Best view from on high
At 1,600 feet, the Cowles Mountain summit is the city's highest point, but the mountain itself isn't exactly big, so it gets lost among the crazy-quilt of landscapes that is San Diego. It's when you reach the top that you get a feel for those landscapes and the perspectives they provide.
The skyline and the Coronado Bridge look like a kid's miniature Erector Set project from up there, while nearby Lake Murray stuns amid its surrounding plant life. Arid swaths to the north; fall foliage along the hiking trail; jaw-dropping sunsets: Your eyes won't believe themselves amid all there is to take in. The 1.5-mile trail has public restrooms and water at the bottom, and your fellow hikers are as friendly as you are.
The trek is easier than you think (there are a few snakes and coyotes around, but they're pretty chill). So is getting to Mission Trails Regional Park, the walkway's locale. Route 125 north and south take you to the Navajo Road exit; head west on Navajo. The entry point is at Navajo and Golfcrest Drive.
—Martin Jones Westlin
Best way to light the eternal light
Have you ever purchased a candle that was so beautiful you didn't want to light it because it would melt away? If so, Seaport Village's California Candle Gallery has the perfect solution for your finicky design needs. Not only do its candles last forever, but they also come either pre-made with a cool design or custom-made with a design of your choice. At last—a place to put that tattoo design you're too scared to have permanently inked on your body. But wait, how do they last forever, you ask? Easy. All of the gallery's candles are designed to burn straight down the center, creating a hole that can be filled over and over again with replacement candles (like tea lights, minus the aluminum tin). When lit, the artwork is beautifully illuminated and enhanced by the patented glow layer. If you stop by the shop (879 W Harbor Drive), allow yourself some time to test out the candles on display and watch the employees make candles by hand. The process is just as eye-catching as the candles themselves.
Best place to get twisted
Late at night at the corner of Ray Street and North Park Way in North Park, you can often catch Matthew Cirello behind the glow of a torch or with some other jewelry-making tool in hand, working hard to keep his Cirello Gallery (3803 Ray St.) stocked with his handmade bracelets, pendants, earrings and necklaces. Cirello shares the space with his cousin, glass artist John Gibbons, and lends his walls to local artists for the monthly Ray at Night art walk, an event Cirello has become a big part of (the metalsmith sits on the North Park Main Street board, and he's a member of the North Park for the Arts organization).
Cirello has two lines of jewelry, the more expensive, one-of-a-kind collection, and the more affordable, stainless-steel stuff, which is made from reclaimed materials. All of Cirello's jewelry is minimalist, resembling Celtic knots, Mayan patterning and other twisted, interlacing designs.
Best place to get copies of The American Conservative and Buttman
If you want proof that print media is still alive and well, go to Paras News (3911 30th St. in North Park). There isn't a newsstand in San Diego County that has a wider selection of magazines and newspapers. Paras has national papers like The New York Times and international ones like Le Monde. It's got liberal monthlies like Mother Jones and right-wing ones like The American Conservative. The shelves are stocked with international fashion magazines, literary journals, university reviews, hobbyist mags and puzzle collections. Titles cover the topics of weddings, robots, ghosts and shotguns (oh, and there's also the likes of Penthouse and Buttman). And as any good newsstand would, the store also sells cigarettes, coffee, soda and lottery tickets.
Established in 1949 and currently owned by Junior Najor and Ken Gabbara, Paras News is practically a monument to the printing press. When Borders closed up shop Downtown and newsstands in Chula Vista and Oceanside went out of business, some of their customers came to Paras, Najor says. For a print media worker like me, it's downright heartwarming that, when the next issue of Granta or The Wire comes out, I know exactly where to find it.
Best way to see the stars
If you've not done Stars in the Park, add it to your San Diego bucket list. On the first Wednesday of each month, from 6 to 10 p.m.—weather permitting—members of the San Diego Astronomy Association set up telescopes just outside the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park—telescopes that, in some cases, are twice (three times?) the size of the kids whose parents lift them up to squint through the eyepieces.
