Category Archives: Local

Summer of San Diego!

balboa park(Museums in Balboa Park)

It is a funny thing, living in a vacation destination. Although I pass by the Sea World tower each day during my shuttle-ride to the lab, I am most often oblivious to the tourist attractions and natural wonders by which we am surrounded. In discussing how to spend our non-BBQ time during this Fourth of July weekend, The Bat and I got to discussing all of the San Diego attractions that, as residents, we have never taken the time to see and/or experience. Our list grew quite fast and the idea of a summer blogging project bloomed along with it.

east county (Looking out over the arid farm country of East San Diego county)

June was a hectic month – what with constant birthday parties, family gatherings, Whole30 restrictions and work schedule changes. I am very happy to put those days behind me. Luckily, July has opened full of sunshine and, thus far, much more relaxing. So, in the interest of living in the moment and soaking up what the city has to offer – I am officially declaring it The Summer of San Diego. I want to play tourist in my hometown and see what makes San Diego “America’s Finest City.”

alesmith (Beer tasting at AleSmith)

There is no time like the present to really explore the nooks and crannies of San Diego. After 7 years in Boston and 4 years in Paris, I can easily make lists of things I never took the time to see and do (Glass flowers, anyone? Or wine tasting in the French countryside?).  I do not want to take this city for granted. To that end, no project of mine is complete without a list. So, without further ado – here are more things than I could possibly fit into the next 8-12 weekends. Of course posting them here holds me somewhat accountable and provides excellent blog fodder as the summer moves along.

la jolla cove(Sea Kayakers in La Jolla Cove)

Let the games begin!


San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Sea World

Legoland (I want to go this summer, mainly for this)

Belmont Park


Historical Landmarks:

Cabrillo National Monument

Mission San Diego

Old Town San Diego – Food and Tours!



Balboa Park:

–       Museums (so many, and free on Tuesdays)

–       Botantical Garden

–       Concert at the Organ Pavillion

–       Play at the Globe Theater

–       Japanese Friendship Garden

San Diego Botanical Garden

Picnic at Kate Sessions Park

Tidepools at Sunset Cliffs

Hiking at Torrey Pines

Palomar Mountain Observatory

Anza Borrego Dessert (might have to wait for flower season next spring)

Camping/Hiking @ Idyllwild



Watch San Diego Padres baseball game at Petco Park

Play Disc Golf at Morley Field

Surfing Lessons (?)


Sea Cave Kayaking in La Jolla Cove

Watch (do?) paragliding at the Torrey Pines Gliderport

Del Mar Horse Races

Sailing in the San Diego Harbor


Food/Drink as motivators:

Beer Tasting (at one/some/all of the booming craft breweries in the area!)

Julian Road Trip and Apple Pie

Sunset cocktails at the beachside bar at the Hotel Del Coronado

Farmers Markets



The Stuart Collection

Dr. Seuss Collection

Fallen Star


Beyond San Diego:

California Missions Road Trip

Joshua Tree National Park

Big Bear Lake

Wine Tasting in Temecula

Wine Tasting in Santa Barbara/Santa Ynez

Catalina Island

Six Flags Magic Mountain

Train to The Big A for an Angels baseball game

ucsd teddy (“Bear” on the campus of University of California, San Diego)

San Diegans (and visitors), tell me what I have missed, but must see!

Friends (or other bloggers?), let me know if you want to get in on the fun and join me on any of these adventures!

The list is long (and somewhat overwhelming), but it is so exciting to realize how much fun there is to be had in my own backyard!








Weekly Photo Challenge – Curves

This past weekend I joined friends (and Walker, of knit hat fame) to participate in the San Diego Farm Bureau’s Farm Tour Day 2013. We were guided through the grounds and operations of three local agricultural giants, specializing in flowers and succulents, avocados and seasonal, organic produce. I had checked the Weekly Photo Challenge before leaving the house early that morning, and spent the day looking out for images that evoked this week’s theme of “Curves”. I thought this photo of almost-ripe avocados did the trick. The fruit hung heavy on the thin branches, while the leaves provided a dappled shadow to protect them from the intense heat of the direct, summer sunlight. The dark, rough, pebbled curve of their outer shell belied the creamy, rich sweetness of the fragile flesh within. They were dipping low enough that I was tempted to grab and pull – but I resisted the urge and was rewarded with a ripe avocado souvenir at the end of the tour. It was a perfect way to spend a sunny Saturday.

