San Diego Essentials

Where to eat, drink, and play in this Southern California city.
By: Aaron Heier

Food and Drink Essentials: Best Places to...


Henry’s Farmers Markets
Locations throughout San Diego County, 877-743-6797
The pinnacle of natural and organic food stores in the city, people shop here to find the best produce available from the region’s local farmers and purveyors.


Tioli’s Crazy Burger
4201 30th St. in North Park, 619-282-6044
If the Food Network’s Guy Fieri thinks this place is hot, then there’s definitely something genius behind Crazy Burger. Two German immigrants turned an Italian fine-dining restaurant into one of the best burger joints in the west, with a menu that will not only pique your interest but most likely send you over the edge.

The sheer madness of the plethora of burger concoctions being churned from its kitchen puts Crazy Burger on the map of cutting-edge eateries. Inventive burger options include: alligator, ostrich, buffalo, pork, turkey, salmon, venison, kangaroo, antelope and good ole USDA Prime beef all made with signature accompaniments and add-ons that give each a distinct and delicious flavor profile. The best part is the price -- cheap! Full meals, including burgers, fries or onion rings, and a drink are less than $10 (depending on patty) and daily combo specials run $6.50 for the lot. Beat that McDonald’s!


Confidential Restaurant + Loft
901 Fourth Ave., 619-696-8888
Chic and VIP-ish, sans the attitude, Confidential is the arbiter of San Diego’s small plate (tapas) dining destinations. Not only is TV’s Bachelor contestant, Andrew Firestone, an investor, but also helming the kitchen is one of Top Chef’s most lovable personalities, Season 5 cheftestant Rich Sweeney.


Tajima Japanese Noodle House
4681 Convoy St. #1, 858-576-7244
It may not be Japantown, but it’s as authentic a Japanese noodle restaurant as you're going to get without being in Tokyo. Known for a predominantly Asian clientele, this no frills eatery, whose wait list often exceeds an hour, serves up some of the best wide-noodle spicy ramen this side of the Pacific.

Super Cocina
3627 University Avenue (between 36th and Cherokee), 619-584-6244
An unassuming gem offering true Mexican comfort food, cafeteria style, Super Cocina doesn’t serve America’s beloved tacos and tostadas. Rather, its specialty is homemade (literally from Mexican women’s home kitchens around the city) stews from various regions of the country. To-die-for mole, pozole, cocido, slow-stewed carnitas and even menudo all served with a fresh batch of piping hot tortillas, rice and beans. Muy bueno!


Shakespeare Pub & Grille
3701 India St., 619-299-0230
San Diego’s original British-style pub, Shakespeare’s offers a wide selection of both bottle and draught beers and authentic pub food at reasonable prices. One of the few bar rooms around with cork dartboards, it’s known for blaring sports, primarily rugby and footie (soccer) matches, on its TVs daily.

The Hole
2820 Lytton St., 619-226-9019
A dive bar whose roots reach back to the days of prohibition, the Hole got its name from its location being just north of the adjacent golf course’s 19th hole. Its predominantly gay clientele takes over the huge outdoor patio pit for the legendary Sunday Beer Bust with $5 mini pitchers of domestics and micro brews all afternoon while televised sports and DJs spinning classic hard rock add to the ambiance.


Brians’ American Eatery
1451 Washington St., 619-296-8268
Yes, the apostrophe is after the s in Brians’, since it’s two of them who own the joint. A cool, contemporary diner serving ginormous portions of breakfast, lunch and supper vittles well into the post-clubbing wee hours. They’re known for the nightly specials, like Saturday’s all-you-can-eat BBQ beef ribs, and a plethora of down-home comfort breakfasts that will cure any late-night buzz.


Mystic Mocha
2105 Mission Ave. (619) 688-0858
Leave the lattes in Seattle because here, it’s all about the mochas. Every kind of house-made mocha imaginable, using top quality espresso beans and any number of decadent add-ins like chile pepper spice, peanut butter, raspberry, almond orange, turtle sundae and the list goes on and on. Its cozy, casual village-y vibe makes it feel like it belongs in small-town middle America, not big-city Southern California.

Entertainment Essentials: Best Places to ...


Ocean Beach Municipal Pier
1950 Abbott St.
Go lobster fishing or watch a sunset at the end of the OB Pier. On partly cloudy days, the purple and orange hues out along the ocean horizon are particularly vivid.

Balboa Park
1549 El Prado, 619-239-0512
The Balboa Park Visitors Center offers free Tuesdays to the park’s many attractions on a rotating schedule. Tour the museums, cultural centers, galleries, halls and gardens within the historic landmark.

Old Town State Park
4002 Wallace St., 619-220-5422
Experience the beginnings of San Diego as it was during the Mexican and early American periods of the 1800s. Old Town is the location of the first pueblo, or settlement, in San Diego and is now a walking park of shops, boutiques, buildings and galleries that offer a glimpse of what life was like when the city was born.


San Diego Museum of Art
1450 El Prado, 619-231-1996
Every few months, SDMart hosts its widely popular Culture & Cocktails event where DJs spin groovy tunes, bartenders serve exotic beverages and patrons mingle amid the museum’s dazzling exhibits, offering a unique opportunity to network, socialize or impress a date.

