As a native Californian, I’m a natural born road tripper — it’s in our DNA so we explore the Golden State whenever possible.
And one place I love to road trip is San Diego. With picture-perfect coastlines, sunny days on the regular, and a flourishing food scene, it’s a good time everytime.
This past weekend, I partnered with San Diego Tourism, to escape Los Angeles and head south for the weekend. I spent 72 hours searching out the most delicious (and, of course, Instagrammable) food spots in San Diego.
ICYMI, San Diego is having a major moment with its food, wine, and cocktail scene and I wanted to share where to eat in San Diego. I moved south to Los Angeles from San Francisco a few years ago and started road tripping on the regular to get reacquainted with the region where I grew up.
Between working with San Diego partners for Salt & Wind bouitque group trips to weekends away, I’m in “America’s Finest City” every month or two these days, which means I’ve seen the local scene come into its own.
Next time you visit San Diego, check out my food lover’s itinerary with where you should eat, drink, shop, hike, and, of course, snap a selfie or three:
Day 1: Friday | Afternoon In North Park
This is California so first things first: you want to time your trip to avoid traffic, so either take the Surfliner train down (which has incredible views of the coastline btw) or drive down midday. After the quick couple hour trip, you’re going to want to stretch your legs so first head to the of-the-moment neighborhood of North Park:
Afternoon In North Park & Hillcrest
If you believe that it didn’t happen unless it’s on Instagram, then your going to want to get a San Diego photo first thing. There are some seriously photogenic spots in San Diego, but I say snap a pic at the Greetings From San Diego Mural to make like you’re in a postcard IRL.
Next head for some iconic local food and get Baja-style fish tacos at Oscars Mexican Seafood. If you’re talking San Diego seafood, an absolute must is fish tacos. Yes, the battered and fried fish taco originated south of the border in Baja California, but San Diego is just a few miles from Mexico, so it’s the best place to eat fish tacos stateside. If you have time, I rec you do a personal taste test and try all the tacos on our list of the best fish tacos in San Diego. My pick is Oscars because they have a big menu and pretty much everything is good. In addition to the all-time-classic Battered Fish Taco, order a Surf & Turf as well as a grilled octopus!
I love to eat well then walk a lot to earn my next meal. The easiest way to do that in North Park is to head around University Avenue and explore the breweries and local boutiques. Make sure to visit Artelexia and Pigment —the two stores are around the corner from each other but couldn’t be more different. Pigment is minimalist boho with lots of macrame and succulents while Artelexia is an ode to Mexico. Oh, and in case you need another mural shot, there are not one but two at Artelexia!
To get in some more walking, head the mile or so south into Balboa Park. You could spend a day there exploring all the museums, art, and architecture, but, when it’s nice out, I like wandering the Botanical Gardens.
Friday Night Wine & Fried Chicken
Toast your first night in San Diego with a visit to the local wine shop and tasting room, Vino Carta. In the craft beer capital that is San Diego, the sister shop of Bottlecraft, is better known (and has multiple locations), but, as a wine lover, I’m partial to Vino Carta. The staff is super knowledgeable, there’s always an interesting wine tasting, and the wine selection is small but impressive. I always learn something new and walk away with a few bottles. (By the way, it’s a great spot to get quality Mexican wine if you want to try it but aren’t crossing the border anytime soon.)
Finish your night with a meal at Crack Shack. Hang around San Diego long enough and you’ll notice they really love fried chicken. Seemingly every other restaurant has a take on fried chicken, but one you must try when you visit San Diego is Chef Richard Blais’s Crack Shack. Pretty much from when they open ’til close there is a wait, but you can order online to get around that. The fried chicken is great on its own, but I’d rec an order of the Chicken Oysters or a sandwich — either the California Dip or the Coop Deville. And if you’re gluten free like I’ve recently become, order the Baja Chop salad that’s loaded with a charred chile dressing, radishes, avo, and, of course, really good grilled chicken.
Day 2: Saturday | Shop & Dine In Little Italy
There is a whole generation of makers, from chefs to boutique owners to creatives, who really seem to have made the San Diego food scene what it is today. And, aside from North Park, another neighborhood you can see that is in Little Italy.
