Your Best Nights Begin Here
Tour San Diego, CA with Arlene Ibarra
Best Nights will take you on a local's tour and journey through the eyes and personal experiences of artists, photographers, bloggers & musicians, to name a few of each city showcased every month. Best Nights April brings us to the fantastic city of San Diego, CA, and our tour guide is Arlene Ibarra, a highly sought-after food & beverage photographer, that knows and loves her city very much.
An Artist/ Photographer's Tour of San Diego
Arlene, thank you for joining Jägermeister Behind the Shot! We have worked with you quite a lot in the past, and always a pleasure to have you! You’re well known for your photography, especially within the industry. Can you tell us about your path to becoming such an amazing sought-after photographer?
I studied forensic science in college and used my first DSLR in the photography course. I started shooting family portraits, and then soon after, I was hired to photograph nightlife in downtown San Diego. I met a lot of great bartenders and chefs at the bars and clubs and started working with them regularly photographing their private dinners, menus, and more nightlife. I’ve had the chance to meet some amazing people in this industry all over the nation and feel very lucky to do what I’m passionate about and help others create images of their own passions.
San Diego is known for its amazing weather, attractions, beaches, beer, and nightlife. What makes San Diego so special to you?
There are so many amazing things about San Diego to me! Besides the obvious that you just mentioned, I love that we are so close to the Mexican International border crossing where we can travel for the day and still be so close to home while being able to experience another culture, my own culture, and my family’s culture. I know Los Angeles is a great city, and the fact that LA is also super close is great. I love the more laidback energy that San Diego provides but not TOO laidback; we are still creating moves in the restaurant and hospitality industries which I am very proud of. I genuinely believe we are America’s Finest City. Why else would we have so many transplants? Hahaha!
There are a lot of great neighborhoods in San Diego that many visitors don’t see. Can you tell us about some of the different areas and your favorites?
I grew up in what people now consider the “hipster” neighborhood of North Park, which is great, but Golden Hill and Barrio Logan are two of my favorite neighborhoods as well! I lived in Golden Hill, which is right outside of downtown San Diego from the time I was born until I was about 11 years old. There are some amazing places that are very well known in the service industry in GH like Turf Club, Counterpoint, and now a new restaurant with some amazing modern Vietnamese food. My parents would even go to Turf Club back in the 80s, and not much has changed in regard to the affordable and delicious food as well as the decor! It’s truly an iconic spot in San Diego. North Park is another popular hub in SD with walkable bars, a great music venue, and some great coffee shops.
I was recently in town, and we had lunch together in Barrio Logan. Such a great area!! Can you tell us more about the history, art, and food and drink?
Barrio Logan is a historical neighborhood that Mexican immigrants primarily inhabited in the early 1900s. The Mexican culture has flourished in Logan, and many of the businesses there are still owned and operated by those that have grown up in the neighborhood for many generations. Chicano Park is a beautiful area underneath the famed Coronado bridge that displays murals reflecting the culture and the generations that came before us. Almost every weekend, local vendors line the streets to sell their goods as well as homemade comfort food and street food. Sunday, you can also often see Lowriders cruising the main streets and playing oldies; it’s amazing. Now I’m craving an elote and a michelada.
You collaborated a while back with a local artist and our Hubertus Circle bartenders in San Diego. How did that idea come?
Well, the idea of photographing some of my favorite bartenders is always a great idea to me! I had been using edible blood in photos since my first art show several years ago, and this new art show included the HC guys recreating a “crime scene” as well as a tight portrait of them covered in blood. I was still fascinated with forensic science and still watched anything related to the science, so this was my way of being able to create art that wasn’t too gruesome but also let me use my college experience in my new vocation as a photographer.
There’s a great art scene in the city. Can you talk more about the creative community as a whole? What else is out there? Music, dance, fashion, etc.
There are so many wonderfully creative people in San Diego. It’s a great community of all genders, ethnicities, and just wonderful humans. We have a lot of people who grind daily to create not only their art but spaces for others to showcase theirs as well. Between DJ’s battles to group art shows and muralists creating pieces all around town, we aren’t a huge community of artists, but we support one another, which I feel is crucial to building a successful art base in any city. It’s wonderful to see artists supporting one another by attending events and purchasing from one another. Why buy fast fashion or order from huge companies when you can support people just like you creating what they love?
I have friends who sell very curated vintage goods, create awesome tie-dyed clothing that’s often industry-based clothing, and even a perfect little shop that has collected both new, rare, and vintage barware. There are local dancers and comedians that perform at small businesses regularly, and these are great events to check out.
You recently started back in the industry as a barback. How are you liking being behind the bar?
I’m too old for this sh*t. Seriously though, it’s a great experience that I have always respected from the other side of the bar. It is spectacular to watch the bar staff move so quickly, often gracefully, and communicate without words to create a memorable experience for their guests. I love meeting new guests as well as greeting our regulars. Knowing they have a favorite watering hole that I can make a good experience for them is very rewarding. But don’t be fooled. You must take care of your body to keep this type of work up.
If someone had one day to explore the city’s unknown gems. What would be your “perfect day out”?
A perfect day out would start with breakfast at my favorite diner in Golden Hill for SD’s best chilaquiles. A day at one of SD’s best beaches like La Jolla or Black’s Beach (clothing optional) where we can eat some sandwiches on the sand. Dinner at my favorite steakhouse downtown, followed by some bar/club hopping around downtown or North Park.
What is your favorite way to drink Jägermeister?
Any bartender that knows me knows the answer to this. One word...SHOTS.
Arlene was born and raised in San Diego and grew up in Golden Hill and North Park. After working for a non-profit for over a decade she took her college education in Forensic Science and applied it to becoming a professional photographer. Her career began in family portraits and eventually led to nightlife and special events. After a few years she began working with bars and restaurants photographing industry events, menus and private dinners. She quickly realized working alongside bartenders and chefs was what she was passionate about and creating great images of their own delicious creations. She has also worked all over the nation for brands including Jagermeister’s own national team. Ten years after the beginning of her photography journey she decided to try her hands behind the bar and began as a bar back and server at Riviera Supper Club in La Mesa where she continues to learn and appreciate all that the hospitality industry has to offer.