Gentlemen’s Martini Night
Locations vary monthly throughout San Diego
Once San Diego’s premier gay professionals networking group, GMNSD has broadened its scope bringing together men of all races, creeds, backgrounds, sexual orientations and professions at a different venue each month for meeting, socializing and networking. The monthly rotation gives group members a taste of everything the city has to offer, from art galleries and showrooms to restaurants, lounges and new condo communities.


La Valencia Hotel
1132 Prospect St., La Jolla, 858-454-0771
A candlelit dinner for two in the Sky Room or a cozy Sunday brunch in the Mediterranean Room at the La Valencia Hotel is a must do for any young couple looking to indulge in a little "QT" with some of the best Southern California views as a backdrop.

Cinema Under the Stars
4040 Goldfinch St. in Mission Hills, 619-295-4211
Nestled in a courtyard setting, miles away from the bustle of mall rats and multiplexes, is San Diego’s premier outdoor theater. Every weekend, from June to October, couples can chill out on a zero gravity chair or private cabana in this intimate outdoor retreat, sip a glass of vino and watch a rotating schedule of classic films and contemporary Hollywood hits.


Captain Cook's Culinary Academy for Kids
6986 El Camino Real, Suite C, Carlsbad, 760-431-2278
A totally interactive culinary adventure where kids rule the roost! A new way to help strengthen family bonds while giving youngsters an opportunity to learn about and explore all types of food. Classes for kids 3-14 include: Mommy & Me, First Mates, Lil Explorers and other special, themed days and family cooking events.


Sarah’s Smash Shack
1353 Sixth Ave. in Gaslamp Quarter, 619-702-8488
Pent-up frustrations? Aggravated and need a release? Here, breaking stuff isn’t only accepted, it’s the norm. This innovative and popular little business venture in the heart of downtown allows customers to throw, smash and destroy any number of breakable items in one of two safe, secure and private rooms, helping release all your tension and energy without fear of retribution.


454 6th Ave. in Gaslamp Quarter, 619-544-9500
One of the largest, most exclusive nightlife destinations in the city, Stingaree is the place where dancing is mandatory and bottle service rules. International DJs spin tunes for patrons on three levels and being a member definitely has its privileges.

Urban Mo’s Bar & Grille
308 University Ave. in Hillcrest, 619-491-0400
It may be in the gayborhood, but at Mo’s, everyone’s welcome. The popular Hillcrest bar, restaurant and dance club offers revelers a different genre every night of the week, from hip-hop and R&B to pop to club hits to '80s to country. No one’s left out of the fun here; its always-packed dance floor is proof of that!


Sweetwater Saloon @ the Hard Rock Hotel
207 5th Ave. in Gaslamp Quarter, 619-702-3000
The Gerber Group’s slick and sexy Sweetwater Saloon at the new Hard Rock Hotel is a place to be and be seen, so going here means calling ahead to get on the list. Once past the velvet rope, you can sip martinis and cosmos with friends on an army of plush, leather-clad furniture while DJs mix upbeat lounge hits to energize the ambiance.


Se San Diego Hotel
1047 Fifth Ave., 619-515-3000
The newest high-style hotel to crop up in San Diego’s financial district is the Se San Diego. With 184 rooms including 37 suites fusing contemporary chic with Asian-inspired design, it's one awesome spectacle. No main lobby front desk, seamless mobile check-in and an 8,000+-square-foot, three-story Grand Penthouse (the largest hotel suite on the West Coast) are just a few of the signature elements the hotel offers to discerning guests.

Pearl Hotel
1410 Rosecrans St., 619-226-6100
The remarkable transformation from motel to vintage-modern boutique retreat gives Point Loma’s Pearl Hotel its "beachy chic" down-to-earth vibe. The 23 smart and sexy guestrooms with comfort-focused amenities envelope a courtyard pool/lounge that plays host to a lively social scene several nights a week. A casual on-site restaurant, proximity to area attractions and room prices that won’t break the bank make this little haven an ideal vacation or staycation destination.

Outdoor Essentials: Best Places to...

SURF (of course!)

Imperial Beach, Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, Windandsea ... and many more
With more than 70 miles of beautiful beaches and near-perfect weather year round, rent a board and head to any number of San Diego’s beach communities to ride the waves. If you’re a novice, don’t be shy. Ask a local surfer or board shop owner for advice. Not only is it free, you may gain a new friend or two.


La Jolla Cove
1100 Coast Blvd.
The waters at La Jolla Cove are some of the clearest on the California coast. Below the surface are miles of protected reserves to explore and spectacular creatures to see.


Cowles Mountain at Mission Trails Regional Park
Off Route 125 and Mission Gorge Road
A popular local hiking spot, Cowles Mountain is a vigorous and fun way to exercise outdoors while taking in some breathtaking Southern California scenery. The 1.5-mile main trail to the top is a 950-foot elevation change from summit to peak, and when you’ve reached it, you experience one of the most amazing 360-degree views of San Diego.


Dog Beach at Ocean Beach
Sand pits, trails, shallow water and hundreds of yards of running space. Fidos from all over flock to OB so they can run, dig and swim to their hearts' content.

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