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Staff Picks: Our Favorite Articles of 2023

We asked our team to choose the best stories of the year—here are their picks
Jacumba Hot Springs Hotel
Photo Credit: Johanna Siring

This year was a monumental one for San Diego Magazine. In addition to publishing memorably fun and interesting work throughout the year, we celebrated SDM’s 75th birthday. All year long, our team has been reminded of what an honor it is to be here, stewarding this magazine into its next chapter and celebrating this milestone.

After three-quarters of a century, SDM is entering a new iteration. We’re weirder, funnier, more engaging, and smart as ever. And we’re committed to covering this dynamic border region—the people, the food, the culture, the stories—in all its complex, expensive beauty.

In 2023 we published some phenomenal stories. Here are a few handfuls of our faves, chosen by SDM staff:

San Diego Mag, 75th anniversary cover
Photo Credit: Matt Furman

Behind the Scenes of Our 75th Anniversary Cover Shoot

This shoot, and the issue it appeared in, editorially solidified something here at SDM. We’re constantly making cool, interesting work for our region. Case in point: We asked the community to help us find cover models in their 70s. We wanted to honor how cool it is to be 75-years-young, while also nodding to the future.

We invited the incredible models we found to join us at the legendary Turf Supper Club in Golden Hill, where we proceeded to throw ourselves a birthday party full of Champagne, cake, balloons, glitter, and ‘70s style. The result are photos that we’re still getting compliments on. (And one of the images was selected as a finalist by the APA.)

KTLYN rapper
Courtesy of KTLYN

Social Status

Okay, this story is a boppppp. Managing Digital Editor Nicolle Monico profiles Rancho Bernardo rapper KTLYN, inspiring us to get up and move. We’re mildly obsessed with her now, so stayed tuned for our new IG fan club page.

Courtesy of Carlsbad Aquafarms

Farming the Future: Aquafarms Cultivate Sustainable Oysters

When our first editorial fellow started in early 2023, we expected to get meaningful stories from her. But we certainly didn’t expect a cover story. But that’s just what Amelia Rodriguez does: She wows us. Her story on the fascinating Carlsbad Aquafarm oysters explores the slimy creatures as both animals and hors d’oeuvres. Her story anchored our 2023 Best Restaurants features. On the cover of that mag: a beautiful raw oyster.

Photo from J. Grant Brittain of a skater in the 70s skating an abandoned pool in San Diego
Photo Credit: J. Grant Brittain

Trick Photography

When I asked legendary skate photographer J. Grant Brittain to put together a retrospective of his work for SDM, I hoped—but didn’t expect —he’d say yes. Brittain, who has been shooting local skate legends since the ‘70s, obliged, compiling a photo essay showing SD history through skating. On the cover of this issue (April 2023) was a 1980s-era shot of Tony Hawk, flying through the air at age 14.

Aerial view of homes in Cardiff Highlands San Diego made by architect Scott M. Maas at Field X Studio
Photo Credit: Ian Patzke

The Future of Housing in the Cardiff Highlands

Staff writer Danielle Allaire turned the story of one condo in Encinitas into one of the best housing stories we published all year, garnering her an award from the San Diego Press Club.

Photo Credit: Johanna Siring

The Newly Renovated Jacumba Hot Springs Hotel Opens Its Doors

In a quiet corner of the desert, a team of dedicated dreamers are serving as the new stewards of an old town. Mara Altman’s story on the revitalization of the Jacumba Hot Springs Hotel is a fun one. 

Breast milk sample in a UCSD lab behind research related to milk and medication
Photo Credit: María José Durán

SD’s Institute Leading the Way in Breastfeeding Research

I love that this project to study human breast milk is happening in San Diego, and I love the personal touch Maria José Duran put on telling the story. I learned so much. 

Aerial view of downtown Santa Fe
Courtesy of Santa Fe Tourism

An Artist’s Guide to Visiting Santa Fe

This story has stuck with me. Reading this makes me want to organize a solo artist’s retreat for myself in some beautiful blue-sky place like Santa Fe. This is a great example of what a travel story can do: Walk readers through a location and highlight what’s special, all while reminding us that the best travels are the ones that mean something. 

Skeleton dressed in pirate attire surrounded by booty, tiki glasses, and other island collectables found in the backyards of San Diegans
Photo Credit: Mateo Hoke

Chasing Tiki Through the Backyards of San Diego

Tiki was born in Southern California, so this was a fun one. I found some of the coolest backyard tiki bars and invited myself over for a drink to talk about the museum curator–like passion with which these tiki aficionados decorate their spaces. 

