By Justine McGrath
I have lived in San Diego, California my entire life. While this beachside city might be less well known than Los Angeles and San Francisco, it certainly has its own charm. In fact, each year more than 33 million tourists visit my hometown. It's not hard to see why the city has become one of the most popular travel destinations in America; it’s located on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, known for its beautiful weather year-round, and home to a revolutionary craft beer scene (you really can't live here without reading the odd tourist brochure).
Growing up here, I definitely took the city for granted. I would gripe about how crowded the beaches were, or whine about the sheer volume of people anxiously angling for parking spots downtown. You could always spot a traveler a mile away: they’d be wearing sneakers and socks on the beach—not to mention the excessive amount of pictures they’d snap each day at sunset.
These sometimes unwelcome visitors to our fair city must all have been prepped by some well-meaning veteran of travel, that the best way to get to know a city is to make friends with a local. While I have no problem with this concept in theory, I would like to dispel a few misconceptions that people seem to have about us San Diego natives. The following are some of the more frequent questions people have asked me, in between trying to find their way to the beach, and find a decent sandwich place downtown:
1. “Can You Surf?”
Yes, many people do surf. I can not. I am not even a very strong swimmer, and no, not everyone is blonde and tan (I’m a pale brunette). I think you might be thinking of the show, “The O.C.” or maybe even “Baywatch.” However, we are home to amazing beaches with legendary waves. If you happen to be in town, check out Swami’s in Encinitas, or Black’s Beach in La Jolla.
2. “Have You Eaten There?”
Something I love about San Diego is its diverse food scene. From the many Asian-inspired restaurants in Clairemont to the piping hot marina sauce in Little Italy, you can find anything and everything here (including fried frog legs and chicken hearts, but that’s a story for another day). However, many times, friends from out of town will find an obscure restaurant online and be shocked that I’ve never been to, or even heard of it. In a city this large, it’s difficult to try everything. The restaurants in San Diego are constantly changing, improving, and being replaced. Luckily, this also means that there is always something new to taste.
3. “Do You Go to L.A. All the Time?”
“Oh, you’re from San Diego! Isn’t that right by L.A.?” Los Angeles is two hours away, usually closer to three, due to the ever-present traffic on the 5 freeway. While L.A. is always fun to visit, the scene up there is quite different from San Diego’s. Although the citizens of America’s Finest City pride themselves on being laidback beach bums, the City of Angels’ inhabitants are accustomed to being sparkling socialites. Sure, you’ll probably see celebrities there, but you’ll also develop a massive case of road rage. Good thing you packed your designer shoes, they really come in handy when you need to step on the brake when you’re driving bumper to bumper.
4. “Do You Love Local Tourist Traps?”
Any guidebook will point you to the San Diego Zoo, or SeaWorld (pre “Blackfish” of course, now it’s considered a no-go). However, locals choose to spend their time at sights that frequently don’t make it onto the map. I always recommend to visitors that they ditch the lines and high-ticket prices, and opt for more secluded sojourns instead. Spend the day hiking Cowles Mountain for some larger than life views of the city, or hang out at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park to center yourself.
5. “Can You Get Us Hooked Up?”
I’m a new graduate who works as a copywriter; unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of hook-ups. I mean...I do have a friend who just got a puppy, so we could go play with him. He’s pretty cute. However, many people believe that as a local, I get special treatment, which is only sometimes true. I know to never pay for a Padres game, because undoubtedly, sometime throughout the season I’ll be given free tickets. That doesn’t mean I can get you free stuff.
Ultimately, you can feel like a local in any city, if you’re willing to dig a little deeper. On your next getaway, you should look to explore your destination away from its tourist traps. Instead of going to a famed zoo or aquarium, see if you can really get involved with nature by hiking through a state park. Adversely, if you’re traveling somewhere that’s known for its theme parks, try to break free and find thrill on your own time, by kayaking or paragliding. Although I used to think that being from a tourist town was a curse, I now feel grateful for all there is to do and see in my city. Occasionally I may grow tired of tourists’ questions, but I will never be tired of San Diego.