Wednesday, July 25, 2012
When I was in college, I spent six months living and studying in San Diego. Actually, I lived in a beachside town called Del Mar and studied in a clifftop town called La Jolla. But that’s the way California works. We have one big city surrounded by lots of little ones, and we call the whole place by a single name. But we shouldn’t.
That’s because not every part of San Diego is the same. While the city proper has all of the skyscrapers and big buildings one would expect from such a place, the towns along the coast are smaller, more laid-back (if that’s even possible for a place like San Diego), and have their own unique personalities.
Del Mar, for example, was a bit of an upscale beach town, complete with a main street full of chi chi boutiques and nice restaurants. Unlike some other parts of San Diego, it had only a handful of surf shops. Ten years ago, I ended up living in a four-bedroom house on the beach for pennies in a lucky house sitting situation, and I spent my days walking on the beach and working at a restaurant.
The restaurant was called Arterra, and was located in the San Diego Marriott Del Mar. For some reason, in the 10 years since I worked there, I have never been back to say hello. Until the other weekend, that is. I was in Del Mar for a friend’s wedding and was offered two nights at the hotel to indulge my desire for a trip down memory lane.
The hotel itself had undergone a major renovation since I worked there, but most of the elements were largely intact. The guest rooms were as gorgeous as I remembered them, and offered great amounts of space and pretty green accents on the decor.
Downstairs I met with the general manager, who took me on a tour of the hotel. Arterra looked similar, although they had opened up the floor space and given the bar a bit more room. The restaurant’s concept had also changed from a Bradley Ogden fine dining experience to a more casual, laid-back environment that pleased a wider audience.
Outside there was a new swimming pool and stunning sun deck, complete with cabanas. Just inside from there was a good size gym that was packed even on a Saturday morning. Never let it be said that Southern Californians aren’t image conscious.
The hotel tour and trip down memory lane complete, I focused my attention on two important aspects of my trip to Del Mar: my friends and my family. The former revolved around the wedding I was in town to attend, and started with a great rehearsal dinner at a restaurant in Del Mar called En Fuego Cantina & Grill.
The wedding party had its own outdoor space, and we spent the evening under a warm sky. Margaritas abounded, as did delicious Mexican food from the buffet tables. At the end there was a great slide show of the bride and groom, with plenty of embarrassing childhood photos.
The nuptials took place the next evening on the beach in Del Mar in what was a beautiful ceremony. Afterwards there was a reception across the street at the Brigantine Restaurant, which had a garden where we danced the night away.
The following morning we were up for a brunch at the Hilton in Del Mar, which was located right next to the famous Del Mar Racetrack. The hotel had set up a great poolside spread for us, and we sat in the sunshine enjoying smoked salmon, bagels, and all kinds of fresh fruit. I even managed to snag one of the leftover bacon-flavored cupcakes from the wedding the night before. Sacrilicious.
When I wasn’t participating in wedding festivities, I spent most of my time pursuing my number one hobby: gluttony. On the first morning in town I went to the best brunch place in Del Mar, Americana. I sat outside at one of the wooden booths and had a giant plate of Huevos Rancheros and a latte so pretty that the waitress called me “fancypants” for ordering it.
The next day I had brunch at my brother and his wife’s house in Point Loma. My mother and a few of my cousins all managed to travel to San Diego for the weekend, so we had a bit of a family reunion in their beautiful backyard (seriously, the place was amazing. They had a hilltop gazebo from which my brother watches the fireworks at SeaWorld every night of the year. I’m not jealous. At all.).
The following day I was back at their place thanks to an unintended flight delay that prevented me from traveling back to London. Luckily I was able to get rebooked on a direct flight later that night, giving me not only more time with my family, but also a free upgrade to business class. Win-win.
Taking advantage of our extra time, we took a walk through Point Loma to the beach. It was as different from Del Mar as San Diego towns get, what with the funky bathtub gardens, cool bars and restaurants, and classic surf culture that pervaded the neighborhood.
But that didn’t mean it lacked fine dining options. My brother and his wife took us to a restaurant called Gabardine for dinner. Run by Brian Malarkey of Top Chef Miami fame, the place had great decor, creative cocktails, and inventive cuisine.
We grazed on delicious duck fat fries and sipped cocktails inspired by storybook characters as we enjoyed our last few hours together.
For this trip, at least. I have so much nostalgia for San Diego and an ever-growing list of reasons to go back to visit family (did I mention the gazebo in my brother’s backyard? The one where you can see the fireworks?) that I don’t think it will be long before another visit is in store.
Besides, there are so many other cities and neighborhoods beyond Del Mar and Point Loma that I could travel back to Southern California every year and never get bored. I hope my brother and his wife like house guests.