Fleeing Paradise: Why I Left San Diego

fleeing san diego

Four years ago, I moved to San Diego on a whim. While on a road trip through town, I became instant best friends with a bartender at an Irish bar that no longer exists in Pacific Beach. It’s entirely possible that I was suffering from sunstroke after baking on the beach, or maybe it was all the booze she was feeding me, but a week later when she said, “My roommate is out of town for a month, move in with me!” I said OK.

Call it synchronicity, call it fate, or call it plain dumb luck, but within a month of squatting at her house, I met the then-editor for Thrillist San Diego at a party. The rest is history. I ate and drank, photographed, and wrote my way across this town. But I could sense my time here was running its course. After four years of sunny San Diego, another city was calling to me; which one, I didn't yet know. But I knew that it was time for me to leave this paradise everyone accuses San Diego of being.

I packed my car with my stuff and road tripped (a theme of mine) across the country. When I drove into Nashville, Tennessee, there was a double rainbow over the highway -- I took that as a hopeful sign. I didn't leave.

I’ve been living there for almost three months now. I miss the ocean more than I thought I would, but I’ve eaten hot chicken, two-stepped, listened to incredible live music, drank whiskey in smoky bars, and have met so many talented, motivated, creative young people who are beyond inspiring. The nights are filled with the sound of crickets in the trees, the leaves are changing with the season, and I cannot wait to break out my winter coat for the first time in years.

The genuine Southern hospitality of this city has been overwhelming. I’ve heard the phrase “Welcome to Nashville!” enthusiastically spoken from every single person who finds out that I just moved to town. I’ve been taken in with open arms and have become completely enchanted by the city's charm. Most importantly, I live in a house that has central air conditioning.

But why exactly did I leave San Diego? I'll break it down.

My job was ruining my health

Writing about food for a living certainly has its perks, but fitness is not one of them. As a food writer, no chef invites you into their restaurant to taste the amazing new salad they just put on the menu. My meals frequently included multi-course dinners full of rich, delicious foods wrapped in bacon, covered in cream sauces, and packed with calories, and none was complete without tasting the entire new cocktail program or having a craft beer pairing with each course. This wasn’t just a once in a while occurrence. Sometimes this was several days a week and sometimes more than once in a day. The result was more weight gained than I’ll ever admit to and hangovers on more days than not. Even though I was working out regularly, my 30-something body just couldn’t keep up with the gluttonous lifestyle I was forcing it to follow. I felt unhealthy, lethargic, and physically completely miserable. Something had to give and I didn’t want it to be the button on my pants.

Fall in Nashville
Fall in Nashville | KennStilger47/Shutterstock

I missed the four seasons

Living in a never-ending summer sounds like paradise, but if I had to wake up to another perfect, sunny, cloudless day I was going to freak out. I know, I know -- spoken like a true transplant. Sure, the entire month of June is sort of gray, but I enjoy the occasional gloomy day at other times of the year or having an afternoon thunderstorm that doesn’t cause complete chaos in the streets just because it’s a little wet outside.

Feeling the crispness of the air in fall and seeing the leaves change color is one of my favorite things in life. In SoCal, the changing of seasons is much more abrupt. It seems like the leaves die and fall off of the trees overnight then suddenly, it’s winter (if you can even call it that). The 70 degree “winter” weather is not exactly conducive to wearing the cozy sweaters and coats that I love and have had to keep in storage for the last 4 years. Sorry/not sorry, ladies of PB, but rocking Uggs and a scarf with a mini-skirt and a tank top does not qualify as winter wear.

I need air conditioning

While we’re on temperature, I will never understand why the people of San Diego cling to the idea that air conditioning is not a necessity. I am almost positive that I came dangerously close to having a heat stroke more than a few times while living here. There were days when I would sit in the car in my own driveway with the A/C on blast just to get a little relief from the sweltering temps. The ocean breeze might have been enough to cool the city off 30+ years ago, but here’s the bad news SD: global warming is a real thing and it's only getting hotter.

Beach in San Diego
Beach in San Diego | Dancestrokes/Shutterstock

San Diego was a waste of time, literally

I get it. We live in a beach town that perpetuates a vacation mentality. If your biggest pet peeve is being late (like mine is), this laid-back mindset is enough to drive you insane. I was raised that punctuality shows common courtesy and respect for other people and their time. Therefore, I am early or on time everywhere I go. If I’m running late and haven’t called to let you know I’m on my way, it’s safe to assume that I’m either in the emergency room or lying in a ditch somewhere.

Being a minimum of 15 minutes late or not showing up at all is the norm in SD. If you have plans with someone or a meeting scheduled and don’t confirm with them the day of, chances are they won’t show up at all. If I had a dollar for every minute I wasted waiting on people who were running late or who flaked on me completely, I could have afforded to install central air conditioning in my house.

Finding true friends was tough

After spending almost four years working in an industry where I met hundreds of people, I can count my close San Diego friends on one hand. Nothing is more important to me in life than my friends and having genuine relationships, and I absolutely adore the friends I did make while I was here. But it was difficult to find friendships that went deeper than the surface. It seemed like people were more interested in what I could do for them than they were in actually getting to know me. I can’t exactly blame people for this though -- in general, I found the culture in SoCal to be insincere, flaky, and self-serving, and that mentality was making me guarded and cynical. It just wasn’t working for me anymore.

Courtesy of Husk

I was looking for greener pastures

I thrive on change and new experiences. When I moved to San Diego in 2012, the food scene was growing rapidly and there were unique and interesting new bars and restaurants opening all over town. The menus were becoming notably more sophisticated and elevated than the typical Cali burritos and fish tacos that the city was known for. The cocktail programs were making a name for themselves and craft brewing was exploding. It was an exciting time to be a part of the food world in SD. I felt incredibly lucky to be right in the middle of it all and I enjoyed every last bite, but it was time to move on.

Now that I’m in Nashville, I can feel that same excitement building around the food scene here like I did when I first moved to SD. The potential to experience the new flavors and dishes of an entirely different and growing food culture -- and on my own terms, not because a job dictates it -- makes my mouth water. Hell, Anthony Bourdain just aired a Nashville episode of Parts Unknown. As a traveler, writer, and a food lover, this city is a place that is just begging to be explored.

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Sara Norris is a freelance photographer, writer, and new Nashvillian. Follow her adventures of a new city on Instagram @SaraKNorris