low hanging fruit

Taco Tuesday – Carnitas Snack Shack

carnitasCarnitas Snack Shack has been on my “must try ASAP” from the moment I stepped off of that transatlantic flight six months ago. A new darling on the restaurant scene, the Snack Shack serves locally sourced, pork-centric tacos, sandwiches and small plates from a window-front stand at University Ave and Oregon St. in North Park. They also stock plenty of local craft beer, so if you are not in a rush after ordering, settle into the picnic tables set up around back, admire the garden beds, soak up some sun and stay awhile.snack shack earlyI snuck out of work a bit earlier than usual a few weeks ago to meet friends here to finally taste what the buzz was all about. I arrived a bit early – they had pups to pick up at home, as the Snack Shack patio is extremely dog friendly. There was no line when I got there – around 5:30 or so – and I was able to order a Green Flash Trippel to tipple while I waited in one of the few tables still getting direct sunlight in the garden and sunshineOnce the rest of the crew arrived, we worked out a plan to try as many things on the menu as possible. I ordered the carnitas tacos (of course!), M ordered the specialty of the house, the Triple Threat sandwich and H rounded out the main courses with steak flautas. Additionally we agreed to split the pork belly appetizer and an order of fries. I am getting the idea that my friends delight in having this blog as an excuse to order almost everything on the menu (we did skip a vibrantly colored and delicious looking beet and goat cheese terrine).back gardenWe were lucky in our timing – within about 10 minutes of putting in our order, the line outside of the solitary window to pork-goodness started forming and snaking rapidly up the street. While we waited we helped ourselves to water – both in glasses and in a graciously provided doggie bowl. Thankfully, our food was also first out of the kitchen and it was not more than 15-20 minutes before we had a steaming, smoky feast set before our eyes (and watering mouths), while the newcomers watched with hungry anticipation.salsasThere was no order to the service – our pork belly and fries came delivered with everything else, and we immediately started to divide things into threes such that we could all get a taste. H had also noted that the Snack Shack purchases locally crafted salsas, which were available upon request (and were delivered quickly). We started to pass the plates around and the universal indication of tastiness – silence – settled around our table.carnitas2First, the tacos (it is Tuesday). There is a reason that the entire restaurant is names for this dish alone. The carnitas themselves were incredibly tender, smoky and moist, but retained that spicy crust from a high heat sear along the outside edges that provides a satisfying crunch before each bite melts in your mouth. The tacos were piled high with meat and garnished simply with fresh avocado, a heaping scoop of homemade pico de gallo, lime and a side of corn slaw. Together, the flavors created what is now my favorite carnitas in San Diego – it really is that crispy roasted outer edge that gets me every time.  The serving was more than enough to fill my belly, but with four more dishes on the table, I had to keep tasting. Yup, life is hard.flautasAlthough we tried to love them as much as the tacos, we all agreed that (despite being talked up by the man behind the ordering window) the beef flautas were our least favorite of the bunch. The steak was cooked medium-rare and had great flavor, but compared to the slow roasted pork in the other dishes that melted in our mouth, the somewhat chewy hunk of meat took an immediate back seat. The fries were also not necessary – not in the scope of our meal, certainly – but also in general. They were great fries – thin, a well-balanced combination of crunch and steaming soft potato –but given what the Snack Shack does so well (pork), there is no reason to order anything else.triple threatSpeaking of which, let’s get back to the pig. Our collective tie for first place was split down the middle (one vote for each and me, undecided) between the Triple Threat and the pork belly appetizer. The Triple Threat sandwich is a study in absolute excess, featuring pulled pork topped by schnitzel topped by bacon, with a schmear of house aioli and a pickle/pepper relish, all sandwiched between a buttery bun. I think, before tasting it, we all expected it to be too much – too rich, too fatty, too much everything. It was definitely rich and over the top, but not grossly so. In fact, the meats harmonized much better than I expected and the crunch and vinegar heat from the relish went a long way through cutting through the heft. It was, simply, super – not at all a gimmick, but a seriously good sandwich that I would not hesitate to order again (and encourage others to do the same).pork bellyThe pork belly was a completely different type of decadent. Seemingly somewhat out of place on a menu of finger foods, this slab of pork belly had clearly been braised for hours and was served coated in a thick sweet-spicy glaze and tart apple lemon slaw. The tender meltiness of this dish put even the carnitas to shame and the sauce, possibly a bit too cloying at first, grew on us until we were dipping the salad greens in it as well, so none would go to waste. We all devoured the belly immediately after its initial tasting – there was an instinctive competitiveness, even among friends, because we all knew without saying that if you didn’t get your fork in for another bite now, you would be left behind (and belly-less). Both M and H went in for the last bite at the same time and there was some very careful negotiation to decide who would actually taste victory.puppiesCompletely stuffed and leaning back in our chairs, we took some time to digest, catch the last of the sunlight and comfort the dogs who looked up at us with such longing that it was clear they knew exactly what was going on table-side. After groaning our approval and commenting on our bulging bellies, M and I were shocked when the server returned, cleared our plates (and remaining fries) and plopped down a foil-wrapped surprise in the familiar shape of an ice cream sandwich. H had ordered it behind our backs and he unwrapped it with the excitement of a little kid experiencing the ice cream truck for the first creamSandwiched in between two chocolate wafer cookies was vanilla ice cream studded with toffee and bacon chips. The server assured us that it was made by  a visiting guest pastry chef and that it was not to be missed. I am, oddly, without a sweet tooth or a fanatical love of chocolate, so I do not think I would go as far as claiming this cookie confection to be an essential component of a Snack Shack meal; but it was a pleasant, cool, salty-sweet treat that rounded off the meal nicely.snack shack lateWe departed shortly thereafter, letting the dogs say goodbye to the neighboring tables and skirting the line that had continued to replenish throughout our meal, now stretching halfway up the block. Restaurants that serve food as fresh and tasty as the Snack Shack make it incredibly difficult to branch out and try something new  – I am already looking forward to the opportunity to drag The Bat & Co. here for a late afternoon Sunday supper. In the local scene, what I am saying is nothing new and I am only adding my voice to the chorus of Snack Shack lovers, but it is always worth sharing a place worth your time, taste buds and hard-earned dollar.

