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What the Locals Do in San Diego

Just because San Diego has tourist attractions at every turn doesn't mean you shouldn't stray from the beaten path and pretend you're a local for a day.

A pared-down pace

Balboa Park is the city's preferred playground. Visitors with detailed agendas (Museums? Check. Zoo? Check.) often miss out on the sweet spots that keep locals coming back time and again. Grab a map from the visitor center and explore the park's nooks and crannies. Or throw down a blanket on the lawn and laugh at the other tourists with their impossibly long to-do lists.

The hoppiest place on Earth

Cold beer seems to suit San Diego's chill personality, which may be why their craft-brewing scene has been lauded as one of the most cutting-edge in the world. You could easily spend an entire day visiting breweries, from the tiny Alpine Beer Company —to Escondido's venerable Stone Brewing, which started off as a pet project and now ships nationwide. If a full-fledged beer tour is out of the question, try a bold double IPA—a San Diego specialty—at O'Brien's, a Kearny Mesa pub that's low on personality but high on hops, or head to 30th Street in North Park, which is lined with so many brewpubs that it's been nicknamed the "Belgian Corridor" by in-the-know imbibers.

Fill your heart with art

MCASD Downtown's Thursday Night Thing —aka TNT—is a boisterous quarterly museum party that puts to rest all notions of an artless art scene.

Sunrise, sunset

Our beaches can't be beat, but battling the crazy summer crowds for a spot on the sand is far from relaxing. Take a brisk stroll just after dawn, and savor the views without distraction. Or, find a secluded spot on the cliffs for a sunset happy hour. Booze is banned at beaches, but a little creativity will have you toasting in no time (hint: wash and save a couple of paper coffee cups).

Break for breakfast

Even fitness freaks—and San Diegans are among the country's fittest—will agree that a slow-paced morning meal is a lovely start to the weekend, which explains the long lines at any place worth the wait.

The Mission has locations in Mission Beach (3795 Mission Blvd. 858/488–9060), North Park (2801 University Ave. 619/220–8992), and the East Village (1250 J St. 619/232–7662). The café food is simple and hearty, ranging from traditional fare (eggs, pancakes) to the Latino-inspired (the Papas Locas or "crazy potatoes" will burn a hole in your tongue).

Hash House A Go Go (3628 5th Ave., Hillcrest 619/298–4646) specializes in Southern-accented favorites, in large portions. There are a variety of the namesake hashes and egg Benedicts, as well as fluffy pancakes and French toast. Weekends mean long lines, so try to visit during the week.

Kono's Surf Club Café (704 Garnet Ave. 858/483–1669) in Pacific Beach lures locals with an outdoor patio and ocean views, but the last thing you'll want to do after eating one of Kono's massive breakfast burritos is slip into a bikini. There's a reason for the expression "burrito belly"—but it's a small price to pay for brazenly overindulgent pleasure.

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