San Diego Hidden Gems
If you took a stroll with me through San Diego (click here to get caught up if you didn’t), you were introduced to some of the bigger attractions in America’s Finest City along with some local favorites sprinkled in. Today I’m letting you in on some of my favorite San Diego hidden gems. Be sure to check them out next time you’re in the area and let me know what you think!
San Diego Hidden Gems
Area of town: Downtown
Pokēz Mexican Restaurant
For over twenty years Pokēz Mexican Restaurant has been pleasing palates for even the pickiest of partakers. On the corner of 10th and E in the East Village of San Diego just blocks from the famous Gaslamp District is what could be described as a hole-in-the-wall Mexican eatery offering up vegetarian and vegan fare. Carnivores, don’t you worry – there are plenty of choices for us, too!
Walking in through the sticker laden door, your eyes will immediately meet artwork strewn about the walls paying tribute to Dia de Los Muertos. After you have perused the art, take a seat and get ready to eat!
This is a no muss no fuss kind of place. Choose from burritos, nachos or my personal favorite – shrimp tacos and top it off with a beer or sangria while you hear your tune come up on the juke-box. After you’ve had your fill, pay at the counter then pat yourself on the back for having enough money left to explore the rest of the hidden gems on the list…
Area of town: Old Town
The Cosmopolitan Restaurant & Hotel
In San Diego’s Old Town stands the The Cosmopolitan Restaurant & Hotel, a registered National Historic Landmark. “The Cosmo,” as locals and its owners call it, is the oldest standing building in San Diego. I have had the pleasure of touring each of the ten Victorian style rooms and you can’t go wrong no matter which you choose. The wallpaper and furnishings are all period pieces from the 1870’s. Special touches include a wood tub in the Pine Tub Suite and a copper bathtub in the Cauldron Suite. The only interior space, The Isadora Bandini room, is said to be haunted. If you dare, spend a night and see for yourself!
If all of this isn’t treat enough, whether or not you’re a guest in the hotel, be sure to dine al fresco on the beautiful patio! The staff dons period garb and the menu offers something for everyone with dishes featuring treats from their garden. I have also been known to enjoy a happy hour (or two) at the bar. The bartenders serve up great conversation along with your cocktails.
Be sure to check their website in advance for musical performances and game night activities!
|The beautiful outdoor areas of The Cosmo|
Area of town: Valley Center
Keys Creek Lavender Farm
Certainly special to me is an eight and a half acre-farm just northeast of San Diego. Our county’s only USDA certified organic lavender farm, the hubs and I held our nuptials (click here to see) at Keys Creek Lavender Farm in Valley Center. Along with their devoted staff, the Wolffs have transformed the farm over the years and their dedication is on display each year for the community and tourists to enjoy.
Whether you want to stop in for a tour, soap-making class, high-tea, yoga retreats or one of their summer concerts a visit to Keys Creek will delight all of your senses. Wear sensible shoes for exploring and be sure to stop in their Farm Store to bring back some treats for yourself and your friends! The farm is open seasonally so check their website for hours, events and to learn more about their support of the honeybees.
For those wanting to make a night of it, be sure to check out the Bridal Barn. The dried lavender bunches hanging upside down from the ceiling are really cool and add to the atmosphere (and the aroma sure does relax you!) Oh – and after you’re finished photographing the lavender, be sure not to miss some photos under the bougainvillea arch!
Harper’s Topiary Garden
In the residential neighborhood of Mission Hills, veer off of India Street and head east on Vine. When you arrive to a dead-end you will discover a labor of love by the residents who, along with their gardeners, have transformed the shrubbery in their yard into works of art. This is better than the likes of what you saw in Edward Scissorhands because this is the real deal – no movie magic here, folks!
The Harper’s Topiary Garden features elephants, a surfer, faces, children, a whale and other creations inspired by their journeys around the world. What traveler wouldn’t love that?
There is no charge to enjoy the garden – they just ask you do not climb on the shrubs as indicated by a sign in the yard. This is quick stop but certainly worth it for the smiles on the way to the area restaurants and bars Mission Hills has to offer.
Tea-Upon-Chatsworth Tea Room & Gifts
As a tea aficionado, I was so excited when Elizabeth Savage, owner of Tea-Upon-Chatsworth agreed to make some time for me to come in on a busy Sunday. After retiring from financial services, she bought the location in Point Loma and decided to turn it into a place that would offer an authentic tea experience serving good food that doesn’t just look pretty, but actually tastes good. While she’s at it, Elizabeth is breaking the mold of tea being a ‘female only’ experience. It was wonderful walking in and seeing couples enjoying afternoon tea together!
With coffee being so popular I asked, “Why tea?” She explained that with an Irish grandmother, when she and her family would visit the old country tea was a part of their time together every afternoon. It’s in her blood. Well I’m thanking her grandmother for passing the love!
The tea room is absolutely charming. The structure highlights a collection of art and teapots. There is a wall of sniffers so patrons can learn about the tea and get an idea for what they’re in for before ordering (just stick your nose in and smell). I highly recommend trying Elizabeth’s utmost favorite tea, The Monkey Picked Oolong, which she generously steeped for me and WOW I’m hooked! Her other two favorites are a 30-year aged pu’er (also spelled as Pu-erh) which I also got to try – it’s smooth and earthy – and their White Bordeaux which is a blend of safflower, raspberries and champagne grapes (I’m so trying that next time).
They sell 75 types of tea and feature 48 on their menu– with a growing list! But wait, there’s more! In most tea rooms you get to try one or two pots of tea. Elizabeth encourages her customers to try different teas and the pours are unlimited! An added bonus, all of their teas are fair trade and organic. I could have stayed for hours listening to Elizabeth. She is extremely knowledgeable! Definitely make this an afternoon stop, and make reservations first. You are sure to be enchanted.
Area of Town: Anywhere
Last but not least is Relay Rides. Check them out if you don’t want to go the traditional rental car route! Rent straight from the owner, select from a variety of vehicles and ask questions through their system ahead of time. It’s a cool sharing concept that gives travelers the opportunity to save money and the hassle of rental car shuttles and lines. An added bonus: they accept debit cards that are linked to a checking account with a Visa or Mastercard logo so you don’t have to worry if you don’t have a credit card!
What are some of your favorite hometown hidden gems? Please do share in the comments! Next time I’m in your neighborhood, I’d love to check them out!