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.
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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
Stretching three miles from east to west, Adams Avenue spans at least four neighborhoods and crosses two major freeways in a central part of San Diego. Lined with historic Craftsman houses and populated by young families and the artsy millennial crowd, it offers an impressive lineup of hip eateries, boutiques, and bars. Start in the middle or work your way from one end to the other – you can’t really go wrong in this hipster-friendly ‘hood.
Food & Drink
Soda & Swine / Polite Provisions
Customize your own meatball meal via sub, slider, or spaghetti, and rinse it down with a creative craft cocktail from the next door speakeasy.
Where: 2943 Adams Avenue, San Diego, CA 92116
> Find out more about Soda & Swine / Polite Provisions
San Diego is experiencing a ramen boom, and Tajima is leading the charge. The Normal Heights location offers bowls for all different tastes and diets, like a delicious vegan ramen with spinach noodles.
Where: 3015 Adams Avenue, San Diego, CA 92116
> Find out more about Tajima
Dark Horse Coffee Roasters
Dark Horse has taken the local craft coffee scene to the next level with its Hawaiian-inspired small-batch roasts and cold brew growlers.
Where: 3260 Adams Avenue, San Diego, CA 92116
> Find out more about Dark Horse Coddee Roasters
This is where you’ll find San Diego’s top bartenders drinking on their day off. The 70s-inspired bar has a menu of artisanal cocktails and liquors, plus occasional live bands.
Where: 3391 Adams Avenue, San Diego, CA 92116
> Find out more about Sycamore Den
Blind Lady Alehouse
Get your craft beer with a side of pizza at this casual, vegan-friendly brewpub. Also worth a visit? BLAH’s sister restaurants Tiger!Tiger! in North Park and Panama 66 in Balboa Park.
Where: 3416 Adams Avenue, San Diego, CA 92116
> Find out more about Blind Lady Alehouse
Little Miss Brewing Company
Still a relative newcomer on the San Diego beer scene, this female-owned brewery is outfitted with a World War II theme and offers a varied lineup of house-made beers.
Where: 3514 Adams Avenue, San Diego, CA 92116
> Find out more about Little Miss Brewing Company
Take your pasta-eating experiences to new heights at the latest addition to Urban Kitchen Group’s already-impressive roster of Italian eateries.
Where: 4055 Adams Avenue, San Diego, CA 92116
> Find out more about Cucina Sorella
Kensington Brewing Company
This small neighborhood brewery didn’t actually have a tasting room in Kensington until fairly recently when it moved into a former video store. For a real flavor bomb, try the Apricot Wheat.
Where: 4067 Adams Avenue, San Diego, CA 92116
> Find out more about Kensington Brewing Company
Clem’s Tap House
Kensington’s original family-owned brewpub keeps plenty of beers on tap and boasts actor Will Ferrell’s seal of approval. For a beer to go, Clem’s Bottle House next door offers a wide selection of bottles.
Where: 4108 Adams Avenue, San Diego, CA 92116
> Find out more about Clem’s Tap House
Stocked with chic indie brands such as Laura Lombardi jewelry and Charlotte Stone shoes, Maven features carefully curated lifestyle products perfect for souveniers and gift giving.
Where: 2946 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116
> Find out more about Maven
Kiko & Sven
Formerly known as Niche, this Kensington shop combines Japanese and Swedish-inspired design, unique gifts, and even a monthly subscription box program.
Where: 3723 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116
> Find out more about Kiko & Sven
Located next door to always-open coffee shop Lestat’s in the heart of Normal Heights, this music venue hosts regular shows, open mic events, and comedy nights.
Where: 3343 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116
> Find out more about Lestat’s West
This neighborhood dive bar and venue has two parts: a bar area with seating and a pool table, and a separate room for concerts. Check it out for eclectic local San Diego bands, karaoke, and cheap drinks.
Where: 4079 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116
> Find out more about the Kensington Club
Art FORM San Diego
This Normal Heights nonprofit promotes creative re-use by hosting art education workshops where discarded items are transformed into art.
Where: 3316 Adams Avenue, San Diego, CA 92116
> Find out more about Art FORM San Diego
Browse a colorful collection of folk art and handmade gifts from around the globe, or attend one of the shop’s many DIY workshops.
Where: 3564 Adams Avenue, San Diego, CA 92116
> Find out more about Back from Tomboctou Gallery & Imports
Adams Avenue Street Fair
Southern California’s largest free two-day music festival has been taking over Adams Avenue for a weekend in September for the past 36 years.
> Find out more about the Adams Avenue Street Fair
Adams Avenue Unplugged
This free musical walkabout features live music staged at different locations throughout a two-mile stretch of Adams Avenue during the last weekend of April each year.
> Find out more about Adams Avenue Unplugged
Taste of Adams Avenue
Wear loose-fitting pants to this annual tasting event featuring bites from over 40 of the area’s hottest eateries, cafés, breweries, and bars.
> Find out more about Taste of Adams Avenue