Carnitas Snack Shack

2632 University Ave. 

San Diego, CA 92104

619.294.PORK (7675)

Wine Steals Lounge, Point Loma

whites with pink

By this time each week (Thursday evening), I’m already daydreaming about the weekend – how I’m going to be concurrently cleaning the house, catching up with friends, troubleshooting experiments in the lab, cooking extensively for next week’s lunches and, of course relaxing and catching up on sleep. It is no surprise that I often feel less-than-satisfied with my weekends with to-do lists like this running circles in my mind. With another work trip on the immediate horizon (T-10 days) that requires some further preliminary data, this is not a weekend with which I can push off the science until Monday.

view If I had the chance to priority the relaxing and friends entries on my list and the weather was poised to cooperate, I would return to Wine Steals in Point Loma. Based in Point Loma’s Liberty Station complex of shops and restaurants, this is one of three Wine Steals wine bars in the greater San Diego area (in addition to others in Hillcrest and Cardiff-by-the-Sea). I have not yet visited the Cardiff location, but the outdoor seating, sun-dappled, dog-friendly patio and country club feel definitely give the Point Loma location the leg up on its Hillcrest cousin.

menuOur group of friends decided to take advantage of the early spring sunshine a few weeks ago and met there for a lazy, long Sunday lunch.  Although they have a complete menu, the interior is mostly a wine shop with just a few high bar tables for tasting or to enjoy a quick glass. If you want to savor your food and/or drink, I would highly suggest nabbing one of the wrought iron patio tables overlooking the Sail Ho Golf Club. Words to the wise – there is no table service, so ordering your food and beverages at the bar is necessary and be sure to bring a coat – once the sun drops out of the direct line of sight, it cools down quickly as it is quite close to the water.

three whitesThe extensive wine list is comprised of multiple whites and reds that are available by the glass. You can either order from these choices, or pick a bottle from the bins inside that the staff will be happy to open for you, then and there, for a $6 corkage fee. Additionally, although it is not listed on the menu, you can design your own wine tasting flights: three wines are chosen and served as half-pours in smaller glasses that fit beautifully in the wrought iron stands that are brought to the table. This was definitely my first choice option – how else could I be expected to familiarize myself with the menu?  Also, for those non-wine drinkers among us, the restaurant also carried a rather extensive selection of locally sourced craft beers,keeping the rest of our group (The Bat) very happy.

