Sunday, February 28, 2010

Strauss, Mozart, and Debussy' La Mer At San Diego Symphony

Well, what do you know it actually rains in San Diego, California! Actually, it has been raining a bit more than usual here this winter courtesy of El Nino. Your smorginess was out all day and much of last night roaming around downtown area. Having somehow managed to complete the crossword puzzle in this week's issue of the San Diego Reader, I swung by Little Italy (via the trolley) to drop off my bid for a free t-shirt (if you complete the week's puzzle before the Monday after, they'll put you in for a draw for a free t-shirt) at their office on India Street.

This being a Saturday, the Mercanto (Farmers' Market) was on along Date Street. Naturally I dropped in to inhale the atmosphere and was rewarded when I ran into this stall-ful of happy Thai cooks watching over a mouth watering pan of hot kanom krok!

They were selling them at 5 pieces for $1. A superb steal since Thai restaurants don't make these. I've been looking for them for years (had them for breakfast almost every morning when I visited Thailand in the mid 90's. They are positively addictive in a most purr-ific way!). Unfortunately this vendor isn't from any local restaurant but from Chef Woods, which only does farmers' market and catering.

Having indulged myself on the rare find of Thai street sweet, I felt like a spoiled brat walking past homeless folks squeezing themselves under the few roofed sidewalk areas in downtown they could park themselves at without getting shooed away for blocking local business. There simply isn't enough shelter space available and many have to brave the elements out on the streets in plain sight of others.

It is especially frustrating walking by those shivering and wet folks into the cavernous space of the Central Post Office... with all the indoor space that isn't in use (it closes at noon on Saturday and isn't open again until Monday morning). The place looks half empty even during weekday business hours. Being a historic building, though, they can't modify it to allow a more efficient use of its space. I wonder how bad could it really be to allow the homeless folks to take shelter there from the rain during the weekend (and providing them with the equipments to clean up after themselves)... That isn't going to happen though.

Anyhow, after coming home to dry off a bit I went out into the rain again and caught the bus downtown for the San Diego Symphony concert of Strauss, Mozart, and Debussy at Copley Hall. They advertised the evening on Debussy's La Mer, but the first half of the performance actually featured Richard Strauss' Don Juan and WA Mozart's beloved C minor concerto for flute and harp.

Maestro Nuvi Mehta, the "Voice of the San Diego Symphony", gave his customary witty and engaging pre-concert lecture complete with listening tips on Strauss' erotically suggestive tone poem (not quite as detailed and explicit as the first part of his overture to Der Rosenkavalier, but no less enthusiastic) and the ideas behind Debussy's famous impressionistically watery orchestral sketches.

After a brief delay Maestro Philip Mann took the podium and drove the San Diego Symphony into a frenzy and steamy reading of Strauss' romantically disillusioned musical portrayal of Don Juan, literature's most prowess womanizer. This is not as romantic a portrayal of this character as you'd find in the opera of Gluck or Mozart but a Faust-like philosopher who burns out his short life in pursuit of the perfect woman (who naturally doesn't exist). The energetic horn section practically blew dry all the wet and damp suits in the auditorium with its enthusiasm. By the final thrust of Don Pedro's sword our clothes were practically steaming.

After a short intermission we were treated to Mozart's beloved C minor concerto for flute and harp, featuring Demarre McGill (flute) and Julie Ann Smith (harp). Both are the principal player of their instrumental section of the San Diego Symphony. I don't think they matched up all that well as concert soloists, though. Mr. McGill was into smooth legato phrasing (a lot easier to do on a wind instrument than on plucked strings like the harp) and delivered his solos in a super fluid flow while Ms. Smith plucked every note she played so clear and cleanly that they sort of got in the way of the melody. It was a good thing that the briskly paced orchestra was somewhere in the middle and the supportive string section proved an apt moderator for the pair.

The final part of the concert was Debussy's three part symphonic sketches, La mer, depicting the senses you get during a day spent by the ever-changing ocean. I don't know how accomplished Maestro Mann and the San Diego Symphony are at painting, but in music making their brass and percussion sections hammered the barometer so far to the ground that my ears popped from the acoustic low pressure system that developed from it. With the windy strings keeping the tempest finale so well fed it was a surprised to learn at the end of the concert that the tsunami from the Chile earthquake had actually missed our coast.

