Behold our 2019 list of 107 things we’re loving right now, from the best brunch across the border to a breakdancing class for toddlers—and one cotton candy burrito.
By Erin Meanley Glenny, Kai Oliver-Kurtin, Christine Pasalo, Sarah Pfledderer, and Marie Tutko. With Hilary Achauer, Jackie Bryant, Kimberly Cunningham, Beth Demmon, Ron Donoho, Victoria Gonzalez, Erica Nichols, Hoa Quach, Corinne Wilber, Lauren Winget, and Ann Wycoff
Winners by Category
Food halls are having a moment, and right now Little Italy Food Hall reigns supreme with Asian cuisine from Mein St., Milanese pizza from Ambrogio15, Sam the Cooking Guy’s Not Not Tacos, Wicked Maine Lobster, and newcomer Bobboi Natural Gelato—all under one roof. The hall is located in Little Italy’s new Piazza della Famiglia, where diners can bring their meals (and cocktails!) to enjoy alfresco. You won’t find winding walkways congested with lines of people here, as the hall is a single room containing various food stations, a full bar, and ample seating. Just outside the entrance, an Italian bar cart in the design of a pickup truck offers select drinks. Cheers!
Brewmaster Skip Virgilio took a 17-year break from professional brewing before opening his latest project with Whisknladle Hospitality (Catania, Milagro Winery). His return was worth the wait; the sprawling Sorrento Valley brewpub offers a variety of styles, like an amber ale, a pilsner, and a slew of IPAs (hazy and otherwise). They’re all designed to pair with the elevated gastropub menu, but science has yet to discover a better food to go with beer than pizza. Stick with one of the wood-fired pies or try the Gravity Burger in "Beast Mode" if you’re feeling particularly adventurous.
This family-owned restaurant serves two types of laghman, a Uighur dish of chewy, hand-pulled noodles topped with a sauce of meat and vegetables. Most recommended is the house laghman, featuring finely cut beef and stir-fried vegetables, followed by the original laghman, which subs in stir-fried lamb or tofu for the beef. Take advantage of this cuisine’s mix of Chinese, Turkish, and other Silk Road influences to indulge in the simultaneous presence of halal kebabs, baklava, and honey cake on the menu.
New Happy Hour
Everything about this Little Italy steakhouse is so opulent that it’s easy to imagine Jay Gatsby dining here. A $6 million art deco interior, waiters in tuxes, plus tartare and cocktails prepared tableside. But you don’t need Gatsby’s budget to enjoy it if you stop by during happy hour (from 3 to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday) when fancy appetizers like waffles and caviar are less than $10, and dirty martinis and the Wagyu Old Fashioned are priced at $7.
This small taco shop in San Ysidro made a big impact on the border town’s food scene after chef and owner Priscilla Curiel opened it last fall. National media like Food & Wine caught wind of (or followed the delicious scent of) the spicy, earthy beef birria simmering in Curiel’s kitchen, which she serves in tacos with roasted beef bone marrow shanks as an optional side. Scoop the marrow out, slather it on the taco, then dunk it in the savory birria broth. Curiel jokes that it’s "grease on grease," but the tacos have a rich flavor and texture combination you can’t find anywhere else.
Gourmet Cooking Class
Calling The Marine Room an institution would be an understatement. The seaside La Jolla restaurant has been a pinnacle of fine dining since World War II, and it’s one of the places in town to celebrate a special occasion. The High Tide dinners and brunches—when waves crash right against the dining room’s floor-to-ceiling windows—are famous. But what’s not as well known about The Marine Room is that they host quarterly cooking classes that will get you one-on-one time with their lauded chefs, Bernard Guillas and Thomas Connolly, and a behind-the-scenes look at the kitchen. On August 7 and October 9, you can book a session to learn how to make everything from a sunflower-crusted blue crab cake to diver scallops and prawns roasted in brown butter. Each class comes with a welcome cocktail, three courses, and wine pairings for $95. Magnifique!
Chef Kristianna Zabala and cotton candy maker Vanessa Corrales launched this wholesale bakery that supplies fresh traditional and vegan treats to 21 retailers around the county, like Dark Horse Coffee Roasters in North Park, Cafe Virtuoso in Barrio Logan, and the San Diego Convention Center. The flavor-maker who put Nomad Donuts on the map, Zabala challenged herself to develop plant-based baked goods everyone wants to eat. With a menu that’s 15 vegan items deep, including a flaky chocolate croissant that stands up to its butter-and-egg-based counterpart, she’s clearly nailed it. Up next: Online orders!
