I don’t know about you but every time I visit my hometown I excitedly write up a list of all my favorite restaurants, stores (I’m coming for you Target!), and places I’ve missed since moving away and absolutely have to go to at least once during my trip. I’ve spent the last two weeks in sunny San Diego catching up with friends and family, trying to decipher my 20-month-old niece’s secret language, celebrating my Grandpa’s 80th birthday, and checking out some of my favorite San Diego places!
My old neighborhood! Boasting one of the county’s largest farmers markets every Saturday and the biggest concentration of Italian restaurants in one city block, Little Italy is my favorite area of San Diego.
Some of my most-loved places to eat in the neighborhood? Extraordinary Desserts for fancy slices of cake and tea, Craft & Commerce for creative cocktails and mini corn dogs, Burger Lounge, Filippi’s Pizza Grotto with its charming Chianti bottles hanging from the ceiling, and the Glass Door for cocktails with a view. Dan and I started our first date at the Glass Door where Dan says I sealed the deal for him after I ordered the strongest drink on the menu!
Walk west toward the harbor and check out the Waterfront Park, a new public park with wide expanses of grassy areas, a reflecting pool, gardens, spray fountains to run through, and a children’s play area.
A long time favorite of mine and where I use to go for my birthday dinner every year, Urban Solace offers up inventive comfort food. Their duckaroni is an uh-mazing duck confit cheesy skillet of deliciousness! The cheddar chive biscuits with tomato jam, the “Not Your Mama’s Meatloaf”, and the shrimp and grits appetizer are also often ordered items for me. They also do a fun Bluegrass Brunch on Sundays with live Bluegrass bands playing from 10 am to 2 pm.
Fancy a fancy cocktail? Polite Provisions is an apothecary-esque stylish cocktail and microbrew lounge who claim to be manufacturers of local tonics, elixirs, and cures. If a Singapore Sling is a cure, then I’ll take a double! If you’re going with a group, try one of their communal punchbowls.
Every second Saturday of the month, Ray Street turns into an art lovers party come nighttime, with the gathering of local and national artists, art galleries and other art-related ventures for the Ray at Night Artwalk. Food trucks and live performances also make an appearance.
After checking out the art, head over to Splash Wine Lounge and Bistro to sample one of 72 wines from their self-serve automated tasting machines offering up one ounce pours or splashes, a glass, or a full bottle.
Just east of North Park is another one of my often visited haunts, the Great Maple, a 1950’s vibe brasserie-like diner dishing up elevated American fare with the best maple bacon donuts and homemade pie. They give every diner a small glass of bubbly at 5pm on Fridays for a restaurant wide toast to the weekend. Cheers!
A favorite for my sweet tooth is Babycakes for their tasty cupcakes. Join them on Sunday afternoons for “Church on Sunday” where they cheekily call on all sinners to join the congregation and repent their nasty ways over stiff drinks and groovy tunes.They remind you to bring some extra cash to tip the ‘alter boys’ since tithing is a good thing.
Favorite eats in the area are Hash House a Go Go for their absurdly sized portions and signature Bloody Marys, the chic exotic Kous Kous Moroccan Restaurant, and Snooze, an A.M. only eatery serving up creative twists on American breakfast classics. Their pancakes are amazing!
Just south of Hillcrest, lies Balboa Park, site of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and now a modern 1,200 acre urban cultural park boasting museums, trails, gardens, restaurants, playgrounds, and performing arts spaces. Dan and I got married near the Spreckels Organ Pavillion inside the park. For the first time since 1935, the park’s California Tower is open to the public for limited ticketed daily tours to climb up the 10 floors of stairs for the unparalleled views. Another must do? Hanging with the monkeys at the World Famous San Diego Zoo!
For the best panoramic view of the sunset and to watch the crashing blue waves of the Pacific Ocean, hit up the popular vista point of Sunset Cliffs. Depending on the time of year, you might be lucky enough to see some California gray whales making their annual migration from the Bering Sea down to Baja California!
A favorite of mine since I was a kid, Hodad’s is pretty much an Ocean Beach institution. The walls are covered with license plates and there are restored cars-turned-tables that you can dine in. When we went as kids, my sister and I always hoped the VW bug table was available! After devouring your burger and fries take a walk down the street to explore the many antique, boutique, and funky stores of Newport Avenue.
One of my favorite casual nights out is hitting up the cool mid-century modern budget boutique Pearl Hotel for their free weekly Dive-In Movie Theatre every Wednesday for classics, blockbusters, and independent films such as Princess Bride and Dirty Dancing. Grab a table or poolside seat at the lounge and enjoy some of Eat at The Pearl’s amazing eclectic food and bar selections. Their cocktail list is impressive and you can order your shot in a keepsake Pearl shot glass to take home with you. The two times that Dan and I ordered these we of course forgot to snag our shot glasses on the way out!
Whenever I’m in the Point Loma area, I beeline it for Tender Greens to get my salad and sandwich fix. Located in the beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival styled Liberty Station aka the former Naval Training Center, Tender Greens serves up fresh, healthy, farmers market inspired dishes with daily specials depending upon what’s in season. I love that you can see your food being prepared as you walk through the cafeteria style lay out.
Tender Greens also wins kudos from me because of their practice of hiring homeless teens when they first opened in 2009. The Sustainable Life Project grew from this and they continue to partner with local organizations to recruit young adults aging out of the foster care system to participate in paid six-month culinary internships. Good food and a good cause? Nothing better than that!
Another delicious favorite spot of mine in Liberty Station is Slater’s 50/50 with their equal parts bacon and ground beef burgers in delicious combinations such as the PB & Jellousy (surprisingly tasty!) and B’B’B’ Bacon burgers.
Other good stuff
Other favorite San Diego neighborhoods to explore are La Jolla Village’s art galleries and ocean views, the funky beachy boutique shops along South Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas, and Solana Beach’s Cedros Avenue Design District.
Also, while in San Diego don’t miss out on fish tacos at the Brigantine, Double Double cheeseburgers and animal fries at In-N-Out, and carne asada burritos at Estradas!
To burn off all that food, hit the trails and hike up the popular Cowles Mountain, the highest point in San Diego County, for sweeping views of San Diego. On a clear day you can see out to the Pacific Ocean and the Coronado Bridge. Or for a hike along the coast check out one of the many trails in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.
What about you? What are your favorite must hit-up spots in your hometown?