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San Diego: The Next Hot Art City?

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Most beach towns don’t pride themselves on their art scene, but San Diego is working to defy expectations. September is Arts Month in the city, and Dena Rochwerger-Braun, our fit globetrotter, puts aside her beachside athletics to explore the city’s artistic side.

Ah, San Diego: dream weather, sun-kissed beaches and a thriving arts scene? With its coastal location and ideal year-round temperatures, visitors have flocked to San Diego in search of fun and sun for years, but dig deeper and you’ll find cultural offerings rivaling any big city that make for a new way to experience the town.

Gaslamp Quarter

US Grant Hotel. Credit: US Grant

Art lovers must book a room at the historic U.S. Grant Hotel, in the Gaslamp Quarter. Built in 1910, this iconic hotel boasts a fantastic location and, more importantly, a $6.5 million art collection featuring European, U.S. and Native American artists. There are sculptures, paintings, murals and ironwork scattered throughout the 11-story hotel. Art is indeed everywhere––each of the 270 rooms and 47 suites features a custom Yves Clement drip painting headboard valued at $10,000-$15,000 each. Located within the hotel is the Celebration Fine Art gallery focused on sculptures, paintings, ceramics and glass by artists like Fredrick Hart, Tomasz Rut and Karen Ehart.

The Gaslamp Quarter is known for its restaurant and bar scene, but nestled within are several art galleries. On 4th Avenue you’ll find the work of eclectic artist Tim Cantor. Known for paintings featuring vibrant colors that have a Dali influence, Cantor’s work has been featured in worldwide exhibitions, with one of his paintings decorating a wall in the White House. Cantor, a painter since age five, creates most of his masterpieces in the dead of the night and includes an accompanying poem with each piece. On the main drag (5th Avenue) you’ll find Exclusive Collections Gallerywhich features the works of emerging and established artists like Asencio, David Bruce and Tom Boyd.

SLEEPING BEAUTY WAKES, McCarter Theatre April 29 - June 5, 2011 Book by Rachel Sheinkin. Music by Brendan Milburn. Photo credit by T. Charles Erickson.

While there are no shortage of restaurants in the Gaslamp, foodies will want to return to the hotel and its Grant Grill, an Art Deco style restaurant dating back to 1951. Today the menu is a tribute to California cuisine, with a focus on local produce, Pacific seafood and sustainable meats. Both Chef de Cuisine Chris Kurth, and in-house Mixologist Jeff Josenhans, utilize the rare herbs, fruits, vegetables and flowers grown on the hotel’s rooftop garden.

After dinner, head across the street to the San Diego Repertory Theatre to take in a show, or go to Anthology to hear some of the best jazz in the city.

Little Italy

Little Italy. Credit Brett Shoaf, Artistic Visuals

Little Italy has a quaint, neighborhood feel and is home to several interesting art galleries. Up the street from Influx find the small Mee Shim Gallery. A South Korean American artist, Shim wrestles with the two different cultures in her work. She has exhibited extensively in the Midwest, and hotelier Steve Wynn owns one of her pieces. The best known gallery in the area is Scott White Contemporary Art  which focuses on emerging and mid-career artists, whose work hangs in museums throughout the world. The gallery also offers pieces from private collections that include legendary artists like Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko and William de Kooning. Noel-Baza Fine Art offers an eclectic range of mid-career artists and 20th century masters. In April, Little Italy hosts a free weekend art festival, and if you’re lucky enough to be visiting on a Saturday, don’t miss the morning farmer’s market.

La Jolla

The coastal community of La Jolla is to San Diego what Beverly Hills is to Los Angeles. La Jolla Village is a 20 minute drive out of downtown and has some different experiences for art lovers. Prospect Street is where to head to amble in and out of a variety of galleries. The Monarch Gallery is a 30-year, family-owned business featuring internationally recognized artists including Hessam Abrishami and Tuan. Fitting for the area, Martin-Lawrence Galleries offers works by world famous artists like Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and even Rembrandt. Further along Prospect is the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, which is dedicated to all types of art created after 1950.

One of the jewels of La Jolla is its Tony-Award winning La Jolla Playhouse. Founded in 1947 by Gregory Peck and friends, its three theaters reside on the University of California, San Diego campus. As one of the most prestigious theaters in the country, playhouse productions attract powerhouse casts that result in innovative, well-acted shows. Many of the Broadway classics we know and love got their start at the La Jolla Playhouse including Jersey Boys, Memphis and Thoroughly Modern Millie.

While on the campus, take time for a self-guided tour of the Stuart Collection, 18 site-specific sculptures scattered throughout UCSD. From the whimsical Bear by Tim Hawkinson and Red Shoe by Elizabeth Murray to Alexis Smith’s Snake Path and Bruce Nauman’s Vices and Virtues, which are woven into the campus buildings and infrastructure, the collection offers something for every taste while giving visitors a chance to interact with art in nature. Make sure to download a map, or the app for your iPhone before heading out because the sculptures are scattered throughout campus.

Marine Room, San Diego

Marine Room, San Diego. Credit Marine Room

The perfect end to a day in La Jolla is dinner at the storied Marine Room. This 70-year old restaurant located on the beach has won many awards and accolades, and with its views of the crashing surf and sunset, is considered the most romantic restaurant in San Diego. While the views are stunning, it’s the food that will make this one of the most memorable meals you’ll have. Executive Chef Bernard Guillas is one of only 204 Maitres Cuisiniers de France (Master Chefs of France) in the world, and the only one in San Diego. His classical training and his passion for food is evident in his seafood driven menu. Start with the Ocean Trilogy Tasting featuring delectable bites of vanilla lobster with Spanish trout caviar, tuna tartare in a sesame cone and pompano sashimi with lemon myrtle, or try one of the best mushroom dishes you’ll ever sample in the Skillet Roasted Forest Mushroom Casserole. The Leek Dill Pollen Coated Alaskan Halibut is a perfect representation of Chef Guillas skill with seafood. Allow Advanced Sommelier Lisa Redwine (yes, that’s her real last name!) to select a wine for each course, and you’ll have a meal that is a true work of art.

Dena Rochwerger-Braun, aka, The Fitglobetrotter, covers luxury, wellness and spa travel worldwide. Her work has appeared in Spa Magazine, Robb Report, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons and Bridal Guide. Follow her travels and travel tips on Twitter @fitglobetrotter

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