Many visit San Diego for the sand and surf, but some of the city's best features are found in its restaurants, cafes and bars. The city of approximately one-and-a-half million people is home to transplants from around the U.S. as well as the world, which means the city's cuisine offers a bit of everything from burgers and beer to tiki cocktails and tacos. Is it possible to pack in so much deliciousness in 24 hours? Here’s your eating itinerary to make the most of San Diego's culinary scene.
Breakfast: The Mission
Start your day at this Mission Beach cafe — it opens at 7 AM — known for putting a Spanish spin on healthy fare. Whether you go wholesome with the Zen Breakfast, a plate of scrambled egg whites, braised tofu, brown rice, grilled zucchini and squash, or indulge in the signature Mission French toast, in which locally harvested berry purée tops cinnamon bread, you'll start your eating adventure right.
3795 Mission Blvd.; 858-488-9060
Mid-morning snack: Nomad Donuts
Finding legit Filipino food in San Diego often means a trek to Mira Mesa or National City, but you can indulge in ube, a traditional Filipino ingredient, at this North Park shop. Its ube taro donut is a perennial favorite, while rotating flavors like haupia-custard-passion-orange-guava and Mexican chocolate horchata make it a go-to spot for flavors the world over.
3102 University Ave.; 619-431-5000
Lunch: Hodad’s Burgers
San Diego has some stiff competition when it comes to burgers, but if you only have one meal, best to go to the original. This Ocean Beach legend has been slinging patties since 1969, and lines still form here and at the Downtown location for lunch and dinner. Order up the single bacon cheeseburger for a taste of the city's most beloved burger.
Afternoon snack: Carnitas' Snack Shack
Pork as a snack? You’ll be a believer after a visit to this local, pork-centric hangout, whether at the North Park or Embarcadero location. Go "light" with the braised pork belly, served with a sweet-spicy glaze and frisee, or get serious with the Triple Threat pork sandwich, piled high with three types of pork.
Happy hour: Bali Hai
Tiki culture thrives in San Diego, and there's no better place for an indoctrination than happy hour at this family-run (since 1954) bar and restaurant. Along with great views of the Downtown skyline from across the bay, you’ll be treated to Polynesian appetizers, such as coconut shrimp, lobster wonton tacos and firecracker ribs. Pair it with a potent cocktail: The Mr. Bali Hai with aged rum, blackberry brandy, sweet and sour, plus pineapple juice is a classic for a reason, and you get to keep the tiki mug as a souvenir.
2230 Shelter Island; 619-222-1181
Dinner and dessert: Juniper & Ivy
When acclaimed celeb chef Richard Blais touched down in San Diego with the launch of Juniper & Ivy in 2014, it signaled a new era in dining. His presence marked the city as a destination for innovative fine dining, while also making Little Italy one of the hottest dining destinations in the county. Though the menu is ever changing, it still offers classics such as the buttermilk biscuit with smoked salt and butter and the carne crudo asada toast. You’ll want to stick around for the Yodel. The chocolate cake cylinder served with diced strawberries and hot chocolate poured on top riffs on the Swiss roll.
2228 Kettner Blvd.; 619-269-9036
Dessert: Bing Haus
While the Convoy District may be known for its collection of Asian restaurants spanning Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese, word is getting out that it’s also the center for sweet treats with an Asian bent. Think ice cream served in a freshly made fish cone, rolled ice cream, along with coffee and waffles. Lines can be long at this hot spot but all the picture-perfect desserts are worth the wait.
4425 Convoy St. #216; 858-276-9479
After-dinner drinks: Stone Brewing
It’d be a shame to be in San Diego without having a pint or two of locally brewed beer. With more than 100 breweries, the choice isn't easy, but Stone Brewery was one of the first to break out on the national and international scene. Escondido and Liberty Station locations include a garden setting with a restaurant on-site, while the Downtown taproom plus Kettner and Oceanside company stores offer rotating taps and a chance to grab a growler.
Late-night snack: City Tacos
You could devote an entire San Diego dining trip to just taquerias, but with limited time, do as the locals do and grab a few tacos to close off a night at this North Park spot. The tacos here are about $3 a pop, so you can fill up on pollo asado, chorizo and myriad other varieties including a spin on the ubiquitous fish taco with raw ahi tuna. It closes at 11 PM to meet your taco needs.
3028 University Ave.; 619-296-2303