Where To Eat & Stay In San Diego guide image

SDGuide

Where To Eat & Stay In San Diego

A restaurant tucked into a wine shop, our go-to fish taco place, frosty adult slushies, and more.

While it’s true that you can find plenty of excellent fish tacos and craft beer in San Diego, there’s really so much more to explore. The beautiful weather, access to some of the best produce in the country, and the fact that Mexico is just 20 miles away, make this area an exciting place to eat, drink, and hang out.  

From Downtown to the historic Gaslamp Quarter, there are lots of restaurants and neighborhoods to check out. If heading up the northern coast, plan to make a whole day of it and chill at the beach in Oceanside or Encinitas, do some hiking, or see some live music. There are a ton of good places to eat just 30 minutes away from Downtown, and we promise you won’t regret the drive. 

So in between all that beach time, snapping an obligatory shot of La Jolla’s famed sea lions (from a safe distance), and puttering around Balboa Park, these are the restaurants you should be prioritizing. You’ll find casual lunch spots, fine dining experiences right on the ocean, plant-based picks, brunch options, and more. Here are all the best restaurants and hotels in San Diego.

NEW-ISH & BUZZY RESTAURANTS

photo credit: Deanna Sandoval

Artifact review image

Artifact

$$$$

1439 El Prado, San Diego
View WebsiteEarn 3X Points
RESERVE A TABLE

POWERED BY

open table

Artifact is not your average museum restaurant serving dry turkey sandwiches. Opened in 2021 in the lobby of Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park, the restaurant is a prime place to stop in for lunch and try foods from older cultures. You’ll find dishes from Siam and the Fertile Crescent, which encompasses areas of the Middle East including present-day Lebanon, Israel, and Turkey. Expect items like shrimp gyoza in delicate yuzu dashi broth, a veggie samosa topped with a bright mango chutney, and the shareable snack tray starter that comes with curried vegetables with labneh, lemony chicken satay skewers, and muhammara. You’ll sit among other park-goers at sleek bistro tables, or at the wood-topped bar where you can admire the swirly gold beer taps that double as an art piece, like the light installation overhead.


This moody wine bar in the North Park neighborhood is all dark interiors and lush plants. They pour a short list of natural bottles from California to Croatia, and unusual for San Diego, have a nice selection of vermouth. Food comes from Papalito, the Sonoran-style restaurant situated within, and is equally excellent, ranging from smoked and cured meats for its BBQuterie boards to sandwiches on Japanese milk bread and buns. Don’t miss The Rustler with brisket, herby papalo chimichurri, and lemon aioli and the smoked tomato toast with a gratin made from whatever the local farmers market has got that week (maybe leeks, or a rainbow of sweet peppers). This should be your first stop before you begin a night of North Park bar-hopping—we like to start at The Office Bar or Coin-op Game Room.


Sign up for our newsletter.

Be the first to get expert restaurant recommendations for every situation right in your inbox.


By signing up, I agree to the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Tucked into a wine shop off the 101 in Solana Beach, about 30 minutes from downtown San Diego, Long Story Short is all about beautiful dishes and flavor combinations that highlight the local produce. You’ll probably eat something different every time you go since the menu is based on the chefs’ weekly farm trips. For example, you might try cured yellowtail with figs one week, and brothy mushroom tortellini with lemon thyme oil the next. The space works well if you want to dine solo or with a date at the bar, but with just one large table that can accommodate a group, save your group outing for somewhere else.


THE CLASSICS


City Tacos is one of the best and most reliable places for a round of tacos in the city. While they have multiple locations, the North Park spot is nice and central with a ton of bars and shops around to check out afterward. You can choose from fish, meat, and a ton of vegetarian options, or go for the packed steak and shrimp surf and turf taco. At some locations you’ll find regional specials like achiote-inflected cochinita pibil or a veracruzana fish taco topped with the classic medley of tomato, onion, garlic, and capers.


