Best city to rent a car in?

I’m used to citing high housing prices when people ask about the cost of living in San Diego. But now I know of something that’s even higher-priced (relative to other cities, anyway.) According to a recent study by the Chicago Dispatcher, a blog for Chicago taxi and livery drivers, San Diego has the highest taxi fares in the country.

The study compared five-mile trips that included five minutes of waiting time in 34 geographic areas (ignoring such additional charges as airport fees, night fees, fuel surcharges, or baggage fees). The price of that five-mile San Diego trip was $20.40.  Only Anchorage came close, with the same trip there costing $19.00.  Washington DC was the cheapest at $11.50.  But the price also was reasonable in plenty of other big cities (e.g. Chicago $12.72; Houston $12.87; New York City $14.10; Philadelphia $14.57).

Although the study found some correlations between the number of cabs per capita and the price of fares, they weren’t consistent.  While cheap-ride Washington has 12.17 cabs per 1000 people versus San Diego’s measly .97, Hillsborough County has only .53 but the five-mile ride there costs only $14.30. San Diego’s current high fares aren’t a fluke either, according to the Voice of San Diego report that alerted me to the study. It stated that a 2006 survey also put San Diego at the top, behind only Honolulu (which was left out of the current survey, for reasons unexplained).

Sadly, the situation here is only getting worse.  The UT San Diego reported March 17 that the Taxicab Advisory Committee of the Metropolitan Transit System has approved “higher mandatory rates on fares from the airport and higher optional rates for cabs operating throughout the city.” The airport fees ($1 per ride now, going up to $1.50 July 1) are in addition to other rate hikes just approved.  And the committee is thinking about requiring all taxis to install security cameras.


Posted in Transportation | Tagged , | 1 Comment

San Diego’s Best (Known) Public Place

El Prado Arcade, Balboa Park

The Organ Pavilian, Balboa Park

A friend just sent me a copy of a recently compiled list of the Top 100 Public Spaces in the United States and Canada, and it was gratifying to see Balboa Park in the ninth spot. It is a great public space — but our only one, according to the list. I was amused to note that no space in Los Angeles made the cut, though the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica claimed the #79 spot. Five San Francisco venues made it: the Palace of Fine Arts Building and Lagoon (#27), the Ferry Building/Farmer’s Market (#31), the Mint Plaza (#44), Crissy Field (#49), and Michelangelo Park (#81).  New York City bagged a full 10% of the rankings, and Canada had 15 places (spread among seven of the ten provinces).

I don’t have much respect for most Best lists (having experienced how contrived their concoction can be, during my career as a newspaper reporter.)  This particular offering comes from the Planetizon urban design website, which asked members of the public to nominate and vote on sites notability for their accessibility, comfort and positive image, range of activities and uses, and sociability. Those seem like fair enough characteristics of any great public space, but of course any such list-making effort is subject to the number of partisans that happen to take an interest in it.

Still, it made me think about what else in San Diego deserves to be called a great public space. Two possibilities came to my mind: the Embarcadero downtown and La Jolla Shores (the whole complex of park, beach, and boardwalk.) It would be nice to have more.

Posted in Balboa Park, Free and fun, San Diego Sights, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 3 Comments

When Irish Bars are Calling

I’d heard that the Blarney Stone Pub, long a fixture in the Gaslamp, had closed recently, but I was surprised to read on the San Diego Travel Tips blog that it was one of at least a half dozen Irish bars here to shut their doors last year. Even more surprising: how many Irish pubs remain, scattered all over the county — including the unaffiliated Blarney Stone Pub in Clairemont. In case (saints preserve us) anyone associates drinking with St. Patrick’s Day, here’s the Travel Tips blog’s full list (which admittedly includes British watering holes too):

Downtown San Diego

The Field (544 Fifth Avenue)

Patrick’s II (428 F Street)

Stout Public House (1125 6th Avenue)

Downtown Johnny Brown’s (1220 Third Avenue)

Hennessey’s Tavern (708 Fourth Avenue)

Dublin Square Irish Pub & Grill (554 Fourth Avenue)

Maloney’s Tavern (777 Fifth Avenue)

The Tilted Kilt (310 10th Avenue)

Central San Diego

The Ould Sod (3373 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights)

Rosie O’Grady’s (3402 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights)

O’Brien’s Pub (4646 Convoy Street, Kearny Mesa)

Kelly’s Pub West (222 San Diego Avenue, Old Town)

McGregor’s Grill & Ale House (10475 San Diego Mission Road, Mission Valley)

The Tilted Kilt (1640 Camino Del Rio North, Mission Valley Mall)

Callahan’s Pub & Brewery (8111 Mira Mesa Boulevard, Mira Mesa)

