Chugging along the Southern California coast, the Amtrak Surfliner has arrived at its final destination: San Diego, California. This sunny city, located at the southernmost section of California, is the second largest city in the Golden State. From the La Jolla Shores all the way down to Imperial Beach, this massive beach town is full of culture, history, craft beer, and perpetual sunshine. (However, like all coastal cities in SoCal, San Diego is not immune to the infamous June Gloom.)
I stepped off the train, mounted my bike- bags strapped to my back- and embarked on a five-day journey all by my lonesome. Armed with a few notebooks, MacBook, and tripod for my iPhone, I set forth to explore and better understand a city dubbed as “America’s Finest [City.]"
Balboa Park was my first order of business. The park, based on proximity to the city and sheer size, reminded me of Central Park in New York City. The park is described as follows: "Occupying 1,200 acres overlooking downtown San Diego and containing fifteen major museums, performing arts venues, lovely gardens and the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park is the largest urban cultural park in the United States." The San Diego Zoo, which is currently celebrating its 100th year of existence was by far the biggest attraction. On top of that, the Botanical Building housed an array of seasonal flowers and shrubbery that, as a former landscaper, gripped my attention. However, the spot that piqued my interest was the San Diego Museum of Man.
This museum, which is connected to the stunning California Tower, had one of the most engaging and thought provoking exhibits I've ever seen. The exhibit, titled "Race: Are We So Different?" focused on what race truly means, how and where it originated, and how we use it to shape our understanding of society. From the exhibit: "Race was not found in nature, but made by people in power. Racial classification provided a way to justify privilege and oppression by making inequality appear to be the result of natural differences."
As Professor at Columbia University Robin D. G. Kelley explained, "race was never just a matter of categories. It was a matter of creating hierarchies." These hierarchies that Professor Kelley spoke of were evident throughout the exhibit- and society. Racial inequality was a major theme and the exhibit looked at this matter through the lens of equal opportunities in education, housing, and incomes. What I enjoyed most about the exhibit is how it addressed white privilege. This privilege, which some of us may or may not be aware of, was structured long ago to help whites in society. I learned about it in college from this outstanding piece titled "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack". In pop culture, Macklemore just wrote a song titled White Privilege II a few months back The exhibit summed it up best when it stated: "Most of the benefits of being white can be obtained without ever doing anything personally. Whites are given the privileges of a racist system, even if they are not personally racist." The exhibit, which was put together by the Institute on Race & Poverty at the University of Minnesota , and it provided much needed food for thought on how we deal with and understand the role of race in not only our personal lives, but society as a whole.
Besides Balboa Park, the Gaslamp Quarter and Little Italy neighborhoods provided an abundance of dining and drinking options for locals and tourists alike. The Gaslamp Quarter feels like a tourist trap, whereas Little Italy has a homier and local vibe to it; yet, both have a plethora of options when it comes to San Diego's signature: craft brewing.
A major marketing tool that San Diego pushes is that it is "America's Capital of Craft Beer." The county is home to over 120 craft breweries and it credits the combination of home-brewing, a supportive community, and a willing collaboration amongst local brewers, as main reasons behind its vibrant craft brewing scene.
On the flip side, if you want to find a spot with an eclectic array of food, look no further than Liberty Public Market. The building, which was a used in the 1920s as a warehouse, boasts a unique collection of food and drinks. It reminded me of Reading Terminal in Philadelphia, or Pike Place in Seattle. The Market opened less than three months ago and even if you're not a 'foodie' this is well worth checking out.
Another thing that was abundantly clear when walking through the city were the amount of hotels. San Diego's tourism industry is the third largest industry in the county. This is aided by the fact that they have a world class convention center, which hosts over seventy conventions and trade shows per year. If Comic-Con is your thing, it originated here in 1970. In 2015 the convention hosted over 160,000 attendees (!) My uber driver, who dressed like he was ready for Comic-Con, made sure to point out how much money Comic-Con brings into San Diego.
Lastly, there is no way I could breakdown an entire city without mentioning its homeless population. I had so much to say on this issue that I actually wrote an entirely separate article detailing the struggles of those living out on the street.
As I made my way to the Santa Fe Station to catch my train back to Ventura, I knew I would have five hours to reflect on a city that seemingly embodies Southern California. The locals love it here, and why shouldn't they? Based on the weather alone it's probably one of the most desirable places to live in the country. Add on the uniqueness of Balboa Park, the dining and night life activities, and it's no wonder why San Diego ranks in the top 25 of the happiest cities in the USA. I just hope to make it back soon.