Fort Oak is where to go for expertly charred seafood dishes cooked over a Santa Maria-style wood-fired grill. The space used to be a Ford dealership, but now there’s a horseshoe-shaped bar and a chef’s table inside instead of a bunch of American-made vehicles. All of those details really make the place work for almost anything, from a solo round of cocktails (including low-abv options) and $1 oysters at Happy Hour, or a date night in the indoor-outdoor dining room, to ordering a giant seafood tower with a group. Stay for desserts like the panna cotta with pistachio ice cream, and consider checking out the cash-only dive and karaoke bar The Lamplighter that’s just a five-minute walk away.


The oceanfront Marine Room has been a fine dining French restaurant since 1941, but in 2021, a new chef took over and really made this place a destination for sustainable seafood. The updated menu is full of finely executed surf and turf with unexpected elements that probably require some tweezer action, like caviar-topped salmon tartare in mini cones, hamachi crudo in coconut aguachile, and wagyu with onion ash and sweet drop peppers. It’s the place to go for a romantic sunset dinner.


WHERE TO EAT NEAR THE BEACH


Dija Mara in Oceanside is known for Indonesian dishes, like vegetable-forward gado gado and nasi goreng with confit chicken. It’s a great spot for a unique brunch, especially when you add in kaya coconut jam brioche toast with white miso and egg bowls with spicy eggplant. The restaurant feels like somewhere you’d find in LA, with a space that resembles someone’s artsy-industrial loft and a great list of natural wine, beer, and cocktails. Yes, it’s about a 30-minute drive from the city, but you can make a day out of the journey since there are a whole host of bars and lounges (not to mention the beach) nearby. You can even take the Amtrak up to Oceanside if you didn’t rent a car and don’t want to rack up the rideshare receipts.


The Waverly in Cardiff is a bit of a drive from Downtown, but it’s within walking distance of a great longboarding beach—not to mention a popular camping spot. The restaurant’s pastel tones, natural fiber accents, and airy setting is a perfect choice for dishes like soft shell crab sandwiches with chipotle aioli, funfetti pancakes, and Turkish poached eggs with Aleppo pepper and cooling yogurt and mint. It gets pretty busy on weekends, so if you’re coming with a group definitely make a reservation. We like it best as a fun brunch spot since there are plenty of specialty cocktails, non-alcoholic spritzers, local hard seltzers, and kombuchas, as well as a resident magician and mentalist if you’re game for some David Copperfield energy with your mimosa.


Oscars Mexican Seafood in Pacific Beach should be your first stop in town for some really good batter-fried or grilled fish tacos. The place is pretty casual, there’s usually a line, and the tacos come with the classic toppings: shredded cabbage, onion, tomato, cilantro, and avocado. Depending on what’s available that day, you can order fresh yellowtail or snapper in a burrito, torta, or plate, but there’s also some great ceviche and shrimp, chorizo, and veggie tacos too. 


SPECIAL OCCASION SPOTS


Addison is the Mount Everest of fancy San Diego restaurants. All of the dishes on the $300 seasonal tasting menu are expertly executed, whether that’s chicken liver churros, a crispy potato cube layered with black truffle and Iberico ham, or sashimi with kiwi and melon. Beyond the food, Addison has an extensive, excellent wine and cocktail list, including bottles from smaller producers and rare champagne. The restaurant just got a refresh in 2020, so now it’s warmer and brighter to complement the space’s arched windows and high ceilings. All that makes Addison a phenomenal place to celebrate that promotion you’ve waited years for.


If you’ve done the fish taco thing and want something a little more high-end, come to Animae for wagyu steaks alongside reimagined traditional Filipino dishes like short-rib kare kare served with bagoong peanut oil and long green beans. There are four kinds of Japanese and American wagyu, including a sporadically available option that’s even been aged in snow. The restaurant has a playlist that pumps out ‘90s hip-hop and R&B throwbacks and a velvet-heavy dining room with floor-to-ceiling curtains and a huge work of art depicting a robot floating in the ocean behind the bar. Make a reservation here for date night, or bring your entire friend group to go all out.


