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Best of San Diego 2015: Culture & Business

Must-see galleries, performances, Tijuana hotspots, and more


Best Grownups' Playground: The Quartyard

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Stuff to Do







La Jolla Playhouse

It’s not easy to sell tickets to a show that no one knows, let alone an entire season of them. Yet without a reliable Wizard of Oz or Annie, La Jolla Playhouse has sold more subscriptions at the start of its all-new 2015–2016 season than it sold during the entire last season. From the 9/11 “rock-inspired” musical Come From Away to the civil rights play Blueprints to Freedom, it looks like people are once again ranking theater Up Here, if you know what we mean.
2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla



At the New Children’s Museum, we’ve gobbled up the ongoing exhibit Feast and we’re ready for something fresh—Eureka!, opening October 17. The new exhibition is all about the Golden State, with interactive experiences like an indoor beach and Desert Derby, an installation of waterways and freeways, complete with minicars, by big-time local sculptor and artist Roman de Salvo.
200 West Island Avenue, downtown


Kensho Watanabe

The San Diego Symphony is getting younger and hipper, starting with selling Snake Oil cocktails in the lobby and the pay-what-you-wish “Tastings” concert last April. But now there’s a fresh face on the scene: 28-year-old hotshot Kensho Watanabe, who has just signed on as Conducting Fellow. The Symphony fell hard for this Yale-trained phenom and created an entire position for him. Welcome to town, Kensho!


Dr. Seuss


Dr. Seuss

With his new, posthumous book out July 28, the author’s work is enjoying a second (or fifth) wind of popularity, and we are proud to claim the former La Jollan as our own. This month at the San Diego History Center, Seuss biographer and Dartmouth professor Donald Pease will give a lecture on Seuss’ new book, What Pet Should I Get?, August 9. If you still haven’t seen the exhibit, Ingenious! runs through December 31.
1649 El Prado, Balboa Park


Free Music Lessons

The banjo, ukulele, and harmonica are making a comeback—at least with hipsters, anyway. With the $8 price of admission, Carlsbad’s Museum of Making Music is offering free mini-lessons in guitar, harmonica, and more on Learn to Play Day (September 26). Instruments are free to borrow. Already a master? We bet you haven’t tried the dulcimer.  
5790 Armada Drive, Carlsbad


Friday Night Liberty Gallery Walk

Every first Friday of the month from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., meet artists, listen to live music, and take in paintings and photography as you stroll Liberty Station’s many galleries and studios. Invite a date and enjoy a free Friday night out. Bonus: Wine and cheese gratis! We’re so there.


Theatre on Tap


Theatre on Tap

Thirsty theatregoers, rejoice! Sip and mingle with fellow beer lovers while getting your culture on, as Cygnet Theatre is partnering up with local bars and craft breweries to offer complimentary pre-show beer tastings and happy hours. Next up? Noel Coward’s Hayfever and The Vortex on October 9.
4040 Twiggs Street, Old Town


Sparks Gallery


Sparks Gallery

It housed Sterling Hardware (circa 1924) and later a vaudeville theater with swinging trapeze artists. And now, after a multi-million dollar renovation by Patrick Henry High School and USD grad Sonya Sparks and her family, it’s a gorgeous bi-level art gallery with exposed brick, skylights, and original wood floors—a stunning stage for local and international artists.  
530 Sixth Avenue, Gaslamp

It may be in the heart of tourist magnet Seaport Village, but the venerable Upstart Crow Bookstore holds a special place in the hearts of book-loving locals as well. The coffee shop downstairs and a quirky selection of book-related gifts and tchotchkes may help the bottom line, but the staff doesn’t mind regulars settling in to read at the tables, while youngsters head up the creaky stairs to the large and welcoming kids’ section, complete with board games. 835C West Harbor Drive, Seaport Village

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Stuff to Do

Grownups’ Playground

The Quartyard

In an area previously skimpy on public space, the vacant lot-turned-urban park has filled a void. The brainchild of RadLab’s Jason Grauten, David Lowenstein, and Philip Auchettl, who pitched the idea as their thesis at the New School of Architecture & Design, the Quartyard boasts a beer garden, sausage restaurant, dog park, night markets, and more. Everything on site is transportable, including the Paul Basile-retrofitted shipping containers that double as a coffee shop, full-service bar, office space, and more.
1102 Market Street, East Village


The Rabbit Hole

Sports bars are often filled with meatheads and mediocre beer. Not so at this Normal Heights watering hole, which boasts an excellent craft beer selection and a hearty menu that includes bacon-wrapped rabbit meat loaf and Cajun-spiced prawns in an Alesmith beer broth. Wednesdays are trivia night with $6 Jameson mules, and weekends feature live music. Rabbit hole? Man cave is more like it.
3377 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights


Kettner Exchange


Kettner Exchange

It’s summer, and the rooftops are calling! KEX’s is among the most stylish, with fire pits, swinging day beds, and a creative cocktail menu. If you’re looking for a Gaslamp kind of night at this Little Italy hotspot, gather the girls on a night Thursday through Saturday for DJs and live bands until 2 a.m.
2001 Kettner Boulevard, Little Italy


MTS Trolley: This year the San Diego Trolley, Inc. (SDTI) celebrates 34 years in operation.


