Downtown’s East Village neighborhood is home to 130 blocks of restaurants, bars, boutiques, hotels, the city’s main library, a baseball stadium, and countless other notable sights. With so much packed into one of the most urban parts of town, it can be tough to choose. Let us help you find a few things to do, see, eat, and drink to get started. Continue reading
Whether rolling along the beach on the Coaster or around the city on the trolley system, riding San Diego’s rails is a great way to get to know the city. And no matter where you stop off, you’ve got immediate access to the region’s world famous culinary and craft beer scene. Pick a stop, any stop. Continue reading
Tiki culture is all about escapism—the food, the drinks, and the decor are all attempts to re-create some fantastical tropical island that never actually existed. This is also why tiki cocktails are so potent, designed to help ease you to into a festive state of mind. San Diego is embracing the tiki culture with a new generation of bartenders celebrating that rich tradition. Here’s a roundup of San Diego’s hot tiki bars and other spots where you can find a perfectly tropical cocktail. Continue reading
Nestled along San Diego’s Pacific Coast is Bird Rock, a quirky but laid-back neighborhood known for beautiful ocean views, independent boutiques, and cozy cafes. Visitors and locals can easily stroll from one end of La Jolla Boulevard (Bird Rock’s main drag) to the other, making it the perfect destination for out-of-towners to explore unique mom-and-pop shops. No matter when you decide to visit Bird Rock, its casual culture mixed with upscale atmosphere means you should pack both your swim trunks and a sport coat or heels.
Eating & Drinking
No visit to Bird Rock is complete without a pilgrimage to Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, one of the most highly acclaimed roasters in the country. Grab a pastry and pour over before snagging a spot on one of the open window benches—there isn’t a better spot to people watch. For lunch, try Cafe Vahik, Seaside Surf Cafe, Don Bravo Grill & Cantina, or Wheat & Water for a wood-fired pizza and pint of local craft beer.
For something a little stronger, head to Beaumont’s. This eclectic eatery serves food all day, but it’s the live music and craft cocktails that attract the crowds. Nearby Pacific Beach caters to those who seek a late-night social scene, as most of Bird Rock beds down by midnight. Ocean views are best atop the new Waterbar restaurant, but tiki cocktail fans will go gaga for The Grass Skirt.
Biking is a popular Bird Rock pastime. Hop on the local bike path for an easy ride through the heart of the ‘hood. For a challenge, surfing at Windansea Beach is a picturesque but advanced surf spot. Use caution – the offshore reefs make for good waves, but bad wipeouts. When in doubt, just bring a camera to document the gorgeous scenery.
Another nearby Instagram gem is La Jolla Cove. This protected nook is home to herds of seals, pelicans, and other sea life. Get a closer look at the local marine life in a kayak or paddleboard (rentals are available).
La Jolla Culture
Cute shops line the length of La Jolla Boulevard. Mimi & Red, a local boutique specializing in millennial women’s fashion, is one of the most popular stops in Bird Rock. Just down the street, Bird Rock Surf Shop caters to the surfing crowd. There are also plenty of art galleries featuring the work of local and national artists. After you’ve had your fill of shopping, take a load off at one of La Jolla’s numerous spas like The Bird Rock Massage Studio, Birdie Day Spa, Lucky Ocean Spa, or Decorum Lash Bar & Spa. From facials to full body massages, there’s something relaxing for everyone.
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San Diego has world-class mainstay restaurants, like Mister A’s, George’s, and Addison. But new blood is good for the restaurant scene’s circulatory system. Here are eight restaurants that have made a significant impact since opening in recent months.
Where: 1909 India St, San Diego, CA 92101
The biggest project from one of San Diego’s hottest restaurant groups and one of the biggest the city’s seen in years, Born & Raised takes an American classic – the mood-lit steakhouse – and flips it on its head. In lieu of oil paintings, we get framed portraits of gangster rap icons, plus some of the country’s best craft cocktails. They’re dry-aging everything in-house for optimal meat quality, and reviving an American dinner classic: tableside service (Caesar salads, steak Dianne, French omelets, you name it).
