester family clinics and blow a gasket over a woman's right to choose. With such headlines as "What Should We Think of the Damned?" "Kneeling, Standing Tear Parish Apart" and "[Congresswoman] Susan Davis Gets Close with Bisexuals," you'll never be disappointed. For those less blessed, you'll enjoy the devilish feedback, such as, "I heard your reporter at the Town Hall meeting last night. I didn't know you had a new whore in town."
-John R. Lamb
Best golf course you've never heard of
A lot of hackers get stars in their eyes as soon as they spit out $100-plus for a round. If the course charges that much, it must be the best track ever, right? For budget-minded golfers looking for a challenging layout-not to mention cheap beer-head south of the border to the Alister McKenzie-designed Tijuana Country Club. On weekdays (except Wednesdays), two players can play for $31.50 each. A handicap is required, meaning you won't see many hackers tee it up at TJCC. What you will see are sparse crowds, well-spaced tee times and a grass driving range. At the turn, grab a couple carne asada tacos, with guacamole, cilantro and your choice of salsas. Before and after the round, head upstairs for some outstanding Mexican food overlooking the first tee and the ninth and 18th greens. Just remember: shorts are cool in Mexico-if you're 12.
Best place to be the ball
There is a second deck, where you can bring kids or your significant other who has never hit a golf ball but is dying to share your frustration. The added altitude of the upper deck will turn their ground balls up the middle into respectable line drives. There are dozens of stalls, so you never have to wait for a spot. There is a separate grass area for hackers who think they need to see the divots. There is a huge selection of clubs available to test drive. But what your game really needs is the short game practice area at Stadium Golf on Aero Drive. For an extra $2 with any bucket, you will get a sleeve of balls and you can spend the whole day playing in the sand. They even have batting cages, for hitting real ground balls up the middle.
Best place to see crazy psychos in a traffic jam
As commuters make their way from downtown San Diego to their North County homes, thousands upon thousands of them pass through the merge of Interstate 5 and Interstate 805 in Carmel Valley. More than often, The Merge, as it has been dubiously dubbed, involves an hour-long wait to get from La Jolla to Del Mar-an otherwise short distance to trek. More than one middle finger is exchanged. Many heart attacks are initiated. Some of the most recent psycho sightings on the combined 10 lanes of highway: A man in a chicken suit standing next to his broken-down car waving at passersby; two middle-aged women driving naked through northbound traffic; a four-story-tall crane broken in half across southbound lanes; and, finally, a Caltrans associate, in official yellow vest, peeing onto southbound lanes and exposing himself to midnight traffic with a smile. Priceless.
Best outdoor activity for stoners
A journey into the separate reality can easily be spent reflecting in a coffee shop on the ruminations of Kant and Marx, Jerry Garcia and Bradley Nowell. Or at home in front of the nation's drug-television-wondering at the previously unnoticed idiosyncrasies of Office Space and Reefer Madness. Time well spent on both counts, but as Walt Whitman might say, all of life exists in a leaf of grass. So, once done staring at blades of grass on Morley Field Disk Golf Course, stand up, throw your disk and keep moving. There are few rules to Frisbee golf, or Folf, besides courtesy, and the objective is familiar: aim for par or below. The course in Balboa Park has19 holes (steel-chained baskets that stand about 4 feet tall), disks are available for rent at the "clubhouse" and a round costs $2, $2.50 on weekends. While serious folfers do exist-training for tournaments with totes full of "putters" and "drivers"-the sport brings satisfaction to many who can say that while they were stoned, they still did something with the day, and got a little exercise, too.
Best wooden fauna
Let's face it, the chances of catching real wildlife in the suburban setting are pretty minimal. Oh sure, you might find the occasional raccoon, possum or, if you're unlucky enough to live in certain parts of town, rats. But if you look hard enough, you will find exotic creatures of a wooden nature, lurking in the most unlikely places. Actually if you look hard enough, they're everywhere. Hillcrest residents can find a small herd of elephants grazing just south of Pennsylvania on First Avenue, while anybody heading to Mission Valley on Bachman Place, is advised to look in the shrubbery as they turn right. There, for no reason anyone can discern, are two large carved bears. But for something truly out of the ordinary, and clearly deserving of the "best" title, check out 1102 Felton St. in Normal Heights, where you can find a small menagerie topped by an 8-foot tall Bigfoot.
