San Diego is one of the most stunning cities in the world. Surrounded by sand and water, there’s a number of ways to spend your time in San Diego, especially if you love food and nature. Home to the best tacos in America, and truly world-class beaches, it’s one of those places you’ll instantly find yourself slowing down and stopping to smell the roses once you’re there. I spent 4 years in San Diego for college, and have compiled a few of my favorite places! Places marked with two asterisks (**) are particular to San Diego–meaning you’ll have difficulty finding a place of similar caliber outside SD.
- Tacos El Gordo (Chula Vista)**: Hands down the most authentic tacos in America. I’d consider myself a taco connoisseur, having tried pretty much every major shop in SD, LA, and SF. Regionally, there’s no competition with tacos in San Diego; SF and LA pale in comparison. Tacos El Gordo a bit of a drive but 100% worth it.; make sure you go to the one on H Street. There are multiple locations of varying quality, but the one on H street is by far the best and most consistent. Recommend: al pastor, lengua, carne asada super tacos (I get mine without sour cream, but to each their own!).
- El Pescador (La Jolla)**: An absolute must if you love fresh seafood. Get the seabass sandwich, some fresh sashimi, and thank me later! It’s a hidden gem that I fell in love with during my time in college. They moved to a bigger location with more seating (it literally used to be a shack on the street).
- Sushi Ota (Pacific Beach)**: Insanely good sushi, some of the best I’ve had outside Japan. You definitely need a reservation though. The salmon belly nigiri is to die for. It’s pricier but not a Michelin-level bank breaker. I know it’s weird to think about going to SD for sushi but this places tops all the ones in SF/LA that I’ve tried.
- El Zarape (North Park): They are famous for their scallop burrito and fries. If you are in SD, carne asade fries are an absolute must while you’re there.
- George’s at the Cove (La Jolla): The food here is good, but the winner is the view! It’s a glass balcony on the top level, which is the more casual and budget-friendly level. Get the ceviche if they have it.
- Extraordinary Desserts: (Downtown): The prettiest desserts ever! To be honest, some of the desserts skew too sweet for me, but I do think if you choose wisely and appreciate aesthetics, you’ll enjoy this place.
- The Cottage (La Jolla): There are several good places in SD for brunch (Snooze or Hash House in Hillcrest are popular as well), but The Cottage is the cutest and tastiest of all of them. They don’t take reservations and the wait can be anywhere from 60-90 minutes if you get there during prime brunch time, so I suggest getting there early (around 10AM or earlier)! The surrounding area is quaint and nice to walk around while you’re waiting.
- Oscar’s Mexican Seafood (La Jolla): The absolute best ceviche you’ll find in San Diego! Delicious cheap Mexican seafood.
- World Famous (Pacific Beach): Don’t be misled by the Yelp rating–you need to come to World Famous for tacos, and nothing else. They have a special for tacos just about every day of the week here. There is a special line just for Taco Tuesday (you’ll know what I mean when you get there), but definitely get the fish tacos, they’re amazing.
- Whisknladle (La Jolla): A quaint and more upscale restaurant in downtown La Jolla. New American cuisine mostly focused on seafood. I went here for restaurant week and was thoroughly impressed by their food selection.
- Karl Strauss (La Jolla): There is another location in Mira Mesa, but I prefer the downtown La Jolla one. They have a great HH from 4-6 where you can get flights of beers and apps for half off. Elevated bar bites that actually taste good – think chicken wings, gourmet chips & dip, and an amazing selection of beer. I usually get the flight to sample beers and some apps.
- Whisknladle (La Jolla): Whisknladle does a great HH for their Sangria and some apps!
- Prepkitchen (La Jolla, Little Italy): Prepkitchen is Whisknladle’s sister restaurant. It’s more casual but they do a similar HH to Whisknladle. However, I recommend this one over Whisknladle because they have a better selection of appetizers.
- Noble Experiment (Downtown)**: A hidden speakeasy tucked into a random alley in downtown San Diego. Reservations are highly recommended; you make them by texting 619-888-4713 up to a week in advance. They have some out of the world drinks; if you come here, tell the bartender your taste preferences as opposed to ordering something off of the menu and they’ll whip you up your most vivid fantasies, liquid form! Cocktails are some of the best I’ve had in the world; their bartenders are exceptionally talented.
- El Dorado Cocktail Lounge (Downtown): El Dorado was one of my favorite places to grab a drink in downtown. They have expert bartenders and a long, delicious list of cocktails. They also have a happy hour pretty late into the night (so after dinner cocktails would be perfect).
- La Jolla Cove (La Jolla)**: There is SO much to do here at La Jolla Cove! You can do water sports such as kayaking, snorkeling, etc. watch the sea lions, or just walk along the pristine walkways admiring the Pacific Ocean. Tons of natural California beauty.
- The Cliffs (La Jolla)**: One of the most magical places to catch a sunset in San Diego. It’s right across from the UCSD campus. Kind of tricky to find if you haven’t been there before. I recommend going a bit before sunset (around 7:30PM) because street parking is sparse around that time. When you make the right turn onto La Jolla Farms road, you should drive a bit and see a big gate on your left side, which is the entrance to the cliffs. People propose here all the time—seriously stunning, world-class viewpoint.
- Potato Chip Hike (Poway): A moderate hike on the Mt. Woodson trail with a rock shaped like a potato chip at the end! I recommend going early because it’s popular and can get crowded. Great views all the way up.
- Torrey Pines State Reserve (La Jolla): There are a ton of great hiking trails in Torrey Pines, and most of them are pretty easy/relaxing to do. It’s a beautiful and secluded area, so if you want a hike where you can talk and hang out throughout (with great views of the beach), this is the place to go!
- Windansea Beach (La Jolla): One of the most beautiful beaches in SD. It’s a little more tucked away and remote so there are not as many people there.
- La Jolla Shores (La Jolla): Family friendly beach that is super clean and a great place to tan, swim, or hang out for a day! I used to picnic here all the time with friends 🙂
- Brewery Tours (everywhere, but mostly northern San Diego County): San Diego is probably second to Portland on the West Coast when it comes to famous breweries, and most of them offer tours! Depending on what kind of beer you like, there are a ton of great places to take a tour and do some tastings. I recommend Stone Brewery or Lost Abbey, but if you Google you’ll find several more.
- Balboa Park**: You can easily spend a whole day at Balboa Park! There are so many things to see and visit. I recommend the botanical garden and strolling through the art museums. It’s huge and you definitely won’t get bored there, especially if the weather is nice out.
- Coronado Island: Coronado Island is beautiful and there is a ton of outdoor activities you can do out there! I’ve only been a few times but you can kayak, hang out at the beach (I personally like La Jolla’s better though), and there are a number of parks.
You’ve probably noticed by now, but the majority of my recommendations are in La Jolla. I lived in La Jolla during college, so it’s the area I’m most familiar with, but it’s also my favorite by far! It’s the most untouched, cleanest, most beautiful, in my opinion. La Jolla is extremely family-friendly, and the ultimate place to relax and walk around. People are great, there are dogs everywhere, and the town is super adorable (think little boutiques and local eateries lining the streets towards the beach).
If you’re going to San Diego for a few days, I’d recommend you pick and choose based on the neighborhoods listed in parentheses to make the best use of your time. Start with La Jolla and work your way down to Pacific Beach, North Park, and Downtown.