Maestro Mann (who was quite into tsunami warning jokes this evening) then demonstrated how it does pay to keep clapping after a good orchestral performance by indulging the audience with a Bloch number for an encore. The added few minutes ensured that I missed the 10PM bus back home, but it was quite worth the extra 30 wet minutes waiting for the next one!

On another note, the SDSO is into having three of its instrumentalists out in the lobby handing out their fun photocards to symphony-goers before the show. One of the players out last night caught my attention when I read his card and noticed that his hometown is Stara Zagora, Bulgaria! Naturally I had a smorg moment and blurted out to the poor man, bassoonist Valentin Martchev, who was stuck in his line of duty and couldn't very well have ran away from the opera-crazed me, that my favorite singer, Vesselina Kasarova, came from the same town he does. To my delight, Mr. Martchev told me that he knows her quite well (they attended the same music academy) and is very pleased that her artistry is appreciated.

Honestly... there is something special about that Bulgarian town. It produces disproportional number of wonderful musicians!

Monday, February 22, 2010

What's Cooking: Tom Kha Chicken Drumsticks

The cold front is moving through town so I'm now doing soup. My nose is a bit sore from all the sneezing, though, so I'm opting for the mild and creamy and utterly not-spicy Tom Kha Gai instead of the usual Tom Yum soup. If the name sounds weird to you, it makes perfect sense in Thai:
Tôm = boiled
Kha = galangal
Gai = chicken
It is made with white meat, usually either chicken or shrimp. I like drumsticks...

Drumsticks take longer to cook, of course, so if you opt for shrimp or sliced chicken breast instead you would be happily munching on this creamy concoction while I'm still trying to coax the drumsticks to denature into something a little more repulsive to the last of the salmonella residing in its muscle tissues. The batch I cook in the clip is a bit larger than the spec... I'm a lazy cook. This batch has got to last me the whole week!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Verdi's Nabucco at the San Diego Opera (20 February 2010)

Giuseppe Verdi's Nabucco (Nabuchadnezzar) returned to the San Diego Opera for the first time in 29 years Saturday night for a run of four performances at the Civic Theater in downtown. The house was (unexpectedly) packed with enthusiastic audience willing to miss the Winter Olympic broadcast and a UCSD basketball game for the chance to experience Verdi's rarely performed bel canto-on-steroid offering.

The story of the opera is a (highly inaccurate) historical fiction set during Israel's third captivity by Babylon (circa 587BC) and how the god of Judah delivered the Jews from their enslavement by striking mad the Assyrian king before prompting his conversion to Judaism. Needless to say, the real life story was quite different (it was the invading Persians who set Israel free and not the famous mad king of Babylon). It isn't a strictly biblical story either since Nabucco is the only character who appears in the Bible or the Torah. But there is no letting facts get in the way of a juicy story when it comes to opera. The plot is really driven by the (not so tragic, for a change) love triangle between Ismael, the Jewish commander, his beloved Fenena (the younger and wholly legitimate daughter of Nabucco, and Abigaille, her emotionally unstable warrior (half-) sister.

Lotfi Mansouri's production is a rather minimalistic traditional staging using the retractable set by Michael Yeargan along with imaginative lighting by Michael W
hitfield to somehow managed to make the same basic three levels blue set an adequate stand in for anything from the Jewish temple to the Babylonian halls, a prison, and the bank of the Euphrates. Traffic control was very good as this opera requires the presence of the chorus in most of its scene. No human collision occurred though humbly dressed Fenena didn't always stand out very much from the Jewish crowd.

Musically this opera is something of an acoustically juiced-up bel canto show with the reputation for ending the career of its leading soprano. Sopranos who can and are willing to sing the vocally schizophrenic Abigaille, Nabucco's brutal elder (and rather illegitimate) daughter, don't grow on trees. This role demands both vocal heft (in order to be heard over the loud chorus) and florid agility through out her very wide range, and esp
ecially up top. It takes a special type of voice to be able to handle that... and one can hardly do better in this demented role than the French soprano Sylvie Valayre. The couple that sat next to me thought her voice quite horrible and I can hardly disagree with a straight face... It is a strange voice that, in this opera, isn't allowed much opportunity to show off its' still quite lovely middle register. The top ranges from moderately to hideously acidic (with the tendency to stray sharp of pitch when under pressure) and the bottom rather convincingly evil. And though it is plenty loud enough to cut through the occasionally ear-bustingly loud chorus, it isn't a hefty voice with a lot of body in it... though it is quite convincingly agile and remains in good dynamic control. Valayre goes further than just coping with all the notes Verdi requires. She can both vocally and theatrically act, the fact of which I enjoyed very much.

