Home to surfers, college kids and long-time San Diego locals unwilling to relinquish their bachelor status, Pacific Beach and Mission Beach are home to a gold mine of cheap eats, thirst-quenching happy hours, crazy clubs and enticing, low-key hangouts. Hip gear available for reasonable prices at zboutiques along Garnet Avenue and Mission Boulevard make the area a top attraction for frenzied female shoppers, while bored boyfriends find entertainment at nearby sports bars. The area's close proximity to the beach and tightly concentrated conglomerate of shops and restaurants make it an enjoyable, if hectic, place to explore.
Where to stuff your gut
With the ocean in such close proximity, it would be disappointing not to find a selection of satisfying seafood and sushi restaurants nearby. Fish addicts needn't worry however, as your daily dose of sashimi is almost as affordable as fast food-behold the reasonable prices at Haiku Sushi (1520 Garnet Ave.) and across the street at Mr. Sushi. Surfside Sushi (4527 Mission Blvd.) is a little pricier but is better in quality and selection and is one of the few places in the area actually frequented by discerning Asian patrons.
Those who like their fish cooked can enjoy fresh fare at places like The Fishery (5040 Cass St), a market and restaurant with dinner entrees ranging from $14 to $20 and lunch specials from $6 to $10. Also, Cass Street Bar & Grill (4612 Cass St.) dishes out delicious fish sandwiches and salads that are topped with a generous fillet rather than sprinkled with some hard-to-find chunks, not to mention a décor that screams Hemingway. World Famous (711 Pacific Beach Drive) is worth a visit just for the lobster bisque.
Of course, there are those who, after a long day of surfing, prefer something a little more substantial. There's no lack of feeding spots for carnivores along this stretch of coast, and I'm not just talking about the bar scene. For great burgers, try the succulent tenderness of those at the Liar's Club (3844 Mission Blvd.), which also has a good jukebox and a variety of microbrews. Saska's (3768 Mission Blvd.), aside from notable salads and seafood, has reasonably priced steak for those looking to sink their teeth into some barely cooked flesh.
Feast on a selection of nine flavors of wings at The Australian Pub (1014 Grand Ave.) or choose between four flavors at Big Bertha's (1165 Garnet Ave.)-they're half price every day for happy hour (3 to 7 p.m.) and only 30 cents apiece on Monday nights. As well, Pasta Espresso (4480 Haines St.) will satisfy your hunger with a freshly cooked portion of carb-loaded pasta (oh, get over it) and a side salad for less than $6.
If you're looking to spice up your cuisine, there are a few hidden gems. Karinya Thai (825 Garnet Ave.) and Ivory Thai (859 Hornblend St.). Both offer good food at reasonable rates, and the China Inn Restaurant (877 Hornblend St.) boasts an amazing cocktail menu, although the food itself is closer to average. Chow on tzatziki and couscous at Café Athena (1846 Garnet Ave.), an authentic and affordable Greek restaurant that offers numerous vegetarian options. World Curry (1433 Garnet Ave.) is a good deal, with Asian and Indian curry lunch specials for only $6 a plate. For something a little different, check out the Asian- and Latin-fusion vibe at Cantina Panaderia (966 Felspar St.) or the upscale Euro feel-and delicious sangria-at Isola (1269 Garnet Ave).
Mexican restaurants are plenty. Fred's Mexican Café (1165 Garnet Ave.) offers standard fare, with good prices and Mahi burritos that actually have more fish than rice (try them wet with the red sauce). For those with a tough stomach, check out Taco Motion (1313 Garnet Ave.). It sounds more like a theme-park ride than a restaurant, but the tortillas are delicious and obviously homemade. Or, for all the comforts of home, La Casa de Cotija is in a house on Grand Avenue that's been converted into a small restaurant.
And don't forget dessert. Mr. Frosty, next to R.T. Longboard Grill (1466 Garnet Ave.), is a small, family-owned ice cream joint that's been there for years and puts Dairy Queen to shame. Bogart's Yogurt (910 Grand Ave.) offers something slightly healthier-it's all fat free-enhanced by a dazzling array of flavors and toppings.