Where: 2210 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101
Chef Brian Malarkey is best known for his TV feats (Top Chef, Guy’s Grocery Games), but locally him and partner Chris Puffer have made names for creating what is arguably the most stunning dining experience in town at Herb & Wood. Malarkey and partner and co-chef Shane McIntyre’s cumin-carrots are a thing to behold, and the housemade pastas are phenomenal – try the oxtail gnocchi.
Where: 721 Eighth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
Café Chloe’s tiny French bistro was one of the trailblazers in Downtown’s East Village. While the food is phenomenal, the pure design libido of the place makes every diner feel 300 percent more attractive. And Minou, a creperie and private party space opened by Café Chloe’s owners a couple of blocks away, is even prettier. Plus, the crepes (savory and sweet) and Euro-style coffees are top-notch.
Where: 2725 State St, Carlsbad, CA 92008
Carlsbad has always been a quaint, lovely seaside town in San Diego. But no one claimed it a modern, groundbreaking place to eat or drink – until Campfire. A chef, bartender, and GM spun off one of the artsiest restaurant groups in town to build this winner. It’s an ode to fire and smoke – it even has a teepee out back. Try the brisket plate with furikake (Japanese spice mix), or any of the mind-bending craft cocktails from the bar.
Where: 435 Fifth Ave #2, San Diego, CA 92101
The Pendry San Diego is one of those projects that sends local mouths agape. It’s hip, well-designed, and impressive. Lionfish is its 150-seat main dining attraction, overseen by one of the city’s rising star chefs, JoJo Ruiz. Though it’s a seafood-centric menu (we got an ocean here!), the lamb tartare with vadouvan yogurt is a show-stealer, as is the big-eye tuna pizza.
Where: 2865 Sims Rd, San Diego, CA 92106
Buona Forchetta made its name for pizza in the artsy little burgh of South Park. Owner Matteo Cattaneo’s family owns one of the best olive oil companies in Italy, and they ship him over the best of each batch. For this new spinoff at Liberty Station, Cattaneo partnered with Chef Mario Cassineri, a pasta-whisperer who owned BiCE in Downtown for nine years. The result is an all-around Italian winner.
Where: 1980 Kettner Blvd #30, San Diego, CA 92101
Tiny sleeper hit this year. Once a cheese shop, the owner brought on a new partner and a chef who used to work for one of the city’s top caterers (Miho), and went tapas. The ahi tostadas are tiny but delicious, with a blue-corn crisp, avocado crema, morita ash, radish, green onion, and chive. The lamb chops with cilantro-aioli are also a must-try. But tapas is a drinking cuisine, so don’t ignore the well-selected wines at the bar.
Where: 4130 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92103
Last year’s runaway best new restaurant was Trust, where chef Brad Wise was blowing people away with his wood-smoked dishes (that braised oxtail raviolini will alter you). They doubled down, literally down the street, with this bar-food spinoff. Try the hen egg pizza with burrata and Calabrian chiles, the steam beer-fried fish tacos, or add some whiskey or booze of choice to one of those naughty shakes (Almond Joy, Mexican Hot Chocolate, Lemon Meringue).
San Diego’s local art scene is thriving more than ever. World-class museums abound across the county. As do independent galleries, unique pop-ups, and outdoor installations that can be enjoyed year-round, thanks to our perfect climate. February is Macy’s Museum Month in San Diego, which means you can enjoy half off admission to more than 40 local museums. When you’re looking for inspiration, it’s easy to enjoy the bounty of artistry right here in these creative-minded ‘hoods.
The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego‘s downtown location is a must-visit for modern art aficionados and just blocks from Little Italy. This acclaimed museum offers a rotating schedule of shows in addition to a large permanent collection, which includes everything from video art to large-scale sculptures. Nearly a dozen boutique galleries can be found in Little Italy, and local galleries like Subtext Gallery or Sparks Gallery are close by in the Gaslamp Quarter. Best of all, Little Italy is arguably one of San Diego’s hottest drinking-and-dining ‘hoods. So cocktails and fine dining await in spades just outside the MCASD’s doors.
