5 Things to Do in 48 Hours – San Diego Edition

There’s no shortage of stuff to do in Southern California. Any visit will keep you occupied. But there’s more to San Diego than a zoo and Sea World. I didn’t get too far off the beaten path on my recent visit, but I dug up a few fun things with a minimum of repetition from previous trips. You can even think about skipping the hotels and just camping in San Diego – for real! Give these options a shot, and you’ll have some genuine fun.

IMGP4536Visit the Port Brewing/Lost Abbey Tasting Room – If you’re used to the mass-produced, watered-down swill that we often call “beer,” the offerings from Port Brewing/Lost Abbey tasting room will set you on the right path. All these beverages pack serious and distinctive tastes. The Port selections are more American-style, with big, hoppy India Pale Ales taking center stage. The Lost Abbey lineup features Belgian-style ales. The best way to get started is with a flight – one flight will set you back $4-$7, depending on the staff’s mood, I guess. Either way, you’ll get a super taste of craft brew goodness. Pick up a shirt while you’re there! Oh, and try the Angel’s Share even if it’s not on tap. It’s nothing less than spectacular. If you’re not already indoctrinated, it will change everything you thought you knew about beer.

Go to the San Diego Wildlife Park – Admission to the San Diego Wildlife Park is $37, which is steep. But it’s also a bit outside the San Diego proper hurly-burly, and the drive is a big part of the appeal. It’s a good way to do some walking, too. That said, the animal selection is a bit skimpy. I’m a bit put out that there’s not a single wallaby or kangaroo there.

My new friend at the Lost Abbey tasting room.
My new friend at the Lost Abbey tasting room.

And it seems like everything is an attempt to get you to drop even more cash – I really resented the $9 parking, though I got a giggle at the goofiness of Segway tours. But they have some cool exhibits, and you can easily take an entire day there. Bring your own snacks, though!

Tour the USS Midway – Aircraft carriers are fun, especially when they’re right in the middle of everything. The Midway is right near the Gaslamp District and Seaport Village, and very close to the trolley stop. General admission is $17, a pretty good bargain to see a historic ship and gawk at some awesome aircraft. Watch Top Gun beforehand and be sure to wear your Ray-Bans. That’s right, Iceman … I am dangerous!

Check out the Gaslamp District – The Gaslamp is a great place to do a little shopping and grab some food. It’s got a pretty agreeable blend of chains (my crew is a big fan of the Puma store) and independent businesses. It’s lively eventhe night after Christmas. I was especially impressed with a store called Hatworks, where the friendly staff set me up with a hat I wish I’d had in Australia and New Zealand. Should be perfect for Iceland!

Birds and beach scenery.

Stroll around La Jolla – Yeah, it’s hoity-toity and just slightly snooty (okay, more than slightly). But it’s also really pretty. And you can get some great photos of beach scenery and seals. And who doesn’t like seals, aside from those baby seal clubbers? Don’t be like them – go be nice to the seals (which means staying away and letting them do their thing while you take photos). If you work up an appetite, you’ll have no shortage of choices. I particularly liked Little Korea.

Mixing Coffee and Travel

I think it’s really fun to find quality microbrews while traveling. I get a chance to try something tasty, and I often get a chance to mingle with locals (in the case of my recent visit to the Lost Abbey/Port Brewing tasting room, I even met a friendly black cat). It’s also not super-hard to find good microbrewers and brew pubs.

For me, it’s way harder to find good coffee shops unless I’m someplace like Portland or Seattle. I was 0 for 2 on cappuccino during my recent visit to San Diego. I won’t name the establishments here … mostly because the second barista really tried hard to produce a good drink. She took her time, and the micro-foam was spot-on. Unfortunately, the coffee itself was way too hot and had a much more bitter edge than I prefer. For the solid effort, I can’t leave her and her establishment hanging out to dry.

If you travel to Arizona, of course, Arizona-coffee.com will not steer you wrong. But I need to start doing better research when I travel. Does anyone out there have any resources for finding great barista people all across the nation?

In Australia, New Zealand and Costa Rica, I’m pretty golden. It’s easy to find great coffee there. From what I understand, AUS and NZ have mandatory barista training that’s pretty extensive. Australia is pretty awesome because it also grows its own beans in Queensland. In New Zealand, it’s impossible to roll into even the smallest town and not find a pretty classy cafe. Costa Rica? Easy. Just get brewed coffee and toss in a touch of sugar. Cream’s not needed.

I just have a lot of trouble in the U.S.

Strangers in My Underwear – My Case Against Valet Parking

For the most part, I keep rants out of my blog. I like to keep it fun. But man, the proliferation of valet parking in my city is really getting to me.

Valet parking has its place. Like in big cities with labyrinthian parking schemes, draconian parking laws and crappy weather. Here in Phoenix, most places have easily accessible parking. And we get 7 inches of rain a year.