The former Flinn Springs Inn got a total overhaul when pitmaster Andy Harris and restaurant development group Social Syndicate (Bootlegger, Wonderland Ocean Pub) got their hands on the 15,000-square-foot venue for the second outpost of Harris’s popular Central Texas–style barbecue concept in North Park. Now there’s a full bar and live music to accompany the meaty menu. For the full Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives experience, get the Borracho beef rib smothered in Mexican queso atop a bed of creamy polenta and sprinkled with a pickled onion and crispy Fritos relish.
The Florence’s all-star team—vets from Legal Restaurants, China Poblano, and The Lion’s Share—has brought coastal American cuisine to a business park in the burbs. It has an eclectic menu; try a hearty lambwich or Japanese taiyaki (a fish-shaped pastry filled with veggies or berries). The 10,000-square-foot dining room is decorated with a boatload of Florence Chadwick memorabilia in honor of the restaurant’s namesake, the superstar athlete and Point Loma High grad who set world records swimming the English Channel in the 1950s. Talk about a splash in Sabre Springs.
Taco Tuesday Steal
Taco Tuesday, anyone? A plate of three extra-large tacos filled with fresh Maine lobster meat is 50 percent off ($8!) all day (11 a.m. to 10 p.m.) every Tuesday. The meat’s nestled in a warm tortilla with pico de gallo, cabbage, and shredded cheese. Add in the collegial ambience of the cozy new Little Italy Food Hall, and the $5 price of happy hour drinks (3–6 p.m. Monday–Friday) at the food hall bar, and you’ve got one hot, cheap date deal on your hands.
The latest by Common Theory owners Cristian Liang and Joon Lee, this hidden lounge offers light yet flavor-packed fare alongside inventive craft cocktails that nod to the bar’s Convoy location and the owners’ roots. Enjoy an order of crispy sunchokes tossed in a sweet soy sauce while sipping on the Japanese whiskey-and-yuzu-based Madame Kanabashin. Fun fact: The 700-or-so "dragon eggs" suspended from the ceiling were all made by Liang, Lee, and a cavalry of family and friends.
Hidden Fish | Photo: Jim Sullivan
"Tambayan" means "to hang out" in Tagalog, so come by for $1 menu items—a three-lumpia combo, skewered meats offered Wednesday to Sunday—and return for the barbecue combo plates made up of two ice-cream scoops of rice, macaroni salad, sinigang (sour tamarind soup), and your choice of house-marinated barbecue chicken, pork, pork belly, or short ribs. If breakfast is more your game, show up for a hearty silog combo like the popular tapsilog, featuring chopped beef that’s been marinated in citrus, garlic, and soy, served with sinigang, garlic fried rice, and an egg over easy.
With over 140 mezcals behind their bar, Tahona is a temple dedicated to tequila’s smoky counterpart. Book one of eight tasting flights ranging from $25 to $45 for an hourlong agave spirit tour hosted in the reservation-only tasting room by mezcal experts Steven Sadri and Tempeste Davis. Or, attend an upcoming Mezcal Talk and be treated to a complimentary sample of the sponsor brand. Otherwise, keep it casual in the restaurant for happy hour or by ordering craft cocktails like the Whaley House Punch, made with Domingo Espadin mezcal, salted watermelon, piña, Campari, lime, and Pernod absinthe.
Perched just above the illuminated University Heights neighborhood sign is Kairoa’s rooftop patio, which includes a children’s play area, private event space, fire pits, and a complimentary Coola sunscreen station. The two-story, 10,500-square-foot brewpub has quickly become a community gathering spot, especially on days when the weather is too nice to stay indoors. As a New Zealand–style brewpub, Kairoa serves up beer with cheeky names, as well as wine. The full-service food menu offers dishes like sausage rolls and savory pies. Weekday happy hour is 4–6 p.m. Tuesday–Friday, and all evening Monday ($6 wines and $5 house beers at happy hour).