Fans of photography, contemporary folk art, European master painters, and everything in between will be wowed by at least one (if not all) of the 17 museums in Balboa Park during Museum Month. Stroll through the Botanical Gardens on your way to the San Diego Museum of Art, or enjoy a cheese plate among the sculptures next to Panama 66. Visitors can also pop into local artisans’ studios in the Spanish Village Art Center to watch working artists in action and purchase one-of-a-kind prints, jewelry, pottery, and more.
In the past 10 years, Point Loma’s Liberty Station has evolved into a world-class arts-centric destination. From promenades that feature massive sculptures to art studios open to the public, the Arts District is a thriving creative hub with something for everyone. And they’re just getting started; new restaurants, galleries, and shops seem to open every day. Don’t miss Friday Night Liberty every first Friday of the month from 5:00 to 9:00 PM. It’s the city’s biggest (free!) monthly art walk and features art, music, dance, and theater.
Escondido, located in the northeast region of San Diego, boasts some of the best art in the county. The California Center for the Arts, Escondido is home to a contemporary art museum, art studios, concert hall, theater, and more, making it one of San Diego’s biggest centers for arts and culture. Catch a performance by a touring symphony or stop by for one of the famed Jazz Jam Sessions before.
Head north along the coast to the Oceanside Museum of Art. This seaside museum hosts temporary exhibits and arts workshops for a variety of ages. Just around the corner is the California Surf Museum, home to thousands of rare surfing artifacts and photographs. Once you’ve had your art and history fill, visit the beautiful Oceanside pier to catch a Pacific sunset.
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Hikers, bikers, and yogis rejoice. Whether you’re trying to stay in shape during your vacation or just in the mood to try something new, in a fitness-focused town like San Diego, there’s surely something for everyone.
1. SUP Yoga
Get out of the studio and try SUP yoga. Short for stand-up paddleboard, SUP combines two of our favorite low-impact workouts, and you can’t beat that ocean breeze. Anchor your board and focus on balance, or get comfortable with getting wet. Stoked Yogi offers classes in Mission Bay and Carlsbad Lagoon, which you can book in advance. Near Mission Beach? Sign up for a Bliss Paddle Yoga class. Or set up a SUP Yoga workshop in San Diego or Mission bays with Paddle into Fitness.
Running is the perfect vacation workout. Get your heart pumping and enjoy some of San Diego’s best scenery along the way. And really, all you need to pack is a pair of sneakers. So lace up those running shoes and hit the road. Check out these popular routes:
Check out relics from the city’s long maritime history, cruise ships, and yachts as you jog along San Diego Bay and perhaps take a detour through Waterfront Park or Seaport Village.
This flat, nearly 12-mile loop takes you past stretches of gorgeous shoreline, Fiesta Island Park, the Bahia Resort, and two wildlife preserves.
Sunset Cliffs offers some of the best ocean views in town. This path will take you along the rocky cliffs from Ocean Beach to Sunset Cliffs Park. Not tired yet? Continue along the looping trails of Sunset Cliffs Park.
Take this flat trail in La Mesa around the reservoir to the dam gate, then turn around and head back for a roughly 6-mile run.
Pacific Beach Boardwalk
Navigate your way through walkers, bikers, and rollerbladers on this paved oceanfront run. Or wait for low tide and run along the sand above the crashing waves.
San Diego is the birthplace of the modern triathlon, so if you’re up for the grueling run-swim-bike race, sign up for one of the many held at various locations around town. Check out what’s coming up in the San Diego Triathlon Series and others around San Diego County online.
