Secret San Diego
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Psst! You didn’t hear it from us, but this town has all kinds of "hidden gems" (yes, we said it). And we’re not talking ghost stories at the Hotel Del. We found chic cafes, tucked-away trails, floating homes, secret staircases, and more spots you can actually see, sip, taste, and explore. Happy hunting!
An underwater graveyard in La Jolla
You need GPS and a boat to find it, and still you won’t see anything unless you get in the water. Picture a spot on the ocean about 100 yards straight out from the La Jolla Cove Bridge Club (1160 Coast Boulevard, in Ellen Browning Scripps Park). There, at a depth of about 35 feet, lies an unofficial graveyard known to insiders as Tombstones.
No bodies are buried there, but Tombstones got its name from a tradition that dates back to the 1940s and a group of divers that called themselves the Bottom Scratchers. At La Jolla Cove, members of the club were free-diving and spear fishing in the days prior to the invention of the wetsuit. And whenever a Bottom Scratcher died, the other members planted a grave marker at Tombstones.
A local free-diver named Volker Hoehne learned of this a few years ago from one of the last surviving founding members of the Bottom Scratchers. “’When I die,’ Wally Potts said to me, ‘put a marker down there. Spear one last fish for me.’” Hoehne dives Tombstones at least once a month with a wire brush in hand to clean off the constant marine growth that obscures details such as names and dates.
A second Torrey Pines
Hiking Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve can get crowded, but there’s a nearby annex that’s far less populated and still offers ocean views. Four different entrances get you into the Torrey Pines Extension, a five-trail island of green surrounded by suburbia. For the southernmost entrance, take the Carmel Valley Road exit off I-5 and head west. Turn right on Del Mar Scenic Parkway and continue to the end and park in the cul de sac. Oh, and parking? Free.
There are more than a few not-so-visible staircases around town (Point Loma, La Jolla). We love the ones in La Mesa because there are three sets, and they make for a great workout with a bit of privacy. 7994 Windsor Drive
A pop-up dinner with 2,000 of your closest friends
On September 19, strangers will dress elegantly in white and dine together at an event called Le Diner en Blanc. The location remains a secret. Register at sandiego.dinerenblanc.info and choose a pickup location. Shuttles will take you to the dinner. BYOBFF (booze, food, furniture).
1,000 beers downtown
Inside Krisp Beverages and Natural Foods, a health food market carrying kombucha and chia seeds, is an under-the-radar beer heaven. The Best Damn Beer Shop is a dedicated area showcasing more than 1,000 craft brews, as well as homebrew supplies. 1036 Seventh Avenue, downtown
A mushroom house on the beach
If you let the nudes turn you off of Black’s Beach, you’ll miss seeing the “mushroom house,” as it’s known. It’s officially The Pavilion, a guest house on the sand. The main residence, built in 1968 for Sam Bell, is 300 foot above on the cliff, with a funicular connecting the two. The architect is Dale Naegle, who passed away in 2011 at age 83. In his time, he built an estimated 100,000 condos and homes around San Diego, but this, clearly, is our favorite.
A hummingbird cottage in the Zoo
Looking for a respite from the crowds at the San Diego Zoo? There’s a sweet little home for hummingbirds tucked just beyond the reptile house and across from the Skyfari launch. (It’s tough to find on the zoo map, only marked with a small picture of a hummingbird.) Inside, amongst the tropical plants, water features, and bird feeders, the birds zip around, eat, and bathe in the pools. The Kenton C. Lint Hummingbird Aviary opened in 1964 and houses two species of hummingbird, the western sparkling violet-ear and the northern broad-billed.
A teensy Euro cafe
It’s not technically a hole-in-the-wall, but the entrance to Finch’s La Jolla is narrow and missable from busy Girard Avenue. Once you spot the doorway, walk down a romantic little walkway—you almost feel as though you’re in Europe—and dine in the courtyard with twinkle lights and a live guitarist. The owners are South African but serve a global menu. A great date place. 7644 Girard Avenue, La Jolla
San Diego’s most secretive structure
Lording it over the I-5 freeway, the 72,000-square-foot San Diego Temple almost looks like a castle that accidentally wandered out of Disneyland. It was commissioned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and constructed mostly by non-Mormons. The public was briefly allowed to tour the temple before it was dedicated in 1993, and about 721,000 people took them up on the invitation (including some of us!).
Many of the features inside and the structure itself have a symbolic purpose. Each floor, or “platform,” of the temple is connected by a continuous, freestanding spiral staircase. It’s 90 steps between the second and fourth floors, which serves as a reminder to think about the future and to always make an effort to improve oneself. The ascending floors represent the Mormon’s rising closer to God’s presence. Marriages, considered central to the LDS religion, are performed on the highest floor.
The dress code for people who go inside the temple is all white, symbolizing purity and equality. The temple is not meant for regular worship services and is, in fact, closed on Sundays. Mormons attend church at LDS chapels, not temples.
While most of what goes on inside is privy to members only, the public is allowed to walk the grounds and admire the structure, which was built with 30 percent more glass than any other LDS temple, because of San Diego’s sunlight. It also boasts crystal chandeliers made in Austria and New York.
The temple has 24 lightning rods. The spire is topped by a 14-foot, 1,200-lb. gold-leaf statue of a Book of Mormon prophet, the Angel Moroni, facing east to symbolize the anticipated return of Jesus Christ.