And, when you really think about it a bit, one can hardly ask any dramatic coloratura soprano to take up this notorious voice-killer of a role while she still has a beautiful and fresh voice! That Nabucco isn't a big box-office draw work that can guarantee stardom for the mastery of its leading lady surely doesn't help. One can't (and shouldn't) expect vocal beauty from this beastly (in many different manners) a part. Valayre delivered the drama, and that is the point of her role in this opera!

Especially impressive on opening night was American baritone Richard Paul Fink who replaced Željko Lučić for the entire run as Nabucco. You would never guess, based on his commanding reading of the title role on Saturday night that he had never sung the part before and had only started learning it 3 weeks ago. His effortlessly stentorian chorus-proof voice becomingly exuded kingship while his dynamic variation aptly rounded out the Assyrian king's human qualities. His acting came through even when viewed from as far away as the final rows of the balcony section. It was easy to believe this Nabucco in the height of his insanity as well as in the depth of his humiliation... regardless of how logically leaky the operatic plot actually is.

Israeli mezzo soprano Susana Poretsky and American tenor Arthur Shen were convincing as the harmlessly milder temper Fenena and Ismaele. American bass Raymond Aceto was a vocally fine though his tones a bit brighter and acting rather one-dimensional than what I would prefer for the role of Jewish high priest Zaccaria. Local favorites Joseph Hu and Priti Gandhi rounded out the good supporting cast as Abdallo and Anna.

The SDO Chorus started off a bit behind the beat though soon found its stride with the help of Maestro Edoardo Müller adroit flexibility from the orchestra pit. Their rendition of the famous Act III 'Va, pensiero' hushed the less than quiet opening night audience and elicited a roar of approval at the curtain for its flawlessly well nuanced vocal dignity. The San Diego Symphony Orchestra was heavy on majesty though at times solo instrumental passages were lost in the sonorous blare of the brass section (the cello strokes at the opening of 'Va, pensiero' and the fluttering solo flute when Solomon is invoked, for instants).

It was a good show that promises to get even better in later performances. If you are in San Diego and its vicinity this week and haven't anything scheduled for Tuesday, Friday or Sunday evening, stop by at the opera (Civic Theater in downtown) and catch a performance. This work isn't performed very often especially with this good a cast and staging. There are still plenty of good seats available!

* Production photos by Cory Weaver courtesy of the San Diego Opera

Remaining performances of Nabucco at the SDO: February 23, 26, 28 (m).

Recommended recording: DVD from Metropolitan Opera 2001 (Pons, Guleghina, White, Ramey)

More juicy insider tidbits on the SDO's Nabucco can be found on the company's Aria Serious Blog.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Deserted Island CD: Ashkenazy & Philharmonia do Beethoven's 5th & 7th

You would need to have been born deep in a jungle and die young to not be familiar with the opening chords of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. And though his 7th Symphony isn’t all that popular among those who don’t listen to classical music regularly, its 2nd movement shows up in surprising numbers of film (though non-classical-music-fans would likely be unable to identify it). That naturally means that there are bus loads of recordings of these two pieces... Though if you have experimented with different recordings of the same piece of classical music before, then you would realize that such a notion that ‘the goal of classical music is to intone the music exactly as written by its composer’... or 'to replicate the ideal sound of the piece,' as if anyone aside from the composer can actually claim to have the perfect knowledge of what this ‘ideal’ sounds like, is completely preposterous. Any ‘objective’ notes written on the sheet of the music inevitably takes on a subjective quality the moment it is played by a living musician.

Just exactly how loud should the note be played? Or how long? At what speed? And how should the music be phrased to convey ‘what’ feeling? Or to portray ‘what’ emotion? Unless you are the composer, you don’t really have the final word on it... And I am willing to bet that many composers would find that their ideas about their own music can actually change upon returning to it after having gone off to experience something else for a while. Every performer brings his/her own experience and perspective to the piece of music they play... And this performance by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Vladimir Ashkenazy resonated with me so much when I first bought a cassette tape of it back in the mid 90's that no other recordings of the Fifth Symphony would satisfy me when I lost the cassette during a move in 1998. I spent years listening through all the recordings of this symphony at various music stores until finally stumbling on this Decca Label CD of it... Aside from my first encounter with Vesselina Kasarova’s Rosina in 2005 which converted me to an opera-fanatic, no other piece of music had affected me so much as this one.