More Staff Picks

Click the images below to read each selection

SDM past covers

The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous Covers of SDM’s Past

We dug through our archives to find the best and most questionable covers we’ve ever produced

Drag queen performers interacting with guests during a Dragalicious Gospel Brunch at Lips in North Park
Photo Credit: Matt Furman

Brunch Is a Drag

Finding religion and a touch of history at Lips with Dragalicious Gospel Brunch

An excerpt from one of San Diego Magazine's food reviews featuring a table set with luxurious dishes and the text "Dutch white asparagus with brioche, sorrel and caviar" and "kumamoto oysters with horseradish cremeux and chives"

Chronicling 75 Years of San Diego’s Food Scene

From a single cream puff to CIA-level secret critics, an evolution of the city’s food coverage through the lens of SDM’s storytellers

Table at restaurant full of crabs in their shell, shrimp, lobsters, and lemon from San Diego restaurant The Crab Hut

Eat With Your Hands

Through war and a new life, the ritual of eating for the family behind The Crab Hut gave them a sense of home

Photo from photographer Cole Novak of Middle Eastern immigrants serving food in traditional attire at San Diego restaurant and garden MAKE Cafe in North Park
Photo Credit: Cole Novak

Finding Home at MAKE Café in North Park

The immigrant-staffed restaurant & workforce program crafts some of SD’s most authentic international dishes

Native American farmer Ramona Button at the corn beans fields at the Ramona farms in Sacaton, Arizona
Photo Credit: Adriana Zehbrauskas

Harvesting Heritage at Arizona’s Indigenous-Owned Farms

In The Grand Canyon state, farms growing heirloom crops are preserving Native history while offering a window to the future

SDM writer Mara Altman's children playing in the Oaxaca pools at Hierve el Agua
Photo Credit: Mara Altman

Exploring the “Magic Route of Crafts” in Oaxaca

Art, cuisine, and culture reign in Mexico’s most colorful state

Spear fisher Brent Crane underwater in La Jolla holding a speargun with fish surrounding him
Photo Credit: Nathan Minatta

How to Kill a Fish

An Ocean Beach writer surveys the deep, spear in hand

SDM Digital Managing Editor Nicolle Monico running side-by-side on a track with US gold medalist Chari Hawkins
Photo Credit: Ariana Drehsler

I Tried It: Running with a US Gold Medalist

SDM’s managing digital editor enlists pro athlete Chari Hawkins to help her find her stride again

Pickelball players playing on a court in San Diego
Photo Credit: Madeline Yang

Paddle Battles

In the local fight for court space, advocates for tennis and pickleball say the City of San Diego needs to be doing more

Andy Phillips admiring orchid's at his nursery Andy's Orchids in Leucadia, the largest rare orchic collection in the US
Photo Credit: Mateo Hoke

Inside the Largest Rare Orchid Collection in the US

Andy’s Orchids in Leucadia is home to more than 750,000 plants from every corner of the world

A table full of food including tacos, chile, salsa, horchata, and tostadas from Mi Rancho Market in Escondido
Photo Credit: James Tran

Review: Mi Rancho Market

Going beyond carne asada at Escondido’s renowned taco haven

Interior of San Diego restaurant and bar

The Artifice of Service

A lifelong server’s thoughts on robots attempting to infiltrate the Apron Class

Interior of Singing Serpent Studios with producers sitting behind soundboards in Kensington, San Diego
Photo Credit: Becky DiGiglio

The Kensington Studio Making Big Waves

How Singing Serpent Studios made it to the biggest games on the planet

The feet of teens and young adults while sitting on steps reading, using their phone, and conversing with each other

The Kids Are Alright, They’re Just Sober Now

An increasing number of San Diego’s teens and young adults are reducing their alcohol consumption—or ditching it altogether

Aerial photo from Cole Novak of the La Jolla Cove, Tidepools, Children's Pool, and coastline down to Pacific Beach at sunset
Photo Credit: Cole Novak

12 Reader-Submitted Love Letters to San Diego

We asked locals to share what made them fall for the city—these are their stories

Photo from photographer Cole Novak featuring a surfer on a wave at Coronado Beach at sunset with Point Loma in the background
Photo Credit: Cole Novak

What Your Favorite San Diego Surf Spot Says About You

A longtime surfer breaks down his thoughts on the city’s best breaks and the locals that frequent them

Courtesy of Phatties Bake Shop

Where to Get Gluten-Free Pastries in SD

No wheat, no problem at these six locales around town offering fully allergy-free treats and baked goods

By Mateo Hoke

Mateo Hoke is San Diego Magazine’s executive editor. His books include Six by Ten: Stories from Solitary, and Palestine Speaks: Narratives of Life Under Occupation.

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