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TRAVEL FEATURE

Art and Style in San Diego


March 11, 2004


The Little Black Book

  • Arts Tix - 3rd Ave. and Broadway, 619-497-5000
  • Diversionary Theatre - 4545 Park Blvd., 619-220-0097
  • Hotel Del Coronado - 1500 Orange Ave., Coronado, 619-435-6611 or 800-468-3533
  • Indigo Grill - 1536 India St., 619-234-6802
  • Kemo Sabe - 3958 5th Ave., 619-220-6802
  • Laurel - 505 Laurel St., 619-239-2222
  • Mingei International Museum - 1439 El Prado, Balboa Park, 619-239-0003
  • Nectar - 911 5th Ave., 619-615-3146
  • Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego - 700 Prospect St., La Jolla, 858-454-3541
  • Nine-Ten - 910 Prospect St., La Jolla, 858-964-5400
  • Old Globe Theatre - Balboa Park, 619-234-5623
  • Parallel - 33 714 W. Washington St., 619-260-0033
  • Park Manor Suites - 525 Spruce St., 619-291-0999 or 800-874-2649
  • Prava Hotel - 911 5th Ave., 619-233-3300
  • San Diego Civic Theatre - 3rd Ave. and B St., 619-570-1100 or 619-220-TIXS
  • San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau - 619-236-1212
  • San Diego LGBT Pride
  • San Diego Museum of Art - 1450 El Prado, Balboa Park, 619-232-7931
  • San Diego Opera - 619-232-7636
  • San Diego Symphony - Copley Music Hall, 750 B St., 619-235-0804
  • Star of the Sea - Harbor Dr. at Ash St., 619-232-7408
  • The Prado - 1549 El Prado, Balboa Park, 619-557-9441
  • W San Diego Hotel - 421 W. B St., 619-231-8220 or 877-946-8357
  • It's a laid-back beach city known for its SeaWorld theme park, beautiful zoo, formidable U.S. Navy presence, and even-keeled - if slightly conservative - demeanor. But San Diego doesn't get quite as much credit for its vibrant arts scene as it should.

    There is, in fact, a tremendous amount going on - both in the performing and visual arts - in America's seventh-largest city. Furthermore, the city's once dowdy downtown has experienced a huge resurgence; it now buzzes with snazzy restaurants and hotels, a brand-new baseball stadium, a revitalized waterfront, and hundreds of new lofts and condos. If you haven't visited sunny San Diego in a few years, you're in for some big surprises.

    One way to keep on top of San Diego's myriad exhibitions and performances is to call or check with San Diego Art + Sol, a consortium of arts and tourism organizations whose website (www.sandiegoartandsol.com) lists a comprehensive arts calendar and a wide range of customizable arts-related travel packages.

    Main Events

    Spring and summer are terrific seasons for planning an arts-intensive tour of San Diego. There are concerts, shows, and exhibits throughout this period, which culminates in late July with the San Diego LGBT Pride Festival, a massive three-day event held in Balboa Park. In 2004 the festival celebrates its 30th anniversary with a raucous party inside the zoo, and a colorful parade led by Greg Louganis, Beth Anthony, Wilson Cruz, Rudy Galindo, and Norm Korpi.

    This is also a fine time to check out San Diego's wealth of performing-arts venues. At the Civic Theatre you can catch a steady stream of Broadway shows, including - in July - the phenomenally successful national tour (starring Bruce Vilanch) of _Hairspray_, the musical adaptation of John Waters' famous high-camp morality tale tackling desegregation in Baltimore (the show's message is especially appropriate in California these days, as it can be applied just as strongly to the movement to legalize gay marriage). The Civic Theatre is also home to the first-rate San Diego Opera, whose spring 2004 season concludes with _La Traviata_. Nearby, the Copley Music Hall hosts the San Diego Symphony, which presents acclaimed masterworks, pops, and other concerts.

    Balboa Park's Globe Theatre, California's oldest professional theater (established in 1935), is most famous for its summerlong Shakespeare Festival, which mounts five plays in repertory, three of them by Shakespeare (in 2004 you can catch _As You Like It, Antony and Cleopatra,_ and _The Two Noble Kinsmen_). But there are plays staged here throughout the year, from musicals to contemporary drama. The Globe also sponsors Out at the Globe, sporadic GLBT gatherings that include a play preceded by a party in the courtyard outside the theater.

    Other outstanding repertory theaters around town include the Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado, the La Jolla Playhouse (which moves into a breathtaking new permanent facility in fall 2004), and one of the oldest and most respected lesbian and gay venues on the West Coast, the Divisionary Theatre.

    You can pick up half-price tickets to many shows and events at the last minute, either online or at a booth downtown, through Arts Tix (www.sandiegoperforms.com).