Sushi Hand Roll
This restaurant in the Convoy district opened last summer, and specializes in serving premium sushi hand rolls that are made to order in front of diners at their 22-seat sushi bar. Orders are served one roll at a time for immediate consumption. We love the rolls with blue crab, salmon skin, and unagi (baked eel), and vegetarians won’t be disappointed with the variety of plant-based roll options available.
Barely a year after head chef and owner Angelica Gonzales took a leap of faith to open a paletería in her childhood neighborhood of Bonita, she’s set to launch a second spot in August, on Little Italy’s India Street. Snag one of the 1,500–2,000 ice pops she makes daily in over 30 different flavors, like banana stuffed with Nutella, strawberry stuffed with condensed milk, Key lime pie, cookies ’n’ cream, or chamango on a stick, then have it topped and decorated to your liking. Vegan and dog-friendly paletas are also available.
At La Valencia Hotel
For nearly a century, the "Pink Lady" has attracted patrons with its top-notch service and sweeping ocean views. Now its Mediterranean restaurant The Med is luring diners with the launch of afternoon tea service. The midday meal consists of Dammann Frères tea from France, handmade sandwiches like mini lobster rolls, and a host of other sweet and savory treats ranging from scones and housemade macarons to chicken salad and smoked salmon canapés. A glass of Champagne or mimosa is included with service, and reservations are required. Pinkies up!
At Sycuan Casino Resort
A casino may not be the first place you think of for specialty craft cocktails, but Sycuan put a new spin on theirs with Elicit Bar & Lounge’s roaming mixology cart that offers tableside libations. Try a One Night Stand with tequila, grapefruit-rose cordial, and yuzu citrus, whisked with liquid nitrogen to create a slushie-like consistency—and topped with hibiscus-sugar-dusted grapefruit and edible flowers. The preparation is captivating, thanks in no small part to the billowing liquid nitrogen mist that prompts patrons to grab their phones and hit record.
What began as a food truck in San Francisco is now a brick-and-mortar restaurant and caterer blending flavors from North Africa and Baja. Medina is the brainchild of chef-owner Alia Jaziri, a San Diego native who grew up visiting Baja and enjoying food made by her father, who’s a chef from North Africa. The fast-casual restaurant’s specialty is merguez, a housemade spicy lamb sausage that can be ordered in a taco, in a bowl, or atop a skillet dish, and the menu’s a seamless fusion—a Cali merguez sandwich, Moroccan-spiced chicken asado, shakshouka, and wines from Valle de Guadalupe.
At this beacon of chimaek—a portmanteau of the Korean words for "fried chicken" (chikin) and "beer" (maekju)—you start by choosing between wings, boneless white meat, or drumsticks, then select one of 10 ways to flavor the batch after it’s been thinly battered and twice-fried for crunch. Popular picks include the gochujang (red chili paste) Seoul Spicy and the savory-sweet Soy Garlic, both of which are excellently paired with a side of corn cheese, pickled radish, or kimchi fried rice. Wash it all down with one of the 30-some draft and bottled beers on deck.
Fresh, traditional Mexican dishes such as adobada and cochinita pibil are served as pizza toppings on pies with names like "Me Gustan Tus Piñas" (I like your pineapples) and "Dame Tu Maíz Picoso" (Give me your spicy corn). After tasting a similarly inventive flatbread in La Paz, Pizzeria El Jefe founder and East County native Claye Cantwell translated the idea on personal pan pizzas he made for TopNotch School Lunches, his primary business, which provides healthy meal options to schools and low-income afterschool programs throughout San Diego. Pass the lime!
Get versed in the revered rice alcohol with a flight at this restaurant opened by former Nobu San Diego sushi chef Yutaka Ishii. Compare three brands of sake from eight traditional categories ranging from sweet to dry, then chase the experience with tapas-style dishes: Try the lesser-known shiokara, a delicacy featuring bite-sized pieces of fermented squid, or more familiar selections like tempura and shishito peppers. End with a cookie-butter éclair made fresh that morning and an order of siphon coffee brewed tableside in an elaborate gold-and-black apparatus.
Mediterranean Food Truck
This food truck has quickly become one of South Park’s mainstays for traditional and innovative Mediterranean dishes that are light, fresh, and bouncing with spices. The falafels are a delicate balance of crispy and savory, the meat is expertly seasoned and always fresh, and the California shawarma wrap with Wagyu beef and fries could rival our obsession with California burritos. You could easily get two servings out of one order, but sharing is for suckers.
