I've been told more than once that I'm a secret old person. This is not the same as being called an "old soul"—believe me, I could only be so lucky if anyone regarded me with the same esteem as a college-aged hippie regards anyone who can stumble through a Dylan cover on guitar.
No, the reasons are more practical: I prefer my couch to crowds, loud places annoy me, I enjoy Wheel of Fortune, and planning to stay out past 10 p.m. usually requires a midday nap.
I also spend a lot of time with older folks—specifically, my wife's mom, Lee (age 67) and her grandpa, Burton (age 90). Now, I'm sure the thought of spending ample amounts of time with their in-laws would send most people into a state of sitcom malaise, but fun stuff usually happens when I roll with Burt and Lee, which I think is due to their general impatience with most things "craft."
Perhaps there was a time when I appreciated whimsy, but it seems like you can't go to any new bar or restaurant in this town without feeling like you're being swindled by Wes Anderson. I don't know at what age a person loses patience with frivolity, but here are a couple summer recommendations for those who prefer practical over precious.
One of Burt's favorite eating establishments is Anthony's Fish Grotto, which has two locations—one downtown and another in La Mesa. Yes, the downtown location is right in the heart of Touristville, and parking is hell, but given its location on San Diego harbor, you can't ask for a better view while you eat. Plus, I have a short list of foods that I would like to drown in, and the garlic-sundried tomato butter they serve with the bread is pretty high on that list. (The downtown Anthony's may lose its lease, and that would be heartbreaking.)
However, I prefer the La Mesa location. Besides having plenty of parking, the '60s-era interior rockwork and semi-racy wall murals give the establishment a surreal feeling, kind of like The Flintstones meets David Lynch. It's also quieter; there are no downtown yahoos at this location.
For the ultimate experience in non-pretentious eating, I also recommend The San Diego Chicken Pie Shop (2633 El Cajon Blvd). I can't really tell you what I like about this place besides my unabashed love for pale, sloppy food and lots of it. The interior feels like a cafeteria, and servers deliver food on rollout carts, and lunches (chicken pie, two sides, dessert and drink for under $10) are a helluva deal. For discerning foodies, it's probably a nightmare. But I'll take hot, gravy-covered nostalgia over "locally-sourced/organic" anything. Also, your chances of being called "hon" increase about 85 percent when you eat here.
San Diego is full of amazing opportunities for biking, hiking and running enthusiasts, but that's not very helpful for people who get tired easily (i.e. me) or don't like to be in the sun for too long (yo!).
For an easy outing, I suggest Urban Safaris historic neighborhood walks, led by Patty Fares, who is just a peach . Fares is extremely knowledgeable about every area and neighborhood of San Diego, and she's never stingy on dishing out the scandalous information that you won't find on many historic tours. And given that the average age of the participants is around 50, the walks are substantial enough to feel like exercise, but not overbearing. For my birthday last year, Lee took my wife and me on the tour of Mount Hope cemetery, which contains the graves of the famous San Diegan Kate Sessions and the little, unassuming headstone of author Raymond Chandler.
The boardwalk on Mission Bay is also great to enjoy an easy walk while getting an ocean view. As everyone knows, the place gets cray-cray in the summer, but if you wake up early enough—even during the most populated months—you can still beat the Pacific Beach crowds. Praise Red Bull-and-vodkas for this serenity.
For company who won't want to be outside for any amount of time—yet still want to take advantage of San Diego's natural and urban spectacles—you can't go wrong with an adventure on public transportation. Seriously. Yes, you will see some characters, but given my own hatred of driving (I fear leaving the mile radius around my house), I'd much rather have an odd run-in than spend any time in Southern California traffic. There's something freeing about being chauffeured around, especially if you have nowhere to be.
In that vein, Burt loves riding trains, and there are few better rides than taking an Amtrak up the coast, even if it's only for a quick getaway. The comfortable, bathroom-accessible ride to San Clemente is about two hours worth of some of the most spectacular coastal views you'll see. Plus, there's wifi, and they serve beer on those things, so, uh, chug-a-chug choo choo! (Sorry).
Speaking of libations, Imperial House (505 Kalmia St, Bankers Hill) is probably the best place to tie one on with your grandparents. It's quiet, the drinks are decent, and you're not competing with the craft-bro scene. Believe me, I've tried to get Burt to drink an IPA before. His response?
"Budweiser was a beer before you were even born."