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Secret San Diego


(page 3 of 3)


Coffee kiosk in a home shop

Like a permanent pop-up café, a tiny counter serving locally roasted James Coffee Co. sits inside Little Italy’s VI Star boutique. Former Angels & Airwaves guitarist David Kennedy started the business from his garage in Poway, and it’s becoming one of the city’s most popular artisanal offerings. 2355 India Street

Hidden bridges

The San Diego–Coronado Bay Bridge may be our city’s most famous, but what these four lesser-known crossings lack in notoriety, they make up for in charm.

Spruce Street Suspension Bridge

Spruce Street Suspension Bridge, Spruce Street between Front and Brant streets, Bankers Hill: A historic site, dating back to 1912, this wobbly footbridge is not for the faint of heart. Dozens of “love locks” adorn the railings, left by romantics without a fear of heights.

Quince Street Bridge, Quince Street between Third and Fourth streets, Bankers Hill: A wooden pedestrian bridge, the rickety construction is reminiscent of an East Coast boardwalk. A Little Free Library on the Fourth Street side invites readers to take or leave a book before crossing.

Al Bahr Bridge, Al Bahr and Crespo drives, and Puente Bridge, Puente and Castellana drives, both in La Jolla: The hills of La Jolla are alive with hairpin turns, hair-raising views, and a few bridges, open to car traffic.


A private pied-a-terre

Westgate Hotel in San Diego

The first thing that’s special about the iconic Westgate Hotel is that it is owned by a family, not a corporation. The second is that the Holding family keeps a two-story private residence at the top of this downtown hotel. It’s two bedrooms and three baths, with a Roman marble tub in the master suite. A winding staircase leads to an upper level featuring a private library and walk-in safe. The penthouse suite is also appointed with antique Persian rugs and an impressive art collection.


Space Invaders Street Art

Space Invaders on public buildings

Remember the 2010 art project by French street artist Invader? As part of a MCASD art show, he created a network of 21 ceramic tile mosaics on various buildings. Space Invaders was due to come down in 2011, but the works still remain (sans the one recently stolen off Little Italy’s Blick Art Supply Store). Next time you’re downtown, remember to look overhead (one is on C Street and Sixth Avenue). Click here for a map of the tiles.


A never-ending staircase

Gaslamp’s new Florent restaurant and mega-lounge, formerly Jimmy Love’s, was also formerly a city hall, jail, bank, and more, dating back to 1874. When tearing down the walls to redo the women’s bathroom, design guru Michael Soriano’s team discovered a thick metal door that had been covered up by former tenants.

A welder opened it to find a secret three-by-four-foot room with a staircase leading to the top floor. They filled it with chandeliers, chalices, and other goodies, but also refractive mirrors so that the staircase appears to go on forever. Says Soriano: “Men won’t be able to go in there, since it’s in the women’s restroom.” 672 Fifth Avenue, Gaslamp Quarter


The skull-tastic speakeasy

Noble Experiment

Okay, so it was publicized in Esquire, but Noble Experiment is the one downtown speakeasy we think is still hard to find and worth the effort. Once you make reservations (text 619-888-4713), go inside the restaurant Neighborhood at the appointed time. In the vestibule for the bathrooms, push on the wall with the kegs. You’ll be exposed to a tiny breathtaking space as intriguing as the craft cocktails. Plus: There are skulls on the walls. Chic! 777 G Street, East Village


A cave with a guest book

You didn’t hear it from us, but there’s a small cave tucked away in the hills of Torrey Pines, with just enough room for one person. It must be said that it’s somewhat dangerous to get there and probably illegal. Visitors must enter from the Torrey Pines Gliderport parking lot, walk a bit, drop over a west-facing edge, and then hike north. It’s tough-going, but if you make it, you can sign the guest book.


Hubbell House

High-brow architecture in the boonies

It’s been touted as one of San Diego’s most architecturally significant homes, and every Father’s Day, the famed Hubbell house reopens for a public tour. Originally conceived and built by local artist James Hubbell in 1958, the compound known as Ilan-Lael (or “the Place”) features sloped roofs, stained glass, patterned brickwork, and concrete poured into handmade artistic forms—all designed to blend with nature and the surrounding landscape. It spans 40 acres near Santa Ysabel, and still serves as the home and art studio of James Hubbell, now 82, and his wife, Anne.

ANOTHER Hubbell miracle is the Crestridge Kiosk and Field Station. To get to Crestridge Ecological Reserve, take I-8 East to El Cajon and exit on Greenfield Drive, then turn left on La Cresta Road. Follow it as it turns into Mountain View Road, then turn left onto Horsemill Road, which ends at the reserve’s visitor center. ilanlaelfoundation.org

Off-menu eats

From turkey dinner pies to indulgent pancakes, these off-the-record dishes are too tasty to remain hush-hush.

Satisfy your craving for turkey and all the trimmings year-round with the top-secret Thanksgiving Pie from Betty’s Pie Whole Saloon. Beneath a sage buttermilk biscuit crust, there’s turkey, green beans, and house-made stuffing bathed in rich gravy. Smoky-sweet chipotle cranberry sauce comes on the side.

Puesto's California Taco

Puesto’s off-menu Cali Taco pays homage to the California burrito with strips of filet mignon wrapped up in crispy melted cheese and topped with crispy potatoes, guacamole, and tomatillo roja salsa. Spice it up even more with a side of habanero molcajete, a scorching secret-menu salsa (if you can handle the heat!).

Jsix lists chilaquiles on their breakfast menu, but in-the-know diners are hip to the Chilaquiles Burrito, a warm flour tortilla stuffed with scrambled eggs, shredded chicken, cotija cheese, red chili sauce, and tortilla chips. Or, try the Boilermaker, a shot of Woodford Reserve bourbon paired with Hess Brewing IPA.

At Snooze, try the Cinnful Pancakes, clandestine buttermilk ’cakes riddled with white chocolate chips and topped with a drizzle of bacon caramel syrup, vanilla cream sauce, pecans, and cinnamon butter.

You may have heard about the secret “In-N-Haute” burger from Juniper & Ivy, a chef-y take on the Double-Double featuring a Marin Sun Farms beef patty blended with dry-aged fat and topped with mustard, grilled onions, Thousand Island-style sauce, and bread and butter pickles, but did you know you can also order Animal-style fries? Oh yes.


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