“Since it's always on the first Wednesday of the month, we can have nights with a lot of moon,” says Kin Searcy, SDAA's outreach coordinator. “Darker nights are better... you can see star clusters, bright nebulae and even a very bright galaxy.”
Moon or not, you'll be blown away by what you see, and the guys manning the 'scopes are happy to give you the 101 on what you're viewing. Make an evening of it and start out with the Fleet's “The Sky Tonight” planetarium show. Tickets are $12; peeping through the telescopes is free and open to the public.
If you're looking for a light-free stargazing experience, on the second Friday of the month, at the Kumeyaay Lake Campground on the Santee side of Mission Trails Regional Park, SDAA sets up telescopes for “Stars at Mission Trails.”
Best place to shop with real artists
Those of us not gifted with artistic talent can still be patrons, admirers or weekend crafters. Rhino Art Co. in Encinitas (97 N. Coast Hwy. 101) is a cool and stylishly edited store that manages to be stocked for expert artists, yet still welcoming to those of us who just want to touch the pretty papers and coo at the colored pencils. It's easy to miss, as it's tucked up on a small rise above Moonlight Beach on the corner of Encinitas Boulevard and Highway 101. It offers classes and even has a small but funky patio gallery created out of three shipping containers.
Among the shelves stocked with quality art supplies you'll also find beautiful examples of letterpress brands from around the U.S. and the U.K. that vie for your attention with not-found-at-Hallmark humor and artsy twists. Art Nouveau fans should seek out the sumptuous line of cards featuring art by Alphonse Mucha, and keep your eyes peeled for unauthorized cards featuring images by Banksy.
Rhino Art Co. says with a wink that “it's not art until the right people say that it is,” but it's a welcoming place for creativity without snobbery.
Best place to see art while afloat
When the Maritime Museum (1492 N. Harbor Drive, Downtown) got outfitted as a fine-art gallery, it had to do things like install climate control and ensure tighter security. Whatever efforts were made, though, are well worth it for the extraordinarily high-quality art the Maritime's “Berkeley” ferryboat is now equipped to show.
The inaugural exhibition, Cook, Melville & Gauguin, which is on view through the end of the year and maybe even longer, is a historically dense look at the journeys of James Cook, Herman Melville and Paul Gaugin. There are cool, antique box compasses and several interesting portraits from Cook's and Melville's expeditions, but the work by Gaugin is especially intriguing, showing the French post-impressionists' travels to, and obsession with, the South Pacific.
While most folks associate Gaugin with his paintings, this little show includes several sculptures and woodblock prints that reflect his love of the indigenous cultures he found during his travels. There's even a somewhat risqué woodcarving in the show, “Nave Nave Faruru,” which was found by art collector Richard Kelton in a small curio shop in Tahiti and has since been attributed to Gauguin, though not officially proven beyond a doubt. Perhaps you should see the piece yourself and enjoy the rest of the art and artifacts now afloat in San Diego's newest and best fine-art gallery on the bay.
Best movie theater that isn't even here yet
Cinepolis, Del Mar's new luxury theater, is impressive, sure. The seats are great, the food is decent and you can finally sit back with, as Vincent Vega puts it in Pulp Fiction, a glass of beer while you watch your movie. But Del Mar is kind of far away, for urban dwellers at least, and you have to pay plenty to get what you pay for. Primetime shows at the new ArcLight Cinema, scheduled to open in UTC in 2012, won't be cheap, either, but the theater chain will allow you drink your beer a little closer to home. Yes, the chain will open its first theater outside of L.A. next year, a 14-screen megaplex with something like 1,800 seats. ArcLight does the multiplex thing right, with stadium seating, comfortable chairs, opening up some of its screens to unique programming, presenting film festivals and, of course, selling beer. And they sell tickets the way they do in most civilized countries—meaning, your seats are reserved. Oh, also, ArcLight doesn't show ads before its feature presentations, and if you're late, you don't get in once the reels have started to roll. If you get caught texting during the movie, they lop off one of your fingers. Just kidding about that last part, but, still, this is one theater I can't wait to see.