So many trails, so little time. Whether you’re seeking an adventure in the rolling mountains of East County or a cliff-side excursion high above the Pacific Ocean, trails in San Diego range from family-friendly beginner to expert-level terrain for the seasoned pro. Here are some of our San Diego favorites:
Cowles Mountain, Mission Trails Regional Park
The highest peak in San Diego
3 miles, moderate
Torrey Pines State Beach, La Jolla
Accessible off Torrey Pines Road
3 miles, moderate
65 miles of trails, easy
Mount Woodson Trail, Poway
Accessible via state Route 67 and Mount Woodson Road. Get an Instagram shot at Potato Chip Rock!
6.4 miles, difficult
Pacific Crest Trail segment, Mount Laguna
Accessible via Sunrise Highway
4 miles, moderate
Palomar Observatory Trail, Cleveland National Forest
Off Canfield Road
4 miles, easy
The Slot, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
2 miles, easy
Stonewall Peak, Julian
Off state Route 79
4 miles, moderate
Three Sisters Falls, Cleveland National Forest
Accessible via Boulder Creek Road
4 miles, difficult
Whether on a mountain bike or beach cruiser, alone or in a group, there’s a ride here for you. With over 260 days of sunshine and hundreds of miles of trails, there’s no reason not to go for a spin. Rent a bike from SoCal Bike (328 S. Coast Highway, Oceanside), Pedego San Diego (900 Bayfront Court, downtown), or cruise around on a DecoBike, which can be picked up and returned to more than 180 stations around town. Look for green bike lanes throughout San Diego for a safe, protected lane for riding.
Tone those guns and explore San Diego’s waters while you’re at it. Kayaks are available for rent at various locations along the coast. Kayak tours are also a great way to sneak in a workout while you take in scenic ocean views. Book a tour at La Jolla Kayak (2199 Avenida de la Playa), or rent a kayak from the Mission Bay Aquatic Center (1001 Santa Clara Place).
Just an hour away from the hustle and bustle of the city of San Diego is Julian, a sleepy little town nestled in the scenic Cuyamaca Mountains. A trip to this rustic hamlet feels like a voyage back in time, and rightfully so: It’s a California Historical Landmark dating back to the gold rush. Check out its many historic buildings and book a ride down storefront-lined Main Street in a horse-drawn carriage. And don’t pass up the chance to get a taste of what Julian has come to be known for – apples.
An easy day trip from San Diego, be sure to check out these offerings you can only find in Julian. And, if you time it right you might even see some winter snow.
All Things Apple
Seasonal apple-picking excursions are offered at several of Julian’s orchards. If you want the goods without all the work, you can get a slice of delicious apple pie year round at a number of spots around town including the Apple Alley Bakery, Granny’s Kitchen, the Julian Café, and Mom’s Pies. Or stop by the Julian Pie Company and take one home. Candied Apple Pastry makes a number of apple treats and, of course, candied apples. If cider’s more your thing, try the family-owned Julian Cider Mill. The 21-and-up crowd can sample the hard stuff at Julian Ciderworks or Julian Hard Cider.
Julian was the site of San Diego’s only gold rush. The Eagle Mining Co. offers guided tours of two of Julian’s historic gold mines. Kids will enjoy panning for gold and gemstones at the Julian Mining Company, open weekends. The town also embraces its roots with gold panning and gunfight reenactments during its Gold Rush Days festival.
The California Wolf Center is home to packs of both North American and Mexican gray wolves. The center is dedicated to the conservation of wolves in the wild. Public and private tours are available with a reservation.
Raise Your Glass
Several wineries call Julian home. Sample some vino in tasting rooms at Blue Door, Menghini, and Volcan Mountain wineries, or try a variety of San Diego mountain-based wines paired with sweets at Julian Wine & Chocolate.
Shop ‘Til You Drop
Stroll down Main Street and check out all the specialty shops along the way. Be sure to check out Julian Station, which is full of shops, tasting rooms, and eateries. Or venture off the main drag and find unusual collectibles, bird-feeding supplies, upcycled goods, loose-leaf teas, handmade fudge, or unique furniture.
