A Week in Downtown San Diego


Gaslamp Quarter, Downtown San Diego at night

My wife and I recently spent a several days in downtown San Diego on a working vacation. Well, it was a working vacation for my wife. She was attending a nursing conference, I was along for the vacation part.

We stayed at The Hard Rock Hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Diego. The hotel has a great atmosphere, is young and hip, much more so than either of us. At least we didn’t seem to be the only middle agers staying at the hotel. I don’t recall seeing any families with children in the hallways or lobby, and I would personally choose a different hotel had our kids been with us. It’s a party hotel.

Hard Rock Hotel, San Diego

The hotel is situated just a block from the San Diego Convention Center, where Amye’s Nursing Conference was held. This made it quite convenient for Amye to walk to her conferences from the hotel. Other than a trip to Ocean Beach and a trip to Santee to visit a friend of Amye’s we could have skipped the car rental. Basically everything we did was walking distance from our Hotel. There is also a public rail system with a station right in front of the Hotel, which I used a couple of times.

Three nights in a row during our stay there, the San Diego Padres hosted the Dodgers and with Petco Stadium just a block from the Hard Rock the area was packed with people. After the games the Gaslamp Quarter seemed to be almost Marti Gras like, with bars restaurants and boutiques spilling out onto the sidewalks with patrons. For a confirmed ‘people watcher’ like myself, this made for a very interesting mixture of people to observe. The lower Gaslamp Quarter is filled with high end boutiques and expensive restaurants so there are many ‘well to do’ shoppers in the area. There seemed to also be quite a few ‘homeless’ looking folks copping a squat on the sidewalks. Street musicians occupied most corners. Then throw in a few thousand baseball fans. Quite an interesting group of people.

Because of the large number of restaurants lining the streets, it was difficult for Amye and I to decide where to eat. Most restaurants are opened up in the front and spill out onto the sidewalks. They have their menus posted right on the sidewalk for passer-by’s to view. Many of them also seemed to employ very sharply dressed and quite beautiful young women in their mid-twenties as ‘hostesses’ to stand in front of the restaurant and entice potential customers into their restaurants. And the tactic works, at least it worked on me.

As for the food, we ate well while staying in downtown San Diego. The best meal we had while there was at The Greystone Steakhouse on 5th Avenue in the Gaslamp Quarter. After looking at several menus and talking to several restaurant greeters as we walked down the sidewalk for an hour or so, a very attractive young woman at the Greystone said the magic words to me, “dry aged prime”. We quickly decided this was our restaurant for the evening. Our meal started with a basic dinner salad, then we split a medium-rare new york strip and a side of grilled asparagus. Our wine was a McWilliam’s cabernet sauvignon. Could be the best steak I’ve ever had and that’s saying something coming from a meat cutter who’s been in the business for 23 years.

The undisputed “best burger I have ever eaten” came from Rockin’ Baja Coastal Cantina located less than a block from the Hard Rock Hotel (sorry Fudruckers, you’ve been knocked down to number two on my list). Their margaritas are quite excellent as well and the staff was excellent.

I ate at Hooters of Gaslamp San Diego for lunch 3 days in a row while Amye was in conferences. Their burgers are very good, not as good as Rockin’ Baja, but still very good (maybe 4th of 5th on my all-time list). Let’s be honest, I was there for the atmosphere. For some reason the ice cold Coors Light draft tastes better when served by a stunningly beautiful Hooters Girl. I should have tried their world famous hot wings, but wasn’t in the mood for wings any of the times I was there, I’m a burger connoisseur after all.

One evening we had a very romantic meal at a place called Toscanna Cafe’ and Wine Bar. The food was good. The wine was excellent and the atmosphere was perfect for sharing a quiet romantic late dinner with my lovely Wife. We had been walking around the Gaslamp Quarter for a while looking for a restaurant for dinner. Amye was in the mood for Itallian food, so we checked the menus of a few Italian restaurants when we walked down the sidewalk near Toscana. A delightful young women (who, for the rest of our vacation, I referred to as ‘Hostess with the Mostess’ because of her beauty) was holding menus in front of the restaurant and convinced us that this was the place. We were not disappointed.

We also ate a delicious late dinner at a place called Tequila 100 Bar & Grill. I had Carne’ Asada and a margarita. This place appeared to be a mom and pop style Mexican bar and grill. We ate there kind of late so we were the only customers in the place. The food was very good, the service was fast and friendly, and the prices were very reasonable.

During our visit to San Diego, we attended the Ocean Beach Farmer’s Market, just as we had done 11 years ago. The Ocean Beach community seemed the same as I had remembered it. It kind of has a small town feel to it, although It definitely has a different vibe to it then then any small town in Nebraska. Like a time warp back into the ’60s…

USS Midway, San Diego

I also had the privilege of touring the USS Midway while in San Diego. The midway has been docked in San Diego for just a few years and has since served as a floating museum. I have always wanted to see an aircraft carrier up close and appreciated the opportunity to go aboard the legendary ship. I was so impressed with the Midway tour that I insisted Amye join me for a return trip later in the week. While walking along the harbor and especially while visiting the Midway, I could easily see carrier row at the Naval base across the harbor. I was surprised to see that 3 active carriers were in harbor. I would have thought that while the country is at war on two fronts in the Middle East, most of our carrier forces would have been deployed. But apparently not.

I really like San Diego. I could see myself living there, if it weren’t for the expense. Everything is very expensive compared to prices in the Heartland. But, I’ll be back!