San Diego has no shortage of taco shops, but Lola 55 ups the heat level with their locally caught Insanely Spicy Smoked Fish Taco made with Carolina Reaper salsa. Other ingredients inside the scratch-made, hand-pressed tortilla are a stuffed jalapeño, bacon, citrus soy, mustard greens, and crema. The Guinness World Record hottest chili pepper, Carolina Reaper, adds an intense level of heat, so try the dish with caution.
Photo: Paula Watts
"Best of San Diego" Beer Series
by Eppig Brewing x Fall Brewing Company x Coronado Brewing Company x San Diego Magazine
Over the past year, owner Amy Truong not only launched a monthly tea subscription box, she also opened a brick and mortar in Point Loma so fans could buy tea wares and Paru’s line of teas, garnishes, salts, and syrups in person. The minimalist shop, designed by Miki Iwasaki’s Sunset Projects, is anchored by a birch plywood tasting bar. This is where Truong hosts weekly tea flights by reservation on weekends and first-come, first-served during the week. She’ll also have a summer iced tea stand at her new digs through August 31.
When you’re on the hunt for the next Instagram dessert, you keep a few requirements in mind: it must be innovative, it needs a pop of color, and of course, it must be tasty. The cotton candy burrito at LAB Dessert & Coffee meets all those marks and more. Make your own by selecting the cotton candy flavor for the outside of your burrito—we recommend blueberry—and then choosing from their daily ice cream flavors for the filling. Finish your creation off with sweet toppings of Fruity Pebbles or rainbow sprinkles and consider this dessert double-tapped!
Outdoor Wine Dinner
Rancho Valencia’s savvy sommelier Dan Chapman has expanded the resort’s wine dinner program beyond the cellar and patio, inviting guests twice a year to dine under the stars on the sprawling croquet lawn. Each dinner focuses on a particular winemaking region; one recently brought vino from six vineyards in Paso Robles served alongside a family-style dinner with a whole roasted pig and a medley of salads and sides. Similar experiences with top vintners from Valle de Guadalupe and Santa Barbara County are upcoming in fall 2019 and spring 2020, respectively.
Rancho Santa Fe
At Moxy San Diego
Hidden within the new millennial-focused Moxy San Diego Hotel is speakeasy bar Room 56, named for the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. Concealed behind the hotel lobby’s mezzanine library and down a winding staircase, Room 56 serves swanky cocktails and refined bites, paired with live saxophone music on select nights. Reservations are strongly recommended at this 24-seat cocktail den.
South Park’s newest all-day bar and eatery is a joint project from craft cocktail powerhouse Christian Siglin (El Jardín, Craft & Commerce, The Grass Skirt) and executive chef Travis Clifford, who cooked under chef Carl Schroeder at Market in Del Mar for five years. The bar offers fancy cocktails that promise to be simultaneously approachable and experimental, like the Cobra Clutch, made with Vida mezcal, tequila, lime, pineapple, sugar cane, and absinthe. Clifford’s fine-dining background shines in classic American comfort food. One standout, the grilled cheese, is made with a rotating selection of artisanal cheeses and ingredients that make for a richer, adult version of the classic sandwich.
This conjoined twin of Pop Pie Co. offers a rotating menu of 12 to 15 traditional and vegan ice cream flavors created by co-owner Gan Suebsarakham, such as coconut, coconut ash, Earl Grey citrus tea cake, and pandan. Also featured are limited-run collaborations with local chefs that highlight the city’s cultural diversity, like last year’s Toasted Buttered Pan de Sal with pan de sal toffee swirl by Cowboy Star pastry chef Jamie Decena. To complete the experience, go next door for the Caramel Apple PiesCream: an apple crumble pie squeezed between two scoops of Stella Jean’s Madagascar vanilla bean ice cream and topped with housemade salted caramel sauce, whipped cream, and an old-fashioned oat crumble.
Vegans and vegetarians rejoice! After developing a cult following in University Heights, Thai restaurant Plumeria opened a second location on Highway 101 in Encinitas. The menu caters to those on plant-based, gluten-free diets, and the food is nothing short of addictive. Add some vegetarian protein like mock duck, chicken, or jackfruit to curries that are made from scratch daily, or order their popular Spicy Noodle dish or a bowl of the house special Zen Soup and meditate on a meal that transcends typical Thai.