Want to really treat yourself? Relax, recharge, and rejuvenate with one of San Diego’s most innovative spa treatments. We talked with three San Diego spas about what’s hot, what’s trending, and how you can experience the best new treatments.
Rock Spa at the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego
The trend: Multisensory
Imagine relaxation set to a rockin’ playlist. It’s easy if you try. The Rock Spa’s Synchronicity massage, part of its musical Rhythm and Motion series of treatments, pairs Swedish and hot stone massage techniques with a blend of classic and modern rock. Master massage therapist Kyra scrubs, rubs, and drums you – lightly, but with real drumsticks – into total bliss while booming bass vibrations resonate up through the table and tunes stream down from a domed speaker just overhead. The soothing smell of essential oils adds another element to the mix. It’s easy to zone out during a massage, but familiar songs help keep you in the moment as Kyra matches her rhythm, pressure, and strokes with the playlist.
Spa Director Brooke Zarconi says the Synchronicity massage is becoming one of the Hard Rock’s most requested services because it’s cool, unique, and so different from your average spa massage. The treatment can also be customized. Choose from four playlists: soothing sounds, softer rock, classic rock and covers, and a combination that will transform the spa setting into a cozy, cool venue. “We’re not the typical spa – we’re dark and intimate and small.”
Another bonus: the Rock Spa uses organic products, such as the sugar foot scrub that kicks off the experience. “We’re all trying to get away from the toxins,” she says. Experience this mix of classic, modern, hard, and soft all coming together in perfect harmony at the Rock Spa at the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Where: 207 Fifth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about the Rock Spa at the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego
The trend: Eco-friendly
We love our sunshine here in San Diego, but tanning isn’t exactly healthy. So what about the alternative, spray tans? What used to be orange has gone green at Urban Calm. The East Village sanctuary promises to give its clients a gorgeous, sun-kissed glow using all-natural, organic ingredients. Owner Heidi Olden says that when she started out in the spa industry nearly 20 years ago, she had to search long and hard to find products that were free of harmful chemicals but still effective. “When I became an esthetician and learned about how much of what we put on our skin is absorbed into the body, I became even more passionate about natural skin care products.”
Now her business caters to clients seeking organic skin care treatments and clean beauty services. That includes spray tanning. “I’ve always tried to educate my clients about the damaging effects of too much sun exposure,” she says, “so I really wanted to offer a natural sunless tanning option as an alternative to lying out in the sun.” Urban Calm uses an Australian sunless tanning solution that contains Eco Certified DHA and a handful of other organic ingredients like green tea, aloe, and coconut. Olden says there’s no odor, it doesn’t streak or turn orange, and it usually lasts for five to seven days. “I love being able to offer this alternative to my clients so that they can have that nice, healthy glow without subjecting themselves to prolonged sun exposure, which can lead to premature aging, wrinkles, and sun spots.”
Where: 726 Ninth Ave #3, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about Urban Calm
The Spa at Fairmont Grand Del Mar
The trend: Detox
Several treatments at the five-star Spa at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar in the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve center around flushing toxins from the body by stimulating the lymphatic system. Manual Lymph Drainage, a type of light, rhythmic massage, removes toxins and ushers in deep relaxation. A half-hour treatment focuses on the face and neck and can alleviate symptoms of sinusitis and congestion, improve the condition of the skin, reduce the appearance of puffy eyes and dark circles, and help speed up the recovery process after facial surgery. If that wasn’t enough to make you feel renewed, longer treatments are said to reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and promote further healing.
The Spa at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar also uses dry brushing techniques to stimulate the lymphatic system in its touch-therapy treatments. In the “Refined” option, a full-body dry brushing is followed by a sea salt body scrup and finished with hydrating body oil. Detoxifying Epsom salts are also used in the spa’s hour-long Herbal Relexology hand and foot treatment.
