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san diego city guide

by Grace Bonney

Illustration by Nilo Naghdi

Our San Diego City Guide update comes to us from blogger and San Diego resident Julia Wheeler. Julia shares with us her love for the sunny beachside city of San Diego with a wonderful guide to eating, seeing and shopping in each unique neighborhood. Thanks, Julia, for this fantastic tour through San Diego!

CLICK HERE for the full guide after the jump!

You probably know San Diego as a beautiful, family-friendly beach town or as Spring Break central. While it most definitely fits the aforementioned stereotypes, its personality reaches beyond boardwalks and keg stands. If you have the time to dive a little deeper, you’ll realize its artistic and cultural personality shifts by neighborhood borders. Aside from a multitude of professional surfers and skateboarders, San Diego is the hometown of Tom Waits and Eddie Vedder. Frank Zappa’s first band was formed at Mission Bay High School, and Rob Halford is our neighbor (hypothetically speaking — I’ve never seen the guy, much to my dismay). Even Shepard Fairey and Dr. Seuss called San Diego home at one point in time. Have I name-dropped enough artistic types to convince you that we have more culture than two-dollar-you-call-its on Garnet Avenue and Shamu? Good, then read on!

Little Italy is pretty much our hub for high-end modern design, swanky new lofts, galleries . . . oh, and Italian food. The neighborhood is basically India Street and its surrounding blocks.

EAT + DRINK (these are all non-Italian options, as most of the India Street Italian spots are pretty choice)

  • Craft & Commerce This place serves up delicious cocktails, a slew of craft beers (try a local Green Flash brew!) and a selection of seasonal treats. Who could say no to a mini corn dog served by a cute boy wearing suspenders and a newsboy cap?
  • El Camino is a swanky lounge-y Mexican food experience. With a more modern take on Mexican décor, you can experience the culture without the touristy vibe of Old Town.
  • Burger Lounge is a local chain that serves up only free-range, grass-fed burgers, as well as a delicious vegetarian option in the form of a delish quinoa burger.
  • The Waterfront is the oldest bar in San Diego, which opened just after the repeal of prohibition. It has a dive-bar feel without being located in a seedy ‘hood. The burgers are actually kind of amazing, which is pretty unexpected from a dive.


  • Vocabulary is a great little boutique for accessories and well-priced clothing. A perfect place to pop into while you’re meandering along India Street.
  • Klassik is one of my absolute favorite spots to covet mid-century items. The owners have impeccable taste, and the pricing is definitely reasonable for the quality of the pieces you can find here. You’re stoked if you can make it there for the Mod Swap (aka mid-century yard sale) in their parking lot a few times a year!
  • Mixture is just a couple of blocks from Klassik and has an excellent selection of modern furniture, a variety of accessories and small gift and home items.
  • Boomerang For Modern recently celebrated 25 years of bringing San Diego the best in mid-century modern furniture and design. You really can’t miss here.
  • Architectural Salvage is the spot for authentic period pieces and items ripe for up-cycling. It’s like a building filled with fantastic flea-market finds without having to do the actual flea market digging!


  • JETT Gallery is a great little gallery attached to Klassik that features beautiful modern art and design in a bright, open gallery space.
  • Subtext borders on Little Italy and Downtown and is a gallery and bookstore that showcases fresh, independent artists, photographers and graphic designers. If you’re in the Little Italy neighborhood and are digging the modern, artistic vibe there, absolutely make a stop at Subtext.
  • Objects USA Event List If mid-century art and design are your thing, check out this event list before you head to San Diego for related happenings.
  • Little Italy Farmer’s Market This happens every Saturday from 9am to 1pm. There is so much to see and so much to eat here. It’s definitely worth wandering through with your morning espresso.
  • The Casbah is the best independent music venue in San Diego, hands down.

North Park + South Park are the neighborhoods that you’ll be in if you follow 30th Street from Adam’s Avenue to the 94 Freeway. These two side-by-side neighborhoods have been in gentrification-mode for the past few years, which has paved the way for loads of independent business owners to refurbish existing dives.

EAT + DRINK (from North to South)

  • Jayne’s Gastropub is a great spot if you’re looking to treat yourself to a bit of a pricey dinner. Jayne’s specializes in seasonal, local, organic offerings, has a great selection of craft beers and cocktails and lovely, simple yet elegant décor.
  • Bar Pink is owned by San Diego’s own John Reis (Rocket From The Crypt, Drive Like Jehu, Hot Snakes) and is a dive that’s been revitalized but not so much that it’s lost its independent vibe. You can catch tons of awesome local shows here, too.
  • Urban Solace is a comfort-food eatery in the heart of North Park. Try it for the Bluegrass Sunday Brunch, where you can experience the live music and some serious biscuits.
  • The Smoking Goat was featured here on Design*Sponge for its fantastic “before and after” on the interior. The food is just as wonderful as the design, and though it’s a small space, it’s worth the time you may have to wait for a table.
  • Vagabond is an adorable spot with eclectic global cuisine.
  • Alchemy is a wide-open space with simple, clean decor and wonderful service in the heart of South Park. Pop in here for some delish cuisine, and then head next door to Hamilton’s for some craft beers (dogs welcome!).
  • Station Tavern is a family-friendly spot with a simple-menu that consists mainly of gourmet burgers and a variety of deep-fried items (from sweet potato fries to tater tots!). It’s dog-and-beer snob friendly, to boot!