Farmers Market & Brunch
Start your Saturday with a visit at the Little Italy Farmers Market (8AM to 2PM), which is considered by many of my local food friends to be the best in the city. In addition to gawking at the seemingly endless produce and seafood, there are a lot of delicious stands where you can grab a bite or two. If you don’t eat at the farmers market, head to Kettner Exchange and grab a seat on their rooftop then settle in for a mix of farm-to-table fare (that kale salad above!) and some indulgent of the brunch dishes in San Diego (the Churro French Toast is a favorite).
After brunch, wander around Little Italy to check out the numerous indie boutiques. If you didn’t do it on Friday, be sure to stop by Bottlecraft where there’s an impressive selection of local and international craft beers. Head to the James Coffee Co. Little Italy “Space” for a coffee but stay for the shopping. In addition to the coffee counter, it has a curated collection of boutiques selling everything from greeting cards and local fashion spot to enviable home decor.
As a food lover, you’re going to want to make sure to stop by Chef Brian Malarkey’s cafe and culinary shop, Herb & Eatery. The boutique side of the store is well curated and you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something for your home cook friends, but also it has one of the best choices for breakfast slash brunch in San Diego. I’m an eggs for breakfast type so my personal picks are the Thai Croissant (layered with cilantro, eggs, and chicken sausage) or the vegetarian Hash and Egg (with crispy potatoes, fried eggs, mushrooms, and blue cheese).
After some downtime, head for a chic dinner at Herb & Wood. Next door to Herb & Eatery, this spot is also owned by Chef Malarkey and, yes, I’m partial. The two of us met working on Food Network together and I’ve always been a fan of his food. In my opinion, the atmosphere, service, cocktails, and food at Herb & Wood are among the best in San Diego right now. It’s definitely worth doing dinner there but, if you can’t get a reservation, at least snag a seat at the bar for happy hour. When I stopped in, I had a Mezcal & Flowers cocktail (with mezcal, chartreuse, mint, and flowers) along with a Hiramasa crudo app that I liked so much I could have ordered two.
Day 3: Sunday | Beach Day & Brunch
If you visit San Diego but don’t spend time at the beach, can you even say you were in San Diego? Yes, of course, but I do my best to get in some beach time on every trip because there is so much gorgeous coastline across the city.
La Jolla Beach Time
If I had to pick one spot to do beach time, it’d be La Jolla, and, specifically, a walk along the La Jolla Coast Walk Trail. Start over at the La Jolla Cove and then walk the trail as far down as you’d like (it stretches over 2 miles to Scripps Pier!), but promise you’ll stop at La Jolla Caves. It’s one of the best views and the waves crash into the caves below.
To fuel your morning walk, you’ll want a little caffeine and, neck in neck with James Coffee Co for best coffee in San Diego (in my opinion) is Bird Rock Coffee Roasters. Started over 15 years ago in La Jolla’s Bird Rock neighborhood (hence the name), they have three shops across the city. My pick is a cup of the Geisha, but really you can’t go wrong!
Head into San Diego’s East Village for a lazy brunch and to eat at the new-ish Minou Creperie. By the Francophile team behind equally adorable Cafe Chloe, both spots bring a little Paris to the city. The two cafes are around the corner from each other and the newer Minou focuses on crepes, which, by the way, are all gluten free. I stopped in for a macchiato and a (gluten free!) savory salmon rillettes crepe and loved people watching and enjoying a long brunch.
Lazy Sunday Afternoon
Speaking of people watching, I always make time between all the sightseeing and running around to just sit back and enjoy a city when I visit. And my favorite place to do that is Ironside, which is also, in my opinion, one of the best seafood restaurants in San Diego. It’s busy pretty much all day, not only because the nautical-meets-deco design is stunning, but also because it has super fresh seafood and knock-your-socks-off cocktails.
As a final dinner of the weekend, go big and book a table at the recently opened, Born & Raised. Owned by the same team as Ironside, I like hitting up one after the other for a sort of surf-and-turf experience across two restaurants. To do it right, order some raw bar items at Ironside and then head over to Born & Raised for a steak dinner. The decor, service, and menu at both restaurants are all super chic, which to me is a perfect spot to toast the weekend.
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