Callie might be the hardest reservation to get in town. But if you plan ahead and book a table for a group, the Mediterranean menu delivers a ton of hits like zhoug-drizzled hummus with warm pita, juicy Aleppo-spiced chicken, and lemon saffron linguini with local uni. The drink list is also excellent, with Italian and Spanish wines by the glass or bottle, local craft beers, and plenty of mezcal- and gin-based cocktails. The tables that face the semi-open kitchen are the best seats in the house, but the warm yellow and rust colors of the dining room also make it a great choice to impress a new date or just get a bit fancy with your longtime partner. And if you plan to see a Padres game while you’re in town, Callie is a five-minute walk to Petco Park.  


Vaga is one of the few white tablecloth experiences in coastal Encinitas, located steps from the beach in the Alila Marea Resort. It’s got one of the best patios in the entire area with unobstructed views of the Pacific ocean, so try to time your dinner when the sun is going down. They use a lot of Mexican ingredients like epazote and hoja santa in dishes like a pork chop with rich mole, apple, and cauliflower, and all of it makes for one of the better meals you can have in the whole San Diego area. If you’re a larger group, grab a table in the dining room that has a huge fireplace to catch the action of the open kitchen, or hit up the outdoor bar and lounge area if you’re feeling more lively.


SOMETHING CASUAL


Allmine is a cozy pizzeria in Oceanside with great pies like the mushroom- and spicy merguez-topped It’s a Trip and small plates like savory cheese puffs and stuffed roasted squash with couscous. The place has brick walls, hanging plants throughout, and a few tables on its tight outdoor patio, but the best spot in the house is at the tiny bar with cushy stools. Spend some time chatting with the owner who’ll give you recommendations ranging from natural wines from Texas Hill Country, bubbles from Portugal, and a great selection of local draft and canned beers. Go for an early dinner before a night out in downtown Oceanside, which should include a stop at The Space Pad, a speakeasy in Kilowatt Brewery, and a fancy cocktail at Frankie’s.


Barrio Dogg is a low-rider-themed restaurant and bar serving hot dogs on Sonora-style buns with lots of tasty toppings. The Xolito is inspired by the way they do it in Tijuana, with a slick of mayo, grilled onions, jalapeños, cheddar cheese, and crunchy garlic. You could also make it a bacon-wrapped dog, or opt for a veggie dog, but definitely consider sticking around for a cold michelada with a sweet-tangy-salty chamoy rim. It’s a good option before a show at The Rady Shell, a game at Petco Park, or when you desperately need something to eat after walking around the neighborhood and admiring the outdoor murals.


While you can get a great dinner at this colorful restaurant in Point Loma, Cesarina is one of the best choices for weekend brunch in the city. Sit at its bougainvillea-strewn patio and share dishes like prosciutto-avocado bruschettone and truffle polenta while sipping on espressos, spritzes, and lavender lemonade mimosas. In the dining room, there’s an oversized wall of jarred lemons and vegetables along with some bar seating, but if you’re lucky, you’ll get a seat where you can watch a staff member make your pasta.


Hamburger Hut’s burgers are what you would get if In-N-Out went upmarket. They serve craft cocktails and frosty adult slushies, and swap regular ground beef for 100 percent grass-fed wagyu that’s sandwiched between King’s Hawaiian sweet buns. Even if you’re not in the mood for beef, the menu has a fish burger with chili-lime tartar and fresh poke with taro chips. They’ve got a great partially-covered outdoor patio with a fire pit, which makes this a perfect spot to bring kids or just have a relaxed group meal. Plus, its location on the 101, a short distance from Moonlight Beach, makes it an ideal pre- or post-beach stop.


Izola Bakery’s bread and pastries, like fresh croissants and warm Tahitian vanilla knots, are a gift to Downtown’s East Village neighborhood. On weekends, you can enjoy live music alongside a slice of sourdough speckled with pecans and Castelvetrano olives and the Hot Potion peppermint tea drink with honey and thyme. They’re always adding new treats to the mix, like a buttery morning bun made with Southern California oranges. If you’re pressed for time, preorder your goods on Izola’s website a few days ahead, and know that parking in these parts can be tricky.