Lolita’s carne asada fries have long reigned supreme in the East Village, but now there’s a new neighborhood rival: WhipHand’s menu of Whip Super Fries. Choose from the Reuben fries, short rib fondue, Impossible, or Double Impossible. We like the Reuben fries, topped with pastrami, jalapeño slaw, Swiss cheese, and special sauce. All of the Super Fry portions are sharable, and hey, we don’t like to say it, but sometimes when you’re leaving Petco Park, you’re in need of some good comfort food.
And the hottest new place to travel for dim sum is... a mall? You bet. Westfield UTC has a Din Tai Fung, the Taipei dumpling institution founded 50 years ago, now with locations across the globe (the one in Hong Kong earned a Michelin star). Unlike other dim sum eateries in San Diego, DTF is Taiwanese, offering diners a peek into the island’s divine seasonings. Try the sticky rice and kurobuta pork shao mai or the kimchi and kurobuta pork dumplings for a truly delectable experience. The average walk-up wait is 30–60 minutes on weekdays and up to two hours on weekends. Online reservations are accepted about a month out.
Big Easy Eats
Sip some Sazerac, nibble on étouffée and save room for alligator andouille cheesecake with crawfish cream at this new eatery helmed by chef Quinnton "Q" Austin. His cuisine is authentic with a capital A—he lived in New Orleans for 15 years, and worked at the likes of Antoine’s and at Cinclare Rustica in Thibodaux. Ask for the Neighborhood Menu, five chef’s choice dishes that roll out of the kitchen, available until they run out. For some good ol’ NOLA-style fun, try their sharable "Pablo Discobar" punch served in an actual disco ball.
This Copenhagen-based coffee and juice bar opened two locations in San Diego this year, adding trendy quick-service options to both One Paseo and Westfield UTC. Eschewing the chain vibe, Joe & The Juice lets employees at each location take the reins by blasting their own music and making up their own tagline. All coffee beans are sourced from Honduras (plus, they’re organic!), while their fresh-pressed juice includes standouts like the Hangover Heaven (apple, elderflower, mint), the Iron Man (strawberry, kiwi, apple), and the Green Shield (cucumber, broccoli, spinach, apple).
One Paseo (Carmel Valley); Westfield UTC
Jeune et Jolie translates to "young and beautiful," and the Carlsbad restaurant lives up to its name, since everything from the decor to the artful presentation of entrées is a feast for the eyes—booths are lined with mauve crushed velvet; seared scallops with sunchokes and abalone mushrooms are plated to resemble a flower crown. It’s the second restaurant from the team that brought Campfire to the neighborhood, and the French dishes here shine. Get the crispy frog legs in chili vinaigrette, apple salad with black walnut and Saint Agur blue cheese, and baguette and milk bread with life-changing Normandy butter.
We already love the mojito iced coffee and modern decor at this rapidly expanding local coffee chain, but things got even sweeter at Better Buzz’s Pacific Beach location on Grand Avenue with the addition of soft-serve ice cream to the extensive food menu. Flavors include chocolate and matcha, and you can get a cold brew float topped with a butter waffle.
Karen Krasne has been making cakes, puddings, tarts, pies and other confections with over-the-top decorations for 30 years now. Krasne marked this milestone anniversary by unveiling a sweet new storefront for her Bankers Hill location. Now in the ground floor of the Louie Lofts, just down the street from the original store where she got her start, you’ll find all the beloved classics, like the blueberry cheesecake coffee cake, along with cheese and charcuterie boards, savory toasts, and a bar serving bubbles, wine, and beer. Enjoy your dessert on the stunning large patio that faces Fourth Avenue, which has a communal table that can fit 65 people.
Aside from its acclaimed chef, Brad Wise (Trust, Hundred Proof), the star at Fort Oak is the 7,000-pound custom-made grill in the exhibition kitchen that churns out perfectly charred vegetables, whole branzino, and Australian Wagyu that have been seared over flames and oak-smoked. Unlike its Trust predecessor, Fort Oak has a raw bar with fresh oysters from Baja and beyond, toast topped with smoked opah salad, and a charcuterie program. Love martinis? Fort Oak makes excellent ones with Cutwater Spirits’ Fugu vodka and Suntory’s Roku gin served in a decanter on ice and poured at the table.