lost abbey To compliment our wine and get our picnic on, we ordered two appetizers to start – first, the combination cheese/charcuterie plate and second, a chips & dips platter including hummus, tzatziki and pita and baguette. The dips were well done; creamy, flavorful and clearly house made (or at least close to it), albeit very small servings. The combo cheese and meat plate came piled high with two hunks of four different types of cheeses (the blue was the unanimous winner), five types of cured meats (the pale thuringer was a stand out favorite), cornichons, cherry peppers, honey, mustard and a sun-dried tomato chutney.  While this would have been a formidable feast for two, the six of us around the table demolished both appetizers in no time, along with the initial round of wine flights. 

dipscheese meatTo compliment our switch from whites to red, we decided to order pizzas for the main course. Here our eyes quickly grew larger than our stomachs, which, while not entirely full, certainly did not need the three large pizzas we ended up ordering (it’s so hard to limit oneself when the list of tasty things is so long!). The pies came in two sizes and we all erred on the ‘take home food, rather than leave hungry’ side of things, ordering the larger of the two options, which are rather massive.

veggie Two of the pizzas were relatively standard – one veggie and one ‘almost everything’ (not pictured) – made with a standard crust and a light schmear of a pleasing, herby marinara sauce. The third pizza was a build-your-own concoction of thin cracker crust, garlic sauce, veggies and spicy shrimp, which ended up (surprisingly) as my favorite. There was no skimping on any of the toppings and everything tasted exceptionally fresh and hot out of the oven. It was quality, upscale wine bar food, done the California way.

shrimpWe sat and enjoyed the last of the sunlight before it dropped completely behind the man-made horizon of the surrounding buildings, bundled in sweatshirts and taking advantage of the productive, plentiful propane patio heat lamps. Eventually, one by one, we began to list what was on tap for the week ahead – our lazy Sunday afternoon was quickly transitioning into a forecast of Monday morning – and, on that note we quietly departed, trying to keep that inevitable forward march in check as much as possible.  

redsIt has been a few weeks and with daylight savings time and temperatures rising, I am feeling ready to venture back – perhaps this time on a Saturday afternoon – so the rest and relaxation can linger a bit longer. Unfortunately, science takes precedence this time around. Plus, I have noticed that our temperatures will be dropping for the weekend, so it is definitely a better idea to stick this outing in my proverbial back pocket for taking advantage of the early summer/late spring warmth and sunshine when it arrives. 

(Interesting side note – although I visited the Point Loma and Hillcrest locations within only a month of each other, at the time of patronage their wine lists were completely different. I interpret this to mean that they rotate their house offerings very frequently, as I am hard pressed to imagine that the stock each individual wine bar with a completely different selection than the others. This speaks highly to their turnover, as well as their curiosity about wine.)

Wine Steals Lounge

2970 Truxton Road

San Diego, CA 92106


Weekly Travel Theme – Pale

pale 2This week brought with it another challenging Weekly Travel Theme from Ailsa over at Where’s My Backpack. “Pale” images are usually the opposite of what I am aiming at with my camera – I much more naturally gravitate to bright colors, dramatic contrast and loud visuals. Yet, there is a delicate power in the soft, quiet colors of cloudy skies and pale petals. I also think it takes more skill to compose and capture an arresting image from these, more subtle, subjects. A talent I am trying to develop, with a little bit of luck, and few favors from Mother Nature here and there. islandsFor my submission, I have chosen a few photos from the end of a whale watching trip we took in early February. What began as a bright, warm, sunny day had turned grey, blustry and cold by the time our boat was headed back to harbor. The cloud cover hid the sun, only allowing the palest pinks and oranges to radiate through. As the afternoon rain built, the color palette shifted from pastels to cooler shade of greys and blues. Without the sun shining down, or the blue sky to contrast, the increasingly choppy ocean also took on a dark pewter hue, such that the water, the Coronado islands in the distance and the sky above were all part of the same color continuum. pale 3The other ships out that day were primarily white, and blended into nature’s color scheme quite well, including this enormous schooner that traveled past us at quite a clip. Despite the advancing storm, the dolphins were also out in droves playing in the wake left behind by our boat, their black, grey and white speckled skin dipping in and out of the white caps, emphasizing how perfectly they were camouflaged for days like this.pale 4There was a calm to the latter half of that day that I believe was influenced by the shifting hues in the sky. After a long day at sea, the chilly breeze and quiet greys lulled as all close to sleep as we approached the dock. And, every once in a while, we would look back out to sea right as the sun peeked through the clouds for a moment, streaming down in pale, yellow shafts and dappling the water with a soft golden sparkle, which was even more magical than when it had been blazing overhead a few hours before. pale 1


Coffee & Tea Collective


I have always been a fan of the coffee house. When I was in college a latte, a locally sourced, ginormous salad and a table in the corner of the café courtyard often got me through mid-terms and finals – the studying portion, at least. When I moved to Boston, and after that Paris, I was surprised to see that the lassiez-faire attitude of coffee houses (or even the focus on delicious coffee) had yet made it eastward. I missed the sense of belonging – the ability to sit, read, work and stay as long as necessary, even with only long-drained coffee in front of me.