Blarney Stone Pub (5617 Balboa Avenue, Clairemont)

McMurphy’s Pub (6344 El Cajon Boulevard, College)


Hennessy’s Tavern Pacific Beach (4650 Mission Boulevard)

London’s West End Pub (5157 La Jolla Boulevard)

Hennessy’s Tavern La Jolla (7811 Herschel Avenue, La Jolla)

McP’S Irish Pub & Grill (1107 Orange Avenue, Coronado)

Hennessy’s Tavern Carlsbad (777 Roosevelt Street)

O’Sullivan’s Pub (640 Grand Avenue, Suite A, Carlsbad)

Churchill’s Pub & Grille (887 West San Marcos Boulevard, Carlsbad)

Gallaghers Pub & Grill (5046 Newport Avenue, Ocean Beach)

The Harp (4935 Newport Avenue, Ocean Beach)

Finnegan’s Pub & Grill (1814 Marron Road, Carlsbad)

CJ Delong’s Sports Pub (5806 Van Allen Way, Carlsbad)

South Bay

McDini’s (105 East 8th Street, National City)

East County

Hooleys Irish Pub & Grill (2955 Jamacha Road, Rancho San Diego)

Hooleys Irish Pub & Grill (5500 Grossmont Center Drive #277, La Mesa)



Posted in Holiday Treats, San Diego Tastes | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Valley of the Bears (and Other Amazing History)

Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act on May 20, 1862, and at least one San Diego County community is playing up the local impact of that action. The Act allowed for any adult who filed a $10 fee to get 160 acres of public land (as long as they promised to live on it), and it lured some of the earliest white settlers to Valley Center, about nine miles northeast of Escondido. Last week I had an opportunity to visit the Valley Center History
, which is celebrating the sesquicentennial through May. I came away smitten.

For anyone who likes grizzly bears, this is the premiere destination in the county. An 8-foot-tall stuffed one rears up in the center of the room, surrounded by displays that recount how the largest grizzly bear in history – a 12-foot-tall, 2200-pound monster that had killed scores of cattle and at least 22 men – met its end near Old Castle Road, after menacing a young local settler and her three small children. (She blasted it with a musket, and a local Indian and two white men helped to finish it off.)

Folks started calling the settlement Bear Valley, until someone figured out that a town in Northern California had already grabbed that sexy moniker. It’s probably just as well that the town changed its name. Although California once was home to an estimated 10,000 grizzles, by 1924 humans had annihilated every last one of them. Still, to me Valley Center has the opposite drawback, making the place sound more boring than it has been — at least according to what’s on display in the museum. Some of the highlights:

— Celebrity residents that have included John Wayne, Wyatt Earp, Gary Cooper, Paul Newman, Mae West, Fred Astaire, Randolph Scott, June Allyson, Dick Powell, and Jenny Wimmer. The latter was the housekeeper for the guy who fished the first gold nugget out of the American River in 1848. Although she polished it up for him and declared it to be the real thing, thus kicking off the California Gold Rush, she and her husband left the area to homestead in Valley Center. Where they died in poverty.

Agnes aka Betty

— Amazing influence over American cookery. This came via the presence of Agnes White. She was the real woman behind the fictional Betty Crocker. Dreamt up in 1924 by the Gold Medal Flour company as a way of promoting its products, “Betty” (as portrayed by Agnes) hosted the nation’s first radio cooking show, “The Betty Crocker Cooking Show of the Air,” which debuted in 1924 and within a year was broadcast nationally on NBC radio. According to the museum display, Agnes installed indoor plumbing and a stainless steel demonstration kitchen in her home on Miller Road, where she created recipes and meal plans during the 40 years she lived there.

— Amazing ag history. This includes the 1888 harvest of the first commercial cotton crop planted in California, a 30-acre experiment that was so successful it led to California becoming a leading cotton-producing state. At another point, Valley Center boasted a rubber plantation. It also was the destination of “one of the grandest” cattle drives in US history, which took six months to bring some 2000 steer to Rancho Guejito from the Oklahoma territory.

— Possession of the smallest post office facility ever to operate in the United States. Local residents in 1955 got the Guinness Book of World Records to salute that 5- by 8-foot shed, which served about 50 homesteaders along Lilac Road from 1898 to 1912 with mail moved via stagecoach. Today it stands outside the museum entrance.

Staffed by volunteers, the museum is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. The phone number is 760/749-2993.

Posted in Museum offerings, San Diego Sights, Valley Center | 1 Comment

No More Sneaking In

For years, the only entrance to the section of the Scripps Coastal Reserve that overlooks Black’s Beach was to duck under or climb over a temporary looking wooden gate. The area was open to the public (at least during daylight hours). It only looked and felt like you were sneaking in.