For late-night bingers, coat that beer-filled stomach with a heavy dose of pizza from Hoboken (1459 Garnet Ave.), a New York-style implant that's open until 3 a.m. and has some of the best pizza in the city.
If you fail to take preventative measures, nurse your morning hangover with rosemary potatoes or blackberry banana pancakes at The Mission (3795 Mission Blvd.). If the long lines deter you, take advantage of the substantial omelets and outside seating area at the Boardwalk Café (3704 Mission Blvd.), only a block or so away. Kono's (704 Garnet Ave.) and The Broken Yolk (1851 Garnet Ave.) are always a good bet, but The Menu (3784 Ingraham St.) offers what may well be the area's most satisfying breakfast for the best price. As well, Gringo's Cocina y Cantina (4474 Mission Blvd.) serves a great Sunday brunch buffet boasting fresh fruit, chorizo, eggs, quesadillas and ceviche for less than $20.
Where to get a good pint o' love
Beer dispensers are not in short supply. In choosing the destination for your debauchery, it's important to consider what you hope to get out of the experience-be it a great atmosphere, good entertainment or simply some fabulously cheap cocktails.
Cocktails: If you, like other obsessive people out there, are singularly consumed by a search for the ultimate bloody Mary, try The Green Flash (701 Thomas Ave.). Garnished with pickled green beans, the cocktail is a delight rivaled closely by those concocted at World Famous or Froggy's Bar & Grill in North Pacific Beach. Gringo's Cocina y Cantina allows you to create your own at a special bloody Mary bar on Sundays, and also serves splendid margaritas. If you're interested more in quantity than quality, check out Cinco de Fred's-on the fifth of every month, Fred's Mexican Café hosts an all-night special of $1 small margaritas and $2 20-ounce margaritas.
Sample delicious wines accompanied by intelligent political conversation at The Turquoise, Café Bar Europa, (873 Turquoise St.). Finally, the mimosas are not to be missed at World Famous, with choices of mango and pineapple juice offering variations on the original orange.
Happy hours: The beauty of happy hour is that it's easy on your wallet and still gets you home early enough to allow for a (hopefully) hangover-free morning. Some extra-special specials in the area can be found at:
Plum Crazy Saloon (1060 Garnet Ave.)-From Monday to Saturday, noon to 8 p.m., gulp down $2 wells and domestic drafts or $3 calls and micro drafts. Big Bertha's/Typhoon Saloon-Every day from 3 to 7 p.m., get $2.50 drafts, bottles and well, call and premium liquors. Bub's Dive (1030 Garnet Ave.)-From Monday to Friday, 4 to 7 p.m., domestic drafts are $2, domestic pitchers are $8 and wells are $3. You can also get a number of dishes for $4.50. Froggy's Bar & Grill-From Monday to Friday, 4 to 6:30 p.m., drafts are $2.50 and wells are $3. All appetizers are half price.
Dive bars like the Nite Owl (2772 Garnet Ave.) or the Silver Fox (1838 Garnet Ave.)-which has some of the strongest you-call-its around for only $2 on Thursday nights-are perfect for young folks with thin wallets and an eager desire to get wasted. The West End Pub (on Turquoise St.) is also well known for its beefed-up cocktails, and Coaster Saloon (744 Ventura Place) has a college night where you can get a beer and a shot for $5 from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. If you can stand the line at the Beachcomber (2901 Mission Blvd.), Dos Equis is only $1 on Thursdays until they run out. Tuesdays at Plum Crazy Saloon are $2 you-call-its, and Wednesdays offer all 30 of their 22-ounce beers for only $3. At Canes Bar & Grill (3105 Ocean Front Walk), make sure to ask your server about the "locals card," which enables you to get 20 percent off your bill every visit.
Sports bars: Game days get pretty out of control at some of the area's neighborhood bars. Moondoggies (832 Garnet Ave.) and Pacific Beach Bar & Grill (860 Garnet Ave.) are packed with folks who see sporting events as an opportunity for a social gathering. The Tavern and Nick's at the Beach (809 Thomas St.) are more mellow locations, where game watching is the definite priority. Bub's Dive is the local hangout for Steelers fans, and Pacific Beach Bar & Grill offers a particularly enticing Sunday morning special from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. with $2.50 bloody Marys, $1.50 mimosas and a $9.95 buffet. The Liar's Club on Mission Blvd. also has a Sunday NFL brunch for only $5.95.