Secret Cocktail Program
Each Tuesday, downtown’s newest boutique hotel announces the secret sipper of the day on Instagram. Recent concoctions have included the Good Thyme (lemon meringue pie in a glass with Nolet’s gin, housemade limoncello, infused sage and thyme syrup, spice bitters, lemon, and whipping cream) and the Charred (a smoke-infused mezcal served beneath a dome to preserve its aromatics). The first four people—yes, four!—to show up for happy hour knowing the featured bevvie’s name get one for free.
Best Upscale Mexican
El Jardín | Photo: Paula Watts
It’s peak ice cream season, and this popular gelateria recently opened an additional location in Little Italy Food Hall to make it easier to indulge (and cool off) with a cup of their small-batch gelato. None of the flavors in Bobboi’s gelato come from a premade mix; it’s all handcrafted using only the best ingredients—local produce, organic pistachios, housemade chocolate—and owners Andrea Racca and Monica Maccioni visit the La Jolla Farmers Market every week. Flavors run from classics like pistachio and chocolate to adventurous (goat cheese and grape), and new ones are always being introduced. There’s vegan sorbet, too. Oh bobboi (joy)!
La Jolla, Little Italy
Niccolo Angius and his wife, Cesarina, moved to San Diego from Rome a few years ago and got their start selling freshly made pasta at farmers’ markets. Their first restaurant is a thing of beauty in an unexpected corner of Point Loma: Near the white marble bar is a pastificio (open-air pasta making station) where bucatini, ravioli, and tonnarelli are made fresh daily; a wall of colorful jarred fruits and vegetables is a focal point of the dining room; and the expansive patio is an easy place to order a bottle of pinot grigio and mentally transport yourself to Italy. Don’t miss the tiramisu made tableside. Saluti!
Meal planning just got easier with the opening of The Butchery in the new One Paseo shopping center. The all-in-one butcher shop, retail store, and restaurant invites guests to order from its meat-centric menu (steak sandwiches, burgers, sausages), browse their retail shop for specialty items like artisanal cheese, wine, and craft beer, or simply grab a cut of meat from the counter to prepare at home. Their meat selection is hand-cut to order and includes some dry-aged, cheddar-aged, and exotic options.
One Paseo (Carmel Valley)
What’s our favorite thing at Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa’s reconcepted restaurant, Mustangs & Burros? Two words: ceviche negro. Yes, you read correctly: black ceviche. Playing off a Oaxacan recipe, executive chef Vincent Savignano cures his fresh catch (usually Pacific bass or Baja corvina) in lime juice and salt for about two hours, then adds "ash" (charred chiles and other vegetables processed into a powder) that lends a black coloring, smoky flavor, and an inventive twist on the typically tangy dish.
Take a walk on the wild side at this swanky Westfield UTC restaurant, which offers myriad proteins roasted to perfection. The Winery’s chef Yvon Goetz, a French native with a AAA Five Diamond Award under his belt, creates inspired dishes of wild game, including alligator, ostrich, squab, elk, and even kangaroo. Guests can pair their food with one of over 650 selections of wine, or choose from an impressive drink menu that changes weekly.
On a main drag dotted with antique stores and family eateries aplenty, Small Batch finally brought some chic cred to La Mesa Village when it opened last year. La Mesa residents and best friends Brittany Peña and Lacy Bird co-own the boutique, which is chock-full of tempting giftables, stationery, and home accents for her, him, and even the kids. As the name implies, they stock goods made in small batches—and if they’re locally made, all the better. You’ll find Elum Designs, Tangerine Toys, 1502 Candle Co., Kasia Jewelry, and Bradley Mountain, to name just a few.
Just down the street from the Ocean Beach Pier, this airy oasis started in 2017 as a shop featuring work by local artists, modern home decor, and eco-friendly gifts; last year it welcomed a few new partners and graduated into a powerhouse collective. Saltwater Surf & Supply is there for ocean toys and beach garb, and Seafarer Coffee sells java from Modern Times. The collaboration doesn’t stop there: They also host art shows, wellness events, surfboard swaps, and pop-up events for San Diego makers.
