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6-26-homespunRISMEDIA, June 26, 2009-(MCT)-The mantra is money is tight, so is time. Even with the siren call of summer, many vacationers this year are looking to keep things a little shorter, a little less expensive.

Even a whole hog trip to San Diego might be a bit too much this year. So we’re offering up slices of San Diego – little morsels that can be collected together and perhaps turned into a one- or two-day trip.

They’re appetizers and side dishes to go with the famous main courses of most visits – The San Diego Zoo, Sea World, Legoland, The Wild Animal Park, Mission Bay, Old Town, the Padres at Petco Park or the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium.

Of course, you can always skip the main courses and buy into my whole menu of offbeat choices to create your own week.


Coronado: The Florida oceanography professor who goes by the nickname “Dr. Beach” rates this as the fourth-best beach in the U.S. With the Hotel del Coronado across its broad strip of white sand, I’d bump it up a few notches.
Windansea: A scenic strand with a lyrical name and lots of beautiful people to look at in or out of the water. It’s a favorite with surfers in La Jolla. Smooth sandstone rocks afford secluded spots to sunbathe. Add in a literary pedigree – it’s the backdrop for the lead essay in Tom Wolfe’s 1960s classic “The Pump House Gang.”

Mission Beach: This is the Coney Island of San Diego. It has great sand, surf and sun like other beaches. But it alone has Belmont Park, an amusement park best known as the home of the Big Dipper roller coaster.

Imperial Beach/Dog Beach: When I wrote about Coronado Beach awhile back, I got a message from an Imperial Beach resident thanking me for not sending tourists their way. Sorry, the word is out on “I.B.,” especially if you are a dog lover. Circle June 20 for the annual Loews Coronado Bay Resort Surf Dog Competition.

Moonlight State Beach: Another beautiful beach with a great name. I actually like it better when the sun is out, though a nighttime stroll is nice. The beach has an especially gentle slope, making it a favorite for parents looking to introduce their little ones to ocean pleasures without causing panic. It’s a short stroll from the Encinitas train station.

Cheap eats

Breakfast: Join the post-surfing lineup at Kono’s Surf Club Cafe in Pacific Beach. No hurry, as breakfast is served all day. Sit outside or get a table at the bamboo thatched tables while chomping on a breakfast burrito. 704 Garnet Ave.

Doughnut: VG Bakery and Doughnuts in Cardiff-by-the-Sea is where I go for maple-topped Long John doughnuts and a to-go cup of coffee. The sugar and caffeine rush last me until lunch. 106 Aberdeen Drive

Hamburger: Hodad’s, a great hamburger stand in the onetime hippie haven of Ocean Beach. Look for the mural on the side of the building with a guy riding a hamburger on a surfboard. You’ll often see Marines from the nearby recruit depot enjoying a snack. 5010 Newport Ave.

Seafood: Point Loma Seafoods is my spot for an Alaskan cod sandwich, a cup of clam chowder. When I am feeling rich, I opt for the gulf shrimp cocktail (which today sells for $8.32). Get a glass of wine or an Anchor Steam Beer from San Francisco and gaze out at the fishing fleet and yachts. 2805 Emerson St.

Taquitos (and chips): When heading home, I almost always stop at El Indio. It has anchored the edge of the Uptown district, near India and Washington streets. El Indio is part restaurant, part tortilla factory, and its specialty is taquitos – meat-stuffed, rolled-up tortillas deep-fried and covered in guacamole and cheese. Pick up a few bags of their famous tortilla chips to take home. Big chunks of corn tortilla fried in canola oil and covered in salt and paprika. They’ll spoil you for any store-bought chip. 3695 India St.

Military matters

Fleet week: The events actually run from August through October, but the heart of the balls, displays and games is the ship tours given the last weekend of September.