HOME + FASHION (from North to South)

  • Mimi & Red is a great boutique with adorable items (mostly for ladies) and totally reasonable prices.
  • Pigment is the absolute best spot in North Park to find amazing, unique home decor. They have a super terrarium selection and even offer kits and workshops for terrarium building led by master green thumb, tend!
  • Nest Vintage is tops in South Park for its mid-century and vintage furniture items.
  • Progress is a lovely little home and gift shop that’s definitely worth popping into!


  • 30 on 30th is an event that happens every month on the 30th (go figure!) where restaurants on and around 30th street offer food and bev specials.
  • South Park Walkabout is an evening in South Park where you can meander around the neighborhood scene, catch some live tunes and get some dinner and drink specials!
  • Lulu’s Nail Salon is a small, higher-end nail salon that I highly recommend if you’re looking to get pampered while in SD. The spot is adorable, quiet, carries Chanel and Butter polish and won’t harass you with up-sells.

Ocean Beach + Point Loma are my favorite beach areas, as they’ve been able to maintain their vintage feel and personalities — total beach towns trapped in time. Almost Famous was filmed here for this very reason. OB is famous for its barefoot hippies, and if you can handle the patchouli smell for a few hours, there’s much to see.


  • Nati’s has been an OB staple since 1960. It’s simple, cafeteria-style Mexican food. Don’t go here expecting gourmet — go to sit on the patio and try the ground-beef tacos and cheese enchiladas!
  • Bo Beau is a cute, rustic farmhouse-style French spot owned by a local San Diego family chain. It’s a great option for a swankier yet bohemian meal.
  • The 3rd Corner is a super fun place where you can bring your own wine or choose something from their large selection in the wine shop to have opened inside the restaurant. The baked brie is unreal.
  • Hodad’s has been around since 1969 and has been featured on The Food Network numerous times. It’s definitely a choice spot to grab a tasty burger and probably the best milkshake you’ve ever had.


  • Newport Antiques is a large antique mall with loads of booths filled with everything from vinyl to vintage furniture to jewelry. It’s not the cheapest place around, but you never know what you may find and whether you may score a deal. From here you can easily walk a few steps to get to a handful of other antique malls on Newport, but this spot is my fave.


  • The Pearl Hotel is your best bet for a vintage, mid-century boutique hotel while staying in San Diego. Even if you don’t stay, it’s a great place to catch a cocktail or a “dive-in” movie on the big screen by the pool!

Downtown + East Village can be a bit of a challenge for the unknowing traveler looking for a more independent experience. If you know the right spots, you can easily navigate your way past the tourist traps and experience some really rad gems tucked away between $5 t-shirt stores and the Hard Rock Café.


  • Pokez is one of my favorite Mexican spots in San Diego. I love it for its large amount of vegan and vegetarian options. The place is filled with independent art and eclectic objects that you’ll love, especially if you’re into graffiti/street/tattoo/skateboard art.
  • Cafe Chloe is an adorable little French cafe that I love for breakfast, though they have a great lunch and dinner menu, as well.
  • Neighborhood is a great spot for a burger, sweet potato fries and a craft beer.
  • Noble Experiment is modeled after an old-time speakeasy. The drinks are all handcrafted by serious mixologists who truly take pride in their craft. You must have a reservation for this small, hidden spot behind the Neighborhood, but it’s absolutely worth the wait.
  • El Dorado Cocktail Lounge is another great spot for handcrafted cocktails and DJs or live music. If you can catch this place on a night when Lady Dottie and the Diamonds are playing, bring your dancing shoes — you won’t be in one of the red Naugahyde booths for long!


  • 5&A Dime is a super hip spot for trendy threads for dudes and ladies interested in brands like Brixton and Clarks.
  • Urban Outfitters is Urban Outfitters . . . standard.


  • The Machine Shop Gallery is an urban art gallery/studio/workshop that is working to showcase local artists. Check out the upcoming shows on their Facebook page.
  • Museum of Contemporary Art has one location here in Downtown and one in La Jolla. They frequently update their featured exhibitions and work to keep contemporary art available in San Diego.

Barrio Logan + Golden Hill are a bit newer on the gentrification scene. Barrio Logan has been a bit rough around the edges for quite a while and has just begun to attract artists and independent business folk for the cheap rent and open industrial spaces. The most exciting part about watching Barrio Logan take shape is that it’s close to the border, so the Mexican culture is woven throughout the trendy new galleries, which keeps it extremely unique.


  • Blueprint Café features a local, seasonal menu filled with delicious comfort food in the really rad up-and-coming industrial neighborhood of Barrio Logan.
  • Two Roses is a barbershop/cafe/tattoo parlor in Barrio Logan. Pretty much a one-stop shop, right?
  • Krakatoa Coffee Shop in Golden Hill is a lovely little spot to have a coffee and a bite to eat on a peaceful little outdoor patio.


  • Glashaus Artist Collective Warehouse is an artist collective in the heart of Barrio Logan.
  • The Bakery Design Collective is located in Barrio Logan in what used to be an old Mexican bakery, hence the name. It’s another awesome little artist collective that opens up a few times a year for gallery shows.
  • Chicano Park is a freeway underpass filled with beautiful murals that celebrate San Diego’s hispanic culture. It’s a cultural street-art must-see if you’re in the area.

