Best alternative to a pedicure
Who needs a paltry pedicure. I hate pink-painted nails anyway. I just want someone to touch my feet with some modicum of force and care. Enter Happy Buddha (4619 Convoy St. in Kearny Mesa), one of the 20 or so foot-reflexology joints offering one hour for $30.
The Archie Bunker easy chairs are set up like airplane rows. Wooden buckets lined with trash bags sit to the north of each seat. I sank into the velour chair with my feet in the hot water, and the masseuse dug and prodded and rubbed and squished my ears and eyebrows and shoulders and fingers while my feet softened. Then she moved to my calves and on down to my toes, which are massaged so meticulously that I felt feelings heretofore never felt and discovered small crannies of my feet I never knew I had. The old woman next to me began to snore peacefully.
Because we all started at the top of the hour, when they got to the part where they slap your calves (not a euphemism), there was a great cacophony of masochism. That's not the only noise—this isn't exactly a serene spa experience; there were loud thuds coming from the back “private” massage room, a baby cooing sweetly, construction pounding up above. But, in a weird way, it's that noise that makes the calm palpable. I left relaxed and massaged and no one took a sharp knife to my precious cuticles.
Best place to feel up an old male
Who gets all the glory at the San Diego Zoo? Pandas. Everybody wants to hug a cute and cuddly looking panda—but they'll rip your face off!
Meanwhile, Victor, the zoo's echidna, gets no love. A what? Echidna? See what I mean? Nobody even knows what an echidna is. An endangered species native to Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea and the only egg-laying mammal besides the platypus, it looks like a cross between an anteater and hedgehog.
Victor, nearing 60, is the oldest mammal in the zoo, a resident since 1956. I've been visiting him since I was a kid and he was still “Erma.” He was named Erma because for three decades they thought he was a she. Then, upon more careful inspection, they figured out she was a he.
Vic lives alone in a small enclosure in the Children's Zoo, where people sometimes pass him by, especially if he's curled up inside his little man-cave. By the looks of him—his entire fat, little, watermelon-size body covered in thick, hollow spines—the last thing you'd want to do is touch him. But you can. He's very calm and seems to like to be handled. Just pet in the direction of the spines—they're sharp!
And tell him D.A. says, “Hi, Erma!”
Best old-school feast for the senses for $16
You'll be greeted by a barber as soon as you enter the shop. Conversations are carried out over the droning buzz of clippers. The smell of pomade hangs in the air with the occasional whiff of menthol and wintergreen. Whether you go for a full-on shave or a regular haircut, the scrape of a straight razor on your skin feels different than any other shaving experience. And is there a more bracingly pleasant sensation than a hot-towel treatment?
Barber Side has been in operation since 2007 but has doing business out of its 3506 Adams Ave. address in Normal Heights since December 2009. The décor is a confusing mish-mash of pre- and post-war Americana. Boxing illustrations, bowler hats and cigarette signs. It's a like a depository for cool, useless stuff that a man reluctantly parts ways with when his family outgrows its house. Even the barber chairs are relics, marvelous hunks of metal with ashtrays built into the arm rests.
It's cozy in an analog man-cave / dive-bar-gone-to-seed kind of way that your wife or girlfriend would probably call cluttered. That alone makes it worth a visit.
Best (cheaper) way to live out childhood dreams
When I was growing up, I loved Legos, but my childhood wasn't exactly like Veruca Salt's, so any aspirations of building anything bigger than a ramshackle shack just wasn't in the budget. I'm an adult now, but still pretty broke, so going to Legoland ($69 plus tax!) or making it rain at the new Lego Store in Fashion Valley in order to fulfill my childhood dreams doesn't seem in the cards. Plus, I hate all those disease-ridden, obnoxious things people tote around these days. What are they called? Oh, yeah, children.
But a recent trip to the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center (1875 El Prado in Balboa Park) proved surprisingly enjoyable when I discovered the recently added Block Busters! interactive exhibition. Sort of a cross between Jenga and those popsicle sticks you used in elementary school to build stuff, you can use literally thousands of KEVA planks to build gigantic bridges, skyscrapers and, in my case, the mansion of my dreams (shacks suck). There's not as many snot-spewing hellspawn (aka kids), and it's only $12 to get in. Take that, stupid Legos!