When Pigment first debuted in North Park, it seemed to outgrow that location overnight. So when we caught wind last year that the beloved boutique was expanding to Liberty Station, we all breathed a sigh of shopper’s relief—and then again, when it opened a third store in One Paseo. You’ll still find all of your favorite Pigment products at the new shops—stylish gifts, colorful decor, and air plants are all accounted for—just in brighter, more spacious layouts. At Liberty Station there is a custom T-shirt printing station, along with an outdoor deck for lounging and potting plants.
One Paseo (Carmel Valley), Liberty Station
Carlos Franco is a household name among San Diego’s florist community—he’s fashioned arrangements for the royal family and he exhibits in San Diego Museum of Art’s huge Art Alive installation almost every year. But it’s the plant selection and his knowledge of them that draws customers into his Hillcrest store, which underwent a facelift this spring. The front of the shop is reserved for finickier houseplants and the back patio has greenery fitting for the outdoors. No matter where you roam, there are plenty of helpful employees to walk you through how to hone your green thumb—or direct you toward swag to help you fake it: totes with sayings like "Plant Based," macramé, and even temporary tattoos of leaves and ferns.
Owner Yolanda Brionez made the move from pop-up to permanent last fall after finding what she calls a quiet piece of neighborhood in Ocean Beach. The shop, named in honor of the grandmother who always pointed her north, primarily carries a curated collection of vintage clothes and textiles including area rugs, blankets, and fiber art, as well as artisanal fashion accessories like palm-leaf handbags and leather cross-body bags, candles, geodes, and ceramics. In keeping with OB’s communal sensibilities, Brionez also consigns space to 20 creative businesses, like boho jewelry maker Nomad West.
Ten years after Ocean Beach lost its last neighborhood bookstore, Run for Cover has filled the void. The newly opened indie shop is a 20-year dream come true for owner Marianne Reiner, an OB resident and daughter of a librarian, who’s curated a fine selection of new titles and book-related gifts. Don’t miss the charming kid-sized reading nook designed by Brandon Hubbard at INKredibleDESIGN, and the outdoor patio space where customers are welcome to bring food and beverages to chat, relax, and of course, read.
Claudia Yvonne Biezunski’s creative oasis isn’t off the beaten path; it’s above it. In a suite with dragonfruit-pink floors, the seamstress entertains a range of customers, from those looking for basic or bridal alterations to those in search of custom drag, cosplay, or Halloween costumes. Biezunski grew up loving the craft—her mother sews and her father owned a denim factory—and she hopes to reframe sewing as a modern trade, hosting weekend group events open to newbies and pros of all ages, private beginner classes, and a "Sew Your Own" class for sewers looking to learn new skills.
Fish shop manager by night, artist by day, Joe Skoby has made waves in San Diego’s higher-end interior design community with his vaselike sculptures. Each clay piece is totally unique and hand spun in his backyard. Be warned: They’ll set you back anywhere from $350 to $700. The selling points are in the details, meant to mimic how the ocean patinates a stone. Online and in select retailers.
Blink and you might miss this adorable fabric shop on Adams Avenue, if owner Erin Dollar doesn’t grab your attention from her workstation inside. The textile designer has created dish towels for CB2 and notebooks for Scout Books, and last year she brought her hand-patterned home decor—coasters, linen napkins, pillows, felt key chains, and more—to a brick and mortar, dedicating one wall of the 72-square-foot space to makers she adores. Believe it or not, she even hosts workshops in the small space. Past classes have included block printing on tote bags and patterning gift wrap.
Launched in May and designed right in Pacific Beach, Driftline’s flagship knickers, Drifties, are lined with neoprene for the same functionality and warmth as a wetsuit but without getting overly heated. They’re suitable for surfing, wakeboarding, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, and other aquatic activities. As for those who aren’t the most avid of water athletes? They’ve got stylish Session board shorts (no lining) and even some Driftline swag in the form of tees and hats. Online only.
Clean Beauty Boutique
We deemed Leah Kirpalani’s North Park flagship one of our best clean beauty shops last year, but her encore to that—a second location in One Paseo—is equally worthy of a standing ovation. Unlike that first brick and mortar that’s clean and white, the Carmel Valley spot is color blocked in pink and ruby, with the same eco-friendly cosmetics and skin care services we first fell in love with. Shop Good also started rallying around a particular health topic every season (e.g., periods in winter and sun-safe skin approaches in summer) with events to educate customers on best practices.
