Monday, August 18

San Diego Nights - Jamie and I are sad to be back from our California adventures (but nevertheless pleased to be blogging once again, of course). Among the tales to tell, I thought I might say a word about San Diego, our last big destination of the trip and to me the least familiar.

The area invites comparison to my hometown of Norfolk-Virginia Beach, which likewise has a huge military presence coupled with beaches both touristy and residential. Perhaps if southeastern Virginia weren't so politically fragmented it could have become something like San Diego (with more conventional weather). San Diego seems, however, to have benefited from a far more amenable climate, not to mention a more concentrated and wealthy population, to yield a metropolis that certainly stands a tier or two higher. On the other hand, I can't give anything to southern California beaches over ours on the mid-Atlantic shore. Cali's may be more picturesque, with better surf, but the sand and water are more suitable to langid tropical-style enjoyment here on the right coast.

Among San Diego's coastal communities I liked Del Mar the best. It seemed to have an authentic lived-in feel, unlike touristy slash haughty La Jolla. (Though the Cove and ecological sanctuary were interesting.) While Del Mar may be most famous for its horse track, what we enjoyed were the narrow streets of cute beach bungalows below the cliffs, not least of all because of the many shirtless local surfbums we spotted coming off the beach. I also thought Mission Beach's surf-punk flair -- consisting of tattoo shops next to sand-floor bars -- was interesting, if only to visit not as a place to live. Like Del Mar, Mission definitely had a laid-back beach feel to it that was instantly recognizable to this former North Ender from Va. Beach.

In the center part of the city, Jamie and I experienced two very different districts. We stayed in Hillcrest, the gay-ish neighborhood near Balboa Park. It was pretty comfortable, with nice little restaurants, cocktail bars and shopping, and seemed to support a lively mixed crowd both gay and straight. The weird thing was how empty the gay bars were on a Thursday night however. Old stand-bys like the Brass Rail were deserted, and we ended up with the scarce crowd at Flicks. (We didn't even try Rich's dance club.) While Hamburger Mary's seemed to be hopping, a surprising amount of it was straight -- and I'm not just saying that because gay surfer-types scramble my gaydar. In contrast, the Gaslamp District was a crush of people and attitude, at least on a Saturday night. From when I could tell, it was pretty much straight meat-market hell. Since -- ironically for a beachtown -- Birkenstocks didn't cut it at most places, we found ourselves at Croce's, wondering what multinational conglomerate put up the money for SoCal's version of Downtown Disney.

That wasn't the only time we found SD to evoke thoughts of Orlando. Brunch on Saturday at Fashion Valley Mall's Cheesecake Factory brought back memories of central Florida as well, though of course the highlight of that day, if not the whole trip, was meeting the central characters of Ben's World. Weena and Stephanie and Kevin and Nathan -- and me -- it was quite a convergence. (Only Netty and mom and dad were missing.) I doubt we'll get that crowd together again before the wedding. Which reminds me, set a date yet, Ben?

Definitely a worthwhile destination, and Jamie and I wouldn't mind an excuse to come back to San Diego soon. Maybe they can organize an IGRAB team.