San Diego: Life After The Chargers
Many American football fans couldn’t imagine living in a city that didn’t have an NFL franchise. For most of those people, it would be crushing to find out your NFL team is leaving. NFL owners would have you believe it’s a death sentence for the city you live in. The reality is, it’s not. Life moves on.
San Diego is proof of that. When the sun set on the Chargers stint in San Diego, San Diego still had their beautiful sunsets. By no means are fans happy that the Chargers left after calling the city home for 56 years. In fact, many are bitter, but at the same time, when one lives in San Diego, they are likely there to enjoy the city’s many other offerings, like the perfect year-round weather. Still, the loss of the football team has left a void to be filled in the San Diegan sports entertainment landscape.
Once summer ends, most of the tourists clear the beaches and it’s the locals’ turn to get out and enjoy their city. We took a recent trip to the SoCal paradise and got a little taste of the local culture and what sports fans do in the fall/winter after the NFL skips town.
On Sundays, the football fans can still be found at sports bars early for the 10am kickoffs. There are lots of great sports bars serving excellent local beer, but among the best places to watch football in San Diego is Wonderland Ocean Pub on Ocean Beach. It is an open-air sports bar right on the beach with spectacular views. It lessens the guilt of being inside on a beautiful day, and in those moments of angst and frustration at your team, you just simply avert your eyes away from the tv and see the Pacific Ocean steady rolling in on the beach soothing your irrational emotions. You often catch yourself staring out the window for minutes at a time, only to realize the game you're watching is back on and you missed four or five plays. It's not even annoying, because the environment is so relaxing.
The Pub serves excellent bar fare. Brunch is a standard American menu with some Mexican and Hawaiian inspired dishes in the mix. The Bloody Maria (that’s a Bloody Mary with tequila instead of vodka) is amazing, and garnished with a thick piece of bacon, now that's breakfast. The beer menu has a good selection of local and west coast craft beers. We're not going to beat you over the head with how good the local beer scene is, but you should definitely try all that you safely can while in San Diego. If you enjoy beer, drink local when you travel. At worst, you’ve tried something new, at best you found something you love and it provides a particular taste to your journey.
Just outside Wonderland Ocean Pub is the Ocean Beach Pier. Here you can find some of the best surf in San Diego and while we were there, there were plenty of black wet suits with their boards bobbing in the water, waiting for their moment to drop in. The pier provides a great vantage point for sunsets and watching the surfers ride their waves in or wipe out. Because of it’s accessibility, this is a great place for beginners and out-of-towners to get into the local surf scene.
If spectating is more your thing, there are surfing competitions year round in San Diego put on by many different organizations. North of San Diego, in Oceanside, not to be confused with Ocean Beach, is a popular spot for these events due to its long stretch of beach with world-class waves. The World Surf League holds the Supergirl Pro here as apart of their Women’s Qualifying Series in July. But, the biggest surf competition in the area happens even farther north at the Lower Trestles in San Clemente where the Men’s and Women’s Championship Tours hold their respective Hurley Pro and Swatch Pro events in September. These are critical events in their seasons where all the top professionals in the world come out and put on a show.
Because of San Diego’s climate and geography, it is one of only a few major cities in America that can host world-class surfing and sailing. Sailing, like surfing, has a very insular culture surrounding it, but unlike surfing, has never had the mainstream appeal. It can be very difficult to understand and follow, and is typically tough to watch unless you have a boat that can get closer to the action.
The Extreme Sailing Series at Harbor Park in San Diego was none of these. If you’re not familiar with the Extreme Sailing Series, as we weren’t until recently, it is a global racing circuit consisting of eight regattas from March through December that features the top professional teams on GC32 catamarans. It is the perfect introduction to sailing for the uneducated. The San Diego event was free to attend, as they all are. Whether sitting in the bleachers, the VIP hospitality tents, or just in the grass of the park, everyone had a great view of the action, even when the boats were on the far side of the course across the harbor. The PA announcers, Katy Nastro, Steve Lewondowski and Brooks Clark, were excellent at explaining the rules and strategy in a very clear and understandable manner as they called the action.
We won’t bore you with the competition rules, you can look those up here, but the event itself was surprisingly entertaining. These boats can move, and when they’re really going or banking a turn hard, it’s incredible to see how high they rise out of the water. One thing that we were probably secretly hoping for, but didn’t think would really happen until it did, were the collisions. They’re not frequent, but it’s sure to happen given the space in which these teams have to operate on the course. Seeing how these boatmen can maneuver their vessels in such tight quarters is extremely impressive.
Throughout the year, the local yacht clubs hold their own regattas, and you can check their schedules here. Sailing is a niche sport, even in a coastal city like San Diego, but worth checking out if the timing of your visit lines up right with an event.
After the Padres, the biggest major sporting attraction in San Diego is their minor league hockey team, the Gulls. From October to April, the Gulls draw an average of 8,000 fans to their games at the Valley View Casino Center. At that rate, their total attendance will exceed the Chargers in LA this season, but we truly believe part of the Gulls appeal for San Diegans is so they can be reminded what cold feels like.
Tickets range from $20-100, making it a very affordable outing, and they often hold a post-game skate for fans to come down to the ice for only $5, which is awesome. The beauty of minor league sporting events is that the teams make a real effort to make the event worth your time and money, and the Gulls certainly spare no expense. Their arena is within walking distance of Modern Times Beer Company, which made our list of favorite breweries to pregame at.
All in all, the San Diego sports scene still offers a ton of entertainment value; it just doesn’t have the national appeal that an NFL team brings. In lieu of that, they may actually have the best value for their sporting events, considering most sailing and surfing events are free, and the Gulls and Padres have very affordable tickets.