Mission Hills + Hillcrest + University Heights are all bordering neighborhoods that lie within the main cross streets of Park, Washington, El Cajon, University, Adams and the lower numbered streets (4th, 5th and 6th.) I know that was a long list of streets, but it’s a really small vicinity, I swear. Hillcrest is famous for its over-the-top Gay Pride Festival & Parade, its prominent gay scene and the colorful culture that brings with it. Mission Hills is a gorgeous little neighborhood to the east of Hillcrest and just north of Little Italy with tons of cute restaurants and shops. University Heights is a small nook of a neighborhood with a handful of great spots, all within walking distance.

EAT + DRINK (ordered by neighborhood listing above)

  • Starlite was featured on Design*Sponge here, but what the write-up didn’t mention is that the local, seasonal menu and handcrafted cocktails are TO DIE FOR. Two words: Moscow Mule. They make the best in town!
  • Blue Water Seafood is part fish market, part made-to-order fresh fish restaurant. It’s served up in a casual atmosphere, but don’t let that fool you ― it’s some of the best seafood in town.
  • Bronx Pizz is some of the best pizza I’ve had outside of NYC. Comes complete with New York attitude, which definitely makes it taste better!
  • Kous Kous is tucked away below street level on the main drag of 5th Avenue in Hillcrest. It’s delicious Moroccan food in a cozy atmosphere with incredibly friendly service.
  • Ebisu is my favorite sushi place in town . . . and possibly ever. Their garlic edamame is incredible.
  • Pomegranate Russian-Georgian Restaurant is a totally unassuming spot on El Cajon Boulevard, right where El Cajon meets Park and Washington. The waiters speak adorable broken English and will be more than happy to make a recommendation for you. If you’re hesitant to try Russian food, don’t be. It’s ridiculous (as in ridiculously good). Try the salad sampler plate and the veggie stroganoff. If your garlic breath isn’t too bad afterward, head across the street to The Red Fox Room for a piano lounge experience or to the Livewire — an awesome dive with a killer juke box.

HOME + FASHION (ordered by neighborhood listing above)

  • mid*century on Park has an excellent collection mid-century designs. The staff is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful, and the prices are totally reasonable here, too.
  • design/one is next door to mid*century and is filled with very high-end mid-century modern designs.
  • Atomic Bazaar is just across the street from the above two shops on Park. It’s packed with a great selection of mid-century items. The staff here is super nice and helpful, and the prices are totally reasonable.
  • Flashbacks is a buy/sell/trade shop for vintage clothing. At first glance, it might look like a costume shop filled with Afro wigs and Elvis sunglasses, but there are definitely some gems mixed in with the costume madness! Head across the street to Buffalo Exchange for more buy/sell/trade clothing action.
  • Frock You is a fantastic spot for great vintage finds. It can be a bit pricey, but it’s worth it if you aren’t into digging through thrift-store racks!
  • Hunt & Gather is filled with impeccably styled vintage, new and up-cycled clothing. It’s tucked around the corner right behind Twiggs Coffee shop on Park.


  • Cinema Under The Stars is a super fun little outing in Mission Hills where you can check out a classic or new movie in a small little open amphitheater on comfy lawn chairs.
  • Balboa Park is definitely a given. Meander through the gorgeous park, have a picnic or go for a bike ride. While there, visit one of the fantastic museums.

If you’re into collecting vintage and new vinyl, this is the perfect area. Check out any one of these nearby record shops for a great selection of vinyl:

Nod To North County – If you have some time to venture north about 20 to 30 minutes, there are some adorable beach towns that line the Pacific Coast Highway. Here are just a handful of my favorite spots:


  • Hill Street Café in Oceanside is a great spot for yummy vegan and vegetarian food in a cute little Victorian house.
  • Honey’s in Encinitas has delicious comfort food and fresh, delish salads.


  • Bixby & Ball is a fab new shop in the Cedros Design District with all sorts of adorable items from gifts to furniture.
  • Solo in the Cedros Design District is filled with eclectic items from Moroccan poufs to vintage mid-century items.
  • Rustic Rooster Interiors has a great selection of vintage and refurbished furniture, as well as fun knick-knacks and decor.


  • Ducky Waddles Gallery is a great little gallery and book shop in Encinitas.
  • Lou’s Records is right next door to Ducky Waddles and is filled with a great selection of new and used music. You can sometimes catch really amazing shows right in their parking lot, too.
  • The Belly Up on South Cedros gets shows that vary from smaller local acts to big names like DEVO and Leon Russell.

Suggested For You


  • As a San Diegan, I would personally recommend stopping by any sort of non-chain Mexican food place and having a California burrito (has fries or fried potatoes inside). Any place named “Roberto’s” or “Cotijan” is usually a good bet. We’ve got the best Mexican food anywhere here in SD.

  • STARLITE on India for delicious cocktails with ginger beer and yummy fresh ingredients / modern decor / adorable bartenders / yummy looking food too (just north of the Casbah, maybe 1/2 a mile)

    SOUTHPARK – in general, there are so many great little shops in Southpark, and the Whistle Stop – come on!!!

    I heart san diego!

  • Fantastic coverage, Megan! I also recommend Solo in the Cedros Design District in Solana Beach. It’s just down the street from Muttropolis.