Miramar Air Show: Where did the El Toro Air Show go? It moved to Miramar, along with the Marines. This year’s show is the first weekend in October. The rest of the year, there are twice-a-month tours of the base, including a military dog demonstration and a stop at the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum. 858-577-6000 or

USS Midway: The Navy’s longest-serving floating airfield, now retired, has become a naval aviation museum. There are 25 restored aircraft, mostly on the flight deck, with a gift shop and cafe amid the cavernous hangars below deck. It’s a short walk from Union Station. 619-544-9600 or

Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego: Get a look at basic training, Marine style, at this spot near San Diego’s airport. Visitors enter through the Main Gate and because of security, there are limits on outsiders allowed into the graduation ceremonies. Inquire at the depot public-affairs office, call 619-524-8727 or visit

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery: High up on the spine of Point Loma is the final resting place for veterans of over a century of American wars. The white crosses include those killed in action and veterans who died after returning home and living full lives. Open 8 a.m. until an hour before sunset. 619-553-2084


New Children’s Museum: As the name implies, this new downtown attraction is an interactive museum that lets kids run and jump and get their hands all over everything. There is something for kids across the age spectrum from the Texture Forest for those barely able to stand upright to the Teen Studio, where teenagers can pretend they are the next American Idol. The noise can be deafening on weekends, but it is a cacophony of fun. 200 W. Island Ave. 619-233-8792 or

California Surf Museum, Oceanside: What “hodad” (surfer wannabe) decided to bill this cool spot as “an international repository and resource center on the lifestyle sport of surfing.” Recently moved into a new building, the museum tells the story of the sport from Hawaii to California to around the world. 312 Pier View Way. 760-721-6876 or

San Diego Air and Space Museum: California’s official air and space museum, this Smithsonian Institution affiliate has tons of air- and spacecraft and the International Aerospace Hall of Fame. Highlights include a variant of the SR-71, the fastest plane ever built, a huge Catalina sea plane, a Soviet MiG-17 fighter and the Apollo 9 command module. 2001 Pan American Plaza, Balboa Park. 619-234-8291 or aerospace

Birch Aquarium: Think of sea life and San Diego, and most thoughts go to Shamu jumping around in a tank at Sea World. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla is the brainy side of looking at sea life. The Birch Aquarium is the “interpretive center” for the institution. Great exhibitions, plus special programs such as watching the grunion runs at nearby beaches. 2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla. 858-534-FISH or

Maritime Museum of San Diego: It would make the list even if it only had the Star of India, the world’s oldest active ship. Built in 1863, the iron-hulled sailing ship still takes to the seas. There are eight other ships plus a building housing exhibits on how San Diego was a key to the growth of California. 1492 N. Harbor Drive. 619-234-9153 or

Odd overnights

Crystal Pier Hotel: Spend the night in a cottage on a pier out over the ocean at Pacific Beach. On the north side of the pier, surfers ride waves. On the south side, families play in the surf. A Southern California icon since 1927. Reserve well in advance. 800-748-5894 or

USS Midway: A slice of Navy life – however brief – can be had with overnights on the Midway. The program is oriented to youth groups. Along with history of the ship and American sea power, there is a scavenger hunt, meals and other games. There are separate gender-based sleeping quarters. 619-398-8247 or

San Diego Zoo: Sleepovers include a magic show, private tour, campfire and a nighttime stroll around the zoo. Overnight stays take place at the zoo’s Camp Timbuktu. The Safari Sleepover starts at 4 p.m. and ends at 9 a.m. The program fee includes dinner, a hot breakfast, snacks and a souvenir T-shirt. The affiliated Wild Animal Park has a popular overnight program, too. 619-718-3000 or

Sea World San Diego: No, you can’t sleep on an air mattress in Shamu’s tank. But visitors can unroll their sleeping bags and wake up in the same place as manatees, sharks, beluga whales or penguins. Sleepovers begin at 5:45 p.m. and end when the park opens the next day. Program includes breakfast and next-day admission. Through Labor Day. More information: 800-257-4268 or

