Expanding beyond your preconceptions
Said somebody, sometime, about San Diego County: "Where else can you snowboard in the morning, surf in the afternoon, and camp under the desert sky at night?" While it's true that some amped-up weekend warrior could technically accomplish all of these things in a day, I've yet to meet anybody who has, or even wanted to. Anyway the tagline doesn't capture what, to me, makes San Diego unique in the world.
If I could rewrite the sales pitch, I'd ask: "Where else can you see a Rembrandt in the morning, tan your naked butt in the afternoon, attend a lucha libre match at night, and slurp some of the best ramen of your life in a nondescript strip mall at 3am? Where else can you find an art gallery painted on a freeway overpass, have a soul food lunch, see the sun set over Tijuana from the heart of a 60ft-tall naked woman with an architect living in her boobs, and watch an international border disappear before your very eyes?"
San Diego will confirm your preconceptions over and over again. Yes, the beaches really are that beautiful. Every time I get off the 5 and reach the crest of La Jolla Parkway, the arresting sight of the low-slung sun glittering on the Pacific steals my breath away. And yes, the city is still very much the white, conservative military town that gave itself the cringeworthy epithet "America's Finest City." And it's a fact that, at any given moment, one of the two local alt-rock radio stations will be playing something by Sublime (the other will be playing Red Hot Chili Peppers).
The version of San Diego that's all palm trees and surf breaks exists here in full flower, and if that's what you came for, we raise a sandy Corona in your direction and wish you nothing but glassy barrels for days, brah. But if you're willing to wipe away our Coppertone topcoat and search out the region's rich and varied cultural side, you'll go home with a suntan and a story to tell.
Oh, and I was so wrong about the burritos. Especially the California burrito. (Fries inside the tortilla? Shine on, you crazy, guac-filled diamond.) Burritos, man. I could talk about burritos for hours.