  • i lived in la jolla for 5 years, it’s a gorgeous beachside city, definitely worth a day trip if you’re in the area. go to cross at the top of mt soledad for incredible 360 degree views of the city.

  • Couldn’t resist adding my few cents to the SD design guide… pretty much born and raised (though now I’m in LA). My suggestions are from my beachy neighborhood in north county, Solana Beach.

    Cedros Design District

    Solo – Modern interior design goods, cards/stationary, great book selection, vintage furniture, etc. http://www.solocedros.com/

    Tucci – extremely cute boutique. One of my favorites, even in comparison to all of LA.

    Mistral – the original shop! I know their products are sold everywhere, but this is their home (outside of france, of course).

    Zinc Cafe – great spot for simple breakfast and lunch, and yummy treats.

  • Great article! I am currently planning a trip to the San Diego area and this guide will be extremely helpful. Thanks, Megan, for all the wonderful info you provided !!

  • Bread & Cie is the best bakery in San Diego metro area in Hillcrest. It’s on 4th and University Ave. Come early to get all the best breads and baked goods.

    Their sandwiches and soups are delicious as well.

  • i was wondering when san diego would make its appearance on d*s!:) i love this city, and summer is a great time to visit! more restaurants to add to the list:
    chopahn (afghan cuisine) off 6th ave. & costa brava (tapas) in pacific beach. you won’t be disappointed!

  • Hooray for San Diego! Solo on Cedros is a must stop for anyone is a design eye.

    Great job, Megan. I can’t wait to visit some of these shops!

  • Great job Megs! I’m glad to see the Linkery made the cut. It’s become one of my favorite restaurants.

  • I visited Whisk and Ladle in La Jolla after reading about it in Conde Nast Traveler’s “Hot 2008″…this place is lovely. All in-house or local market foods and the drinks are the most creative blend of flavors and spices I’ve ever tasted. Modern twist on European home-style comfort food.

  • As a resident of Little Italy I must say that you forgot a major neighborhood staple – The Waterfront. It’s an old fisherman bar (the oldest bar in San Diego actually) and is full of old photos and memorabilia. Also has the best burgers in town. YUM! Great place to go before catching a show at the Casbah or for breakfast the next morning.

  • This is a great list; thank you! Looks like I’ll have lots of places to visit and explore. Just to clarify, Marc Jacobs boutique has not arrived (yet) to San Diego. Otherwise, my wallet would be in so much trouble! ;)

  • I spent many a hungover Sunday at Cafe on Park in college. I haven’t quite found a breakfast place as perfect, even here in Portland.

  • I used to live in South Park (right down the street from the Linkery – I remember when they opened and business was pretty slow). This just made me homesick, but also excited to read about new things that have sprouted up since I left. Nothing beats breakfast in Hillcrest or North Park!!

  • Hey Megan – thanks so much for covering House.Boi in your great article. We appreciate the coverage and promise we will take great care of your readers !! Ari and Alex

  • Hooray! My hometown on D*S! Everybody’s already said everything I was going to say, though — Solo on Cedros (it really is great) and Mexican food (muy delicioso). Roberto’s, Juanita’s, and Rico’s are all top-notch. Thanks for posting this, Megan! I’ll definitely check out some of those shops downtown…

  • Great article and timing. Glad to see San Diego get credit for the design resources we do have. You missed one must-see contemporary design resource: Arclinea San Diego. Their showroom has unbelievable Italian kitchens by Antonio Citterio, a real archistar. Haven’t seen this level of quality since my last trip to Europe. It’s between Little Italy and Hillcrest at intersection Fifth and Laurel. Cool gadgets like LED greenhouses and high-tech acrylics. Eco-friendly and Green designs to boot. The even supply visitors with espresso while they’re browsing.


    Next door to entrance to Balboa Park with great indy coffee shop next door called Curio Cafe.

  • *A FEW EXTRA FROM GRACE (i’ve always heard these were great shops, just let me know if i’ve been misinformed)*

    Boomerang for Modern: all the classics (mid century modern classics, that is)

    Thanks for posing the question, Grace. I”m the owner of Boomerang for modern now in its 25th year…twelve in Little Italy. And the first design oriented business in Little Italy which is now a full-fledged arts and design district! Gotta take a chance now and then and it’s rewarding when it works! Boomerang is now in its own purpose-designed building with three floors of great vintage and new classic-modern designs. Come visit!

  • Thank you so much for including our gallery as one of your favorite galleries in Little Italy! We are honored to be on your list and look forward to meeting your fabulous readers. Grant Pecoff, our featured artist, is currently painting 10-15 originals of his hometown of San Diego to be revealed at our big show in December. Please stop by the party and enjoy the new art!

  • I’ve lived in SD for 20+ years, and you’ve captured many great places. One not to miss that I just found myself is Burger Lounge. THE absolute best burger I’ve ever had! It’s apparently even healthy for you. In La Jolla and Kensington. Another classic pub is Rocky’s in Pacific Beach. On game day you are guaranteed to see an ex-Padres or Charger sidled up to the bar. Small but a whole lot of fun!