Symphony No. 5 in C-minor, "Fate"
Allegro con brio
2. Andante con moto

3. Allegro - Scherzo
4. Allegro

(Recorded in 1982)
The first movement, Allegro con brio, is famous for its 8 jolting opening beats from the heavy strings (basses and cellos) that are thought to symbolize ‘fate knocking on the door.’ The imperious pounding that calls its listeners to gather up their arms and prepare
for war (or revolution... or an uprising against tyranny), propels the music forward into a storm as the lighter strings (violins and violas) answer the call and pass the words around. The same opening call transforms itself into a less insistent but even more persuasive melody that alludes to a higher, nobler calling that makes it practically impossible for anyone to refuse to follow Beethoven’s music in its drive into the sinister bank of dark clouds gathering up ahead. The woodwinds provide an assuring glow of light from behind the clouds that render the prospect of a heroic death on the battlefield welcoming.

Being cut down in this divinely inspired combat doesn't even seem a possibility anyhow, thanks to Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia’s sleek no-nonsense approach to the piece. Every note counts as if everything has been taken care of, leaving no room for philosophizing or melodramatizing... We’re heading off to battle, and we couldn’t care less whether we’ll come out of it alive or not!

The melancholic second movement, Andante con moto, perhaps my all time favorite chunk of symphonic music, sees us all in the calm before the storm. All the military preparation has been made. Now we have a bit of quiet time to reflect on things a bit, to anticipate what would happen, and to pay a brief tribute to Death... who is surely watching over the battlefield eager to reap our heroic offerings. Ashkenazy does a wonderful job in not letting this movement turn melodramatic or lapse into self doubt or pity. The ‘hero’ is fully aware of his mortality and 'how quiet it can all get when the crickets die', but... like Albus Dumbledore and those other wizards who don’t think that death is the worst possible thing in life, he isn’t afraid of it.

This performance haunted me for years with its beautiful balance between the brighter theme of the hero's determination and the insistence of the fate (basses) that awaits its fulfillment. Ashkenazy's no nonsense vision jived so mesmerizingly with the Missourian electrical storms I had to drive through while going to work in the middle of the night that when I finally found this CD of the same performance after many years of listening through entire shelves of Beethoven 5th at music stores (was too dumb to note the names of the performers when I had the cassette), it was like Christmas in July!

The final two movements, Allegro- scherzo and Allegro-finale are connected. The settled strings opening finishes up the contemplation over the prospect of death before the hero is called back by the horn and brass calls, in a variation of the ‘fate’ theme of the first movement, to focus more on the presence as active battle draws near. The agitated double-basses stir up the charged atmosphere with a sonic adrenaline rush before it all settles into a watchful quietness that gives way as the battle commences with the drum rolls and the swiping strings under the watchful eyes of Fortuna, who hovers over the scene in the form of the French horns. The triumphal outcome is never in doubt in the sound of the Philharmonia under Ashkenazy, whose phrasing of each musical statement draws such vitality out of Beethoven’s heroic score that the air in my den turns electric every time I put this CD on the stereo. Everything is done just right (well, for yours truly, anyhow... which was why I kept hunting it down for years after I lost my first recording of this performance).

Symphony No.7 A-major
Poco sostenuto - Vivace
2. Allegretto
3. Presto
4. Allegro con brio
(Recorded in 1984)
In a stark contrast to the previous symphony, which to me, is a romanticized vision of war by someone who has never participated an armed conflict in real life and who is so brimmed with the conviction of certain victory as to exude the air of invincibility. The 7th Symphony was composed by a man who has known sufferings, who has experienced the gore and has smelled Death as it brushed past him to snatch the last breath from the fellow he was standing next to... and who is now determined to make the time that he has count. The opening movement, Poco sostenuto - vivace, with its pastoral dance beginning, will likely remind some of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, the “Pastoral.” Unlike that work, though, the 7th doesn’t come with a composer-provided program specifying exact ‘images’ being depicted in the music... which is one of the reasons why I like this work more.

The pastoral opening dance graduates into a burst of enthusiasm 5 minutes into the movement, and it is a different sort of enthusiasm than the one heard in the 5th Symphony. It is sustained by the unsinkable oboe, whose perk rubs onto the other instruments. It is like watching a mellow crowd of drinking buddies in a pub taking turn ad lib-ing a tale that one had started, with each new improvisation in the story introducing another orchestral modulation... Each one more fantastic than the previous, until they somehow land back on the E that leads everyone back to the original idea that started the whole thing in the first place. From then on any illusion of incoherence is banished in a blaze of glory.