For some reason, though, there are some restautants with fairly small lots that are blocking out the majority or all of their parking for valet parking. This saves their patrons from having to walk, from the farthest space, perhaps 100 feet. I’m going to name names here: The Vig, Tommy V’s/Tomaso’s and Havana Cafe are the worst offenders. Each has a lot the size of a postage stamp. The Vig is particularly offensive - its management forces customers to either turn their keys over to a valet attendant or park across the street for the privilege of dining there. It pains me to say anything bad about Tommy V’s because of its great food and excellent staff, so call this a case of tough love.

I’m going to explain the problem for these restaurateurs: Valet parking is, in essence, like handing my underwear to a stranger, having him wear said underwear while I dine, and then tipping someone for their safe return.

I really, really like my car. Everything about it is exactly the way I want it: the mirrors, the tilt of the seat, the radio station, the loose change, the breath mints. It is a mobile extension of my living room.

Strangers do not belong in my living room. And I am certainly not going to pay for having them there.

Let me add this all up in bite-sized pieces.

1. I can walk. Arizona is sunny and pleasant, and there is sufficient parking to be had.
2. I don’t want someone I don’t know driving my car.
3. If you try to force the issue, you’ve lost me as a customer.

So far, I’ve been to each of these establishments one time each in the five years in which I’ve lived less than two miles from them. Contrast that the uncountable number of times I’ve been to Pita Jungle, Fez and even Parlor. In fact, Parlor has only been open a few months, and I’ve been there more since its opening than the three valet parking offenders combined in five years. Without the valet parking, that would change*.  Can you really afford to lose that business for a “service” many people don’t even want?

*Of course, I still consider Parlor far-and-away the best pizza in the area, and far better than the over-hyped and pedestrian Pizzeria Bianco.

Sanskrit to Celebrity Yogis: 10 Things I Hate About Yoga

Yoga that doesn’t mess around. (Photo credit: GO INTERACTIVE WELLNESS)

I took my first yoga class in 1999. I found a lot to like about it. I could feel my body snapping back into alignment. It even helped my concentration – at the time, I played a lot of hockey. After a yoga session, I’d strap on the goalie pads and the puck seemed bigger and slower.

On the flip side, I found out there some things I hate about yoga. An aborted session at At One Yoga in Phoenix (more on that in a future post) really brought this to the forefront of my mind.

1. Sanskrit Chanting – Exactly what is the point of that Sanskrit song that so many yoga classes start out with? I don’t speak Sanskrit, and I’m frankly not there for a "spiritual" experience. And besides, whoever said "chanting" begat "spirituality?" I grew up going to Catholic mass, so I’ve had a bellyful of unneeded verbal repetition. Let’s get to the good stuff!

2. The overly soft, nurturing, gentle yoga teacher voice – Exactly where do some yoga teachers get that overly measured, breathy voice? It sounds ridiculous. And I say that even though one of my favorite teachers uses it. Coming from male teachers makes it even worse – I always hear them as Mr. Van Driessen from Beavis & Butt-head.

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Hotel Review – InnSuites Tucson Foothills

Living in Phoenix in the fall and winter is pretty sweet. I’m just now starting to forget four months of scorching, unrelenting summer heat. I can go outside without fear of dehydration!

But still, I needed a change of scenery. That lead Sarah and me to Tucson to hike a bit and check out the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum (a post on that is coming up soon). We wanted to spend the night, and I got online to find a decent place the morning we left – the day after Thanksgiving, no less!

I quickly found the InnSuites Tucson Foothills, which is owned by Best Western. The often-handy (but sometimes maddening) GoogleEarth helped me find it. I wanted a place a little farther from the University of Arizona, and a little closer to hiking trails. Here are some bits you need to know about this hotel:

1. Hiking trails are about 10 minutes away. Not bad! And it’s actually a really good system. The Pima Canyon trail can keep you occupied all day. The scenery is striking and varied.
2. The rooms all seem to have comfortable beds and decent lighting. They all appeared to be clean and well-maintained. Each room had its own region-inspired name, which was kind of funny. Ours was the Show Low Suite, or something like that.
3. Try to get a room on the second floor. The tiled floors downstairs make a racket in the morning once all the housekeeping carts depart for their rounds.

Now, this last one is the big one:

4. Do not, under any circumstances, stay in room 146. Here’s why:
-It’s right next to the headquarters for the hotel’s cleaning staff. So you can always hear the jet engine-like whine of the commercial-grade laundry facilities. You can also hear the staff talking and loading up. And those carts I mentioned earlier on the tiled floors? Yeah. This does not equal a good night of sleep.
-When we were there, we could hear the strangest noise coming from one of the walls in the bathroom. It was almost like a dripping sound, but there was no reason, rhyme or rhythm to it. The sound would speed up, slow down, disappear for a few moments, then come back with a vengeance it’s not a big deal if you have the TV on. But it really sucks at 3 a.m.