Music: There aren't too many venues devoted solely to live music, but Canes Bar & Grill offers big name concerts supplemented by local talent. For those who prefer a smaller venue, Blind Melons (710 Garnet Ave.) hosts some great shows, although earplugs are a must when a punk band takes the stage.
Most bars host local bands at least one night of the week. The Devastators attract a good crowd at R.T. Longboard Grill every Sunday with their laid-back reggae vibe. Coaster Saloon has live music every Thursday, and Tropicoso (1261 Garnet Ave.) often has live Latin music. The Tiki House (1152 Garnet Ave.) and the Sandbar Grill (718 Ventura Place) are other small venues with some good local acts, and don't miss Metal School, an '80s metal cover band whose ad-libbing will make your poor grandmother do summersaults in her grave, at Typhoon Saloon every Wednesday.
For caffeine freaks
One of San Diego's best coffee shops is located in the heart of Pacific Beach-Café 976 (976 Felspar St.) has an enormous outdoor patio surrounded by enough plant life to keep a botanist busy for hours. A perfect place to study, chat or meet fellow addicts, the café also has good coffee and delicious, if slightly overpriced, sandwiches and salads. Further north, Cappy's Coffee House (4978 Cass St.) is an adorable little shop with comfortable couches and a wide selection of coffee. If you're looking for a dessert to liven you up, Pacific Bean Coffee House (712 1/2 Garnet Ave.) has amazing white-chocolate mochas painstakingly topped with whipped cream and white-chocolate flakes. Or hang out at Café Veloce (4450 Ingraham St.), a Euro-style café and one of the few spots in town where crepes are an option. For an early morning wakeup, stop by the drive-through coffee stand located in the parking lot.
Where to spice up your wardrobe
The beach areas are speckled with little boutiques selling unique clothing and jewelry alongside cheap beach gear. Wish, Hot Spot and L.A. Rack are all shops on Garnet Avenue where females can adorn themselves with interesting picks for reasonable prices. For vintage wear, Atomic Rag, Flashbacks, The Buff and Buffalo Exchange (also on Garnet Ave.) all have racks of hand-picked, second-hand gems. Children's Hospital Thrift Store (1454 Garnet Ave.) has some of the best cheap gear around, with a hip outfit running anywhere upwards of $6. For that summer bikini, try Gone Bananas (3785 Mission Blvd.), which is big on selection and actually allows you to mix and match tops and bottoms. And of course, your wardrobe won't be complete in this neighborhood unless you have at least one tattoo or piercing. For both, Chronic (1253B Garnet Ave.) does an amazing job and has some of the most unusual jewelry.
How to get back in shape
For those who head to the beach for reasons other than to drink, suntan or ogle girls in their newly acquired beach wear, there are plenty of ways to keep active. Fish off Crystal Pier, where elderly locals spend their afternoons line fishing and watching surfers. Surf next to the pier or further north at Law Street or Tourmaline. Head the opposite direction to get a thinner crowd-anywhere south of Pacific Beach Drive is usually less claustrophobic. For windsurfing, Mission Bay offers a somewhat sheltered option, as well as a calm location to water ski or wakeboard for those with access to a boat.
There are multiple opportunities for volleyball, with numerous courts lining the sand in South Mission Beach. Horseshoes is a portable beach game popular along this portion of the coast. As well, one of the best places to jog is along the quiet, scenic boardwalk lining Mission Bay, hidden away from the crowded oceanfront.
If for no other reason, Pacific Beach and Mission Beach are areas that should be explored for the chance to gander at the characters that call them home. As you stroll along the boardwalk, keep your eyes peeled for Flash, a masked individual wearing little but a thong and some decorative painting. Slo-Mo may cause you to question your hurried lifestyle, and the group of roller-blade-wearing break-dancers at Belmont Park offers much better Sunday afternoon entertainment than the NFL football package. Or, for some of the best people watching, kick back with a beer at Lahaina Beach House (710 Oliver Ave.) and observe as the madness unfolds.