It is to Ashkenazy and his Philhamonia Orchestra’s credit that one doesn’t feel a distractingly abrupt gear-change from the end of the first movement to the very dark premonition that begins the second movement, Allegretto. If you have seen the film, Mr. Holland’s Opus, this is the thing you hear in the movie as the devastated Mr. Holland describes the deafness that Beethoven suffered as he penned this composition (devastated because his son has just been born deaf). With the strings intoning the subdue and poignant main melody which then weds with the violas’ hovering theme as the basses pulse beneath them as if they are night creatures lurking just outside of the ring of the campfire, intending on swallowing the little blaze of light whole. But the little fire inside the ring of darkness is a persistent one. I don't know what exactly sustains this weary soul so that it would dare to overpower the suppressive bout of a depression as the one this music demonstrates, but this music really shows how to brood properly. You can indulge in the dark mood a bit as long as you refuse to let it rule your life!

Even the brooding Beethoven doesn't stay immortally depressed and 'snaps out of it' by the energetic third movement, Presto. It begins without much conviction... As if the weary soul is strong-arming himself out of the funk by manufacturing a burst of enthusiasm out of thin air. But it works, as the horns pick up the cue and the artificial quality of the enthusiasm turns vivid and real. Though there are several mini-relapses, the music wills itself out of it, dispatching the reeling demon (horns) with the strings’ final decisive chords.

Victory! Bright and sweet taste of victory snatched from the terrible jaws of defeat (as depicted in the 2nd movement)! The final movement, Allegro con brio, is literally a victory dance... and perhaps a slightly drunken one at that! The Philharmonia under Ashkenazy never lapses into incoherence, however. It is a victory well earned. Considering that this symphony was first performed in 1813, after the defeat of Napoleon, I can just imagine the crowd of audience getting up from their seat and dance around to celebrate their escape from tyranny all over again.

If you are still awake after all this rambling, then perhaps I don’t have to tell you if I recommend the purchase of this recording or not. The sound is beautifully well balanced and clean. And though there are equal performances of the 7th Symphony, Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia’s reading of the 5th is nothing short of definitive for me.

Beethoven Symphonies No. 5 & 7 (Ashkenazy/Philharmonia Orchestra)
CD. Play-time: 77:05 min. Case-lining includes track list and a brief note on the conception and premiere performance of the music (in English) by Kenneth Chalmers.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Just A Cool Clip For My Fellow Nerds...

I'm a geek.... I like watching things like this...

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Space shuttle Endeavour having an acrobatic moment while astronauts at the International Space Station give its exterior a visual inspection. The video is played at 8 times the actual speed.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

La Boheme at San Diego Opera

Our opera season is now in full swing after a good run of Puccini's La Boheme at the Civic Theater last 1 1/2 weeks. Yours nosiness dropped in there for the premiere performance on January 30th and was rather surprised that the show wasn't sold out (the theater was pretty packed, though). I had a subscription ticket for a balcony seat but was generously upgraded to (oh, no!) the orchestra level before the curtain. Much better view, to be sure... but acoustically iffy.

To be honest, I was pretty disappointed at not getting to experience Anja Harteros live since she came down with something nasty a few weeks before opening night and had to cancel the whole run for an unspecified medical procedure. All the same, I'm a Kasarova fan (which means I am quite mindful of how some very bright stars got their big break substituting for a more famous colleague in live performances) and so was quite looking forward to experiencing Ellie Dehn's Mimi instead.

Really, the stereotype of operatic sopranos being fat ladies famous for their ringing high C and not their (lack of) acting ability is really as outdated as plaids and polyester pants. Most sopranos (and mezzos) playing and singing frail and ill beauties on the stage today actually look and act their part (sometimes troublingly so... Magdalena Kozena, for one, can gain 30 lbs without even approaching being full-figured). And Ellie Dehn is one of them. She is still young yet and will likely grow to be quite a convincing singing actress. Vocally she (and her sweet and very feminine voice) had her best scene where it counted the most - in the beautifully softly sung final act. I suspect she sounded better elsewhere up in the mezzanines and the balconies, but from my seat to an extreme periphery of the orchestra level I had to strain to hear her low passages all night long... and everything above the stave was too loud.