Best place to feel a phantom noose around your neck, if you're lucky
Built in 1857 by businessman Thomas Whaley on a plot of land where criminals were once executed, the Whaley House Museum (2476 San Diego Ave. in Old Town) is not only famous for its history but also for once being named “America's Most Haunted House” by the Travel Channel.
Many ghosts roam the home— if you're a believer—but the most famous resident ghoul is boat thief James “Yankee Jim” Robinson, who was reportedly hung where the staircase is now. “Yankee Jim was a tall man, and his feet scraped the ground as he hung from the noose,” explains the blog fuckyeahnightmares.tumblr.com. “They say he took nearly an hour to die.” Yikes.
Some visitors have reported feeling chills while ascending the staircase, as well as a noose constricting their necks on the ninth step. I decided to test the legend. Walking up, I experienced the chill. I continued, carefully attuned to the feeling in my throat. Stopping at the ninth step, I anxiously awaited the phantom noose.
Nothing. I revisited the step, unable to shake off the creeps, yet not feeling anything like
strangulation. Was I expecting too much? Should I complain?
As the docent says, “If we could guarantee an experience, we'd charge much more
Best store for tactile shopping
I got my habit of tactile shopping from my mom, an interior
designer, artist and exceptional seamstress who'd measure an item's worth by
how it felt in her hand or sounded when she tapped it with her fingernail.
SoLo (309 S. Cedros Ave. in Solana Beach) is
a hands-on shopper's dream (just make sure those hands are clean). Located in a
large warehouse space, the store's divided into sections—stall-like spaces,
each with a theme. The best bet is the section that could be described as
“modeapothecary,” filled with re-purposed vintage items, industrial
furniture and knick-knacks. My paws were all over a display of shiny, round
stainless-steel flasks etched with witty sayings and a pair of chunky metal
My husband, over in the kids section, flipped through a book
called That's Disgusting (from the authors of That's Dangerous and That's Mean)
while, at one of the tables stacked with design and travel books, I looked
through Emily Chalmers' new ModeVintage Style. And only after I'd picked up
one of each color was I able to decide to buy the leather necklace with the
black beads and buttonhole-style clasp. I may return for the
butcher-block-paper notebook and the Depression-glass tumbler—next to which
hung a sign, “Please, do not touch.”
Best place to feel something warm, hard and slimy pressing against your skin
Going on its fourth month of operation, reptilian retailer A
Glass Jungle (502 University Ave. in Hillcrest, 858-652-9210) is quickly
building a cult following, thanks to its more than 1,200 exotic species for
sale, along with the critters that you need to feed them. Given the
neighborhood, the cheeky slogan “Come pet my snake,” emblazoned on signs
throughout the store, helps, too.
The piece de résistance, a not-for-sale, 15-foot albino
tiger python named Cleopatra, is a silent reminder to buy carefully, as many of
these species bring with them a lifelong commitment.
“She's meant to discourage impulse buys and remind moms what
their kid's spur-of-the moment whim could become,” store owner Hiroshi
Glass tanks start at $25, while unique pets such as the
once-thought-to-be-extinct baby crested gecko will set you back $35. The chance
of fulfilling my lifelong dream to stop traffic on the corner of Fifth and
University avenues by recreating Britney Spears' 2001 VMA performance of “I'm a
Slave 4 U”? Well, that's just priceless.
Best way to learn how to cut the cheese
Maybe the class itself isn't the most primo tactile
experience—it's a lot of watching fermentation guru and Curds and Wine owner
Giselle Claassen demonstrate breaks and cuts and curd milling, but she lets you
touch, too. And when she's done, you can pick up your very own supplies—Rennet!
Cultures! Molds! Oh my!—and get to the serious hands-on cheese-making at home,
where you'll experience, firsthand, skin-burning hot-water baths and gooey
globs of cooked dairy.
The thing that's so mind-expanding about Curds and Wine's
classes (7194 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. in Kearny Mesa) is that
they go beyond the basic ricotta-mozzarella cheeses, which are relatively easy
(I've made them a bunch, and no one's going to call me a Maitre Fromager
anytime soon). Claassen delves into goat cheeses, soft cream cheeses and
harder, aged cheeses such as gouda. She doesn't shy away from the mold,
either—blue cheeses are in the syllabus. And that red wax that's so fun to pick
at with your fingernails? You'll learn how to do the dip.
Oh, one last thing: That “Wine” in the shop name? You can
also cork up some of your very own vino to serve with all that handmade cheese.