Best beach to spot a thong
On a full-blown summer's afternoon, the party monsters have crawled out of their hangover cocoons and dragged their starry eyes down to the pristine sands of Pacific Beach where, undoubtedly, they nurse their first chilled beer of the day to ease themselves into another night of festivities. Usually wallowing in the same misery are the hot, young thangs that emerge on those really bright summer weekends and, if they haven't eaten in the last week, they will pull out the trusty thong for the occasion. The party atmosphere in front of the Banana Bungalow International Hostel attracts its fare share of beer and, accordingly, its fare share of lost inhibitions. Lost inhibitions mean more thongs. And God bless these butt-flossers, for without their scanty clothing choices we would never know the true ogling nature of every male on Earth when they stop to stare.
Best crowd-less surfing
When it comes to surf, San Diego's crowded but internationally known. Blacks Beach, the swell recipient of 10-foot waves in early October, is a regular in surfing magazines. It's also notoriously local and at times, rather edgy. Some less-well-known spots offer good waves with far fewer people. For a decent wave without the crowd, head to Torrey Pines State Beach, at southernmost point of Del Mar. Save the $5 parking fare at the park and leave the car next to the road on the hill heading into Del Mar (but don't park diagonally-they ticket for it). If the five-minute walk down the cliffs is too much, or too many people have already made the trek, head south of the boarder. Playas De Tijuana offers several solid breaks, with parking almost on the beach. Farther south of that, with even fewer people, the Rosarito Pier-though often a close-out-periodically puts up a big wave, right down the pier, and the most you'll have to worry about is running over the occasional body boarder.
Best beach to be by yourself
More than one marriage proposal has taken place in the waning evening light at Sunset Cliffs in Ocean Beach. For a secluded look at a perfect San Diego sunset, a glimpse at some hot surfing action or an earful of crashing ocean waves, there is always a nook or cranny of Sunset Cliffs available for the adventurous seclusion-seeker. Parking can be a nightmare, but once you find a spot, the make-out possibilities are endless. Carefully step down along the sandstone on the southern side and you'll find a few rocky crannies where a picnic dinner or a tranquil cigarette could easily be consumed in silence. Sunset Cliffs is a great retreat for the Thinking Man's thinking evening.
Best 3-mile run
When the Balboa Park architecture becomes so commonplace it no longer diverts your attention from the anguish that is running for exercise, head to Coronado for the best 3-mile run in San Diego County. Start in the parking lot east of the bridge and follow the path west. Peer at San Diego's most beautiful golfers as you run alongside the municipal course on your way up to Glorietta Boulevard. On the one-and-a-half-mile stretch between Fourth and 10th streets, the sidewalks are wide enough to pass the walkers, cyclists and other joggers-or let them pass you. Not a heavily traveled thoroughfare, Glorietta Boulevard slows the vehicles that do pass with traffic bumps, which minimize tailpipe exhaust. The best part is that you'll pass 82 homes-from charming beach shacks to Mediterranean-style mansions-engaging enough to take your mind off the fact that your hips ache like an old golden retriever's.
-Amy Johnson Conner
Best newspaper about artists without amplifiers
There used to be a major complaint in town that music artists out of the mainstream never got a fair shake in the local press. In particular, country, folk and acoustic performers wanted more coverage, and while most of them simply complained about the lack of this or that, Lyle and Ellen Duplessie decided to do something about it. Founding the free monthly newspaper the Troubadour in 2001, the pair eschewed politics for in-depth music coverage. The newspaper soon gained a sterling reputation for both detailed articles on local music history as well as its range of columnists, which includes local DJ supreme Jim McGinnis, Folk Arts record store owner Lou Curtiss and infamous crooner Jose Sinatra. If you're into Americana, gospel, bluegrass, rockabilly, alt country or anything that falls into the roots music category, then the Troubadour is an indispensable read each month.
Best Bowling Alley
Nestled behind Roberto's taco shop in Clairemont lies 52 lanes of pure bowling bliss. Sunset Bowl is the best bowling alley in town for a few reasons. For one thing, it's clean. No peanut butter in the alley balls; no beer spilled on the hardwood. On top of that, the food is grade-A, 100-percent pure grease. It's like the stuff you get at the ballpark, but cheaper and with more calories. On top of all that, Sunset's got a great video arcade, cheap drinks and lots of pool tables. Friday and Saturday nights are rock "n' bowl nights, so strap on your bowling shoes, grab some beers and stare at the neon while you and your friends try to break 100 for once.
