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The Best of San Diego 2007

We scoured the county, with a little help from readers and some notable San Diegans, to uncover the best spots, services and stuff in town.


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No Cineplex in Kensington. Just one of the best, old-line movie theaters in the city. The Ken Theater (4061 Adams Avenue, 619-819-0236) shows movies you won’t see at the mall——and rarely see on television. Among recent offerings: John Malkovich in Color Me Kubrick; Alberto Lattuada’s landmark 1962 Italian comedy Mafioso; and the entire lineup of 2006 Oscar-nominated short films. And you won’t have to take out a second trust deed to pay at the snack bar.

If you’re looking for a conventional musical, pass right by the progressive Lynx Performance Theatre (2653-R Ariane Drive, Clairemont, 619-889-3190). The plays staged here are rife with relevant realism and emotional truthfulness. No wonder. Theater director Al Germani, also a choreographer and musician, has been a psychotherapist for 22 years.

To say this place specializes in hard-to-find titles would be perfect understatement. We once found a complete set of the oh-so-politically-incorrect Amos & Andy TV series at Kensington Video (4067 Adams Avenue, 619-284-2477). But you’ll find popular movies, too, and loads of classics. Speaking of classics, Kensington Video is among the few stores that still stock a full supply of VHS tapes. They even have several hundred Beta tapes you can buy for as little as 50 cents each——if you’re irretrievably stuck in the ’70s.

On the fast track to their big break, many bands have made their local pit stop The Casbah (2501 Kettner Boulevard, 619- 232-4355). It hosted Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins in the early ’90s. And Ben Harper, Liz Phair, G. Love & Special Sauce and Social Distortion have all rocked The Casbah. If a band’s made the current concert lineup, you know they’re worth watching——or at least checking out on MySpace.

More than two dozen shops participate in Ray at Night (on Ray Street between University and North Park Way) in North Park, held on the second Saturday of every month. Galleries serve wine, cheese and hors d’oeuvres, and there are usually live bands playing.

It’s 1 p.m. Saturday at The Museum Café (700 Prospect Street, La Jolla; 858-456-6427). He’ll order the mango jalapeño quesadilla; she’ll have the Mexican papaya and shrimp salad and a cappuccino. Then they’ll stroll through the adjoining Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, stopping for a clandestine kiss at the upstairs gallery that overlooks the blue Pacific. The rest of the day will be spent viewing cutting-edge works by Latin and American artists and site-specific sculpture in the Garden Gallery. Sigh.

With a name like The Tractor Room (3687 Fifth Avenue, 619-543-1007), you might expect this restaurant to deal in bulk food. It does. A sister to the hugely popular Hash House A Go Go in Hillcrest, its menu is all about big portions of gamey stuff——like boar and elk. But the big fun is bellying up to the bar——where, on any given night, you might be hoisting a Prohibition Punch with a Chargers lineman or a neighborhood actor. Check out the antlers hanging from the rafters.

The kayak guides at La Jolla’s Hike Bike Kayak (2246 Avenida de la Playa, 858-551-9510) lead you right into the path of migrating whales just off La Jolla Shores, December through March. You get a paddling primer before being led out to sea through swaying, amber-colored kelp beds. Knowledgeable, laidback guides talk about the local habitat as frolicking seals graze your kayak. Prepare to spot a breaching whale just a few feet away.


Stylish in a tropical Zen garden kind of way, Bergamot Spa (466 North Coast Highway 101, Suite 11, 760-436-5140) is an intimate, indoor-outdoor spa (bungalows!) tucked off bustling Coast Highway in Encinitas. The island-style manicure includes a hydrating coconut soak, exfoliating Pure Fiji cane-sugar scrub and soothing butter massage, finished with a polish or buff. And since they don’t do acrylic or gel nails, you don’t have to endure the noxious fumes typical with most manicurists. (That alone is worth the $30 price tag.)

Heidi Olden worked at the Four Seasons Resort Aviara, rated among the top spas in the world, before opening her own “spa sanctuary,” Urban Calm (921 E Street, 619-236-1395), in downtown’s up-and-coming East Village earlier this year. There she performs threading, an ancient hair-removal technique rooted in the Middle East. Twisted cotton threads are rolled over the hair shaft, plucking it out at the follicle. Olden was trained by esthetician-to-the-stars Michelle Ornstein (who’s tamed Cher’s brows).

Judging by Arlene Fatchett’s petite frame, you’d never guess her considerable strength. She proves that strength——and superb skill——during the Thai massage at The Spa at Santaluz (8170 Caminito Santaluz East, 858-759-3160) in Rancho Santa Fe. The massage combines the stretching principles of yoga with acupressure. Arlene works (and we mean works) her way around the (clothed) body, applying an intuitive touch for that just-right pressure and the deepest stretch. In keeping with Thai tradition, she begins with a coconut foot scrub. The result: a release of muscle toxins and increase in blood flow, which means you’ll feel both invigorated and relaxed.

South of France transplants Frederique and Laurent Schilde opened Douce et Romantique (“Sweet and Romantic”), a Paris-inspired boutique selling fine European lingerie. In the Encinitas Lumberyard complex (937 South Coast Highway, Suite C-101, 760-632-8854), the shop features hard-to-find French and Italian brands like Lyse Charmel, Lejabie, Huit, Simone Perele and Cosabella. The couple makes regular shopping trips to France, where they also stock up on Parisian costume jewelry and furniture, also for sale. (Nighties and nightstands? Oui.)

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