2003 Best Of

The Good Life

Best place to fly a kite

A bottle of wine, a kite and a Sunday afternoon-what more could you ask for? Well, OK, a raise and a vacation, but after a day like this, you'll feel much better. For some reason, kites seem to be drawn to the skies over Ponto Beach in Carlsbad. They litter the powder blue, darting about like toddlers vying for attention and creating havoc for the gulls. Maybe it's some kind of freaky air current that makes Ponto a perfect kite spot, or maybe it's the long narrow stretches of beach perfect for stretching out line and crashing $60 kites into the sand. You won't regret it.

-Ilana Mignon

Best place to wait for someone's plane to land

Since we've entered the Age of Paranoia, it is no longer possible to wait 10 seconds for your friend (who just called from inside and who you are currently watching walk from the terminal to your car door) at the airport. The best option outside of paying a lump sum lottery jackpot for parking in the lot is to jet over to Harbor Island and wait for your traveling companion. With a panoramic view of the city, a quiet lull of San Diego Bay waves and the hullabaloo of Coronado jets and armed-forces comings and goings, a nice place on a wooden bench on Harbor Island is the place to gather your thoughts. Cell phone reception is optimum so you can clearly hear your friend gasping for a ride from the airport pay phone when he or she is ready. For an ultra-relaxing spot, pull into a parking space, find a flat rock at the shoreline and toss your toes into the chilly bay water.

-Caley Cook

Best place to stop and smell the roses

If fragrant flora floats your boat, you can't go wrong with the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden just east across Park Boulevard from the giant fountain in Balboa Park. Named for a San Diego philanthropist that established the Parker Foundation, which contributes to a slew of arts and culture institutions locally, the meandering exhibit has been honored as one of the top 16 rose gardens in the world. With a whopping 2,400 rose bushes featuring 180 varieties, the free garden is open year-round, but blooming primarily runs from April (peak blooming time) through December. It's also a hot bed for weddings. A footbridge north of the fountain gets you there from the park.

-John R. Lamb

Best local wine that's from the last place you'd expect

Rednecks be damned. Fallbrook Winery's Merlot is, unanimously, the best wine CityBeat's downed in a long time and that's saying, well, um.... At a recent event, 10 of us plowed through five bottles (or was it six?) in record time, stopping only when our free wine vouchers ran out. The conversation went something like this, "Good wine. What kind is it?" "Fallbrook." "Fallbrook, like in San Diego County?" "Yeah, the Fallbrook, as in hole yourself up on your five acres of land with the wife, eight kids and 200 loaded guns." OK, maybe that's an exaggeration, but our love of this wine isn't. We give it our highest rating-five corks.

-Kelly Davis

Best motorcycle ride

There's nothing like a lazy Sunday afternoon ride with a friend-on the back, or on the bike beside-and there's nothing like a couple hundred laidback miles on two wheels to work off a little hangover. Pacific Coast Highway is a classic, but it's riddled with red lights and traffic from OB to San Clemente. The ride northeast into Julian and the route straight east to the Sunrise Highway are highly recommended. Pick up Highway 67 off Interstate 8 in El Cajon and take it through the hills to Highway 78 east, which runs right into Julian. The ride's perfect for warm fall afternoons, with winding turns through the hills and mountains into the splendor of the small town. Some 45 miles east of San Diego, on the Interstate 8, the Sunrise Highway crosses and runs deep into the Cleveland National Forest. Roads winding around the mountainous landscape are the reason cruising cycles were invented. Late note: If moonscapes aren't your outdoorsy cup of tea, you might want to wait till the area recovers from the wildfire attack.

-Shane Liddick

Best place to get high

To the billions of transplants clogging the highways, swerving at 50 mph as they flip through shiny new Thomas Guides: On the next clear, sunny day, get yourself a pair of binoculars (optional), take a side trip up to the top of Mt. Soledad, and understand your world just a little bit better. You'll stop bitching about how hard it is to get to the beach, and marvel that we can get there at all. If you're feeling adventurous, come by bike, or prepare yourself for the San Francisco marathon by taking the long hill on foot. Don't forget to pay your respects to the veteran's memorial under construction behind you, and weigh in on the "separation of church and state" controversy surrounding the giant cross.

-Steve Mayberry

Best place to discover the next Cameron Crowe or Eddie Vedder

San Diego community college drama and broadcasting programs may be more than a hundred miles from the sound stages of Hollywood, but they shine in their own right, nonetheless. Two students from the same San Diego Mesa College drama program were recently accepted into the prestigious Harvard University American Repertory Theatre. And while two acting undergrads from the same program being accepted simultaneously is almost unheard of, Mesa's drama kings and queens have already begun an up-and-coming actor's pipeline to the esteemed university. Three years ago, Todd Peters was the first Mesa grad to transfer into the Harvard program (he now acts off-Broadway). The success at Mesa College is surely due to Juan Castro, the school's drama department chairman. Castro is well known for his intense expectations and extraordinary standards-a sort of junior college Svengali to each semester's crop of Hale Berry-hopefuls and Will Smith-wannabes. Over at San Diego City College, the list of well-known names is becoming longer by the semester. Radio and TV broadcaster-alums range from local stalwarts Bree Walker, Dave Scott and Gail Stewart, to national reporters Lena Nozizwe (America's Most Wanted) and Cindy Hom. Not to be outdone by their marquee-marked counterparts at Mesa, the drama and arts programs at City College have produced their own roster of top-billed entertainment industry players, including Spin City producer-writer Gary David Goldberg, actor James Avery (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), and, of course, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder and writer-director Cameron Crowe.

-Will K. Shilling

Best local landmark no one seems to know about

Maybe it's that there are so many recent transplants to our city, but a surprising number of people here aren't aware that there is a San Diego River. That's mighty odd since Interstates 5, 15 and 805 all cross it, and every time we get a decent rain, Fashion Valley's south entrance is flooded. But for those unenlightened, it runs from the headwaters in the Julian Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, via Mission Valley. Major efforts in recent years to restore the river to its pristine condition, plus the addition of hiking trails and a general cleanup of the area itself has made this a favorite spot with nature buffs and bird watchers, literally an oasis in a suburban setting. But the general public remains blissfully unaware.

-Scoop Stevens

Best place to own nose plugs in San Diego

For years, travelers have passed by the stretch of Interstate 5 in North County between Palomar Airport Road and Poinsettia Road. Few have been able to ignore the stench that permeates the air on this expanse of road. The culprit? The Encina Water Pollution Control Facility in southern Carlsbad-otherwise known as The Poop Plant. CityBeat salutes Encina for its unique ability to provide the foulest smelling stench this side of Los Angeles and for giving those traveling south on I-5 a warm welcome into the outstretched arms of San Diego County. What a wonderful place to own nose plugs! If not for Encina and what its got cookin' behind those concrete walls, folks would never take note of the south end of Carlsbad, and for this, we are all grateful.

-Caley Cook