It was with great interest that I began to read about the ‘new’ local coffee movement – coffee houses throughout the US that were buying, roasting and brewing their own beans. The focus was far more on the basic brewed coffee itself – not the flavored syrups added in or the whipped cream decorations atop – that mattered. Coffee was moving beyond a means to a productive, caffeinated end. As an avid consumer, I was thrilled with the focus on making the brew tasty, not just strong (and bitter), which seemed to be the point with coffee culture up until this point. It was with excitement and anticipation that I dragged two colleagues to Coffee & Tea Collective in North Park to taste what all the fuss was about.


This is definitely a new coffee culture, with the intense focus on the artisanal roasting and the carefully poured drip, (not your usual) filtered cup ‘o joe. I’d have to say, it was utterly worth it. I am, admittedly, just learning to use my descriptive words to classify and select wine (a bit behind, yes, I am), but the coffee that slid past my palate this afternoon deserved just as much attention (and adjectives), as any glass of Pinot Noir on a Friday night.


Warm, fruity, pungent, strong – the house-roasted, hand-selected coffees at Coffee & Tea collective are worth searching out. Take a seat, enjoy a cup and peruse the eclectic art collection and the airy, high-ceilinged dining room. If you enjoy your cup, be sure to purchase some beans to take home with you – they are just as good when brewed on a lazy Sunday morning (trust me).  I may still be learning about the nuances into the new coffee culture, but I have no doubt that Coffee & Tea collective will be happy to teach me, every step of the way.


Not to mention that I need to go back to pick up the (at least) three house-blended teas I want to try as well…


In Images – Happy Birthday!


(A fitting setting for a birthday celebration, in front of the Geisel Library)

Reliving our delicious dinner at Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant in yesterday post made me curious as to what other photos may be lurking in my February-March photo archives. Apparently during that one month of spotty (to put it nicely) posting, I did not stop planning for the blog in any way. My camera came with me to every eatery and long walk in the sunshine. Good to know I have plenty of blog fodder for those days that pass without giving up an iota of inspiration.


(The Teeny Tiny Pit Orchestra, playing songs from the Cat in the Hat Songbook)

One of my favorite events of that period was just over one month ago – the celebration of Dr. Seuss’s birthday by the entire UCSD campus, observed one day early on March 1st.

DSC_0010 DSC_0014

(More small Seussian songs – with strange and bizarre instruments included)

Theodore Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, was a stupendously talented children’s book author, beloved worldwide for his wacky, colorful characters. 2013 would have been his 109th birthday. UCSD shares a special connection with the good Dr. as he spent his later years enjoying life in sunny La Jolla. Upon his death in 1991, his widow, Audrey Geisel, donated a tremendous number of original documents (high school doodles!) and a considerable sum to support the UCSD libraries and it’s newly acquired, very special collection.


(The event was open to the public, and several elementary school classes showed up to celebrate – complete with handmade hats in tow)

Unfortunately, I was not able to make it to the annual showing of the complete collection (stressful March strikes again!), which is said to be mind-bendingly fantastic. I did find time, however, to take a break from the lab long enough to soak up a bit of sun, smile at the wackiness that Seuss evokes from kids and adults alike and, of course, enjoy some cake. Despite no evidence for it, I am assuming that the delicious concoction, chocolate cake with butterscotch filling and a cream cheese frostong was the Dr’s favorite. Somehow that makes me feel closer to him and happier for it.


(Cutting the cake – the UCSD Chancellor and head Geisel Librarian were in attendance to distribute cake and greet guests)


(Cupcakes supplemented the main birthday cake, and the very cheerful volunteers were happy to play along)

DSC_0026(The cake – before we consumed it all – described above and definitely better than your typical store-bought sheet cake. Sunshine, free cake, trippy music and lots of smiles… definitely the best way to end the week).