Homegrown Fusion with Food Lover Jane Bills

Founder of LetThereBeBite.com

Local Food Expert

My earliest travel memory is visiting Tokyo at age nine. I don’t know if it was the blonde hair, or that not many tourists were going to the towns we visited, but I remember being swarmed by girls my age, usually returning from school, and they often gave me a gift, like a pencil. That was the first and last time I ever felt like a rock star. Now, I base most travel decisions on how many great meals I can cram into one weekend and am undeniably happiest when I connect with local food vendors to discover and share their passions. In San Diego, give me the sun and the ocean, of course! I love this city because even with 1.5 million people, the neighborhood pockets can still make it feel like the sleepy beach town it once was. In a single day, you can enjoy sea urchin fresh from the ocean with a third-generation fish purveyor, explore an organic farm that teaches school kids where their food comes from, and meet a chef who sources from both of them to create a marriage between Baja and Southern California cuisine. My favorite place to stay is The Lodge at Torrey Pines. It’s tucked away on a state reserve (walk the beach trail followed by the sage coastal scrub at the spa) and has beautiful views of the Pacific over the 18th hole of a rather famous golf course.

My favorite places to eat

1. Solace & the Moonlight Lounge: Owner Matt Gordon is passionate about using local and sustainable ingredients, and how can you not love a place that has a painting of Jeff Bridges as the Dude from the Big Lebowski over its bar? (Plus they do a wicked White Russian milkshake in his honor.)
2. Blind Lady Ale House: Excellent pizza, a massive San Diego craft beer list (beer lovers will love this town), and a lively neighborhood vibe. Cordial day drinking (usually while a street fair is going on outside) is definitely not discouraged here.
3. Yu Me Ya: I like to describe this place as “California meets Japan.” Shrimp dumplings and steaming udon are served up by two sisters from Osaka while reggae music plays all day, every day. Order the “fly me into the clouds” sake, which will do just that.

Homegrown Fusion with Food Lover Jane Bills
Homegrown Fusion with Food Lover Jane Bills

The activities not to be missed

1. 30th on 30th: On the 30th of every month, multiple restaurants in the North Park neighborhood hold what is essentially a block party on the main drag of 30th Street. Hop from place to place without actually sitting down and enjoy special appetizers, like $3 pork belly tacos and a half-pour of 30th Street Pale Ale.
2. Beach trail walk in Torrey Pines Reserve: It’s a steep climb at times but worth the ocean view and the smell of local sage at your feet. If you’re feeling ambitious, stroll toward La Jolla on a wide swath of beach (full disclosure: you may spot some nudists on your way).
3. Balboa Park: Home to the famous San Diego Zoo (baby pandas!), this 1,200-acre park just north of downtown has a theater, a carousel, a miniature railroad, and 32 museums and gardens. Plan carefully and hydrate often.

The places you should definitely see

1. Mount Soledad Memorial: 360-degree view of the city, from mountains to sea and everything in between. Afterward, shoot down the hill to Pacific Beach and stroll the funky boardwalk.
2. Cabrillo National Monument: A sweeping view of southern San Diego from its farthest point west, including Coronado Island and Mexico beyond.
3. Cardiff Kook: This much-maligned statue of a local surfer on Highway 101 is routinely decorated in different outfits to “improve” upon his looks. I think my favorite was when it looked like a giant shark was eating him.

Homegrown Fusion with Food Lover Jane Bills
Homegrown Fusion with Food Lover Jane Bills

My hidden gems

1. San Diego Botanic Garden: You’d never know there were four miles of gardens in the middle of Encinitas, including a bamboo grove and a tropical rain forest. Check out the ocean lookout point after conquering a few walking trails.
2. Del Dios Highway: This 9-mile stretch of road is a quiet oasis in the city, winding between massive rock-studded hills and along Lake Hodges to the town of Escondido.
3. Noble Experiment: This cocktail lounge is hidden, literally, behind a wall of kegs you have to push past in the restaurant Neighborhood.

The place I'm most excited to go next is Argentina. Tango always gives me the church giggles, but the grass-fed steak and Mendoza Malbec have been calling my name for too long.