  • Great recommendations but you forgot one of the nicest neighborhood in SD: Mission Hills , next to Hillcrest and Old town. You can take the scenic drive from Old town to see the Heritage park, the Mission, and all the beautiful old houses on top of the Hill…that will take you to Hillcrest.
    One of the cutest boutique on the way is Maison en Provence ( at the corner of Goldfinch and Ft Stockton Dr , one block north of Washington st )
    Established in 1996 , it’s a true french country home accessories store. You’ll find unique imported linen, pottery, toys and of course all the wonderful soaps and fragrances from the south of France. You feel like you are in Provence !

  • You cannot do a spot on SD without mentioning one of the finest breakfast eateries of all time…Cafe 222. Located at 222 Island Ave, downtown. Order up pumpkin waffles, peanut butter stuffed french toast, or pesto eggs italia. It is to die for! Get there early, the line is usually out the door.

  • The Cedros Design District in Solana Beach IS a great spot! There are a few great “boutique” stores just off of Cedros on Hwy 101 that I love as well (I hope I put the links in right!) :

    homeLOFT: http://www.thehomeloft.com

    This little shop is great. I had originally only gone in there because they carry the identical sofa to the Maxwell Leather Sofa at Restoration Hardware by the company that used to make it for RH. What I didn’t know was that I would fall in love with all their accents. They’ve got the cutest pillows, rugs and vases there. I stop by often when I need a candle “fix”. A mom and pop shop, owned by a sweet young couple.

    Domicilio Art and Home: http://domicilioartandhome.com/

    Another little gem on hwy 101 near Cedros. This boutique has sort of a Tuscan flair to it, with lots of interesting wood pieces and accents. I found the coolest little bench for my entryway. There was lots of photography and art that seemed very reasonable.

    It doesn’t hurt they have a brewery(Pizza Port) and sushi restaurant(Station Sushi) right next to them. After a day on Cedros and 101, I’m batty unless I get something to eat!

  • beautiful blog you have here! I live in San Diego and really enjoyed this post – I always enjoy finding out about new and different things to do around town. You could also add Jessop Jewelry as a great place to get beautiful custom jewelry :)

  • I recently moved to San Diego and am so happy to have found this guide (as well as all the other city guides). I run a funky tableware company and am always on the look out for design-focused shops to carry our line of porcelain tableware and gifts designed by a leading tattoo artist. Look out for Ink Dish http://www.inkdish.com in some of these great shops soon!

  • Born in raised in “the whale’s vagina” as we locals call it, I loved your list, but some great additions include:
    -Lucha Libre taco shop, which is pretty much the most San Diego thing I can think of, Mexican wrestling masks as far as the eyes can see, delicious Mexican food, AND Ron Burgundy:
    located off Washington street by the 5, I highly recommend the Full Nelson enchiladas.
    -Babette Schwartz
    This rad boutique is located in Hillcrest off University and is ran by one fierce drag queen
    -Kobe’s Swap Meet
    Every Saturday and Sunday at the Sports Arena!!! A mix between mini TJ, an estate sale, and everyone’s storage unit, plus clothing samples from surf/skate brands.
    -Also check out our local music scene, I die for the Creepy Creeps and the Monsters from Mars, go to the Casbah, Bar Pink Elephant, Beauty Bar, or the Che Cafe for a night on the town done right!

  • Hi! Thank you for posting your design guide for San Diego. I clicked on Megan’s link and it has been deleted?? I was wondering if you had any knowledge of fabric stores, or stores with an India and /or Asian theme? Thank you, I love your website, one of my design blog faves!

  • Thanks for the great guide – another small gem in the north county town of Encinitas called Rustic Rooster – great for all budgets.

  • What exact spot is that on the main beginning picture? I live in City Heights, and have never found such great location to take a photo with such beautiful background.

  • While this might have been a good scratch at the surface, I feel like this post is already outdated, and missing quite a bit of San Diegos finest diy boutiques, and I think a handful of those places on the list may have moved/gone out of business.

    • alana

      we try to update our guides once a year but we’re a bit behind on this one- i’ll contact the author and see if we can get some updates :)


  • The City Guides are Wonderful!

    Naomi – the picture was taken from Coronado.

    Laurel is no longer around, same owners, same location, new restaurant: Cucina Urbana

    Belly Up is a great place for live music, also on Cedros in Solana Beach.

    Balboa Park is a must see design destination, full of museums, gardens, and restaurants, like:

    One of my favorite places to eat in SD: Waters Cafe

  • Don’t forget to check out Oceanside’s newest fabric photography and art boutique, Maisonnette! It features unique fabric from all the latest designers as well as local art and photography!

  • Having lived in Los Angeles as well as San Francisco . . . the time has come to move to the wonderful San Diego. What could possibly be better!

  • The best place to eat for vegetarian/vegan food is Pokez mexican food at 947 E Street. I am a native of SD and I was a loyal patron of that wonderful restaurant until I moved to the east coast. It’s in downtown, so you could go there for lunch or dinner after touring the rest of downtown. Oooo. Another great eating place is Hodad’s in Ocean Beach at 5010 Newport Avenue. It has a great atmosphere, and the burgers and malts are delicious. Go down to the beach after a burger to walk off some calories!

  • Stop by Pannikins (3 locations in La Jolla, Del Mar, and Encinitas) for a latte from the locals.

    There are a ton of wonderful little shops all down Girard in La Jolla and Cedros in Solana Beach.

