A and I were lucky enough to be able to plan a week in Southern California before coming back to London. We decided to split our time between San Diego and LA – I went to both quite a lot as a kid, but A hadn’t been to either, so we had plenty of exploring to do.
San Diego was exactly as expected – sunshine, dudes in baseball caps, and a booming craft beer scene. We stayed in North Park for the first two nights, which is full of breweries and hipsters and made us feel right at home. A few of the places we dropped in on, in roughly chronological order:
Mike Hess Brewing – you can get flights here (which come with a souvenir glass which is shaped like a beer can and labelled with one of their brews). A loved some of the IPAs he tried; I struggled a bit more as I’m a wimp when it comes to hops but did taste every stout/porter they had on and liked the seasonal pumpkin one the best. I’m such a sucker for seasonal pumpkin flavours, mainly because they’re not common in the UK so I go a little nuts on them when I’m back in the US.
City Tacos – we needed a quick snack after an evening of trying beers so picked up a mahi mahi taco and a carnitas taco. Both were decent but were topped with the same mango salsa, which A and I both found too sweet and fruity for our tastes.
Breakfast Republic – this place was rammed already at 10.30am on Saturday, but there’s free coffee for those waiting and it’s warm and sunny outside, so A and I get caffeinated and bask in the glow. When we finally secure a table, we know what we want – crab cake benedict and French toast with fresh strawberries. I think the anticipation that built up over the wait and seeing how eager other people were made our food a slight disappointment – nothing was wrong, but it wasn’t the kind of breakfast that you talk about for the rest of the day, either. My hash browns were distinctly undercooked. But lovely outdoor seating and a friendly waiter.
Barleymash – we stopped in here for an afternoon drink while walking around downtown. I had a hard root beer (why is this deliciousness missing in my life?!) and A had another IPA (surprise!). While drinking, we looked at the menu and got fixated on the range of mac&cheeses they do. So… we came back for dinner and split the version with confit duck and duck scratchings. Again – something that had been built up in my head for too long; the sweet hoisin-esque sauce ruined it a bit for me. I’m really glad we shared it, we saw another couple start with a giant pile of nacho fries, then order a separate mac&cheese each, which I’m pretty sure should kill you on the spot.
Cat Eye Club – we headed here after dinner to catch their Saturday night happy hour – they do an excellent mai tai for $5 until 8pm. We couldn’t stop drinking these. The balance between sweet, dry and bitters was absolutely perfect, and then the jazz band that came on added to the atmosphere. Sadly I discovered that three mai tais is my limit – but we headed home feeling like we’d stumbled on some magic place.
Urban Solace – our AirBnB host recommended the Sunday bluegrass brunch and I’m glad we went with it. The band was great – they play outdoors in a covered patio area. I had the beef cheek hash (YES!) and A had the full kitchen sink – sausage, bacon, eggs, biscuits and gravy (YES AGAIN!)
At this point we moved on the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa and Marina for one night – I have no idea what this place is like in the high season, but it was quiet, luxurious and very well situated for our stay.
El Pescador Fish Market – stunning selection of fresh fish. We tried the fish tacos – because they forgot our order, they also brought us some clam chowder on the house. Clam chowder was good (but not as good as the San Francisco sourdough bread bowl one we had a few years ago) and the fish in the tacos was fresh, but sadly pretty bland. A hell of a lot of shredded cabbage.
Oscar’s Mexican Seafood – another attempt at a fish taco. This one was my favorite, and finally helped A understand why people go nuts for them. Grilled fish, avocado, crispy cheese, just enough cabbage for crunch. This is when I started to realize that fish tacos are not fast food – every place so far was making them to order, which is fantastic, but it does mean there is a bit of a wait.
Stone Brewing World – this is the touristy outpost but actually the more interesting of the two, since they do smaller batches of more creative beers here but they still have the full list from the main brewery too. It being January and Sunday, the place was pretty empty, but that just made it all the easier for me and A to get two flights of beer. They do food too, but my constant fish taco ingestion made that unnecessary.
Modern Times – my favorite interiors of all the breweries we visited (though many were pretty spectacular). One, they had a mural of Michael Jackson with his monkey, made out of post-it notes. Two, they had a wall made out of book covers. Three, there were some spectacular lights / chandeliers. And of course the beer was good too – their unusual addition is their own coffee, cold-brewed and available by the growler. When you’re brewery and a coffee producer, you obviously then make some beers with that coffee, and I really liked the one I tried.
Pizza Port Ocean Beach – A and I were both a little surprised by how casual this place is (and how many tv screens there were showing various sports) – they make their own beers and there are certainly some unusual options available. I think I had some version of a hefeweizen, I’m assuming A had another IPA, and then we ordered kale salad and a pizza. What surprised me most is that the kale salad was one of the most delicious things I’d eaten all day, and the pizza paled in comparison. I can’t believe I’m saying this about a pizza place, but go for the kale salad?
Hodad’s – couldn’t resist popping into this burger joint staffed by a bunch of surfer dudes who were the friendliest, most chilled out waitstaff you could ask for. There were definitely some strong weed scents floating out from the back, accompanied by drum solos on the grill played with spatulas, but they delivered a juicy burger and fries quickly and competently (and even pre-sliced it in half since they knew we were sharing).
Olive Café – our last meal in San Diego and we wanted a traditional American breakfast. This was perfect – pancakes, eggs, hash browns and bacon (it’s one dish but A and I split it and it ended up being just the right amount to fill us up for the morning). A quick walk on the beach and we were ready to hit some of the breweries between San Diego and LA.