There are always new, funky-fresh, places popping up all over San Diego. It seems like everywhere you turn, there are a ridiculous amount of options for good eats, casual drinks and a great atmosphere. Since it can be a little overwhelming when people visit San Diego, I’ve compiled my favorite spots when it comes to eating & drinking, South to North.
Just keep in mind that I’ve only lived in Bird Rock in La Jolla and Cardiff-by-the-Sea in North County, so most of my picks are located around those areas, although I do have some favorites in other areas as well.
We cook at home a lot but when we do end up out to dinner or ordering takeout, my diet usually consists of Mexican food, sushi or pizza, so that’s where my suggestions lie.
- PB Mika Sushi – Pacific Beach. For a slightly classier sushi night in PB.
- Sushi Kuchi – Pacific Beach. Definitely come here for birthdays…it’s bound to be a great time and you’ll see why. The rolls aren’t bad either, not that I can judge since I’m usually too tipsy to notice.
- Don Bravos – Bird Rock. Just your quaint little Mexican shack with a full-blown delicious menu for cheap.
- Oscars Mexican Seafood – Bird Rock. Fish tacos = absolute perfection.
- Pizza on Pearl – La Jolla. This was always my go-to pizza spot in La Jolla, and I’ve definitely missed my pepperoni/onion combo from here.
- Fish Shop. – PB or Encinitas. Oysters, great tacos and beachy vibes.
- Blue Ribbon Pizzeria – Encinitas. Great for date night. Must try app: Goat cheese stuffed piquillo peppers.
- Prepkitchen – Del Mar, Little Italy or La Jolla. The pork belly is amaze-balls.
- Turquoise Cellars – Pacific Beach. Trivia, great specials, and a wine bar. Need I say more? Oh, and they have yummy acai bowls in the morning.
- Beaumont’s – Bird Rock. Cute outdoor patio, beachy atmosphere and good happy hour specials. They have live music Thursday-Sunday too.
- Wonderland – Ocean Beach. You get a panoramic ocean view of OB and the pier AND it’s a mermaid bar. I’ve also heard their brunch is bomb.
- OB Warehouse – Ocean Beach. If you’re in OB, you have to check this place out. The kitchen is located on the inside of an airbus and the decor is just fantastic.
- Cucina Enoteca – Del Mar. I didn’t even know I could eat a squash blossom but they did it and it’s amazing. Plus, the decor is totally delightful and will leave you feeling inspired to redecorate. Caution: You may question your own color/pattern judgement as it’s probably not up to par with their designers’.
- Kettner Exchange – Little Italy. I’m too poor to afford dinner here but I’m sure it’s really good. However, I dig it for a cool vibe, fancy drink and a yummy app. Plus, they have an upscale outdoor swinging hammock.
- Wine Steals – Cardiff. One of my all-time favorite spots. They have 5 for $5 tastings on Wednesdays plus trivia, live music on Thursdays and 10 for $10 tastings on Saturdays. Clearly I come here a lot which is why it’s on my top four places to eat in Cardiff-by-the-Sea.
- Solace and the Moonlight Lounge – Encinitas. I’m not really into the dinner here but their happy hour specials and cheese platters are right up my alley.
- Union Kitchen & Tap – Encinitas. Although my boyfriend calls it “Onion”, this has been our go-to happy hour spot to take friends visiting since it’s a really cool place with an indoor/outdoor chill vibe.
I’m not a huge dessert person so my selection below is limited, but both are very desired spots in San Diego.
- Cravory Cookies – Point Loma. I only recently became aware of this spot after my friend bought a bunch of cookies for another friend’s birthday. Wow. Just wow.
- Baked Bear – Pacific Beach. Ice cream sandwich made with cookies and ice cream. This place still has a line out the door on certain days.
- Queenstown Public House – Little Italy. You essentially get to eat in a super cute house or on the adorable front yard/patio. It’s perfect for a brunch date with your girls or your guy.
- Bareback Bar & Grill – Pacific Beach. My favorite Bloody Mary’s in town. And the food is so good – burgers galore and you can’t go wrong with anything you get. Every time my friends meet up in PB to do some day drinking, we start here with a hearty meal and some sea breeze.
- Leilani’s Café – Pacific Beach. For a Hawaiian-style extremely filling breakfast.
- Caroline’s – La Jolla. Ocean views while you sip on a bloody and down your choice of breakfast. Just come early and expect to wait for a seat. Parking is a nightmare and you order at the counter, but it’s so worth it.
Smoothies and Acai Bowls
If you’ve never heard of an acai bowl, you must try it because it’s a San Diego staple.
- Seaside Smoothie – Bird Rock. My go-to is the guava strawberry smoothie but they also make great acai bowls. Make sure you’re not in a rush because the wait can be long…and I mean really long, but you can browse the surf shop while you wait.
- Amazona Acai Café – Bird Rock. Matt and I used to come here on hungover Sundays for their smoothies and acai bowls.
- Sambazon – Cardiff. This is my favorite weekend treat since it’s a tad expensive. I get the mango coconut bowl with strawberry instead of mango and it is ah-mazing.
Although we don’t often eat dinner out, I definitely don’t skimp on drinking out. And thus, these are my favorite suggestions aside from the happy hour section above, which obviously also includes drinking.
There are a TON of micro-breweries in San Diego, so it’s hard to choose my favorites, but I’ll take a stab.
- Belching Beaver – North Park. We came here for my birthday as a stop on the beer crawl and everyone absolutely loved it. They have some fun stouts like peanut butter and milk for those of you who are into that sort of thing.
