South Park and Golden Hill are areas that feel like home. People greet each other by name, and even someone from outside the neighborhood can't help but experience a sense of community in the quaint coffee shops, specialty stores and family-owned eateries that line the streets.
The South Park Walkabout, held four times a year, helps get people out of their houses and into the streets and is part of what's made the neighborhood what it is today. Stores stay open late, giving people the opportunity to meet their neighbors while they feast on appetizers and refreshments.
Places to perk up
Coffee shops are an essential component in small communities, and there are plenty of options for finding that Sunday morning mocha in South Park and Golden Hill. Rebecca's (3023 Juniper St.) assaults the nostrils with the tempting smell of freshly baked pastries and an appetizing selection of melts-hot sandwiches with a cheesy interior. The store's interior, on the other hand, is anything but cheesy, with cozy tables and a selection of used books and movies for sale.
Santos (3001 Beech St.) has wide windows that light up a comfortable seating area lined with couches, making it an ideal place to read or study. An outdoor patio sits on the street corner, perfect for people watching or chatting with old-time locals. Krakatoa (1128 25th St.) is also conducive to reading, with a tree-lined balcony and numerous small tables. Influx Café (1948 Broadway) has closely spaced indoor seating and a bare, minimalist sense of cool.
Where to deal with those hunger pains
If bagels and pastries won't cut it, find a heartier breakfast at places like The Big Kitchen (3003 Grape St.). The menu opens with a quote from Plato: "What's important is not the character of a place... rather the characters in the place." If that's true, owner Judy Forman is the restaurant's ultimate draw, with her welcoming manner and obvious delight in serenading her customers with renditions of "What a Wonderful World" and other happy tunes. A flowery outdoor patio joins two small rooms crowded with consumers eager to sample the menu's extensive breakfast possibilities. The fresh-squeezed orange juice might be the best in the city, and you will not be disappointed with the coffee cake-but you might need a friend to help you get through it.
South Park Bar and Grill has a good Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with $2 bloody Marys, mimosas and screwdrivers. Popular dishes include the chipotle scramble, pecan strawberry pancakes and a crab cake benedict. The grill also has a great twilight menu from 5 to 6 p.m. that boasts an assortment of substantial dinner plates for $9.99 and half-price beer and wine. Make sure to try the restaurant's famous mojito-just make sure to tip the bartender well for his labor-intensive endeavors.
The Turf Supper Club (1116 25th St.) has an appealing, darkened interior centered around a communal grill. Order from a number of steak, seafood or vegetable options and chat it up with your fellow grillers as you prepare your food. The setup helps keeps the prices low-it's difficult to spend more that $20, unless the appealing martini list helps empty your wallet.
Pizzeria Luigi (1137 25th St.) has some of the best New York style pizza around, graced with such delicacies as artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and other festive toppings. At the corner of 25th and C streets, there is often a stand selling amazing tamales. Don't be put off by the sketchy appearance-the flavorful grub is well worth it.
For dessert, Golden Delights (1135 25th St.) boasts all-natural, hand-made ice cream and crepes.
Entertainment for the drinker
The bars residing in South Park and Golden Hill are neighborhood bars, popular with the locals and destinations for outsiders looking to escape the Gaslamp or the beach areas. The Whistle Stop Bar (2236 Fern St.) is a must. With live music and CD-release parties, the spot attracts an indie-rock crowd. Try "Friends Chill" night on Tuesdays, characterized by mellow tunes, board games, pool and darts. Or just stop in for happy hour (Monday to Friday from 5 to 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 8 p.m.) for $1 off drinks.
The Whistle Stop Bar's owner, Sam Chammas, recently purchased Snippy's Tavern (2204 Fern St.) just down the block. Keep your eye on the place, as it's sure to become a happening spot once renovations are complete.
Feeling social? Sparky's (1521 30th St.) is renowned for its friendly staff and customers.
Like the neighborhood restaurants and bars, shops in the area cater to the diverse needs of the community. The Grove (3010 Juniper St.) sells carefully chosen books, yarn, cards, clothing, jewelry and more. While you might not find the largest selection of these items, you can be sure to come away with exceptional quality. As well, the store offers classes on basket building, knitting and writing.
My Back Yard Nursery Art & Garden Center (2234 30th St.) builds community through classes and events, while giving local artisans a venue to display and sell their creations. The place can be reserved for parties, and the nursery in the back offers an array of plant life to liven up your garden. The owners also run a landscaping business, so it's not even necessary to get your hands dirty. If you do, however, the store hosts occasional hand-washing events, originating from an old Victorian custom, that are a relaxing alternative to regular massage techniques.
M-Theory Records (3004 Juniper St.) caters to San Diegans with its large stock of local music. Listening stations allow customers to preview new releases, and monthly art and music shows keep the joint lively.
For clothing, Magpie Gallery & Boutique (2205 Fern St.) has well-chosen vintage clothing and locally made jewelry for reasonable prices. Monthly art shows make the store a destination for social engagements as well as a tempting place to spend your hard-earned green.