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My SoCal Life: ‘Trying slow’ in San Diego

Illustration by Alexia Lozano

I lived in San Francisco and New York for years and got around mostly on foot. That would change, I knew, when I moved to San Diego. After all, the city is riven by freeways, public transportation is limited, and I had kids to shuttle to school and appointments. Besides, San Diego wasn’t that far from a bigger city immortalized in the ’80s song lyric “Nobody walks in L.A.”

But we chose our home between North Park and Normal Heights because it seemed particularly walkable. Whatever our whim, we can stroll to a business that will indulge it: yoga studios, a matcha spot with ashwagandha add-ons, a Moroccan taco joint, a public pool, a bougie Mexican gift shop, and even a drag queen club. I often walk to the farmers market, the library, and the pet store. I enjoy these strolls and have made it a mission to walk even more.

Our house is bound by a triangle of freeways, yet even as I stroll across overpasses and busy thoroughfares, I encounter unexpected beauty: an older fellow in a Tesla bobbing his head to reggaeton, a teenager lugging a stack of homemade flour tortillas from a local market, and a self-proclaimed “sit-down comedian” who, while in a wheelchair outside a craft ice creamery, makes passersby giggle.

On days when I drive my kids across town for school or soccer, I often park my car and walk those neighborhoods. In Golden Hill, I encounter dog walkers and power-pacers among the jacarandas, Moreton Bay figs, and other shady stretches of Balboa Park.

When the sun becomes too much, I, too, seek shaded areas—a commercial stretch of South Park, for example, with a bookshop, open-air cafés, and boutiques. Some days I wander under the freeway overpasses (and amid the stunning murals) of Chicano Park.

Thanks to the coastal fog in Ocean Beach, I often wander farther than I’d planned to go. I’ll amble from Dog Beach to Sunset Cliffs and spot artists hawking crystals, Marines eating fish tacos alfresco, and young and old yogis on the sandstone bluffs. Being out and about—and on foot—gives me the chance to more fully appreciate San Diego’s diverse people and neighborhoods.

Then one day I had a crazy idea: to walk with my 2 boys from our neighborhood in North Park all the way to La Jolla and back—roughly 27 miles round-trip if you follow a direct route, which we didn’t. I even planned a few overnight hotel stays.

Sure enough, that walk, too, allowed us the chance to really pay attention to the details around us, including a Kobe Bryant mural on a liquor store and a lone dandelion sprouting through a crack in the concrete.

On the coast, we passed mansions with sprawling lawns and Teslas parked outside, and then old beach shacks.

One had a cardboard sign out front that proclaimed, “Try Slow.” Amid Southern California’s frenetic pace, this message seemed downright radical. It often goes unheeded. Yet trying slow—in my case, by walking as much as possible—has given me a new appreciation of this region I now proudly call home.

Michele Bigley’s writing has appeared in Afar, the New York Times, and Wired.

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