The star of the show was undoubtedly Piotr Beczala's vocally sterling Rodolfo. He wasn't the heart-on-the-sleeve moody poet like you'd find in Rolando Villazon, but more of the good nature guy next door a la Pavarotti. Good chemistry with Mimi and the rest of the crew... You can believe he is overwrought with the loss of Mimi, but you aren't likely to be devastated by it. His was probably the best sung Rodolfo I've heard (and I have the DVDs of the show with Pavarotti, Carreras, Villazon, and Alagna)... He took the unwritten high C along with the soprano's written one at the end of the first Act, but it was so well sung that even a drama-addict like me can't even think of complaining about it.

Local girl Priti Gandhi got her first principal role debut in this show as the vivaciously flirty Musetta. It took me a while to get over that throbbing tremolo in her voice, but she proved an apt comedienne and had the audience laughing at all the right places. Jeff Mattsey remains a fresh and endearing Marcello even after eons of singing this role. It's a good cast playing an old fashion traditional show, kept mostly well together under the baton of Karen Keltner who conducted the San Diego Symphony Orchestra. The only real beef I had was that the orchestra was often too loud (which wasn't helped by a few singers' weakish lower register and the fact that Puccini had multiple instruments doubling the singing line in this show). Another beef that had nothing to do with the production or the performance itself was with the few audience members who talked and even checked their iPhone during the show. You may be relatively invisible to the people in front of you but surely not (thanks to that glowing LCD screen) to those on your rear!

Anyhow we are now looking forward to the 2nd opera of the season, Verdi's rarely performed Nabucco. I'm afraid Željko Lučić, the Serbian baritone who was supposed to sing the title role will be replaced for all 4 performances by American Richard Paul Fink. Still set to assay one of opera's most notorious voice-killing role of Abigaille, however, is French soprano Sylvie Valayre, who last visited us a year ago as Tosca.

Nabucco plays at the Civic Theater in downtown San Diego on February 20, 23, 26, 28 (m).

*Three production photos by Cory Weaver used in this post are courtesy of San Diego Opera.

One (Any)Man, One Vote...Still The Best Of Lousy Options

To be honest, being mindful of the troubling implications of what Leo Szilard meant when he wrote;
"Even if we accept, as the basic tenet of true democracy, that one moron is equal to one genius, is it necessary to go a further step and hold that two morons are better than one genius?" (The Voice of the Dolphins)
I did like the idea of making people pass a civic test before being able to vote... That was until I saw this.

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I'd think it might still be a viable idea if the 'test' is standardized and only tests the most basic concepts of government (rather than being so specialized that only a law professor would have a prayer at passing it)... And that it is applied to everyone.

But then again... there are sick and old people and working people who haven't the time to keep up to date on their civvies (hardly the sort of knowledge used in everyday life for most people). They would be at a disadvantage at passing this hardly necessary test. The potential for abuse is so great that it is another one of Pandora's boxes (akin to the recent
Supreme Court ruling allowing unlimited political campaign spending by corporation) not worth opening, in my opinion.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Day In San Diego, California

Tijuana River Estuary and Tijuana Slough Refuge are down in Imperial Beach area just north of the Mexican border. There is a cute little interpretative center there along with some good hiking trails that takes you through the area's version of a swamp where the water fowls hang out. San Elijo and Solana Beach are good surfing beaches up to the north. There's a good campground overlooking a surfing-friendly beach... and when the wind kicks up you can catch the local hipsters para-surfing along Cardiff-by-the-Sea.


Downtown San Diego is on the east shore of the San Diego Bay. No beach there, but the
Embarcadero Marina Parks South has a good fishing pier (no fee, no license needed) where you can sit and watch all sort of boats and the patrolling sea gulls (and pelicans and other water birds). Occasionally the Maritime Museum would stage 'Cannon Battles' on the bay among a few of their tall ships. The tips of Broadway Pier and Navy Pier (where the USS Midway is at) offer great vintage points for watching that.

California Tower at the Museum of Man viewed from the Prado
Sunset from Top of the Hyatt Lounge
When you are tired of the waterfront, there is always Balboa Park, of course. There are always something interesting to see along El Prado. And if you drop in on a Sunday afternoon, check to see if there's a free concert at Spreckels Organ Pavilion, too.

There are many good places to catch a spectacular sunset in the City of San Diego, the Top-of-the-Hyatt Lounge on the 40th floor of the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in the Marina District is one of them. I should warn you that a can of Diet Coke there costs $4, but you don't have to buy anything if you just stand in the hallway...