Best freeway graffiti
Gangs of kids and aspiring artists converge on BayHo in the dusk light on random days to decorate the walls of the concrete viaduct at the entrance of northbound Interstate-5 in Pacific Beach. Phrases, logos, action scenes and lively characters all coat these no-longer-white slabs in vivid reds and blues and flashes of green and yellow and other primary colors. Sometimes you can watch the cops nab perps in the evenings, but on other days the kids wrap their smooth characters from one side to the next without being bothered. Homeless vets walk by and give the kids props on their design and creativity and In'N'Out drive-thru waiters look on while the artists create their sweeping finished products. No one seems to be angry. Everyone is interested.
Best pier on which to take a short walk
A perfect spot for a romantic stroll and just a few steps from a cooling Pacific Ocean plunge, the Ocean Beach Pier provides a noble landmark for visiting tourists and native San Diegans alike. A short walk from many, many OB-area bars and above a calming stretch of sandy beach, the pier is even a movie star, having appeared in the opening scenes of Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous. Perfect for sunset-themed date nights or throwing your messy roommate from the rails for not doing her dishes, again, the people watching is a prime pastime from any pier-side bench. This pier is what everyone should be thinking of when grumpy Aunt Gerdy uses the age-old phrase: Take a long walk off a short pier.
Best local urban legend
With its rich and varied history, it's only natural that San Diego has its share of urban legends. Ghost hunters might want to stake out the Whaley House in Old Town, or the San Diego Hotel downtown, while the South Bay area still scares kids with its own version of the bogeyman, the Proctor Valley Monster. But the urban legend that continues to send tourists scouring the side of Mount Soledad is also the easiest to find, the midget houses of La Jolla. Rumored to have been built for some of the little people who worked on the original version of The Wizard of Oz, the small size of the doorways on the row of homes along Hillside Drive has long since been proved to be an optical illusion, but the legend continues. Truth be told, even a cursory glance at the homes sure makes the story seem plausible.
Skat and rap licks, rock and folk riffs and a lot of forlorn blues love seep out of the concrete in the Gaslamp, where buskers sit most evenings to serenade rollicking passersby. One-time player "Ron" says that he comes down to make money for food and booze on some weekends. As he milks his way through an intense Tom Petty solo at midnight on a cool Saturday evening, a couple drops him a dollar. He smiles and responds with a heart-felt "God bless you both." Ron says he can make up to $50 in a three-hour shift on the curb but most nights don't come close to that. The music and electric atmosphere of the Gaslamp, he says, are the main reasons he brings his guitar, harmonica and long, ratty beard down to the corner. Who could blame him? Drunks love the music and will even stop to dance along the sidewalk before fishing through their wallet for a tip, and strolling couples will stop and listen for a romantic tune. Crowds gather around the regular weekend bongo drum circle on the lower side of 5th Avenue and some even start to skat their own lyrics if they're brave enough. The ambiance is rousing for any night out on the town.
-Caley CookBest protestIt began more than a decade ago, when a couple dozen normally skittish harbor seals hauled themselves out onto the soft sands of La Jolla. As is the case with many protesters, the seals were unable to clearly articulate their agenda. (Observers assumed they were making a stand for environmental sensitivity, developmental restraint, nude sunbathing and/or peaceful coexistence.) To this day, approximately 200 seals occupy Children's Pool Beach, hauling out each day on the small stretch of sand to rest and sun themselves for a good cause. If you haven't been there yet, hurry down to get an up close and personal glimpse of the (usually) non-violent and photogenic protesters, as the San Diego City Council has tasked the Parks and Recreation Department with coming up with an appropriately non-violent way to return the beach to people-friendly use. -Ames Foley
Best reason to root for the seals
Many traditionally xenophobic La Jolla villagers, who insist they already have a tough enough time finding parking in front of Saks, resent the Children's Pool Harbor Seals and the freeloading tourists they attract. Nine swimmers, who now refer to themselves as "the La Jolla 9," organized a swim-in, ostensibly to prove that people and seals could share the beach. Unfortunately, this was during the seals' pupping season, and as the swimmers emerged from the surf, the normally passive seals stampeded. Details about what followed are sketchy: one swimmer was reportedly scratched, and one seal reportedly held a swimmer underwater while another swimmer reportedly hit it over the head with a flipper. Truly, a low point in La Jolla history. (All nine swimmers were cited for violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act. A swimmer who shoved a federal officer to the ground was also cited for "obstructing an investigation.")