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San Diego: Beyond Mission Beach and the Usual Suspects

San Diego

San Diego Airport looks like an airport should.

So what do you do in San Diego when you’ve been to Horton Plaza, the Gaslamp District, Mission Beach, Sea World and all the other usual suspects?

Well. Let me tell you. We all packed up for three nights near San Diego, and we were determined to do a few things that were – while not exactly unknown – at least a bit different from the usual “Arizonans Go to San Diego” trip. Here’s a breakdown of our trip.

San Diego

The Coffee & Tea Collective is for people who like espresso in their espresso.

THURSDAY

We arrived into the shiny Terminal 2 at San Diego International Airport. It was a quick shuttle run over to the Avis counter, where we had a Subaru Legacy waiting for us. Car rental rates in San Diego are really reasonable – something like $115 for us to have the car until Sunday.

Soon, we were on our way north. Sarah had business in San Diego the next day, but all the downtown hotels were booked at absurd rates thanks to the Wookies, Hobbits, Minions and other creatures that were in town for Comicon. We checked into the Comfort Suites San Diego Miramar – just by sheer coincidence, it was across the parking lot from Shozen BBQ, a Korean BBQ restaurant. We ordered some bulgogi, and the friendly staff stuffed us with marinated, grilled-at-the-table meat and banchan (I believe Koreans are the Italians of Asia – the meal isn’t finished if you can walk away from the table unassisted).

Inside Ballast Point Brewing Company

Inside Ballast Point Brewing Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We had to walk a bit of the meal off, so we waddled further across the parking lot to San Diego Games and Comics. Sarah and I aren’t really much into that sort of thing, but I always find the staff and customers at gaming stores to be fun people. San Diego Games and Comics upheld that perception, and we walked out with a Firefly boardgame (Firefly is simply one of the best shows ever, and cursed be the Fox suits who canceled it).

Afterward, we felt like beer. Amazingly, the nearby tasting rooms close a bit early. That left us with Ballast Point Brewing Company – Miramar, which was just a few miles away. We arrived to a far larger and more elaborate building than we imagined; some of the fermenters looked as large as ICBMs! We ordered tasters of a bunch of their more interesting brews (consult my OnTappd profile for some highlights). We had a great server, and enjoyed the overall ambiance – energetic, but not too noisy for our little person … who remained asleep the entire time.

On the way there, we also noticed the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum; I wanted to stop sometime, but we never got around to it this trip. But if you like aviation, it looks like a very fun place.

San Diego

The Ironsmith crew works it.

FRIDAY

Sarah’s business was Priority 1 for early Friday. We parked and parted ways – I loaded Tiny into her carriage and set off on-foot throughout downtown San Diego. We passed a coffee shop that was attached to a cat shelter (I didn’t drink the coffee since I just didn’t the feeling it would have very good coffee) and a who’s-who of comic/sci-fi characters: Sam & Frodo, Imperator Furiosa, many to-me-unknown anime characters, and so on.

San Diego

A sweet breakdown of espresso drinks.

My Find of the Morning, though, was definitely the Coffee & Tea Collective (East Village/Downtown). What a cool place! First-rate cappuccino; taps for cold-brew, kombucha and tea; an airy, open atmosphere; and a staff that I really liked. Now, I can imagine people who like coffee that tastes like ice cream will leave the Coffee & Tea Collective in a huff – they don’t sling syrupy, sugar-filled drinks. But if you know the difference between a cortado and a macchiato, this is your place.

A few hours later, Sarah was ready to head north. I got some time behind the Subaru Legacy’s wheel – both of us are Subaru owners, with both of ours being the 2006 vintage. We grew to appreciate the read-facing camera. The controls were all familiar enough, once we figured out the difference in the cruise control apparatus. I still am unclear on the paddles on either side of the steering wheel – and honestly, the brakes on both of are ours (Forester and Outback Sport) felt more progressive, and our acceleration feels less abrupt.