MTS’ Vintage Streetcars

Hop on one of San Diego Metropolitan Transit System’s two vintage streetcars—the shiny green, yellow, and red restored trolleys operate on a 2.7-mile clockwise loop from the 12th Imperial Transit Center. Stops include Seaport Village, City College, and the Civic Center. For the 25-minute ride, ladies and gents pay $2.50 (alas, not the 1915 fare). “It’s a cool way to get from one side of town to the other,” MTS spokesman Rob Schupp says. “The history of streetcars in San Diego is fascinating, and these are just like the ones that once plied our streets.”


Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center

This 7-acre oasis with a mansion and flourishing organic gardens serves the National City community with educational field trips, hands-on cooking classes, donation-based garden yoga, and fingers-in-the-earth garden experiences for kids. The “Cooking for Salud” program teaches locals how to make healthier versions of traditional Mexican dishes and its success has led to a documentary, Kitchenistas (not yet released).
2525 North Avenue, National City


Moonshine Flats

Whether you want to sip, socialize, or sashay, at Moonshine Flats’ weekly line dancing lessons, the massive honky-tonk bar is replete with rowdy music, disco lights, and a balcony to take it all in. It’s in-your-face country and dang proud of it.
344 Seventh Avenue, East Village


Urban Craft Camp


Urban Craft Camp

From candle making and stamp carving to mixology and calligraphy, Urban’s workshops celebrate the art of DIY and handmade. Launched by Thread & Arrow designer Jennifer Byard, the workshops are hosted at cool spaces around town, including Ocean Beach’s Teeter boutique and The Library Shop in the East Village. Next up? Weaving on August 15 led by designer Rachel Ehlin-Smith of Mr. Blue Skye and on August 29, Pickling and Preserving taught by food blogger Betsy Haley of BetsyLife.


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Do-gooder Startup


When an individual donates money to a foundation, a lot of the dough can end up going to admin costs or throwing the charity’s fundraising gala. In fact, of the $220 billion in annual charitable giving in the U.S., less than three percent goes to actual research. Benefunder connects donors to researchers via wealth managers. Wanna fund clean energy or breast cancer research? Meet the scientist in your field of interest, tour his lab, and give him moola! The streamlined process frees up researchers to do research rather than spend all of their time applying for grants and writing progress reports. It’s a win-win for all.


RockMyRun and GigTown

Thanks to support from San Diego heavy hitters like Qualcomm and UCSD, a new legion of locally developed apps is planting a firm foot in the mobile landscape, including RockMyRun, which offers playlists synced to your heartbeat, and GigTown, an “Uber for local musicians.”
rockmyrun.com, gigtown.com


Green Acre Campus Pointe

Business Park Restaurant Concept

Green Acre Campus Pointe

It’s not your average biz park cafeteria. Situated among giants like Qualcomm, Leidos, and Applied Molecular Evolution, the Brian Malarkey eatery has its own garden, outdoor patio, free Wi-Fi, and seasonal eats. It’s so pretty, couples host weddings there, and when we held a party there, the interior was all people talked about. Go for the design, linger for the kale chips.
10300 Campus Point Drive, UTC area

The Honest Kitchen

Office Space

The Honest Kitchen

The Honest Kitchen produces pet food safe for human consumption (only one other brand in the U.S. has the same FDA-approved “human-grade” label). So it’s no surprise that the company roster includes 33 employees, 31 dogs, and five cats. Their office is equipped with a fully stocked tasting and demo kitchen, as many dog beds as there are desks, and outdoor space with cornhole and a pool table for office “breaks.” Plus, THK’s new East Village home shares a wall with Mission Brewery, and yes,
the beer flows at select meetings. Anyone hiring?
111 14th Street, East Village

Reason to go into Life Sciences


With worldwide HQ in the UTC area, its genome sequencing machines provide new insights into health care, agriculture, the environment—pretty much everything with a DNA blueprint. Its techs can analyze a human genome for $1,000 (about $2.999 billion less than the Human Genome Project). Its stock price is through the roof. MIT thinks it’s one of the 50 Smartest Companies. Illumina is on fire—who wouldn’t want to get in on the action?


CREATIVEMORNINGS is so good, it gets artsy people out of bed before nine. Past speakers include Jason Russell and AP photographer Lenny Ignelzi.



After hosting meetups in cities around the world, the free breakfast lecture series geared toward creatives finally landed in San Diego. Every last Friday of the month, a notable speaker takes the stage at Moniker Warehouse for candid chats about motivation, persistence, and the entrepreneurial spirit. Attendees—everyone from photographers to designers to writers—line up early. There are also pastries and coffee, which we hear is the ultimate creative fuel.
705 16th Street, East Village, creativemornings.com

Hope for Eternal Youth

Human Longevity, Inc.

