Yesterday, my route to beer was pretty convoluted, but I knew Wednesday would be the only truly free day I had to explore the city. When I told several people I wanted to walk from the hotel—which is situated in the Mission Valley—they all suggested using public transit or hiring a cab. I think that San Diegans don’t understand the concept of NYC: we walk everywhere. If it’s less than 10 miles, I’m not too worried about it. But even the hotel concierge cautioned me about the schlep, to which I asked her, “Is there a sidewalk?”
Not only was there a sidewalk, but the vigorous walk through the foothills was just what my beer belly needed. Thus it was I headed out mid-day to find Balboa Park, home to the San Diego Zoo and a lot of very cool museums, art installations, walking trails and awesome flora. I had two regrets for my journey (and neither had to do with the hike up Texas Street): I wish I had left earlier, because Balboa Park deserves a day all to itself; and I wish I had brought sunscreen, because my face got pretty badly burned.
After wending my way through the largely residential University Heights, I found myself on the edge of the park. What started out somewhat inauspiciously (the main entry hosts a huge parking lot, not much of a greeting), I found my way to the Pedestrian Mall and a remarkable artists colony at Spanish Village Art Center. Gail Woods, a polymer clay artist, explained to me that the artists’ center has been there since 1937 (briefly overtaken as a military barracks during WWII) and hosts 37 studios with 221 juried members of the Village. Each of the studios has art for sale by multiple artists who work in a similar medium (e.g. there was a studio with woodwork where eight different artists’ work was on sale). My favorite area was the Sculptors Guild, with sculptures ranging from inches tall to larger-than-life glass mosaics. This was where I bumped into former Bronx resident Roxanna Maria, whose maritime sculptures were among my favorite art pieces in the Village. Gail told me that the New York Times listed Spanish Village as one of the top 10 places in America for Christmas Shopping, and I can understand why. I could have spent hours here, but since they close at 4 p.m. and I didn’t get there until nearly 3 p.m., I was limited in my time to explore.
Which was true of most of Balboa Park; most of the indoor exhibitions had free admission, but they all closed by 5 p.m. Nonetheless, I was able to explore some off-the-beaten-path routes, including a boardwalk that led down into the forest and past this amazing tree (no idea what kind it is, maybe a Baobob tree; leave a comment if you recognize it).
As the park was slowing and my thirst was growing, I found my way to downtown—yay! skyscrapers!—and to Downtown Johnny Brown’s, which a friend recommended. While the beer list was good, I’m not sure it was worth going so far for a beer. However, they had free food at happy hour (and I was one of their few customers), and they pointed me in the direction of Krisp Beverages, a grocery store with a large bottle shop. I was looking for Russian River, which they didn’t have, but what they did have was a selection of homebrew supplies right in the bread aisle! Yes, you can pick up liquid yeast with your cheese and charcuterie!
I scored a few bottles of beer from brewers I can’t find in NYC: Left Coast Brewing, Coronado, and Knee Deep among them. And although it took me awhile to flag an overpriced taxi, I was happy with my day of touring San Diego. Sometimes it’s good to be a tourist!