Unironic Bliss in San Diego

San Diego’s charms can disarm even the crankiest among us, putting many a northerner at home in its revitalized downtown.


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Microbrews flow like coffee in San Diego.

Quinn Dombrowski-CC

There’s a sketch on the comedy show Portlandia in which indignant ecoterrorists from The City of Roses descend on sunny San Diego to save the whales at Sea World. Instead, they get sidetracked by margaritas, fish tacos, and tennis lessons.

The joke leans on stereotypes of California’s beach-y border town, but reality isn’t so far off: San Diego’s charms can disarm even the crankiest among us. Many a northerner feels at home in its revitalized downtown, where plaid pairs with flip-flops and craft brews flow like coffee.

In fact, there’s a reasonable and important debate going on in this country over which city is best for beer lovers. Portland might be hipper, but San Diego appears to have the better product—at least for anyone who can appreciate local brewers’ role in the phenomenon that is strong, hoppy India Pale Ale.

Nowhere is San Diego’s love of the microbrew more apparent than in the Gaslamp Quarter, a dining-and-entertainment corridor south of downtown where the word “microbrew” adorns awnings and menus ad nauseam. Stone Brewing Company, the city’s most famous, has a taproom just off the main drag and a couple blocks from PetCo Park, where ardent baseball fans support their ever-ailing Padres.

 

After all, it should be noted: This city is as earnest as they come. San Diego has no time for snark or irony. That’s evident in everything from its no-bull beers to its no-frills taco dispensaries. Perhaps the city’s most prominent hole-in-the-wall is called—again, unironically—Mexican Fiesta, and not only is it so bare-bones as to offer neither interior nor exterior seating, but the trendiest, most nontraditional thing on its menu is the California burrito, a San Diego specialty containing little more than meat, cheese, and French fries.

Mexican Fiesta is found, whimsically enough, in Little Italy, a neighborhood just north of downtown that was once a predominately Italian fishing enclave. Now, it’s a trendy, vibrant district where you’ll as soon encounter a street festival or taproom as meatballs or marinara.

Authenticity is in the eye of the beholder, and if hipsters want to get hung up on artisanal lightbulbs and the provenance of their chicken dinner (or were those Portlandia skits, too?), San Diegans—and their visitors—are more than happy to experience the African savanna at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, enjoy retail therapy in upscale La Jolla or sprawling Fashion Valley Mall, or sit it all out with a six pack and a burrito at Coronado, Mission, Pacific or any other of the city’s dozen or so iconic beaches.

2016-07-12 08:00 AM

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