This local company is less concerned about extending lifespan—though that’s part of its mission—than extending healthspan. They want people to live disease-free until the very end and they’re collecting massive amounts of data from the genome, proteome (like genome, except proteins), microbiome, and other sources to make it happen. Here’s to running the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon when we’re 89.

Data Cruncher

Edico Genome

Sequencing genomes may be the easy part. The hard part is interpreting the data so clinicians can act on it. Enter Edico Genome. Their Dragen processor is custom-built to crunch huge genomic data—gigabytes, terabytes, even petabytes. The technology could save money and accelerate diagnosis, bringing the promise of advanced genomics to hospitals and doctors’ offices. And Edico is starting to win some big friends: They recently partnered with Intel to expand the technology.

Discovery for a Diabetes Cure


Type 1 diabetes happens when the immune system goes awry and attacks insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells. Even if you transplant new beta cells, the same forces are at work: the immune system just kills them again. But now, San Diego biotech ViaCyte has found a way to protect insulin-producing cells, putting them in a tiny Teflon-like pouch. The hope is that implanted cells will monitor blood sugar, produce insulin, and stop the endless cycle of finger pricks and shots. The technology is currently in clinical trials. Unpricked fingers crossed.


The Scripps Research Institute

HIV Cure Crusader

The Scripps Research Institute

Scientists have been working on an AIDS vaccine for decades, but HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is shifty—mutating to escape potential treatments. Now, however, researchers at The Scripps Research Institute and other institutions have developed a protein that activates immune cells against HIV. There’s still a lot of work to do, but this is a critical first step towards an effective vaccine.

CONNECT’s Spring-board program has been mentoring, assisting, and launching businesses into the stratosphere for 30 years. In 2014, Springboard grads reported $246 million in revenue. Specializing in science and technology-based startups, we can thank CONNECT for the fact that San Diego County ranked no. 2 in the state of California for number of life sciences startups created in 2014 (70 total; no. 1 was L.A., with 90).   

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Best of Tijuana

Centro Cultural Tijuana hosts the annual cultural festival Entijuanarte, which happens every October.


Centro Cultural Tijuana

Just a mile from the San Ysidro border crossing, Centro Cultural Tijuana (CECUT) is a hub for fine art, film, theater, music, dance, and festivals. A $9 million expansion in 2008 brought 16,000 square feet of new gallery space and a 250-seat cinema, bumping the museum up to northern Mexico’s second-most-important artistic institution.
Paseo de Los Heroes 9350, Zona Urbana Rio Tijuana, 22010 Tijuana


TJ in China

The space not only serves as a go-to outlet for keeping up with the city’s ever-evolving urban art scene, but it also invites a rotating roster of artists from afar to move in for a month while they work.
Avenida Revolución 1332, Tijuana


Culinary Art School


Culinary Art School

The roster at this Tijuana school may boast bourgeoning talent from more than a dozen countries, but it offers classes to weekend warrior chefs, too.
Paseo del Río 7126, 3a. Etapa del Río Tijuana, 22226 Tijuana


Cross Border Xpress

Come December, the new pedestrian bridge will funnel travelers through a satellite terminal in the U.S., over the border fence, and directly into Tijuana’s General Abelardo Rodriquez International. Feliz Navidad—the airport, just a few hundred feet away!
Carretera Aeropuerto, Nueva Tijuana, 22435 Tijuana


FoodGarden Plaza Rio

The mall’s promenade of 12 eateries, many operated by stars such as Tijuana poster-boy chef Javier Plascencia as well as recent Culinary Art School graduates, makes for one of the fanciest mall food courts you’ve ever seen.
Blvd. Paseo de Los Héroes 9550, Zona Urbana Río Tijuana, 22010 Tijuana


Mercado Miguel Hidalgo

Tijuana’s oldest open-air market celebrates its 60th anniversary this year and is nothing short of a kaleidoscope of Mexican culture, overflowing with goods from each of the country’s 31 states.
Blvd. Gral Rodolfo Sánchez Taboada 9351, Zona Urbana Río Tijuana, 22010


Plaza Fiesta

In the past year local brewers including Border Psycho, Insurgente, and Mamut have tapped into unused space in Plaza Fiesta, an open-air arcade of bars and nightclubs in Zona Río, by opening small tasting rooms, making their craft cerveza all the more accessible.
Avenida Paseo de los Heroes 9415 Zona Urbana Río Tijuana


La Contra

The store stocks dozens of labels from nearby Valle de Guadalupe, all of which you’re welcome to pop open on the spot at the boutique’s new tasting room in La Cacho.
Calle Brasil 2309 Local 4 Colonia Cacho, Tijuana


Avenida Revolución

The city’s main tourist drag is swarming less with oversized sombreros and Tweety Bird piggy banks and more with homegrown fashion and home goods, thanks to boutiques like Doratto, Bona Bona, Hormiguero, and I Heart TJ.
Avenida Revolucíon between Sixth and Seventh streets


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More in Best of San Diego 2015:

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