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Ecotourism in San Diego, Part 2

San Diego Farmers' Markets

Beyond the bicycling, ocean kayaking and whale watching that my family and I enjoyed on an ecotourism sojourn to San Diego (see Ecotourism in San Diego Part 1), the city is home to a couple authentic farm-to-table restaurants and has a few places where you can spend the night in comfortable, and green, accommodations. 

Our family found the abundance of farmers’ markets ideal in preparing our own meals at our rented beach house along the Mission Beach boardwalk, a place that came with three beach cruisers for our use.

Farm Fresh

Surprisingly, the San Diego area is home to one of the largest collections of small farms in any county in America.  Credit this to both the high cost of land and near ideal growing climate – year round. Many farms are able to harvest crops every day of the year, choosing to grow high value food crops instead of commodities. 

As a result, San Diego offers a farmers’ market on nearly every day of the week.  With the robust cottage food laws in California, there’s also an abundance of artisanal food products from hand-crafted breads to desserts, plus plenty of options for gluten-free baked goods (more on this in a future blog!).

Like the various neighborhoods in the city, each farmers’ market tends to have a vibe of its own.  In Ocean Beach, the evening market is as much a party as it is a place to shop for your week’s provisions.  From poi spinners and blues concerts to long-haired hippies walking around in bare feet, it’s a place to chill out. 

Food vendors cooking at Hillcrest Farmers' Market 

At the Sunday morning Hillcrest Farmers’ Market, come hungry; numerous food vendors entice you with unique ethnic dishes, decadent desserts, even smoked fish.  La Jolla’s Farmers’ Market located in this upscale community north of San Diego includes a large area of crafts and art as well as food purveyors, along with farmstands overflowing with fresh fruits, vegetables and other items.

There are plenty of culinary festivals, too.  Our favorite was the San Diego Fermentation Festival held at Coastal Roots Farm, north of San Diego.  Under various tents, we packed our own jar of vegetables to ferment, learned more about the rich microbial world of our own bodies from Dr. Rob Knight with the American Gut Project, and sampled and sipped a huge selection of fermented products, from cheese, yogurt and chocolate to wine, beer and mead.

Red Door chef with fresh produce from restaurant's own farm 

Farm-to-Table Feasts

“The menu and cuisine is often chef driven at restaurants, but I believe it should be farmer driven” comments Miguel Valdez, Executive Chef for The Red Door Restaurant and Wine Bar, located in the Mission Hills neighborhood, without a doubt the premier farm-to-table restaurant in the city.  “It should be based on what’s locally and seasonally available.”

It took just a couple bites for us to understand what he means when it comes to the taste and flavor.  We savored his nut brown ale battered radishes with a chipotle dipping sauce, Catalina Offshore fresh catch with fried garden kale, candied carrots and roasted beet puree with micro greens, and garden herbed gnocchi with butternut squash pomodora sauce. (Try it yourself with the chef’s recipe shared in my previous article).

“It’s a new game every single week,” echoes co-owner Trish Watlington, when we toured the roughly half-acre mini-farm that’s based at her home in nearby La Mesa.  She works closely with her chef to harvest more than 6,000 pounds of vegetables, small fruits and herbs every year for use in the creative dishes that Valdez comes up with.  Their menu selections are made from scratch and stock prepared from their vegetables.  Chef Valdez has been known to create noodles from turnips to go with their sustainably-sourced short ribs.  Besides the owners’ farm, The Red Door has more than eighteen local partners they turn to for fish, poultry, meats and a wide selection of other artisanal products. 

We didn’t forget to hit a taco shop to sample “Cali-Baja,” the name associated with the unique fusion of Californian and Mexican cuisine found in San Diego.  Puesto does it better than most, with tacos that sing with flavor and color.  We loved their chicken verde with crispy melted cheese, jalapeno tomatillo sauce, caramelized onion and Serrano tinga verde, avacado and cilantro.   Each taco is made from scratch (it’s worth the wait), with ingredients sourced locally from certified-organic Point Loma Farms, Tuna Harbor Dockside Market for local, freshly caught fish for their ceviche and special tacos, as well as Catalina Offshore for other fish tacos.

Green Lodging

San Diego’s only LEED certified boutique hotel, Hotel Indigo, is located near the hopping Gaslamp Quarter with its restaurants, shopping and nightlife, plus walking or pedal-powered rickshaw distance from other major attractions along the downtown waterfront. The hip hotel sports a couple green roofs, water conservation initiatives and, of course, recycling.

With their electric vehicle charging stations (free to guests), Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa is another option, albeit at the higher end of luxury.  LED lighting is used throughout the lush 10-acre property with ranchero-style buildings.  Water and energy-conserving initiatives employ motion sensors.  Landscaping exclusively uses reclaimed water and removed greenery is mulched.  Even their cooking oil is turned into biodiesel.

For us, being ecotravelers means blending in and living as the locals do.  Walk.  Bike.  Savor a glass of local mead from the Golden Coast Mead (more on these amazing folks in a future blog) as the sunsets over the Pacific Ocean.  And what better way to fit in than to rent a beach cottage or house along the boardwalk the stretches from Pacific Beach to Mission Beach.  Ditch the car and hop on a skateboard or your beach cruiser to get around.  

Beach and Bayside Vacations offer a wide range of weekly and long-term rentals that, while not powered by the sun, still afford the opportunity to make your own meals and, for many of the simply furnished units, provides access to free bikes to get around without getting behind the wheel.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine. Read all of John's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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