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Bound for Glory?

Memo to all visitors: Toss that official San Diego tourist guide and try ours instead. Think bohemian.


SAN DIEGO — During the televised portions of the Republican National Convention on Aug. 12-15, you'll probably see the tourism-friendly side of San Diego--the beautiful new waterfront Convention Center, Sea World, the San Diego Zoo, the beaches and Balboa Park.

Here we have compiled for you a completely subjective list of alternative San Diego--the spots you might not see on TV, but ones that give a hint of the true flavor of America's Finest City.

So whether you go this week or later, keep in mind that the San Diego area has five main night-life areas to check out: the Gaslamp Quarter downtown (bustling with restaurants, bars and live music venues), the Garnet Avenue strip in Pacific Beach (the Melrose Avenue of San Diego), La Jolla's Prospect Avenue (an upscale dining and shopping mecca), Tijuana's Aveneda Revolucion (where it's always spring break) and Tijuana's Zona Rio (where upscale Mexicans party in world-class clubs).

Here are a few other places to consider:

* Behind the Post Office boutique, 801 F St., downtown, (619) 234-3862. More than a streetwear boutique, this 1,800-square-foot brick-walled shop has become the epicenter of San Diego's new counterculture--a place where young people come to listen to local deejays such as Greyboy, buy vinyl dance music, hear poetry and see photography and graffiti art in this airy building.

Established in 1991 behind the downtown post office, the shop also features vintage clothes and local streetwear labels such as Tribal Gear and Ton Clothing. Owner Michael Pringle, 28, also founded the on-and-off 432f streetwear convention--the alternative to the more mainstream Action Sports Retailer convention held each summer downtown. Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.

* Big Kitchen, 3003 Grape St., San Diego (Golden Hill), (619) 234-5789. This daily breakfast and lunch spot is a bohemian gathering place complete with a Jerry Garcia photo illustration and El Salvadoran art. During the convention, owner Judy Forman is holding nightly fund-raisers for such causes as the Peace Resource Center, the Native American Health Clinic and the Big Kitchen Endowment for the Arts. And in the wake of the Republicans' bash, she plans to organize a "cleansing of the Convention Center" on Aug. 18 that will include the burning of sage and the beating of drums outside the waterfront center. Open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday; 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

* Cafe Lu Lu, 419 F St., downtown, (619) 238-0114. After the downtown clubs close at 2 a.m. on the weekends, this is the place to be (at least till closing time at 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; it opens at 9 a.m. daily and closes at 1 a.m. the rest of the week). Lu Lu's concrete floors, velvet seats, club music and strong Italian blends of coffee attract a standing-room-only crowd on Friday and Saturday nights and a line that wraps next to the sidewalk tables. Come earlier and find a small but select list of microbrewery beers and California wines.

* Cafe Sevilla, 555 Fourth Ave., downtown, (619) 233-5979. Home to "San Diego's oldest underground club," this bi-level hot spot features Spanish cuisine and tapas prepared by a French chef upstairs, and a nightly array of entertainment in the basement--from the long-running house music mecca, Wednesday night's Club 555, to live Salsa on Thursday nights (including dance lessons at 8 p.m.) and deejay-spun dance music on the weekends. Housed in a local landmark built in 1910, Cafe Sevilla is open from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily and features late-night dining.

* Centro Cultural de la Raza, 2004 Park Blvd., San Diego (Balboa Park), (619) 235-6135. This Chicano art space was established 25 years ago, amid political controversy, in an abandoned concrete water tank in Balboa Park. Today, the Centro Cultural, covered on the outside with bright murals, is a mainstay of Chicano art in Southern California. Just in time for the convention, Centro Cultural is presenting "GOP: Graficas, Obras, Politicas," an exhibition of political cartoons. And on Tuesday and Wednesday, the center will present an original play about affirmative action, "How Far We've Come" (show time at 7:30 p.m.; admission is $6, $4 for members, students and seniors). The exhibition space is open from noon to 5 p.m., Thursday through Sunday.

* Gaslamp Tobacco Shoppe, 428 G St., downtown, (619) 239-5272. Established in 1974 (it moved here six years ago), Gaslamp Tobacco is a rare business in these parts that retains the funky, down-to-earth vibe of the downtown of old. Here, along with a large selection of cigars (including top makers such as Arturo Fuente), you'll find a range of imported cigarettes (Indian beedies to French Cauloises) and pipe tobacco--all available in a space the size of a large bathroom and served by the owner himself, who is often holed up behind secure plexiglass. Open 9 a.m. to 2 or 3 p.m., depending on business.

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