WHEN YOU WANT SOMETHING KIND OF HEALTHY


Besides some fast-casual cafes, sit-down vegan restaurants are still pretty rare around San Diego. Enter The Plot in Oceanside. You’ll definitely want to be outside on the patio—it feels less like a restaurant and more like a fancy friend’s backyard complete with an herb garden, heat lamps, and spare blankets for when the weather has the nerve to dip below 70 degrees. Go for dishes like lentil- and wild rice-based meatless loaf, and Okinawan sweet potato gnocchi with cherry tomatoes and nori tapenade. The plant-based proteins are particularly good and all housemade, including its chickpea-based tuna and lion’s mane mushroom crab featured in sushi rolls.


Civico 1845 in Little Italy does lots of Calabrian pasta dishes, but the highlight here is a full menu of vegan options. Linguine al verde, for example, is dressed in spinach pesto, roasted hazelnuts, and finished with lemon zest, while gnocchi features fake Italian sausage, eggplant, and vegan mozzarella. When you add in an extensive wine by the glass list, an Aperol spritz menu, and its selection of digestifs, Civico makes for a great, relaxed date-night spot in one of the city’s busiest neighborhoods.


THE HOTELS


The Mission Pacific Hotel in Oceanside is a cool place to stay if you want to be steps away from beaches and the pier, and don’t really care about being in Downtown San Diego. It’s got a rooftop pool, bar, and lounge area with ocean views that hosts DJs on weekends, a notable Baja California-inspired restaurant, Valle, and typical San Diego amenities like a surf valet. It’s also where you’ll find the “Top Gun house,” which was relocated and revamped into a pie shop.


The 26-room Cormorant Boutique Hotel in quaint La Jolla Village is practically on the beach, and comes with a rooftop restaurant and bar with the Pacific as a backdrop. The hotel features geometric wall art, sand-colored woodwork, and pops of aqua decor, and guests get access to Life Time fitness, a luxury gym nearby. It’s also a good choice if you want a quieter stay than hotels in the city. 


Check out Tower 23 in Pacific Beach if you’re a night owl who wants a hotel in close proximity to the beach and the whole scene that comes with it, including the pedestrian pathway, beach bars, and a ton of restaurants. This boutique hotel offers ocean view rooms with balconies, in-room spa options, and a sun deck with loungers that looks out onto the ocean—some rooms even have a view of Pacific Beach pier. It also has a restaurant, Jrdn, for sushi and other seafood-forward plates. 


Pendry is the place to stay when you want instant access to Downtown’s nightlife and major attractions. You’ll be in the Gaslamp Quarter close to nightclubs like Onyx and Side Bar (plus its own Oxford Social Club), Petco Park, and just a quick drive away from Balboa Park and Coronado Island. This is also the hotel to splurge on for a spa treatment before hanging out at its rooftop pool—but not before taking advantage of its eucalyptus steam room. The hotel has five restaurants and bars, including sustainable seafood and sushi spot Lionfish.

Chase Sapphire Card Ad

Suggested Reading

The Best Restaurants In Nashville guide image
Guide
The Best Restaurants In Nashville

A taco truck outside of a tiki bar, the best hot chicken, and all of our favorite alternatives to hot chicken in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Best Restaurants & Hotels In Monterey guide image
Guide
The Best Restaurants & Hotels In Monterey

Our favorite places for fresh seafood, blueberry-ricotta pancakes, and vegan Mexican food in Monterey.

The Best Restaurants & Hotels Between Big Sur & Cambria guide image
Guide
The Best Restaurants & Hotels Between Big Sur & Cambria

Your 17 must-stops for oysters, carne asada tacos, and ocean views on a road trip between Big Sur and Cambria.

The Best Restaurants & Hotels In Carmel guide image
Guide
The Best Restaurants & Hotels In Carmel

"Shuckefeller"-style broiled oysters, wineries that feel like castles, and much more.

Infatuation Logo
2023 © The Infatuation Inc. All Rights Reserved.

FIND PLACES ON OUR APP

Get it on Google PlayDownload on the App Store