But now, after a long delay, a elegant set of gates has been installed. The new gates were dedicated in grand style Saturday, with UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox cutting the ribbon, and UCSD music school alums providing accompaniment.

Most spectacular were the dances that saluted the site, performed by white-clad young maidens from the campus, as well as guest artists from Bali and other far shores.

Sadly, I missed the opening celebration, but I always take my Surf Culture Safari participants to the preserve. It’s part of the University of California Natural Reserve System, a network of 37 protected natural areas throughout the state that claims to be the largest university-administered reserve system in the world.

The views are, simply, spectacular, taking in the La Jolla caves and Cove, Scripps Pier, and the beaches more than 300 feet below the blufftops, Black’s and Sumner canyons (to the north and south, respectively), and ranging far to the north. Although you can’t see the underwater canyon that plunges another 745 feet offshore, it’s a great place to appreciate it and its role in creating the monster surf that sometimes breaks on the beach.

If you can tear your eyes from the ocean and shoreline, a “biodiversity trail” that loops through the mesa also offers plenty to look at.  More than 200 plant species have been catalogued here, and the plants shelter more than 80 bird species, various reptiles, and a dozen mammals (including small nocturnal burrowing rodents, coyotes, and gray foxes). The history’s interesting too.  Authorities estimate that La Jolla Indians were sojourning here as long ago as 8,000 years ago. Later Kumeyaay tribal members also visited the area, contributing to a wealth of archeological sites. White farmers had displaced them by the early 1900s, and a Texas oil tycoon named Black introduced cattle who grazed on the mesa. During World War II, the US military took it over to serve as a lookout and training ground. (If you know where to look, you can still see the remains of an old earthen bunker from those dark days.)

All this has long made the spot one of San Diego’s most amazing hidden treasures.  If it’s a big less hidden now, I guess there’s something to be said for ease of entry.


Posted in Beach Culture, Free and fun, La Jolla, On the Waterfront, San Diego Sights, The Natural World | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Back on the Hunt

Blame my little break in blogging about my travels in San Diego on my travels in Ethiopia,  about which I was writing elsewhere. But I’m back on the hunt. Stay tuned.

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Highs and Lows

I’ve written before about the unique pleasures of San Diego’s winter low tides, but last Friday I discovered another facet to them : biking on the wide, hard-packed sand.  My friend Howard Zatkin has organized an informal low-tide beach ride for years, but this was the first time I came to my senses and joined him. Every year, his group gathers at the end of the road that cuts off from La Jolla Farms Road and leads down to Black’s Beach.  We traveled from there up to Del Mar and then back the way we came. It was a workout (at least that last leg up the hill) of the very best kind: physically demanding in the midst of striking beauty.

Photos capture it best, and happily my friend Howard Rosen not only joined us but brought his camera.  Here are a few of the images he captured:

All photos by Howard Rosen

Posted in Free and fun, Great bike rides, On the Waterfront, The Natural World | Tagged , | 1 Comment

My Kind of Instrument (Town)

The appropriately musical reception desk

Of course the center of the musical universe in California is LA — so much so it’s easy to assume San Diego has no status within that industry. But that’s mistaken. I and others have written about Taylor Guitars (and the wonderful free tours offered for so long by the El Cajon-based giant.) Both the Deering and Stelling banjo companies began here, and touring Deering’s Spring Valley facility is still on my To-Do list. Most impressive of all is the Museum of Making Music, which opened in Carlsbad in 2000 and just underwent a major remodel. Seeing the improvements has also been on my list since August, when they were completed. I recently got to it.

The facility is so impressive, an obvious question is: why is it there, on that rather isolated stretch of Armada Drive (just down the road from both Legoland and the ranunculus fields)? The answer is that the museum is the public face of the National Association of Music Manufacturers, the trade group for all those folks who make, buy, or sell all the pianos, guitars, bugles, piccolos, snare drums, harps, and other assorted instruments around the world. (The association claims about 9,000 members internationally).  Begun 110 years ago in New York City (then the epicenter for piano manufacturers), it moved to Chicago several decades later, and then to Carlsbad in 1983, as the industry shifted west. The association hosts trade shows (including a gigantic expo in Anaheim every January), and part of its mission is to promote the pleasures and benefits of music-making. On the first floor of the building, the museum serves the latter goal, while upstairs close to 80 employees toil at more prosaic industry-promotional tasks.

