Thursday, July 13, 2006

Geeks Guide to San Diego

When I first moved to San Diego the summer of 2004 I stumbled around with what exactly to do in a new city. Now after almost two years of living here I feel I have a solid grasp on where to go for things that I like to do. Of course, if you haven't figured it out yet I'm a geek, so these this is a guide to the geekier things you'll find in America's Finest City.

1. Electronics

After years of reading Penny-Arcade and other tech sites I'd heard about Fry's and it's electronic utopia. With miles of aisles stocked full with everything a geek craves, computers, video games, music, movies, book, etc. With the free time abound due to looking for a new job I looked up the nearest location and found it near Aero Road off the I-15.

Don't Go There. It's crap, absolute rubbish. I mean, it did have all the promised goodies, but I was expecting gleaming halls and a monument of pure techno-utopianism. Instead I was faced with a dreary warehouse looking store that had a shambly and disorganized look about it.

Over a year later, my enthusiasm for Fry's diminished, on our way back from somewhere my girlfriend suggested we stop off at Fry's to get some Christmas gifts. I was confused since we were in North country near San Marcos and not near the Fry's I despise.

We arrived and it was a gift from the Gods themselves. Two giant obelisk towered on each side of the entrance, huge Jacob Ladders inside humming their plasma arcs audibly humming with the electricity providing their life. Inside it has a theme of Atlantis, massive fish tanks filled with huge fish and even sharks. Statues of men in old diving gear gazed upon the pristine aisles of geek marrow and I knew that all the stories were true. Fry's was rock awesome, not only the best presented store I've ever had the pleasure of walking into, but also it's never let me down in my search for some rare connector or piece of hardware.

To make a long story short, don't go to the Fry's in San Diego off Aero road. Spare yourself the agony and spend the extra half hour going up to San Marcos.

The UCSD bookstore also has some good deals on hardware, specifically Apple, since the student discount that's included in the price and you don't have to show a student ID.

The Geek Exit

Occasionally the forces of the universe combine and create a single point multi-disciplinary geekdom. One such example of this is the Clairemont Mesa Blvd exit off the 805 freeway. The next four geek retailers are within a mile of this exit.

2. Comics

The first, on the West side, is Comickaze which sells a variety of major label comics, manga, and assorted collectibles. The store itself isn't impressive in a rational sense, but it appeals to those who enjoy the disorganized and randomness of the comic book geek stereotype. The racks are liad out haphazardly and usually books from labels are kept together, although sometimes you have to dig around until you find what you're looking for.

The store always has some sort of clutter, whether it's the random storage boxes next to the check-out counter or a rack from Free Comic Book Day blocking the way to the collectible section. The employees are generally helpful and occasionally you can catch some authors chatting it up with them or guys who are absurdly into comics boasting about their latest 40,000 book acquisition.

They don't carry much rare or back issues, but you can always find the latest and greatest on the "new" racks near the back left of the store. Their hours vary, usually 11am-9pm, but you'll want to check out the Google local page since their outdated web page doesn't have them.

3. Boardgames

Although I didn't know this till recently geeks love boardgames, and as I expanded my interests here in San Diego I realized that boardgames are something I always liked but never put any energy into. The games now-a-days are a far cry from the simplistic (yet still fun) rules of Monopoly, Operation, Sorry!, and others from my childhood.

The Settlers of Catan started my fascination my senior year of college and I haven't stopped since. Enjoying a variety of new and different types, like Carcassonne, Lost Cities, Captain Treasure Boots, and more. There's even an entire website dedicated to them, with reviews, commentary and alternative modes of play.

Game Empire, East of the highway, has a ton of games, model supplies, a knowledgeable staff, and a large game room that always seems filled with people playing some sort of war or D&D game. Their stock is fleshed out well, although sometimes they're lacking specific titles, all the major ones are there. Almost half their stock is for Warhammer 40k and other wargames, including models, terrain material, paint, and other building supplies.

As much as I like supporting local businesses, Wal-Mart is within walking distance of the store and if you're looking to pick up a more common game and it's too expensive at GE I'd recommend heading there.

4. Music

Although not a whole lot of geeks play guitar, right across from Game Empire is Guitar Trader that specializes in buying and selling used equipment. The store is packed with anything you'll need, and although their music section could stand to have more selection the rest of the store is solid.

Lou's Records
(Not off the Geek Exit) is an awesome used and new music store tucked up in Encinitas along Pacific Coast Highway. There are two buildings, one for used wares and the other for newer stuff. It carries a good selection of vinyl, cds, and cassettes arranged in catagories from Indie, Hardcore, Pop, Trance and other electic genres. Every Saturday is Free Stuff Saturday and you can get demo cds, stickers, posters, and an assorsement of other swag. Look near the front for the top 20 albums of the week and employee picks for new stuff you may not have heard before. They also have their catalog in a database system that you can search. Sign up for their newsletter by email to get a weekly run down on almost every music related events in San Diego.

