One day I will be a fighter pilot . . .

In case my last post left you with a narrow-minded impression of San Diego, let me do right by the city and prove that it does house attractions that are not tossed out of a net and wrapped in a tortilla.

For me, the uncontested highlight was the Midway Museum. It’s a full blown aircraft carrier docked at Navy Pier, with twenty-five aircraft — fighter jets and helicopters from WWII through Desert Storm — perched on the four acre flight deck and extensive access to the crew area below. Construction began in 1943, and she lanched in 1945 as the largest warship in the world [a title that lasted for the first decade of her service]. Deployed to the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, and the Arabian Sea, she was finally decommissioned in 1992 and opened as a museum twelve years later.

Just traversing the Midway’s deck or getting completely disoriented in her maze-like lower corridors demonstrated the overwhelmingly large scale of the carrier; imagining over 4,000 people efficiently performing very specific tasks in that space was even more mind-boggling. Currently the museum is staffed by no-nonsense retired military guys, pilots and Navy crew alike, all white-haired and comfortably-shoed. They’d volunteer firsthand accounts of getting slingshot into the air and yanked to a sudden stop [“oh, I probably did 200 or so night landings. if there was fog you couldn’t see the deck lights until you were right on top of ’em.”] and casually explain the protocol if you happened to be in the water with the Midway bearing down on you at 40mph [“there was this one time . . . the guy messed up and launched a jet when the ship was dipped into the trough of a wave and it shot straight into the water. the back gunman ejected and parachuted right back down on the deck, but the pilot ended up swimming. what do you do? we practiced in school – you swim down til you can’t see the screws anymore, 35 feet or so. and when you pop up behind the ship there are helicopters circling to pick you up again. those two got a new jet and went out the next day.”].

New “what I want to be when I grow up”: fighter pilot, minus the military part, including the slingshot launching.

What, you thought this would be a food-free post? Who do you think I am??

When I read about Underbelly in a NYT article about San Diego’s obsession with craft beer, I knew it had to be on the must-hit list. Modern fusion ramen plus two dozen beers on tap? I don’t even like beer and that promised to be an awesome scene.

We started with edamame sprinkled with something reminiscent of Mrs. Dash — think black pepper, lemon, salt, garlic, and a spicy kick — and moved on to the classic Underbelly ramen [tonkotsu pork bone broth with char siu, thick-cut bacon, and a kielbasa-esque Kurobuta sausage] and the vegetarian charred spicy kimchee ramen. The best thing about the kimchee version was the grilled shishito peppers, otherwise it was passably spicy but disappointingly bland. The Underbelly, however, was spectacular — the broth rich and creamy with fat, the three kinds of meat a fun taste and texture contrast, the soft-boiled egg perfectly runny inside. Ramen is wholly made or broken by its broth, and this one was one of the best I’ve had here in the states.

Also a brief shout-out to the architect/interior designer who conjured up their swanky-but-cozy space: it’s a stunning two-plus story room with three walls of floor-to-ceiling windows [the lower levels of which rotate to become indoor/outdoor counters], a white tile aquarium interior, and a beautiful neon sign wrapping around a corner off the back wall. Photos just couldn’t do it justice.

Undeterred by the pitifully cloudy weather, we spent a decent amount of time traipsing along the coast. The ocean cliffs at Point Loma were like SF’s north bay on a smaller scale, arguably just as cool because you could actually clamber down to sea level. And the retreating tides revealed all sorts of foreign critters, like these dragon toenails [the scientific name, of course. um, any marine biologists out there who can identify them?] and . . .

. . . seals! Just chilling on the beach in La Jolla, totally unperturbed by the hordes of tourists snapping photos. They were oh so cute and oh so clumsy flopping about on the sand!

Yes, I will one day go back to San Diego. No, I will not drive there again unless it involves many more campsites and beautiful westerly sunsets. But these spots will probably make the list for any return visits . . .


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