    A Visual Arts Tour

    Bigger than New York's Central Park, 1,200-acre Balboa Park may be most famous these days for the superb San Diego Zoo, but it's also renowned for one of the country's most fascinating museum collections - in fact, this is the largest cultural park in the United States, with 15 museums in all.

    A cult favorite among design aficionados, the Mingei International Museum celebrates the craftsmanship behind contemporary and historic wares, folk art, and everyday objects from around the world. Exhibits change often and have showcased everything from origami to blown glass to intricate woodwork. Across the street, spend some time at the venerable San Diego Museum of Art, which is especially strong on Italian Baroque, contemporary American and European painting, and Latin American and Spanish art. The museum's Edwin Binney Collection of South Asian Art is one of the largest anywhere.

    No arts celebration of San Diego is complete without a 15-mile detour north of downtown into posh La Jolla, a tony seaside enclave perched on a bluff and studded with fancy homes and ritzy shops. Here you can tour the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, which presents provocative exhibits year-round.

    Artful Eats

    San Diego's restaurant scene has sprung vibrantly to life over the past few years, with dozens of hip new restaurants producing creative food that's both delicious and visually dramatic. Emblematic of the city's culinary coming of age is Star of the Sea, which was a staid waterfront chowder house before being transformed into a sleek shrine to cutting-edge seafood. In this softly lighted space with panoramic views of San Diego Bay, tuck into Pacific lobster tempura with ponzu sauce before moving on to seared ahi with gnocchi, Napa cabbage, foie gras, and a pinot reduction.

    One of the nation's most acclaimed openly queer chefs, Deborah Scott, runs a pair of terrific San Diego restaurants. Kemo Sabe, in gay-popular Hillcrest, specializes in fusion dim sum and New Mexican fare, while Indigo Grill, on the edge of Little Italy, serves inventive regional American fare, such as a tantalizing wild blueberry-lacquered venison chop with red onion-caraway marmalade as a main course. Hillcrest, in fact, continues to evolve as a great dining neighborhood, thanks to the staying power of such respected - and festive - establishments as Terra, Crest Cafe (known for huge, creative salads), Pizza Nova, and California Cuisine. If you're a foodie, definitely detour just west of Hillcrest to try the dazzlingly eclectic food at Parallel 33, whose menu borrows from the ethnic culinary traditions of countries set along the 33rd Parallel, from Morocco to India to Japan.

    Another distinctive gay-friendly eatery worth investigating is The Prado, in a historic Spanish Colonial building in Balboa Park. This high-ceilinged haunt makes for a nice lunch break when museum-hopping (try the grilled skirt-steak tacos with chimichurri sauce). Right near the park, check out Laurel, an airy, contemporary space that turns out spectacular South of France-inspired cuisine - order the five-course tasting menu for a full sampling of delectables.

    If you're looking for a bite to eat in La Jolla, try either Brockton Villa, which overlooks the water and serves addictively delicious souffle-like orange French toast, or Nine-Ten, the restaurant inside the handsome Mediterranean Revival Grande Colonial Hotel. It presents exceptional cuisine using high-quality local produce and provisions: the wild striped bass with bok choy, carrots, salsify, parsnips, and verjus vinaigrette is a standout.

    Chic Sleeps

    San Diego has witnessed the opening of several cool new hotels recently, including a brand-new W San Diego, a high-tech wonder with mod, ocean-hued decor, DVD players and high-speed Internet, and Aveda bath amenities; it's also home to Rice, a hip Asia-meets-Latin America restaurant. The W's rooftop bar, Beach, has fast become a trendy spot for socializing and watching nightly outdoor movie screenings. Nearby in the Gaslamp Quarter, the intimate Prava Hotel, a tony, all-suite boutique property, has large rooms with kitchenettes, VCRs, and CD-stereos.

    Then there are the gay-popular classics around Hillcrest, such as the Balboa Park Inn, long favored for its over-the-top room designs. Book a room in the Orient Express Suite and you'll find a striking red-and-black mirror over your bed. The Park Manor Suites captures the retro charm of a 1920s apartment building - it overlooks Balboa Park and has huge and reasonably priced suites, a fashionable rooftop bar that hosts a fab gay party on Fridays, and a romantic restaurant in the basement.

    For a chance to experience a genuine slice of San Diego architectural lore, however, book a room at the famed Hotel Del Coronado, just across the harbor from downtown. This mammoth 1888 wood-frame structure with a red-roofed turret is truly a grande dame of yesteryear (although a huge restoration recently added air-conditioning to all 389 rooms). This is your chance to stay in the hotel featured in one of the greatest cross-dressing movies of all time, Billy Wilder's _Some Like It Hot_. It was at the Del that Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, disguised as the saucy female musicians "Daphne" and "Josephine," frolicked alongside Marilyn Monroe. You won't find a more memorable beachfront hotel on the West Coast.




    Previous editions
    Summer in Fort Lauderdale
    San Francisco Treats

     

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