- Culture – Solana Beach or Ocean Beach. The one I usually go to is situated on Cedros Ave in Solana Beach, which is a super cute little street for some window shopping and farmers market-ing. Plus, there’s a food truck out back with some healthier options. My favorite? Culture’s Mosaic IPA but they also have a grapefruit Mosaic IPA which I think is a lot better than Sculpin’s version.
- Stone Brewing – Point Loma. This place is awesome, huge and has a great outdoor patio area. I actually haven’t gone to the one in Escondido, but I’ve heard it’s even cooler.
- Green Flash – Mira Mesa. This is a huge brewery/tasting room and they actually do yoga on Sundays inside. Just don’t do the tour with a group of a bunch of your drunk friends.
- Ballast Point – Little Italy or Miramar. I’m a huge Ballast Point fan and am pretty bummed they sold out to “The Man”, but I’m too addicted to their Fathom IPL and Sculpin to boycott them. I personally like the Mira Mesa spot better since there’s way more seating and a warmer vibe, but they are both worth going to. If you like spicy, the Habanero Sculpin is a must-try!
I’m more of a tea drinker but I do appreciate a fancy latte or a good ol’ black cup of joe every once in awhile.
- Bird Rock Coffee Roasters – Bird Rock. Definitely a local favorite and a must try if you’re in the area. Grab your coffee and head across the street to pet bunnies at the pet store or check out the various shops all down La Jolla Blvd.
- Lofty Coffee – Solana Beach. Get it for there so you can appreciate the pretty latte art before you head down Cedro’s Avenue to check out all the cute shops.
- Sambazon Acai Cafe – Cardiff-by-the-Sea. Their organic coffee is seriously delicious plain and black.
I wouldn’t say these are exactly “dive bars” in terms of being gross and dodgy, but if you’re looking for a local, less crowded, low key bar, these are good choices. Since you generally have to be a local to know a good dive bar, I’m only suggesting my personal favs in La Jolla and Cardiff.
- West End. It gives me warm & fuzzies just thinking about the West End. Possibly one of the crappiest bars in PB/La Jolla area, it is also possibly my favorite. Juke box, pool, darts…the classics.
- Shack Bar & Grill. Great for late night pool and a greasy snack.
- Cass Street Bar and Grill. Another great spot for pool, shuffle board, or trivia.
- Latitude 32. I think I’m seeing a correlation between needing a pool table to be considered a good dive bar in my opinion. They also brew their own beer so you gotta try that of course!
- Duke’s Cardiff Office – Cardiff. This place is magical. And of course it has pool.
These range from casual drinks to going out going out to both. I’ll specify.
- Tipsy Crow. Three floors that take you from casual pre-gaming all the way to post-party dance your-pants-off-stage. Starting at the 3rd floor, it’s classy with a fireplace and all. Second floor is a normal bar with a fun loud atmosphere. After a few drinks, you take your crew to the 3rd floor for some classic throwbacks that are guaranteed to force you to get your groove on. Pick your poison or choose all three like I always hope to do.
- Moonshine Flats. Live bands and line dancing all night long. This bar also has different sections including pool and a faux outdoor area with lawn games so you can pick your poison.
- Rustic Root. This one’s a little fancier and thus better for casual drinks. The roof deck is a very cool spot.
- Shout House. Dualing pianists, great songs, and a lively crowd. Shout House is a great way to start your night. Just make sure to get there early if you want a good seat!
- Duck Dive. This is my friend Kevin’s favorite bar and we always end up there at some point, so it has to make the list. The dance floor can get pretty wild late night.
- Backyard. This place is pretty mellow from what I’ve experienced but I also have only gone during the day and in the early hours of the night. They have a cool fire pit table in the back and two different bars.
- Tavern. Want to watch sports? Want to meet other singles on a Tuesday night? Want to grind it out on the dance floor? Different hours for different agendas. Tavern is the answer.
- Cafe Car Europa – The Turquoise – Bird Rock. The food is a little pricey but it’s a nice drink spot. The patio is super adorable and they usually have live music in the evening.
Since I’m too old to stay up past 11 pm now, I live for a good day drinking sesh. There are tons of fun places to grab a beer and enjoy the sun in San Diego.
- The Deck Moonshine Flats. They have an awesome faux outdoor patio area that’s set up like a giant backyard full of outdoor games.
- Bubs. Perfect for a mellow group outing for some beers. If you want to watch the game (whatever sport that may be), it’s probably on.
- Bier Garden. I can’t seem to ever be successful with my food order but nevertheless, I absolutely love this spot for everything from brunch to happy hour to Saturday night out.
- Shelter. When it’s nice out (which is pretty much always), they open the roof which makes it a very fun day drinking spot. If you’re lucky, you can snag one of the lounge areas.
- Union Kitchen & Tap. This is on my happy hour list above but it’s also a great spot for casual weekend drinks.
Pacific Beach/Mission Beach
- PB Shoreclub. They now have a roof deck which is great to hang out at. Just beware of the Vodka Redbull Slushy…they’re a staple but they are deadly so share it with a friend
- Bare Back Grill. Also on my brunch list, this is an awesome spot to start your day drinking excursion.
- The Local. It can be hard to find a seat, especially on the deck outside, but it’s definitely a fun spot for beers and food.
- Baja Beach Cafe. If you like margaritas, they have a ridiculous amount of choices and you can sip yours right on the boardwalk.
Now go be merry!