Thursday, February 16, 2017



      Every Saturday morning, 8 am-1 pm, San Diegans have an opportunity to walk out on a pier and shop for the freshest local fish in town. The picturesque Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, located between Seaport Village and the US Midway, opened in 2014 to provide the consumer an opportunity to buy fresh at a lower cost than the grocery store. To make it even more interesting, the person who just recently caught the fish is manning the booth and can tell you exactly where, when, and how it was caught. They'll even tell you how to cook it, if you ask. After you make your purchase, you just walk over to the cutting booth and have it butchered just to your liking for a minimal fee. You leave with a plastic bag full of your fish and add some free ice to it on your way out.

     When a friend recently told us about his visit and how easy and cheap it was to get his fish cleaned and filleted at the cutting booth, I decided to do the same. Even a novice like me could pick out a fish, have it cleaned, and actually walk out like I knew what I was doing. Besides an early morning walk on a pier, with coffee from a nearby Starbucks, would be enjoyable regardless. As a bonus, parking at the nearby meters is free until 10 am.

     The first thing to do after arriving at the pier is to check the sign in front to see a list of this week's catch. This information is also available on their website. The options vary with the season, weather, and ocean conditions. Typically there are about twenty listed, today it included lobster, spider crab, rockfish, mahi mahi, ono (sold out), sea urchins, tuna, skipjack, and more. I understand that they sell out of popular items, which is why many people come early to shop especially the commercial buyers.

     I arrived about 8:30 am and meandered around at first looking at the available fish and enjoying views from the pier. I still had no idea which fish to choose so I just walked around and listened to everyone ask questions. Then I finally decided to make a decision. I think that I prefer the softer and flakier fish, I asked for a recommendation and decided to buy the 2 1/2 pound California sheephead ($6/lb.). The man at the booth said I could have it filleted (bones removed) which sounded good to me. However, there was a nearby customer who insisted that I cook it whole and eat part of the head. I decided I wasn't ready for that. After all, I am just a beginner who only knows how to cook salmon.

     I often order fish in restaurants, but that's pretty much limited to trout, sea bass, shrimp, and crispy cod tacos. I've always been curious about the taste of the colorful and fascinating fish you see at the markets all over the world—the ones I'm always taking photos of. I was excited to finally purchase a whole fish and give it a try. I would serve it to my family the next day (along with sausage, just in case).

     By the time I arrived at the popular cutting booth with my fish in the brown bag, there was a half-hour wait just get to the front of the line to leave the fish for cutting. After getting to the front, it was another 45 minute wait. I'm not very patient about standing in lines; however, this was more interesting than most.

Everyone had a bag with at least one tail sticking out and some were quite large. Perhaps they were planning to feed their whole neighborhood or maybe a restaurant full of people. Everyone seemed proud to talk about their purchase, favorite seafood, and, most importantly, how best to cook it. Everyone seemed to have advice, except me, of course. One guy said that it was best to smoke your fish, and to always use a thermometer because you do not want to overcook fish. The Chinese lady, with the sea urchin, was going to eat it raw. Some of the fish were still moving—you could pay extra for live fish if you wanted. The man from the east coast said that the seafood tasted much better there.
  Eventually, I was able to watch them cut my sheephead, which was interesting. (I think they were glad I wasn't giving them advice on how to do it like the guy next to me.) There were a couple large and active sea lions right below the cutting booth which provided some entertainment for those of us waiting.

      Fresh fish sandwiches were available for $12 at the Loaf & Fish booth. They looked great, but I wasn't ready for lunch yet.

     My fish was ready and I took advantage of the ice for the plastic fish bag on the way out. I walked along the waterfront to my car and decided that my visit to the fish market was a success—I had a good time. I still didn't know for sure how I would cook it. I finally decided on a Baked Lemon Sheephead recipe that I found online.

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     The final result: I liked the texture and I think it was cooked properly; however, it was too plain and just not tasty. At the end of the meal there was a piece of fish leftover, and the sausage plate was empty. The only compliment I got from the table was from my granddaughter, who said she liked the fish. Mila is already a diplomat at 2 ½. She's also lucky because the next time she stays overnight on a Friday, we're going to the fish market on Saturday morning.

Thursday, February 2, 2017



     One of the benefits of having out-of-town visitors is that it usually leads to an excursion to a place that you normally don't go. That was the case recently when our great niece came to town, and said that she would like to go to Ocean Beach. OB, as the locals call it, is a district with a “hippie” vibe that is located seven miles west of downtown. It is also home to a popular California landmark—the Ocean Beach Municipal Pier. It's the longest pier (1,971 feet) in Southern California and the second longest along the California Pacific coastline. The longest is the Santa Cruz Wharf (2,745 feet).

     A leisurely stroll along the pier was definitely on the agenda for this pleasant and sunny January afternoon. Ron dropped us off at the foot of the pier while he drove around to find parking, which is often a challenge here. Nicole, Anna, and I headed out to enjoy the spectacular views of Pacific Beach to the north and Sunset Cliffs to the south. Surf was up and there were many surfers riding the waves below. With a January ocean temperature of 59 degrees, they were geared up in wetsuits.

     The small Ocean Beach Pier Cafe is located about midway out. It hangs over the water and makes a unique stopover for a beverage or snack. At the foot of the pier are some lovely tide pools where you can find shore crabs or sea anemones at low tide.

The pier offers free fishing to everyone—no license required. Popular catches include herring (no limit), mackerel, bass, sharks, halibut, and yellowtail. There is a bait shop and restroom on the pier as well as benches to savor the view. The pier is open 24 hours a day.

     When the concrete pier was built in 1966 it's original purpose was fishing. Local fishermen needed a way to prevent their fishing lines and lures from getting tangled in the vast kelp and rock beds that lie near the surface of the water near the shore. With the construction of the Ocean Beach Pier in 1966, anglers are able to fish in 25-30 feet of water, avoiding most of the shoreline kelp and enabling them to catch species of fish that live in deeper waters.
By the time we finished our stroll Ron had found parking. Next on our tour is a drive north to La Jolla to observe the sea lions and seals on the shoreline, another popular tourist attraction.
     We were pleased that Nicole enjoyed the OB ocean pier so much so that she asked if there was another one to visit the following day. Fortunately, the Imperial Beach Pier is nearby and a pleasant seven-mile drive along the Silver Strand. The Strand is on a sandy isthmus that connects Coronado to Imperial Beach.

When we arrived at the pier, it was cool and windy, but we still headed out for a walk. The Imperial Beach Pier is the southernmost pier on the California coast and offers views of Tijuana, Mexico, and the Cuyamaca Mountains to the south. It's also one of the best places to view the Los Coronados Islands that lie eight miles northwest off the shore of Baja.California. Battered by the wind and waves, they are largely infertile and uninhabited except for a small military detachment and a few lighthouse keepers. Looking the other direction, toward the east, you can see the skyline of San Diego.

     The old wooden pier, jetting 1,500 feet into the Pacific Ocean. is a great place to observe the local fishing scene. Unfortunately, there are often advisories about contaminated water in this area due to runoff from the Tijuana River.

     The Scripps Institute of Oceanography operates a weather reporting station half way along the Imperial Beach Pier for sky condition, temperature, humidity, pressure, wind, and water data.

     We decided to cap off the end of the day with a happy hour at the Sea1Coastal Tavern(800 Seacoast Drive), a short walk away. With a spectacular view of the pier at sunset, it was a perfect way to end our time together.