    The Village Hat Shop in Hillcrest in a must for fun hats and across the street is Buffalo Exchange, a vintage-lovers Mecca

  • I love your guides and always make sure to check them out when on a trip. I live in San Diego and I have to say that your San Diego guide needs some update….unfortunately a lot of places are gone :( But my wife and I little shop in the beautiful old neighborhood of Mission Hills is still there after 14 years !! It is a cute home store in an old craftman house. Here is the link to our website and new blog !



  • I miss SD! I live in Sydney now and miss the SD mexican food everyday. You have to include Tony Jacal’s in Solana Beach, PrepKitchen in La Jolla, VG Donuts in Cardiff, Sandwiches from Jonathon’s in La Jolla to take to the beach, Pelly’s in Carlsbad. Boomerang in Little Italy for Mid Century furniture. I did most of my design/fabrics shopping in LA.
    Universal is long gone, don’t bother.

  • Be sure not to miss George’s At The Cove in La Jolla – rooftop casual dining with ocean views or their fine dining level for something special!

  • Thanks so much for this. I live here and it’s always nice to get some new ideas for placed to check out

  • i am so happy to see san diego! another GREAT place for cocktails and unique eats is The Tractor Room in Hillcrest. their drinks are so delicious and their menu is unique.

    for those of us with wee ones, i second the suggestion for The Station Tavern in South Park, as they have lots of family style tables and an enclosed play area. get your eat and drink on whilst watching the kids toss gravel around.

    one of my favorite places to congregate is The Blind Lady Ale House in Normal Heights. Like so many places in SD, the beer is great. unique pizza choices for vegis and carnivores alike, and family style picnic bench seating.

    finally, for the vegans out there, Sipz restaurant in Clairemont. it’s not glamorous, and you may want to turn around upon your first glance of this “hole in the wall”, but it’s phenomenal for all things meat-less.

    and, of course, if you want to do some yoga on the beach, i’m your lady…

  • I’m moving from Portland to SD in a few months and this article made me SO excited! It seems like there’s a few places in SD to get a respectable cup of coffee and a place or two where one can put a bird on it. Now, to find a good clowning school (I hope my credits transfer)

  • Thank you for this! My best friend moved to San Diego last week and I’m flying out to visit her in May – this was perfect! Thank you!

  • It would be SO AWESOME if the people putting these guides together made a Google map with each location pinpointed on it. I’m assuming they had to look up the website and find the address anyway but that extra step would be cool for when you’re in the area and want to get directions to the specific places listed (if I use the Monocle feature on my Yelp app it just shows everything, not curated lists).

    • Hi Lauren!

      We are reformatting the way we do all guides, including adding google maps. Look for the changes soon :)


  • My additions for San Diego-
    The Blind Lady Ale House absolutely must be included in a guide to San Diego- it’s only a couple of years old, but has some of the best craft beer in the city and awesome decor as well. Also Normal Heights as a neighborhood is worth a mention… Also, Caffe Calabria in North Park and Bird Rock Coffee Roasters in Bird Rock have the best coffee in the city. At Kobey’s Swap Meet you can find super cool stuff super cheap – I got a vintage light-up globe for $10. The Museum of Photographic Arts regularly has fun events (I recently went to a “puppet cabaret” there). The Maritime Museum is unexpectedly awesome too- the steam ferry Berkeley is a victorian-era ship with beautiful wood seats, gorgeous tiles, and stained glass that is really beautiful, and on the lower decks you can watch model ship builders make their incredibly intricate historic ships.
    Also, the gift shop at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla is actually really well curated, plenty of newer designers and cool designy gifts.

  • Hehe, I read the post and thought, this is great and I’d add a few things….then I see all the great comments and I think everyone got everything! I would add, The Mission [http://www.themissionnp.signonsandiego.com/] for good eats and definitely add these to the OB/Point Loma (lived in OB for 7 years) listings:

    Ranchos Cocina
    If you’re vegetarian, get the shiitake tacos, to die for.

    Con Pane (bread, sandwiches)

    OB Smoothie Bar & Subs (great Acai bowls!)

    Great Job with this guide, its a diverse city to tackle!

  • If you are in the Little Italy neighborhood, you should definitely check out the little orange house on Kettner Blvd. next to Architectural Salvage, Casa Artelexia! It’s bursting with handmade gifts, art and home décor from the many colorful regions of Mexico.

  • What! No Pappalecco? Best gelato in Little Italy, right next to Vocabulary…. come on! It’s amazing. Also, for good Italian food food go to Bencotto, it’s new.
    Good job otherwise :)

  • I agree with Kristina… she missed more than a few! How can you miss Cedros shopping area…and the best burger joint and what about all the museums in Balboa Park? I live downtown and there are tons that was missed.

  • I am a San Diego native, and after seeing all of the suggestions, I couldn’t have come up with a better list of my own! good job guys!

  • Very thought out, well rounded list! I’m sure you could of gone on-and-on, since San Diego has so many groovy restaurants, indie coffee shops and boutiques.

    My one suggestion: La Focaccia Pizza, in the heart of Hillcrest (right off University and 5th Ave). Best pizza I’ve had in San Diego.

  • I’m glad Encinitas got a little shout out. Here are a few more places to hit…
    m.o.m, Univ, It’s a Love Thing, Grounded, Blue Ribbon Pizza, Home – all on Hwy 101 between E + J streets.

