Attention, San Diego: Show Us Your Dark Underbelly!
August 10, 2012 1:16 PM   Subscribe

I loved the "show me the hidden side of L.A." question. But I'm gonna be visiting its mild-mannered southern cousin, San Diego. Show me the hidden side of THAT!

I loved this question. However, due to some restrictive flight vouchers, my boyfriend and I will be vacationing in San Diego instead. Per other San Diego-related questions, it seems to be a laid-back, balmy, peaceful kinda town. EFF THAT. We want to see San Diego's hidden/seedy/secret/wild side. The particulars:

- We'll be there during the last week of August.
- We'll have a car.
- We'll have passports.
- We'll have some cash (albeit not enough to rent a private villa in which to chug caviar smoothies).
- Likes: urban exploration, vaguely-to-entirely "naughty" activities, things that'll make good memories and/or stories.
- Dislikes: touristy stuff, water-related activities, relaxing on the beach drinking frou-frou drinks.
- Nothing is too outre or scuzzy. However, we also do not wish to die and/or get kidnapped.
posted by julthumbscrew to Travel & Transportation around San Diego, CA (18 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
When I was a student at UCSD there were a number of buildings there known for their artsy/crazy graffiti and wall writing. I remember the basement of the Mandeville arts buildings in particular, and some of the stairwells in the H&SS buildings in John Muir college. However, this is a moving target - the administration would occasionally paint over the wall writing - so you should ask current students who live in Muir what stairwells are good now, if any. UCSD also has a lot of interesting public art in the Stewart Collection - I wouldn't call it seedy :) but it's definitely fun and interesting.

There were also rumors of a network of underground tunnels at UCSD - I tried to find entrances a few times (there were maps written on the walls in H&SS!) but never had any luck.
posted by town of cats at 1:46 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm really scratching my head over this question. San Diego is a wonderful place for outdoor activities and craft beer. Urban activities? Art? Well, LA is only 2 hours away...

That said, you might enjoy the murals at Chicano Park or Cinema Under the Stars. Depending on when you're going, you may also get to see the Red Tide. I know you said no water related activities, but there's nothing like leaving glowing footprints in the sand as you walk along the shore at night. Try the beaches at Del Mar north of 15th street if you go; there are fewer lights there. There's also Sunny Jim's Cave--it's a weird little man-made tunnel into a sea cave. You walk down a bunch of steps and come out inside a cave with an opening that looks like the profile of an old man.

I always recommend Blind Lady Alehouse if you like craft beer and thin crust pizza--it's located in one of the more walkable San Diego neighborhoods. We also have a couple of speakeasies downtown if that is your thing (Prohibition, Noble Experiment).
posted by rhythm and booze at 1:51 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Argh. Stuart Collection. Blasted homophone proper names.
posted by town of cats at 1:55 PM on August 10, 2012

Oh, and yes, the red tide is really gorgeous. There are cliffs above the ocean that are technically closed after sunset - duck under the gate with a flashlight and watch the light show. If you go to UCSD, ask enough students how to get to "the cliffs" to see the phosphorescents and eventually someone will know what you're talking about.
posted by town of cats at 1:59 PM on August 10, 2012

Best answer: It's not too crazy, but there's a sort-of Poltergeist situation over at Pioneer Park in Mission Hills. It used to be a cemetery, but when the transformed it into a park, they moved the headstones but not the bodies. Some of the tombstones are still there - they were originally relocated to another cemetery in town, but basically dumped in a ditch and forgotten about for a long time, until the trolley line was routed through that ditch in the 80s. People on the trolley wondered what was up with all the tombstones, so they had a little snafu and eventually moved as many stones as they could back to the park, where they now sit, along with a memorial to all the headstone-less people still buried there. But really, it's just a park with some tombstones in it.

Someone in this thread is eventually going to mention TJ, so it might as well be me. You can have a perfectly scuzzy time there, but be aware that when coming back, you'll have a significant wait to get across the border. It used to be fairly dangerous down there with the rival drug cartels, but has calmed down a lot lately. News stories now are mostly about smuggling tunnels rather than shootouts and kidnappings, although I'm sure those still happen. The main business/tourist district is still recovering from the loss of business from all the violence.

If you were writing this question in 1982, the simple answer would be to just go downtown, but with the gentrification of the Gaslamp District, starting in the mid-80s, and the renovation of the area around the ballpark in the early 2000s, there's not much seediness down there any more, although it gets a little sketchier as you head north of Broadway or east of 10th Avenue.

If you want to rock out, you're probably looking at the Casbah, Brick by Brick, or SOMA (20 years ago SOMA actually used to be in a warehouse south of Market downtown, even though it's moved a couple times since then, so the name hasn't changed). Some band called Deadbolt is playing on the 25th, and they seem to fit your billing. Otherwise, we've got little divey bars scattered all over. There's a concentration in the Ocean Beach neighborhood on Newport, but that area's been getting progressively ritzier through the years. It's still a little hippie beach community though. There's a metal bar in Banker's Hill (up the hill north of downtown, 1st & Ivy) called Cherry Bomb that seems interesting.

