7 San Diego Neighborhoods You Need to KnowBy Beth Demmon
San Diego earned the name “America’s Finest City” for its world-class beaches, near-perfect weather and plenty of history, dining and entertainment options. From the iconic Coronado Bridge to the stunning panoramas at La Jolla Cove, these seven areas give a glimpse into life in California’s second-largest city.
The best way to experience this coastal jewel isn’t by land, but by sea. Rent a kayak and hit the famous La Jolla Cove for a guided tour of hidden caves and up-close encounters with the area’s most famous residents, sea lions. Afterward, snag a cappuccino at the original Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, which has been named Roast Magazine’s Micro Roaster of the Year.
Don’t miss the wacky architecture of the Geisel Library at the University of California, San Diego. The eye-catching structure is named for and inspired by longtime La Jolla resident Theodor Geisel, better known to readers young and old as Dr. Seuss.
Daytime activities in San Diego’s historic downtown include nearby Petco Park, home of MLB’s San Diego Padres, named for the Spanish Franciscan friars who founded the city 250 years ago. The retired naval aircraft carrier USS Midway is also popular with tourists and locals alike — a floating museum with more than 70 years of history under its belt.
Stroll down the Embarcadero to soak in the waterfront scenery and take the opportunity to sample some of the city’s yummiest Italian food at nearby BIGA. The charcuterie selection here is second to none, and the authentic Napoletana pizza stands head and shoulders above delivery.
Lola 55 also earned the coveted Michelin Bib Gourmand award as a “hidden gem.” Known for its tacos — it is San Diego, after all — it’s a quirky spot easily walkable from the heart of Gaslamp. Walking is your best bet for the area, as parking can be hard to come by or expensive. For longer distances, hop in one of the many pedicabs for a zippy ride.
This “village by the sea” (as it’s locally known) in North County offers visitors a low-key destination with all the amenities of the big city.
Upscale restaurants have popped up all over, including Campfire (wood-fired Continental cuisine that earned a Michelin Bib Gourmand award), Jeune et Jolie (contemporary French) and Black Rail Kitchen + Bar (modern California with a Mediterranean flair).
Windmill Food Hall also boasts more than a dozen eateries that range from street tacos to pho, Korean fried chicken and even one vendor specializing in Belgian waffles and french fries.
For entertainment, Legoland California Resort boasts plenty of kid-friendly rides and attractions, as well as an aquarium and water park. Springtime means the famed Flower Fields are open for visitors, so pack a camera and picnic lunch for a picture-perfect afternoon with the whole family.
Pro tip: For uninterrupted seaside views, take the Amtrak Coaster train along the coast. You’re guaranteed to spot surfers catching some epic Pacific waves.
Strangely, the best food in this restaurant-saturated area tends to not be Italian; Born and Raised is a multimillion-dollar steakhouse that redefined the classic concept, while Morning Glory‘s brunch soufflé pancakes took Instagram by storm.
Wednesday and Saturday mornings mean it’s time for the farmers market, one of the largest in the region. Stroll past stalls hawking local produce or choose between Korean BBQ and Indian fare. With more than 200 vendors, the choices are nearly endless.
April’s ArtWalk is the West Coast’s biggest art event, with thousands of artisans promoting their sculpture, photography, jewelry and other mediums. That’s just one of the festivals held in Little Italy; the Sicilian Festival, Christmas Village, film festivals and outdoor concerts take place throughout the year.
Expect more tie-dye than neckties in O.B. Known as a hippie haven, this proudly offbeat enclave is a unique destination for beachgoers looking to unwind.
Dog Beach allows — yes, you guessed it — dogs off-leash. Situated next to one of the larger free public parking lots, it’s a good spot to start the day. From there, work your way south toward Sunset Cliffs, either on foot or by e-scooter, and take your pick of places to eat. Local chain Pizza Port provides great beer and ‘za, while the burgers at Hodad’s are worth the wait.
Newport Avenue is the place to be for antiques shopping as well as brewery hopping, with hot spots like Culture Brewing Company and Ocean Beach Brewery ready to quench your thirst for local craft beer.
San Diego’s resident party beach town is also home to the original Rubio’s, which brought the now-famous fish taco to California in the early 1980s. It makes sense that seafood reigns in this seaside ward; arguably the best sushi in town can be found at Sushi Ota, an unassuming storefront tucked in a nondescript strip mall. (Our advice? Go with the omakase, or chef’s choice. You won’t be disappointed.)
Stroll along the boardwalk to the Crystal Pier for a prime spot to catch the sunset. But once the sun goes down, this neighborhood lights up, so be sure to ride share to best sample the myriad bars P.B. has to offer. Rocky’s Crown Pub is often cited as the best burger in town, so stop by to find out for yourself — bring cash, as no credit cards are accepted.
Although it’s not technically an island, Coronado is a world unto itself. Known as the “Crown City,” Coronado can only be accessed via the Silver Strand, over the famed Coronado Bridge, or by taking the ferry from downtown San Diego across the bay.
The Hotel del Coronado (or just “Hotel Del” to locals) is the most recognizable landmark in the area, but there’s more than just white sand beaches and crashing waves to its view. Legend has it the hotel is haunted by the ghost of Kate Morgan, who mysteriously died at the hotel in 1892.
Restaurants are plentiful and tend to be more upscale than the rest of San Diego’s typical “California casual” feel. Stake Chophouse & Bar is nestled in the heart of the village and provides a classic steakhouse experience with executive chef Andrew Kedziora at the helm.
Fun fact: the Bluewater Boathouse building is the oldest building in Coronado. Now home to Bluewater Grill, the famous structure offers local seafood favorites like Pacific swordfish and tuna, paired with a waterfront view.