  • laura @prix-prix — funny you mention normal heights… that is my old ‘hood and i absolutely LOVE it! i was worried about overloading people with info… thanks for filling in the blanks! i would add tao and zia pizzeria to the list:



    Naomi, Cedros and Balboa Park Museums are both on there, just not called out individually… trying to keep it somewhat concise!

    anyone who’s interested, nilo’s contact info is thingsnilodid@gmail.com and she is AMAZING!

    thanks everyone and stoked to be able to show off my amazing town!

  • I would like to add Hillcrest Farmer’s Market on Sundays for those busy on Saturdays. Sometimes I go to Little Italy AND Hillcrest in the same weekend. Hillcrest has delicious kettle corn!

    Basic Pizza Downtown is DELICIOUS. I love the basic red pie, no mozz, add ricotta and basil. Their mashed potato and bacon white pizza is my husband’s favorite.

    Also, Gaslamp Pizza is great if you just want a slice while in the city.

    Chocolat is fun if you want the cafe experience. Location in Hillcrest and Gaslamp. Serving gelato and italian fare.

    A new place Tres Porcellini in Hillcrest area is pretty good. I love their logo.

    If you want locally owned fro-yo, Fiji Yogurt is my favorite with four locations around town.

    If you are in La Jolla go to Nine-Ten and get a half-baked chocolate cake. So Good!

    Great list of places to check out, we’ve lived here 6 months so we are still exploring and can’t wait to check out some of the things you’ve listed.

  • Solid picks! I second or third Pappalecco for gelato and nice sandwiches, Prepkitchen (Del Mar location for the oceanview patio) and Whisknladle restaurants, Blind Lady Ale House, and swing by Mariposa for ice cream afterwards. Market in Del Mar and Banker’s Hill Bar and Restaurant are two really great foodie places. Awesome Gingerlily Bakery cupcakes can be had at SeaRocket, a cute locavore spot, or at the Mission Hills Farmers’ Market.

  • I’m a young hipster mom living in the Hillcrest/Northpark area (surprise). Here are some honorable mentions:

    * The Ruby Room
    It’s evereything a good dive bar should be. If ever in the mood to people watch, have cheap (diverse) drinks, watch live music, picture booth it up…ect, ect…This is the spot. The band members of Pinback chill here most thursday nights. They also have a hunky comic book artist who will draw you for a drink. Nothing beats fridge art of yourself as a sexy dragon slayer. Nothing.

    *The Sushi Deli
    The wait can be a bummer especially in a city that’s GO!GO!GO! However, the prices and quality are well worth it. I personally subject my children to this at least once a week. The San Diego roll is mind blowing.

    I also agree with the previous mentions of The Blind Lady and Fiji Yogurt. Both are locally owned and have delicious treats. I love exploring our neighborhoods and I hope this inspires others to do the same!

  • How perfect! I’m planning a trip for Memorial Day weekend. Can’t wait to try some of these places!

  • I lived in La Jolla for a year and it was the best time of my life – I can’t wait to go back!
    Su Casa in La Jolla – best Mexican – right by Windansea beach.
    Buon Appetito – best Italian in Little Italy
    The Cottage – best brunch in La Jolla

  • As a San Diego native, born and raised, I must add Phil’s BBQ, located just next to the SD Sports Arena (http://www.philsbbq.net/). It’s seriously delicious. The place is always packed with a wait of 1.5 hours on a slow day. They also feature some great local beers and a bar that, if you’re lucky enough, can escape to when the wait is unbearable.

    Also, you must include Lolitas (http://lolitasmexicanfood.com/). I grew up eating at this joint. Even the most simple order, like a bean & cheese burrito, is delicious and well balanced. Their California burrito is also a favorite! Lolita’s has multiple locations around the city, so you must stop by at least one.

    If you’re in the Hillcrest area, Bronx Pizza is one place you must stop by. (http://www.bronxpizza.com/). Their Whitestone Pie is heavenly.

  • Pomegranate is still open! It’s just a couple of doors down from the original location… where Dao Son used to be! I was just there a couple of months ago:)

  • thanks to foodsnob, nancy, laura and everyone who included blind lady ale house on their lists. this is a great list and i love design sponge. having been a graphic designer for 20 years now i see myself as a design sponge of sorts. that’s probably why blah is such a weird mess of all my crazy obsessions—the only thing missing are the doughnuts—for now! oh, and did you know we were ranked as one of the 100 best places in america to drink beer? not too shabby. check us out at http://www.blindladyalehouse.com

    if you want to experience the great craft beers of san diego and the 30th street corridor, check http://www.sddrinkabout.com for our next event.

    blind lady ale house
    automatic brewing co

  • In your Nod to North county….next time check out Solana Succulents in Solana Beach. Awesome experience!

  • Thanks for this list! I live in South Park and had never heard of the Nest Vintage – I’m definitely going to check it out! And I feel cool that I’ve been to so many of these places in only 8 months :)

  • How can you not mention Extraordinary Desserts in Little Italy and in Hillcrest?!! Absolutely breath taking interior design AND food! You cannot go to San Diego without stopping here for an amazing slice of cake. Also an amazing coffee shop was not mentioned, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters in Bird Rock on La Jolla Blvd has the best coffee in San Diego! Go there to experience a true local scene, with amazing coffee! You will not be disappointed.

  • I just moved here yesterday from Florida. This blog was sent to me by a friend and it’s fantastic! Will definitely be using this as one of my city guides!