But enough of that. I felt like taking a little break before getting into Carlsbad, our final destination for the day. I made a guess on an exit; fortuitously, this exit dumped us out right in the middle of Encinitas. From there, we happened on three places the we really liked:

  • The delicious Ironsmith Coffee Roasters. Excellent cappuccino and tea – and they even have flat whites! Try a chocolate chip sea-salt cookie, too. Ironsmith caters to all sorts: You can get a lovingly crafted espresso drink, or a toothachingly sweet creation that more confection than coffee.
  • Ecotopiia, which sells some awesome goods made out of eco-friendly materials. Sarah picked up a few hemp-cotton dresses, and I got a few hemp-cotton t-shirts (I can never have enough of them). I’d love to have a store like Ecotopiia near me.
  • Sonima Wellness Center is a wellness center, so it has some tasty foods along with its fitness room. I’m still a little skeptical of a $9 smoothie – but the caramel-coconut brownie is the real deal. Dates are its main ingredient, and it’s one of the best vegan foods I’ve ever had. Plus Sonima Wellness Center is a nice place to sit down for a few moments.
San Diego

A nice place to get a great snack.

We were then on to La Quinta Inn & Suites San Diego Carlsbad. We took some time there for some exercise, plus watching the US National Team play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Then we were out for dinner and brew. We had a hunger for seafood, which led us to Fish House Vera Cruz. I had a delicious grilled ono, and Sarah had a skewer with a good five different species represented – all were cooked just right. Fish House Vera Cruz could probably stand to update its list of early 1980s-style side dishes, but its seafood is pretty darn timeless.

san diego

How good does that sound?

We were in a beer quandary next: the boisterous, chaotic mess that is Pizza Port, or the more laid-back 83 Degrees? The latter’s list didn’t blow us away, so we wound up on the patio at Pizza Port – inside, it’s simply too cramped and loud to enjoy yourself at all. Sarah volunteered to get us some samplers. Moments after she sat down, the staff announced that they were closing the patio. So we didn’t get our usual leisurely time to linger over the beers, and that’s too bad. They were absolutely wonderful, and I would’ve liked some Untappd time with them. But no – the staff was too eager to herd everyone off the patio. We didn’t stick around for a second round, and just called it a night. Next time I go to a Pizza Port, it definitely won’t be this location.

SATURDAY

This was a beach day. Little Traveler got her first dip in an ocean, which wasn’t exactly her favorite thing ever. I’m sure she’ll grow to like it better as she gets older.

carlsbad beach

Baby’s first time at the beach!

After that, we were off to have a look at Oceanside. Honestly, Oceanside is nothing special. We talked around for awhile, had lunch at Bull Taco, and left. Bull Taco has other locations – go to one of them rather than Oceanside.You’ll like nearly any taco on the menu, and the huge selection of hot sauces will also help.

It was still early, so we picked a brewery tasting room. This time, it was Iron Fist Brewing Company. I didn’t love every beer, but some were outstanding (again, connect with my untappd account for the highlights). And the atmosphere and staff were everything you want in a brewery tasting room. Iron Fist Brewing also has food trucks to provide some solid food to accompany the craft beer.

san diego beer

Delicious samplers at Iron Fist.

We spent some time relaxing at the hotel before heading back to Encinitas for some walking around and the promise of dinner. Warning: Things in Encinitas – and all the other beach communities – close early. We didn’t really want pizza, but wound up having a perfectly nice pie at URBN Coal Fired Pizza.

Part of our nighttime experience was seeing these weird lights in the sky. Being the aviation aficionado that I am, I was still unable to identify what I was seeing. If you’re an Encinitas local, can you explain? They were visible from the time were arrived in Encinitas (around 9:15) until we left (past 11). My best guess is drones or some sort of tethered balloons with lights on them.

San Diego Beer.

Hanging out at Culture Brewing Company.

SUNDAY

Well, we just reprised a few stops in Encinitas before pulling over near Solana Beach for a few moments. The highlight there is Culture Brewing Co; I had tasters of a nice IPA made with Nelson Sauvin hops and a sweet, roasty stout. You’ll also find food trucks at Culture. I wish I’d found them a few days earlier, but they never appeared on my brewery searches.

We ran out of time for the Flying Leathernecks Museum, but that just gives us a to-do for the next time we’re near San Diego. I hope you’ll borrow a few of these ideas for your own future trip to San Diego.