Military-issue piano

Exotic guitars

Hal Blaine's famous custom drum kit

Open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10-5, the museum’s general admission costs $8. It takes at least an hour to speed through all the galleries, which present the history of American musical instruments and music making chronologically. You could certainly while away a lot more time here. Some of the instruments are mundane, but some are strange and interesting collector’s items: the portable piano created for shipment to US troops during World War II; weirdly multi-necked guitars; the most famous drum kit in America (supposedly), used to record Return to Sender, Surfin’ USA, Dead Man’s Curve, I Got You Babe, Mr. Tambourine Man, California Dreamin’, Strangers in the Night, Galveston, Bridge Over Troubled Water, and other hits.

The remodeling added a whole new interactive music-making gallery… 

…as well as a cool interactive map that allows those who interact with it to hear both native musical sources and they ways in which they’ve taken modern forms.

The only thing that seems to be missing from the museum was crowds of visitors.  Probably they don’t know what they’re missing.

Posted in Museum offerings, San Diego Sounds | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Big Deal?

Forbes Magazine recently published its annual list of America’s most expensive zip codes, and once again, Rancho Santa Fe showed up among the top 20. (With its two zip codes, it actually took two of those spots, with 92067 in the #14 position, and 92091  17th). The community east of Del Mar has ranked even higher in other years, and average home prices still tower over anyplace else in the county. Del Mar, 72nd, ranks next highest. La Jolla’s in 96th place, and Coronado doesn’t even make the list.

Besides the fact that the average Rancho Santa Fe home price hovers just under $3 million (for the 92067 folks, at least), I’ve always been amazed by how boring the place is. But I was there last Friday with a group of San Diego Professional Tour Guide Association members for a lightning tour led by a Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society docent. This reminded me of what the RSF does have going for it. In my view.

1) Great landscaping. People who can afford $3 million homes can afford lots of plants and gardeners to keep them at their best.

2) More sunshine than you get at the coast. This makes the plants look even more beautiful.

3) A modicum of history. The town boasts of being one of the first planned communities in California (yawn). This happened after gambling failures or drought or both drove the owners of the original Mexican land grant to sell the entire rancho to the Santa Fe Railroad Company. The railroad men tried to turn it into a eucalyptus farm. When that, too, failed, the company decided to develop it as a rural retreat for the wealthy, an idea that finally worked.

4) Architectural congruity. I think it’s nice that local gal Lillian Rice (born in National City, schooled at Berkeley) set so much of the tone for the town so many years before women architects became commonplace. Rice had some good ideas (fostering indoor/outdoor living; blending into the natural environment), and today a draconian covenant ensures that her anodyne designs and their imitators remain sacrosanct throughout much of the town.

5) More real-estate offices per square inch than anyplace else in California. I’m not sure that’s a fact, but it feels like it. So many properties appear to be for sale that you’ve gotta wonder if every storefront just displays different views of the same places. Whatever the truth, it makes me think the town slogan ought to be “Realtors R Us!”

6) The presence of Chino’s. I guess the gourmet farmers technically are located in Rancho Santa Fe.  I hung out there years ago, while writing about the Chino’s corn, and fell in love then with the family’s approach to farming. I loved the vegetable stand, too, as earthy and unpretentious as most of Rancho Santa Fe is not, the dark matter of the small universe that is this community. The fruits and vegetables are just as pricy and exquisite today:

Posted in Architecture, Rancho Santa Fe, Real estate | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Fresh Roasted Success

I wondered if the little cloudburst earlier today would erase the happy chalked message that appeared in front of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters last weekend. But when I braved the drizzle to get my morning caffeine fix, the sign was still intact.  And even after it’s washed away,  the accomplishment will endure.

The message announces the fact that the business, which has been operating out of the storefront on La Jolla Boulevard for the past five years, has just won the Micro Roaster of the Year award from Roast, the Portland-based bimonthly trade journal that reports on the specialty coffee industry. Some 60 or so small (under 100,000 pounds per year) roasters competed for the honor, first answering a questionnaire about their business practices and philosophy. Three finalists then had to submit several one-pound roasted coffee samples that were blindly judged by a professional coffee cupper on such criteria as aroma, color, imperfections, and bean size.

Supposedly, it was Bird Rock’s Sumatra Lake Tawar beans that propelled the local enterprise first over the finish line. The big feature story in the November/December issue also notes that Bird Rock’s owner Chuck Patton has been an innovator in many ways.  (In the story, he’s cited for being “the first guy out of the box” to trade directly with small growers, and he’s now established relationships with farmers in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, Eduador, and Bolivia.)

I’ve already written about the “cupping” sessions held regularly at the shop and the warm, lively community it has created in this once-barren street. Still, it’s gratifying to see coffee professionals elsewhere recognizing that something excellent is going on here.  As one friend notes, “And the world thought all we did was brew the best beer and make the best Fish tacos…”

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