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Column: San Diegans can be tourists, too. Here are 4 ways to your perfect San Diego summer

(Sam Antonio Photography / Getty Images )

A Liberty Station morning and a San Diego Zoo night make summers in San Diego memorable all year long

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It’s (almost) official! As of June 21, it is really and truly summer. June Gloom or no June Gloom.

I’m not sure what the arrival of the summer solstice means to my fellow Northern Hemisphere dwellers, but I know what it means for me. It means the beginning of a San Diego summer filled with all my treasured San Diego summer pastimes.

From drinking at a museum to hanging out with some real party animals, here are few of my favorite San Diego summer things. Here’s to the joy of being a tourist in the place we call home.

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Friends with Crystal Pier benefits

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes the yearly arrival of out-of-town visitors to get this San Diegan off her local’s high horse and onto a deck at the Crystal Pier Hotel & Cottages.

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Every year, our Las Vegas friends Howard and Valorie make their months-in-advance reservations for their July Fourth stay, and every year, my husband and I get to mosey on down to Pacific Beach to celebrate our decades of friendship in a singular spot that will turn even a blasé almost-native into a bug-eyed tourist. Because someone built a hotel on a pier! And we’re staying there! Sort of!

While members of the summer masses swarm the beach and the boardwalk in search of towel space and a place in the endless Kono’s Cafe breakfast line, we kick back on their patio overlooking the sand and the ocean, reminisce about our broke college-student days and luxuriate in a view of the sand and the sea that is as ageless as we like to think we are. To beat the traffic, my husband and I will have to head home long before sunset. But our Crystal Pier glow won’t be going anywhere.

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Liberty Station mornings

With San Diego Bay, the San Diego International Airport and the San Diego downtown skyline as a backdrop, a visitor to Liberty Station jogs along a path that runs along San Diego Bay, January 7, 2020.
(Howard Lipin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Because it is in San Diego, Liberty Station in Point Loma is perfectly lovely all year round. Whether you want hot wings in August or ice-skating in December, Liberty Station and its collection of shops and restaurants will provide.

But I love Liberty Station the most on a weekend morning in the summer, when the combination of fresh air, food and a little retail therapy is exactly what the 9-to-5 doctor ordered.

With the bay breezes keeping things cool(ish), I can burn off my breakfast (Le Parfait Paris chocolate croissant, WestBean Coffee Roasters salted-caramel latte) with a long walk along the waterfront. Then it is off to Pigment, where I will stock up on beachy-smelling candles for my landlocked home, followed by a stop at Baker & Olive for fancy oils and vinegars to brighten up the salads I will be eating at my desk for the rest of my life.

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And I will do all of this before the grazing lunchtime hoards arrive, along with the heat. Do I reward myself with some Le Parfait macarons to go? I am not at liberty to say.

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Night at the museum

(Stacy Keck/San Diego Natural History Museum)

Back for the first time since 2019, the San Diego Natural History Museum’s “Nat at Night” should rocket right to the top of your 2022 summer-must list. Allow me to catalog the reasons why.

During Nat at Night, which happens on Fridays through Sept. 2, the museum is open until 10 p.m., with half-price admission after 4 p.m. Half-price dinosaurs, fossils, scorpions and the new “Expedition Baja” exhibition. Oh my!

So there’s that. Also on Nat at Night Fridays, the museum’s rooftop patio is open for beer, wine, non-alcoholic drinks and yummy small plates from the locally owned Wolf in the Woods restaurant in Mission Hills. All of which you can enjoy while getting a view of Balboa Park that you’ll want to preserve in resin and keep forever.

The popular trivia nights — which were virtual in 2020 — return for in-person competition in July. But if you are at the San Diego Natural History Museum on a Friday night with a beverage in your hand and Balboa Park at your feet, you’re a winner already. Cheers, my lucky friends.

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San Diego Zoo evenings

(San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance)

Who belongs in the Summertime Zoo? If your answer is “tourists” and “masochists,” you are not wrong. But your timing might be.

During the summer, the San Diego Zoo becomes the Nighttime Zoo. Through Sept. 5, the Zoo is open from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m., except for today, when it closes at 5 p.m. for a special event. And as the day turns to night, the Zoo becomes a whole different animal.

Thanks to appearances by the Rock & Roar band, the Africa Beat musicians and dancers, and other specialty acts, the Nighttime Zoo has an infectious party vibe. And as the daytime crowds start to stream out, there is actually enough room to shake your hips while you finish off that churro. Just make sure you save some energy for Jambo Dunia!, the twice-nightly interactive parade featuring dancers, acrobats and some amazing puppets.

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But for me, the best thing about the Nighttime Zoo is the chance to see how the animals change as the sun goes down. Who gets more active? Who mellows out? Who comes out of hiding? Who hunkers down for the night? Not all of the enclosures are lit for evening viewing, so keep an eye on those shadows. Your new best animal friend might be right under your nose.

And if you hear a roar from one of the lions, it might sound like “Good night,” but during your San Diego summer, it really means, “Let’s get this party started.”

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