  • It’s so cool to see so many fellow San Diegans who follow D*S! Our poor city is often accused of being cultureless and bland. It isn’t! You just have to be willing to seek out the worthwhile parts of the city. Too many people get stuck in La Jolla and Mission Bay.

  • jeff. thanks for the shout out to BLAH and all of the other info. again, i was trying to keep it somewhat concise and ended up cutting out my old hood, Normal Heights. BLAH as well as the rest of Normal Heights are worth a visit if people have the time to explore!

    Chelsea, you are right on… my sentiments exactly!!

  • We are so happy to be included in the city’s guide! We look forward to meeting all of you, and if you mention this blog, we are happy to extend a 10% discount!
    One more addition : Pappalecco, best gelato in… The United States ?! They are vocabulary’s neighbor at W. Cedar and State Streets in Little Italy

  • I grew up in san diego (22 years!) and live in LA now but long for the relaxed friendly pace that SD offers.

    Thanks so much Bryn for mentioning extraordinary Desserts! I love their teas and especially their scones.

    And if you’re in Pacific Beach i really like cafe Zanzibar located right there on Garnet Ave., delicious simple breakfast items and amazing mochas made with cinnamon. It posts paintings from lots of local artists all over it’s high vaulted walls!

    And i second The Mission (Mission Beach location), i just went there this past christmas for breakfast and got a plate of their chicken apple sausage links with eggs and rosemary bread!

    I almost forgot! The Brockton in La Jolla overlooking the ocean right near the cove, i love their mochas too, also cinnamon infused!

    And a semi-new restaurant in solana beach, Claire’s on Cedros, has double thick bacon and has been awarded best pancakes in SD!

    I agree with others that SD has the best mexican food!

  • my additions for food & beverage would definitely include sea rocket bistro (YUM), MIHO gastrotruck, the blind lady ale house..

    home ec craft studio, the grove and halcyon tea in south park

    noon in ocean beach for gifts, the ocean beach farmer’s market (wednesday) for people watching, stone brewery out in escondido,…sezio events, sd space 4 art (art space downtown with great openings and open studio nights), salad style (east village – best salads ever)!

    eclipse chocolate and soltan banoo in university heights!

    san diego has so much to offer! love this city :)

  • love your san diego city guide :-) you should check out “make good” in south park next time you are in the area…lovely store, all handmade and vintage.
    Thanks again for posting this :-)

  • This guide was such a help. I just got back from San Diego and went to a bunch of the suggested places, which were all great. We stopped in La Jolla on our way up to LA, and I came across the Cottage. I have to say, they make some good French toast, quite possibly the best I’ve ever had. I loved San Diego.

  • North Park’s Ray at night Art Walk happens the second Saturday of each month. The retail portion of Ray street is closed to traffic and there is live music, gourmet food trucks and all the galleries, art and dining North Park is famous for. Don’t miss Heaven Scent Desserts!

  • Just a shout out to you all for a great guide to SD…Speaking of Ray at Night and North Park…Gustaf who started the whole Ray at Night art walk 11 years ago is now creating chairs and other furnishings using reclaimed materials. Check out what he is doing in the Hillcrest/Bankers Hill area here,


    and if you find yourself down this way please feel free to stop by and say hi…


  • Thanks for all the great suggestions and updates! As a native, I love exploring all the nooks and crannies in different San Diego neighborhoods :)

    My one suggestion – Sab-E-Lee in Linda Vista for Thai food. A mom and pop place that serves up some of the most authentic tasting Thai food – yummm. Note-it only seats about 12 people at a time.

  • What a great guide! Thanks to this and all these great posts, have had a completely decadent, fun week in SD! A shout out is warranted for my friends at Smoking Goat – delicious food and even better service!

  • maybe my computer/server is acting funky, but i can’t see the names of the neighborhoods or sections above each list of spots…i’ll be spending a week in san diego at the end of the month and would love to get full use of this great guide!!

  • yay! so glad to see this update. well done lady!

    it’s been said, but never too much: blind lady ale house. and now their sister tiger! tiger!

    it should be mentioned that SD is kiiiind of the craft beer capital of the world, with north park at the retail heart of it. a few more north park restaurants worth mentioning include ritual tavern and the linkery.

    coffee and pastries or sandwiches at influx (golden hill or little italy)

    a manakeesh ultimate from mama’s lebonese bakery.

    up in escondido there is an ammaaaaazing niki saint de phalle sculture park

    and for any architect nerd the salk institute is an absolute requirement!

  • Whoa wait a minute! Can we talk about the only place to get a Chicago style hot dog, Italian beef sandwich, and deep dish pizza? Lefty’s in North Park (the original) and in Mission Hills are the go-to haunts for Chicago expats missing. Plus.. Underbelly is delicious (downtown), and someone’s gotta throw down for El Zarape on Park in University Heights (get the chile relleno burrito, trust me!). Plus… no mention of Live Wire? Great dive bar. I could go on. Bluefoot is the place to be if you like soccer and nice people. Or just nice people. And Soda Bar has great shows, surprised it isn’t listed!

  • A couple of great places not mentioned in beautiful Solana Beach, just off of Cedros Ave. Design District are : RE-Gallery http://regallery.org and then stop by for an amazing lunch at Lockwood Cafe!