Hotel del Coronado: Fabled as simply “the Del,” the hotel is known as the setting of the comedy “Some Like It Hot” with Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. But another true tale, this one a tragedy, has left its mark. Claims that the hotel is haunted trace back to Kate Morgan, who was found shot to death on the beach in 1892. It’s said she was waiting for her ex with a violent temper. Her spirit supposedly wander about parts of the hotel, especially her former room. Guests can ask which room at the front desk. 1500 Orange Ave., Coronado. 800-468-3533 or

Casino action

Pala Casino Resort and Spa: You don’t have to go all the way to Las Vegas for casino-style gaming. San Diego County is home to one of the largest collection of Indian casinos in the country, and they’ve blossomed over the years from temporary structures to some full-blown resorts. Pala, in the northeast of the county is one of the region’s tops hotels, with a four-diamond AAA rating. 11154 Highway 76, Pala. 760-510-5100 or

Barona Valley Ranch Resort and Casino: A bit out of the way, but in a beautiful location, Barona makes up for the hassle of getting there with a first-class hotel and casino, resort amenities like golf and a spa, plus concerts and special events. 1932 Wildcat Canyon Road, Lakeside. 619-443-2300 or
Harrah’s Rincon Casino and Resort: The legendary Nevada gaming brand of Harrah’s combines with an Indian casino operation that is a good copy of Las Vegas or Reno action. 33750 Valley Center Road, Valley Center. 760-751-3100 or

Sycuan Casino & Resort: It touts itself as a “daycation” from San Diego. The east wing is now smoke-free, meaning you don’t have to walk through a blue crowd to get to the blackjack, pai gow or machines. 5469 Casino Way, El Cajon. 619-445-6002 or

Viejas Casino and Turf Club: The prices will appeal to a budget pocketbook, both for rooms and meals. It’s the home of the annual Fleet Week Concert in August. There’s plenty of slot and video poker machines. 5000 Willows Road, Alpine. 800-847-6537 or

Gardens and nurseries

Alcazar Garden: Balboa Park has several gardens, including the Japanese Friendship Garden. My favorite is the Alcazar Garden, made to look like the Moorish-influenced gardens of Alcazar Castle in Seville, Spain. After decades of changes, it has been restored to look as it did in 1935. On a hot summer day, the fountains with blue, green and yellow tiles give the feeling of an old urban oasis. More than 7,000 flowers bloom within a border of boxwood hedges. You’ll find it next to the Art Institute.

Weidners’ Gardens: Not all the gardens have to be look-only. Weidners’ is my favorite nursery in San Diego County, just off the San Diego Freeway. Known for its begonias, though my best buy was some small trees. 695 Normandy Road, Encinitas. Open March 1 through Labor Day and Nov. 1 to Dec. 22. 760-436-2194 or

The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch: This massive carpet of blooms is a tourist attraction that signals the coming of spring in northern San Diego County. The flowers are planted in thick ribbon strips. It’s open from mid-March to mid-May, then closes for the year. Weekends can be a mob scene. It is a good stop on the way to Anza-Borrego State Desert Park to see wildflowers. Missed it this year? Circle your 2010 calendar now. 5704 Paseo Del Norte, Carlsbad. 760-431-0352 or

Quail Botanical Gardens: A 35-acre swath of African aloe trees, Angel’s Trumpet, Norfolk pines, cactus, bamboo and many other odd and beautiful flora. There are waterfalls and winding paths that allow each visitor to lose themselves from the rest of the spring and summer plant lovers. Fall brings colors from the maple trees. 230 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas. 760-436-3036 or

Self-Realization Fellowship Center Gardens: Encinitas gets three votes from me. The other goes to the peaceful gardens of the Self-Realization Fellowship, the local temple of the late Paramahansa Yogananda. The temple is only open Sundays for drop in visitors. But the gardens can be enjoyed at most times. It was the holy man’s hilltop meditating and his sprawling complex that caused surfers to give the surf break below the nickname “Swamis,” one of the spots mentioned in the Beach Boys’ “Surfin USA.” 939 2nd St, Encinitas – 760-436-7220

©2009, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.