Where: 5300 Grand Del Mar Ct, San Diego, CA 92130
> Find out more about the Fairmont Grand Del Mar
In the classic French style of service, top chefs with the most expertise were trotted out from the kitchen in Europe’s finest restaurants to dazzle guests with fancy techniques of whipping, chopping, carving, and flambéing. It was food as theater. Today, even in the face of the growing fast casual and counter service trends, tableside preparations are making their way back into dining rooms both casual and upscale.
Here’s a roundup of San Diego’s most tasty tableside creations, from the waterfront to the foothills.
Born & Raised
Little Italy’s gorgeous new steakhouse Born & Raised straddles the line between elegant and modern. San Diego Magazine food critic Troy Johnson calls the $7 million space “a grand, elaborate investment in America’s past,” where servers clad in tuxedo jackets and Chuck Taylors offer classics like steak Diane and rib of beef with Yorkshire pudding as well as de rigueur dry-aged cuts of beef and duck. Wheeled out on ornate carts with brass and wood detailing, the tableside preparations of steak tartare, classic French omelets, and shrimp Louie take the drama up a notch.
Where: 1909 India St, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about Born & Raised
Just down the block in Little Italy’s culinary center, Monello (the “naughty little brother” to longtime local favorite Bencotto next door) finishes orders of classic Italian risotto tableside in a unique vessel: a wheel of imported Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. The cheese is the final ingredient in the creamy rice dish and, instead of grating or tossing it in, chef Fabrizio stirs and scrapes the entire order inside the cheese wheel, which is lit afire at the edges to keep the dish warm. Rumor has it, they will also finish other pasta dishes in the wheel at a guest’s request.
Where: 750 W Fir St, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about Monello
Manhattan of La Jolla
Head up to La Jolla for another classic tableside dish: Caesar salad. Originally invented just south of San Diego at Hotel Caesars in Tijuana, the legendary salad’s egg, anchovy, lemon, garlic, and Parmesan dressing makes for an impressive show when mixed fresh at the table. Manhattan of La Jolla has made it a signature experience for years in its swanky Empress Hotel restaurant that’s hosted celebrities like Ann Bancroft, Mel Brooks, Johnny Depp, and Jay Leno over the years. For locals, it’s been a beloved spot for special occasions for more than 20 years.
When: 7766 Fay Ave, La Jolla, CA 92037
> Find out more about Manhattan of La Jolla
Any list of tableside dishes served in San Diego wouldn’t be complete without guacamole. It’s the local version of bread and butter in a region that produces 40 percent of the nation’s avocados – and it’s most impressive when prepared fresh at the table with simple ingredients: Avocados, smashed with garlic, onions, lime, salt, and salsa fresca garnish. Try it alongside an unparalleled view of the city skyline at Coasterra on Harbor Island, an upscale Mexican restaurant right on the bay.
Where: 880 Harbor Island Dr, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about Coasterra
Travel deep into Hillcrest, one of the city’s original foodie neighborhoods, and find Ortega’s tucked away in the corner of small strip mall. Almost as famous as their tableside guacamole is their simple, seasonal offering of Puerto-Nuevo style lobster dishes served in the rustic space with thick wood tables and colorful, imported glassware.
Where: 141 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92103
> Find out more about Ortega’s
Riviera Supper Club
For a twist on tableside, try La Mesa’s Riviera Supper Club. Its nod to midcentury steak houses is evident in the both menu (steaks, chops, and sides like macaroni and cheese and bourbon baked beans) and the décor of cozy booths, dim lighting, and live music – all housed in a classic 1962 building that was once home to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Here’s the twist: It’s a DIY grill. You pick your protein and cook it yourself on a large communal grill, equipped with tongs and seasonings. The kitchen handles the sides (and we hear they’ll help you with your meat if requested) and desserts like bacon chocolate cake and s’mores casserole. A warning to those who opt to sip a Sidecar while manning the grill: The cocktails are served famously stiff.
Where: 7777 University Ave, La Mesa, CA 91941
> Find out more about Riviera Supper Club