My parents arrived Saturday night for a week-long visit, which got me thinking about my San Diego Musts. We’ve lived here for only a year and there’s tons more to see, but I already have a list of favorite restaurants, parks and activities that I share with all my visitors. And not to toot my own horn, but I’ve been told that I have some really excellent picks in here. Hope this gives you some pointers the next time you’re in San Diego!
Caffe Calabria (North Park): This Italian cafe/pizzeria is top-notch quality; their exquisite lattes are the sirens that beckon me at least once a week, and not just because it’s a great place to work. Food-wise, their Neapolitan pizzas are delicious and vibe at dinnertime is lovely. (But my favorite pizzeria is Buona Forchetta; see below.)
Coffee & Tea Collective (North Park): If you like your coffee strong, head to this artisanal coffee shop. (A popular pairing is a hot coffee with their waffles.) C&T also has an active Instagram account, which shares news about coffee-related events.
Bird Rock Coffee Rosters (Bird Rock): The coffee, the pastries, the setting — this is one of my favorite spots in San Diego. A local micro roaster that’s won awards for best brew, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters has impeccable lattes and a very “California” setting, with an open-air facade and location right by the water. To top it off, the staff is super friendly. (They once apologetically told me I couldn’t bring Teddy inside but gave me some dog treats for him because they felt bad.)
Torrey Pines (La Jolla): This isn’t a hard San Diego hike, but it is the most beautiful. Unlike the drier, more desert-landscaped hikes elsewhere in the city, this one is dotted with trees, flowers and the most amazing view of the Pacific. Try to park by the water before the park entrance; otherwise it’s $12-15 for official lot parking.
Mount Woodson (Poway): If you want a challenge, try this arduous uphill trail, which leads to the famed Potato Chip Rock. It’s a tough 6.4 miles to the summit, but you’re rewarded with a super cool photo opp — a rock that juts out ever so scarily atop the mountain. There’s usually a line for the photo, and it gets hots during the day, so go early for both those reasons.
Balboa Park (Hillcrest/North Park): This massive, beautifully manicured urban park has museums, restaurants, tennis courts, dog parks, a botanical garden, archery course, organ pavilion, swimming pool and miles and miles of trails. So to say it’s worth seeing is an understatement. We’re lucky enough to live within walking distance of Balboa Park and make good use of the trails with Teddy; I love how it can feel like we’re deep within a huge forest but still just a few miles from downtown.
Sunset Cliffs (Point Loma): I wouldn’t call this a hike so much as a stroll by the water, but it’s a must for sure. It’s not only the best place to watch a San Diego sunset, but also much less populated than the Torrey Pines trail. You can walk the mild undulation of Sunset Cliffs Park or head north on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard towards Ocean Beach. Then, feast your eyes on some real estate porn.
Coronado Dog Beach (Coronado): Ocean Beach, Fiesta Island and Del Mar all have dog beaches but none is as well-kept as Coronado’s. Most everyone cleans up after their dog and the seaweed situation is under control. Going here with Teddy is one of my favorite San Diego activities.
Windansea (La Jolla): I’m hesitant to mention this one because it’s somewhat of a hidden gem that quickly became our favorite beach. But I’m generous so I’ll share! The beach is hardly ever crowded with lovely blue water on a clear day.
Black’s (La Jolla): Thanks to a dramatic cliff coastline behind you, Black’s has an epic setting. There are paragliders above, surfers below and plenty of sand for you. It’s also a nude beach so expect lots of old dudes (sorry, no hot chicks) going commando.
La Jolla Cove/Seal Beach (La Jolla): It’s touristy and overrun with people during peak hours, but it’s also a scenic stroll by what I think is the prettiest coastal view around town. Sometimes the seals smell horribly, but hold your nose and you’ll be fine.
The Cottage (La Jolla): This has been our favorite brunch spot since we visited San Diego in 2010. As the name suggests, the setting is very quaint, cottage-style and the food is the big, beautiful brunch you dream about. If you’re a French toast fan, theirs is the best. (Bruncher beware: The wait can be up to two hours on weekends! On the upside they have free coffee and pastries while you wait.)
The Mission (North Park): With a focus on healthy, affordable food, this breakfast/lunch spot is popular for good reason. The highlight is their crack-like coffee and Mexican-themed breakfast menu. The soy chorizo and eggs I had there were so tasty without being heavy. And their flour tortillas! Phenomenal.
Buona Forchetta (South Park): Buona Forchetta makes me happy. Incredible Neapolitan style pizza, a charming al fresco option and lovely waitstaff — it’s no surprise we’re regulars. Our favorites are the Isabella pizza and homemade cheesecake.
Mama’s Bakery (North Park): A great hole-in-the-wall Lebanese spot, Mama’s has fantastic shwarma and falafel wraps thanks in large part to their bread.
Marisco’s German Taco Truck (South Park): The famous Marisco’s German truck located in the parking lot of Gala Foods (Grape and 30th Streets) is the best. Their traditional fish taco (fried) is the way to go, but the ceviche is equally delicious. While you wait, they often pass out free soup.
Sab-e-Lee (Mission Valley): Another hole-in-wall, this Thai restaurant is like eating in a Thai mama’s home kitchen. It’s a small place, so you almost always have to wait, but it’s always worth it. We’re big fans of the Thai beef salad and fried rice. (I never liked fried rice before, but there’s something magical about what they do with theirs.)
Soda & Swine (Normal Heights): Meatball is the theme here, and you can get them as sliders, a sub or on their own. Sometimes these concept restaurants in San Diego are all sparkle, no substance, but there is legitimately good stuff happening at Soda & Swine.
Pure Cupcakes (Pacific Beach): A good cupcake is very important to me. Very important. And I had a hard time finding the best one until Eaman stumbled upon Pure and surprised me with their red velvet cupcake. The cake is moist and the frosting silky without being teeth-rotting sweet. It’s also the only place that has matched my New York cupcake standard, and yes, I know I’m a snob!
Hillcrest farmer’s market (Hillcrest): The Little Italy Market is too crazy, the North Park one is too small, but for the city of San Diego (not counting North County), the Hillcrest farmer’s market is just right. I love treating myself to lunch there every few Sundays. Favorites include Gourmet Tamales, Seb’s Paninis and Cravory cookies. I need to try the East African stand soon!
NOTE: I would talk about nightlife, but I don’t go to bars, clubs or live music venues all that much. I’m a morning person and don’t drink alcohol because I don’t enjoy it anymore! That said, I do love Polite Provisions in University Heights for their craft cocktail scene — another high concept place that actually works. They’re located next to Soda & Swine so you can eat your meatballs and imbibe, too. By the way, they have wonderful virgin cocktails.
What else should I add to the list?