O great Poseidon, god of Ernest Borgnine and Gene Hackman, tamer of horses and progenitor of the world's first female-to-male procedure, you are also the trident-wielding lord of the ocean, and as such, we pray you will protect these coastal gems from sea monsters and tsunamis and bestow upon them the fruits, treasures and cucumbers of the sea.
Best alternative to an expensive cruise
The most romantic way to approach a city is by sea. If you don't happen to own a yacht or fancy cramming onto a cruise ship on a swine-flu special, you probably think you don't have this option. Think again. For less than the price of a latté, you can sail to a world-class tourist destination. The Coronado / San Diego ferry departs from the Broadway Pier every day at 9 a.m. and runs every hour, on the hour, until 9 p.m. (10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays). Coronado offers a wealth of things to do and places to eat, but that's not really the point. The idea is to stand on deck and feel the wind in your hair as you slide away from the pier and into the harbor as seafarers have been doing for millennia. Listen to the rumble of the diesel engines under your feet, smell the salt air, and get a new perspective on the city you call home. Worried about getting seasick? Don't be. The journey lasts just 15 minutes, and there's virtually no chance of getting ill in the harbor. If you plan your trip around sunset, you'll be treated to spectacular views right out of a cruise-line catalog, for a fraction of the cost.
Best beach to get lost
I've never had the good sense to keep local secrets secret, and so I realized that I'm at risk of provoking angry OBecians, but, really, Sunset Cliffs Natural Park of Ocean Beach / Point Loma is actually not a huge mystery. Most local surfers diligently shred the breaks along its edges, and, of course, the über-wealthy who have McHomes overlooking Sunset Cliffs also know of its beauteous vistas. But, if you're up for adventure and not overtly clumsy, you'll probably have no trouble mastering the rugged trails that snake along the coast. The beaches are worth all the huffing and puffing it'll take to get you there. The sand paradise that hides beneath the cliffs is typically deserted on weekdays, even in the summer months, and during winter, when the tides are lower than usual, one can explore the caves, tide pools and other sea life unencumbered by the riff-raff that plagues the more popular Mission and Pacific beaches.
Best place to admire sea life without getting wet
The Birch Aquarium is the smaller, humbler, more intelligent version of the obnoxiously corporate marine-themed amusement park here in San Diego. The jellyfish exhibit is extraordinary and alone worth the trip to La Jolla. Currently, they have moon jellies, red-striped jellies, Australian spotted jellies, upside-down jellies, sea Nettles and moon polyps. If that means nothing to you, search Google images for them. See? Rad, right? The giant octopus is another must-see, but he likes to sleeps a lot, usually in the confines of a large jar. Each tank is a veritable “I Spy” of the glorious, yet odd, creatures that inhabit the ocean. The exhibition on the back patio serenely overlooks the ocean from atop the La Jolla cliff. There you can gently poke the tiny inhabitants of a tide pool. Weekdays are the best time to visit because it's usually just you and a few college kids quietly filling out packets for their biology class rather than the infestation of children that plagues the weekends. The new exhibit, There's Something About Seahorses, opens Nov. 14.
Best place to get your Davey Jones on
If you haven't been paying attention, the Maritime Museum of San Diego has been quietly expanding its fleet and now offers a wide range of sailings from harbor cruises to multi-day voyages. The most exciting of these are the Cannon Battles (the next sailings are on Nov. 14 and 15) and feature ship-to-ship mock combat from the days of sail. While the ships are replicas, the experience is authentic. You may even be asked to “Haul away” on a line to help raise or lower a sail. (Be advised the cannons are very loud and may not be suitable for small children.) The price of the cruise includes admission to the museum proper and access to all the ships, including the Star of India and the Surprise, the actual vessel that was used in the film Master and Commander. Once you get back on land, I recommend you head across the street to the Elephant & Castle to toast your adventure and settle your stomach with some hearty pub grub. As in the days of yore, you just might find some of your crew there relaxing with a pint.
Best place to play with dogs and no one thinks it's weird that you don't have one
Since I don't have / am not a dog, I don't know how Dog Beach measures up to other dog parks, as far as sniffing, licking or fighting go. I do know it has very friendly people who, more than any other park, let you play with their pups without reservation. I understand it's an odd thing to do (I mean, picture someone who goes to a playground without any kids), so it's nice to meet likeminded people who share a love of dogs and don't mind your company. The best part is that when you've grown weary of wrestling with that terrier, you're free to relax on the “people” part of the beach without having to pick up any poo.
Best surfer to reminisce with
If you're a surfer in San Diego you've probably heard about local surf legend, Jim Robb—aka Mouse—and maybe have even run into him surfing down at Luscomb's Break in Ocean Beach. He's not hard to miss—he's probably the only surfer there who's in his late 70s and can still cut up a wave with graceful ease. In the 1940s, the once-small Mouse would lug his 50-pound longboard down the steep embankments of Sunset Cliffs to surf in a time when the crowds were slimmer and the water was cleaner. Besides his longstanding relationship with the O.B. community, Mouse is also known for his long stint as a San Diego lifeguard. By many accounts, he saved lives here for more than 40 years. During the '50s and '60s, Mouse performed in a number of surf competitions from San Diego to Malibu, quickly becoming a household name and well-known for picking up the ladies—literally—by hoisting the svelte, bikini-clad girls over head while competing in tandem shows. Mouse's continued presence in the water reassures us that a rich piece of San Diego culture is still alive and well.
Best coastal spot to catch the sunset while getting irie
Carlsbad's “Rasta Bench” is so bubbed by locals because of its trademark green, yellow and red legs. It sits along a cliff at the end of Garfield Street and provides stellar views of Agua Hedionda Lagoon and the Pacific. Bring sunscreen, Visine and brownies, and every little thing is gonna be alright.
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