 

Mentioned in this post
  1. San Diego International Airport
    Attraction in San Diego California

    3225 N Harbor Dr
    San Diego California
    (619) 400-2404
    http://www.san.org/
  2. Shozen BBQ
    Restaurant in San Diego California

    9906 Mira Mesa Blvd
    San Diego California
    (858) 586-0099
  3. San Diego Games and Comics
    Attraction in San Diego California

    9910 Mira Mesa Blvd
    San Diego California
    (858) 566-0506
    http://www.sdgamescomics.com/
  4. Ballast Point Brewing Company - Miramar
    Restaurant in San Diego California

    9045 Carroll Way
    San Diego California
    (858) 790-6900
    http://www.ballastpoint.com/
  5. Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum
    Attraction in San Diego California

    T-4203 Anderson Avenue
    San Diego California
    (877) 359-8762
    http://flyingleathernecks.org/
  6. Coffee & Tea Collective (East Village/Downtown)
    Restaurant in San Diego California

    631 9th Ave
    San Diego California
    (619) 564-8086
    http://www.coffeeandteacollective.com/
  7. Ironsmith Coffee Roasters
    Restaurant in Encinitas California

    458 S Coast Hwy 101
    Encinitas California
    (626) 429-6397
    http://ironsmithcoffee.com/
  8. Ecotopiia
    Attraction in Encinitas California

    543 S Coast Hwy 101
    Encinitas California
    (760) 753-7420
    http://www.ecotopiia.com/
  9. Sonima Wellness Center
    Attraction in Encinitas California

    575 S Coast Hwy 101
    Encinitas California
    (760) 230-2560
    http://sonimawellnesscenter.com/
  10. La Quinta Inn & Suites San Diego Carlsbad
    Hotel in Carlsbad California

    760 Macadamia Dr
    Carlsbad California
    (760) 438-2828
    http://www.laquintacarlsbadca.com/
  11. Fish House Vera Cruz
    Restaurant in Carlsbad California

    417 Carlsbad Village Dr
    Carlsbad California
    (760) 434-6777
    http://www.fishhouseveracruz.com/
  12. Pizza Port
    Restaurant in Carlsbad California

    571 Carlsbad Village Dr
    Carlsbad California
    (760) 720-7007
    http://www.pizzaport.com/
  13. 83 Degrees
    Restaurant in Carlsbad California

    660 Carlsbad Village Dr
    Carlsbad California
    (760) 729-7904
    http://www.83degrees.net/
  14. Oceanside
    City in California

    Oceanside California
  15. Bull Taco
    Restaurant in Oceanside California

    1815 S Coast Hwy
    Oceanside California
    (760) 453-2103
    http://www.bulltaco.com/
  16. Iron Fist Brewing Company
    Attraction in San Diego County California

    1305 Hot Spring Way
    San Diego County California
    (760) 216-6500
    http://www.ironfistbrewing.com/
  17. URBN Coal Fired Pizza
    Restaurant in San Diego California

    3085 University Ave
    San Diego California
    (619) 255-7300
    http://www.urbnnorthpark.com
  18. Culture Brewing Co
    Restaurant in Solana Beach California

    Solana Beach California
    (858) 345-1144
    http://www.culturebrewingco.com/

2 thoughts on “San Diego: Beyond Mission Beach and the Usual Suspects

  1. John Watson

    Hey Justin, fun post as usual. As a part-time Tempe resident I get to San Diego from time to time so I’ll add a couple of my favorite spots.

    I enjoy the funky vibe of Pacific Beach, although I realize it’s not for everyone. But for those who like an energetic area, the Pacific View Inn is a great lodging option. It’s small and very simple, but you’re right on the beach, which has a long paved path so you can walk, bike, roller blade, etc. PVI has a couple of rooms on the second floor with a small deck from which you can get some tacos and a beer and watch the sunset over the water.

    Speaking of tacos, Oscar’s Mexican Seafood is a hole in the wall place with the best seafood tacos I’ve ever had. It has a few locations but the only one I’ve tried is very close to PVI.

    Cafe 976 is my favorite breakfast/coffee in PB. It’s a small house with tables inside and arranged around a big outside patio.

    If you want to go more upscale that PB, La Jolla Shores has an excellent Kimpton, the Hotel La Jolla. It’s not cheap and worth paying extra for a higher floor which gets you a better ocean view. All rooms face the ocean and have a small balcony. The hotel has free bikes so you can cruise around La Jolla.

    The best food we found nearby is the Shorehouse kitchen. Breakfasts are excellent, and we asked them to put together a simple dinner that we could take to the beach to watch the sunset–I don’t even remember what it was but it was perfect.

    Finally, kayaking out to the la jolla caves is a very fun way to spend a few hours.

  2. Wandering Justin Post author

    Glad you enjoyed it, John. Thanks for pitching in with a few ideas for my next time in the SD area. I love La Jolla Caves! The sea lions nearby are always fun to watch.

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