Beer on a Budget in San Diego

 In Lifestyle

I’m a fairly big guy — 6-foot-3 with plenty of mass to soak up alcohol — but I was being particularly careful as I hopped (no pun intended) from brewery to brewery in San Diego. Touring the dozens of worthy beer options in the sprawling, beautiful city requires a car, and I was being conservative with my intake. But this Electric Youth coffee pale ale from Thunderhawk Alements was just too good. I’d never had a coffee beer that tasted so intensely and convincingly of coffee. There was a sweetness to the coffee component that tasted of berries and flowers, juxtaposed with the hoppy, bitter malt of the ale.

Even better? A small pour was only $3. Delicious drinks played a significant role during my trip to San Diego, but they certainly weren’t the only thing I enjoyed. You may have already heard of A-list attractions like Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo, but the city also has great nightlife, scenic cliffside hikes, and boardwalks and beaches as welcoming as you will find anywhere in the country. My challenge: to take it all in as inexpensively as possible.

Today, San Diego is the eighth-largest city in the country, but at the turn of the 20th century, its population stood at under 20,000. That changed after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when the military expanded San Diego’s naval operations, and the city hasn’t stopped growing since. People know about San Diego’s surf breaks, but fewer know that it has the largest concentration of military personnel in the nation, with around 100,000 active-duty members.

I drove into town from the Salton Sea in my $30-a-day rental from Hertz as the last leg of a fun Southern California road trip. I headed to the Lafayette Hotel, on El Cajon Boulevard — a good location, right near the border of University Heights and North Park. My room on the second floor of the well-loved 1946 building was adequate, and a good deal for the $85 per night I paid through — room rates on the hotel’s website range from $109 to $289 per night. My experience was marred only by the fact that I left my coat in the room — completely my fault, but my attempts to get assistance by calling and emailing were met with rather strong indifference by the staff.

The Red Fox Steakhouse and Piano Bar, parts of which supposedly date back to a 1600s English inn, was a stone’s throw from my room. I arrived to the strains of live music and sat in a booth, eyes adjusting to the dim light and taking in the cozy, homey atmosphere. I would pass on the slightly mealy crab cakes ($9.95), but the dinner salad with garlic toast ($5.75) was a winner.


Image: Beth Coller for The New York Times

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