There's an interesting blog here about abandoned sites in San Diego, some of which include missile test sites that are technically located on active military bases (it's illegal to go to these places, obviously).
posted by LionIndex at 2:06 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, yeah, cheap dives with decent indie music: Soda Bar's been pretty great lately. There's the Tin Can Alehouse. Ruby Room. There's a new place called The Griffin, and occasionally shows get played at a church called The Irenic. Check for other shows and art.
posted by rhythm and booze at 2:25 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, sort of nude beach: Black's, located at the base of the cliffs just west of UCSD. Also a prime surfing spot. To get there, either start at La Jolla Shores (there's a parking lot) and walk north along the base of the cliff, or do similar from the north side from Torrey Pines. Take care to time your walk for low tide. There's also a paved road that you can walk down from the La Jolla Farms neighborhood, located just west of UCSD. There's only street parking up there, with a 2-hour limit. There are a number of trails leading down to the beach of varying quality from elsewhere, but we typically have news stories every year or so about people falling and dying on them. Stick to the road or the beach.
posted by LionIndex at 2:26 PM on August 10, 2012

Best answer: Spruce Street Suspension Bridge, best at night when you can illictly run over it while screaming and a bit scared.

Balboa Park Archery Range.

Take a walk down Midway or Rosecrans and see some scuzzy strip club life.

Have a drink at past-their-prime bars such as Caliph or Pal Joey's.
posted by mynameisluka at 2:27 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Spruce Street Suspension Bridge, best at night when you can illictly run over it while screaming and a bit scared.

It's technically illegal to be on it after 10pm. Supposedly, they have cameras monitoring it (I haven't been able to see any), but it is surrounded by residences who probably won't think twice about calling the police on you if you're making a bunch of noise. But yes, run over it. It bounces.
posted by LionIndex at 2:38 PM on August 10, 2012

San Diego would be boresville without the latinos. So, contact one of the many Low Rider Car Clubs and offer to pay for a membership to go cruisin' with them. In the back seat.
posted by Marauding Ennui at 2:48 PM on August 10, 2012

San Diego is a craft beer paradise. Perhaps a brewery tour? Googlin' returns this but you could certainly build your own - - only problem with drinkin' in SD is that everything is spaced out...plan ahead for some cab money.

My fav spots/bars: hamiltons, small bar, monkey paw, tiger tiger, blind lady ale house, toronado, the list goes on...
posted by fillsthepews at 5:13 PM on August 10, 2012

Best answer: LionIndex is right on with the music scene. There are still some great shows at those venues.

San Diego IS very low key but there's a reason for that. We've had to develop a natural balance between being a hugely Republican, military city with being a HUGE college/university city with every other kind of counter/other culture living somewhere in between. People tend to keep things word of mouth to avoid culture collisions, cops and fights.

Safe Must Visits: Balboa Park, even if you just take an hour to walk through it.

Hillcrest at night. Visit the Alibi. That's a good place to meet folks to find out what's going on. Also in Hillcrest, if you're lucky, you may find places that are having Drag Queen contests or Gay Muscle Builder contests or whatever...It's sexy fun time and straight folks shouldn't shy away, it's all pretty friendly.

Ocean Beach. It's kind of a dirty little beach town just Northwest of Point Loma that smells slightly of urine. It's a great urban exploration because it's the one place on the planet where bums, surfers, hot girls, and amazingly rich people all seem to get along together in the slight stench. If you make it to Point Loma/Ocean Beach google up the restaurant Gabardine. They have great food but are also very savvy and can direct you to where "it's happening."

Don't Bothers: Old Town and Coronado. Total tourist traps. They actually have some cool things to see and visit, but man, the tourist vibe and congestion is overwhelming.

Risky but doable if you have tinted windows or sit very low in your seats: I-5 South to Imperial Ave. Head east for a few miles until you see some BBQ/Fish Fry/Jerked Chicken joints. That's Little Jamaica. The food is incredible, and you will, if you survive, be totally transported to a different time and country.

Last Ditch Effort: There is an area just South of 30th and University that is a little art enclave. There are a couple of bars there and a couple of art studios. This is totally iffy though as that place is always in flux. When it's hot, it's very hot but when it's not it's dead.

I'll MeMail you if I hear of anything cool going on.
posted by snsranch at 6:51 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Noble Experiment speakeasy. Call/text to make a reservation, and enter through a secret door that is actually inside another establishment.
posted by illenion at 7:39 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I'm not mistaken that's a couple of doors down from Gabardine in Point Loma. It looks like an old antique shop but once inside it's a speakeasy/billiard parlor. Totally awesome!
posted by snsranch at 8:05 PM on August 10, 2012

Nothing is too scuzzy? Then stay at Ocean Beach International Hostel those folks will put you on the right track.

Have fun! San Diego is awesome.
posted by pick_the_flowers at 8:09 PM on August 10, 2012

Response by poster: You guys are the best - these are all fantastic! I'm really excited about the prospect of glowing beaches and speakeasies and terrifying suspension bridges!
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:43 PM on August 10, 2012

the prospect of glowing beaches

IF there's a red tide. They're not totally common.
posted by LionIndex at 8:55 PM on August 10, 2012

Response by poster: Yup, understood... I've been kinda amused all evening that I'm searching environmental-type websites purposefully TRYING to find beaches with "for the love of god, don't swim here!" alerts.
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:17 PM on August 10, 2012

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