5. Books

A few storefronts down from Game Empire is the Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore. I went in it once to check it out and it was completely full of fantasy and sci-fi novels of every type. The prices seemed reasonable and for someone trying to track down a less popular series that larger book chains don't carry I'm sure they have it. From their web page they seem to have a lot of events and author signings as well.

There are probably a host of other more geek friendly bookstores in the city but I either use Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or the UCSD Bookstore for the majority of my purchases.

6. Beer

Geeks love beer, and fortunately San Diego has a large micro-brewery culture many you can find in stores and specialty brew pubs.

Stone Brewery is probably the best known outside of the city, with Arrogant Bastard Ale making a name for itself across the country. They also produce and excellent IPA and Smoked Porter as well as special one time brews. They are located in North county and provide tours as well as a gift shop.

Karl Strauss
is well known in California but may not have much clout outside the Western United States (I don't know this for sure). They not only sell in stores but they also have their own chain of restaurants throughout the county. My favorite by far is tucked away in Sorrento Valley in the middle of a business park. The building was a Japanese place so the architecture and garden have a very Zen feel to it. They also sponsor various concerts and events throughout the year. Give their Red Trolley, Woodie Pale Ale, and Amber Lager a try.

There are many other local San Diego micro-brews that you'll find in stores throughout the county. Check out the Beer Advocates Guide to San Diego to find more information.

The city has tons of local bars and pubs to enjoy . My particular favorites are, Pizza Port (excellent pizza), The Oul Sod (authentic Irish pub), The Field (another Irish pub but with food too), The Wits End (for the intellectual), PB Bar and Grill (sports and beach), and The USCD Pub (good prices and student atmosphere).

7. Movies

Out of the all of the places to see a movie in the area, four stand out as a cut above the rest.

The first is Edwards Cinemas 16 in Mira Mesa, and is your standard huge megaplex with stadium seating, multiple concession stands and a expensive tickets. I normally go there to see movies I know I don't want to miss on the big screen.

Secondly is the AMC La Jolla 12 mostly because it's close to my house but also they have the added catch of allowing you to bring outside food in. The location of the theatre is in a small mall like complex which gives you a variety of eateries, from burritos, deli sandwiches, pizza, and even sushi. If you have a current or expired ID use it to get a MovieWatcher card to get a discount on your ticket and eventually it'll acquire points and start getting discounts or free coupons for the concession stand.

The La Jolla Landmark is great for independent film lover, and is located right across the street from the AMC La Jolla 12 (there is also one in Hillcrest). The Hillcrest location is a bit nicer, but they both have that gritty personal quality to them. Every Friday at midnight they have a special showing of a cult or popular geek movie, which includes trivia before the show starts, people dressed up, and all sorts of other festivities.

Cinema Under the Stars is a unique open air theatre with "zero-gravity" chairs that suspend you while you watch old or cult films. Right next door is an excellent BBQ place as well.

8. Videogames

Almost any electronic retailer sells videogames so there's not specific place to go to satisfy your addiction, but there is one area in San Diego that happens to have two great stores across the street from each other. They're you're common Gamespot and Electronic Boutique, but the Gamespot seems to have an unusual amount of quality used wares. I normally run there if I'm trying to find a used title and if they don't have it, my chances of obtaining it are increased by quickly checking out the EB across the street.

They are located in opposite shopping plazas at the cross street of Mira Mesa Blvd and Reagen Road.

9. Cons

San Diego is lucky enough to become the geek Mecca every July with Comic-Con International downtown. The convention gets larger every year, originally starting as just a comic show but over the last few years it's morphed into movies, videogames, fantasy, sci-fi, and just about anything geeky you can imagine. It runs for four days near the end of July and always guarantees plenty of panels and speakers. In addition the amount of free swag is plentiful and you definitely get your moneys worth for the cost of admission.

By far one of the most popular convention in the country is the Electronic Entertainment Expo also known as E3. It doesn't take place in San Diego, but in LA which is only an hour or two drive (depending on traffic) North. I've never actually been but you can always find more info on their website.

San Diego like most major metropolitian areas has a yearly Renaissance Faire held in Balboa Park in August. I've never been there myself but I plan to check it out this summer.

10. Sushi

I'm not a huge fan of raw fish myself (although I'm getting used to it), but a lot of geeks I know love it. In San Diego there is no "best sushi place in the city" since everyone one I know who likes it claims that their favorite place is absolutely the best. I'll have to agree, everyone I've gone to has their own style and menu selection and I've liked them all. Some tend to be pricier and others tend to take a while due to a crowd, but they're everywhere so just find and give it a shot, due to the proximity of the sea your raw fish will be fresh and tasty as the next place.