One Paseo (Carmel Valley)
Open two flower shops in two months? You’d have to be wild to do that—or consider yourself a wildflower, as Native Poppy owner Natalie Gill does. After three years of selling from a space she shared with Communal Coffee, Gill put down new roots for her flower shop in South Park and Solana Beach earlier this year. Both shops have a "stem bar," where you can piece together your own bouquet from the more whimsical blooms Native Poppy is renowned for. And there’s an expanded selection of stationery, pots, and other decor to peruse and purchase while the experts arrange your bouquet.
Solana Beach, South Park
They say makers gotta make, and Simón Limón is the place for creators on both sides of the border to sell their wares. Owner Alexandra Perez Demma opened her 180-square-foot shop in Barrio Logan last year as a place to support artists in Southern California and Baja. Ceramicists, painters, and jewelry makers like Demma herself are all accounted for and even host monthly workshops. And the name? It’s like the Spanish "okie dokie."
Rotating essential oils, plush chairs, and add-on massages in the back? Those little touches make all the difference in North Park’s—nay, San Diego’s—poshest new nail salon. Owner Jina Javier, also co-owner of San Marcos boutique Liv3, opened the serene space as an ode to self-care earlier this year. Every service begins with a warm soak in Sekala rose bath salts and ends with a low-toxin lacquer. Translation: You’ll leave literally breathing easy.
Meditation, plants, yoga, plants, a sauna, and more plants. What’s not to zen out about at this Normal Heights boutique? Husband-and-wife owners James Gaulke and January Newland opened up shop last year, in hopes of bringing a bit of island time to San Diego (she grew up in Hawai‘i and they frequent Fijian wellness retreats). Classes span yoga inside the plant shop, sauna and ice-bath therapy outside, and even a breastfeeding support group for new moms. About those houseplants: The couple is diligent about carrying what customers ask for, so DM or give them a ring with your request. They’ll also come to you for styling services.
Normal Heights wildisland.collective
Interior Design Studio
Google Katie Gebhardt’s name and you’ll see she’s landed on cult design sites like Domino, Lonny, and Design Milk. Her design firm, Solstice Interiors (rebranded from Within Design Co last year), can accommodate tastes from minimalist to boho-beachy. Consider their work on the Instagrammable JuneShine in North Park. The hard kombucha bar’s newly opened second location in Scripps Ranch (shown here) has a lounge area so plush you’ll want to move in. But you don’t have to—Solstice does residential projects, too!
New Yoga Studio
The options for yoga classes throughout the county seem endless, but the workouts and ambience at this Pacific Beach studio definitely fall outside the box. Flow through a restorative vinyasa or higher impact "Tone-Ga" (strength training) class to colorful mood lighting that changes throughout the session. We hear they’re opening a second location in Hillcrest soon. Savasana never felt so good.
Fitness Club Expansion
We were the first ones through the door when the East Village club opened with a rooftop pool and handsome clientele. Then we rejoiced when it expanded in Solana Beach and Carmel Mountain, where it launched Fit Kids programming. Now Fit Athletic is opening two new splashy locations: Little Italy and Mission Beach. The latter promises ocean views and an indoor pool with retractable roof. No matter the zip code, expect the same intense instructors, state-of-the-art equipment, and healthy to-go meals.
At Crunch Fitness
If any fitness instructor has joy with a capital J, it is Cece at Crunch. And we’ll show up for joy. As many as fifty or sixty students flock to the evening classes, where Cece bounces in wearing a Broadway-caliber smile. Her style, energy, and enthusiasm will keep you moving and enjoying every minute.
Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Carmel Valley, Thursday at 5:30 in Carlsbad
Consider it your one-stop recovery shop. Right in La Jolla Village, Livkraft has remedies for a slew of bodily needs: cryotherapy chambers (and facials!) to reduce inflammation, float tanks for relaxation, NormaTec compression therapy for blood flow, and perhaps best of all, infrared saunas that allow you to pick your own tunes or even Netflix shows while you detox.
If you want to burn calories, you cycle. If you want to tone, you go to barre. And if you want to build muscle, you go to Renegade. The gym is entirely class-based (no sweating solo here!), and triathletes, pro footballers, rugby players, and swimmers have all used the San Diego facilities: one in Point Loma, another in Hillcrest, the newest in North Park, and soon Pacific Beach. Fifty-minute workouts are held almost every hour beginning at 5 a.m., focusing on the upper or lower body. For a varsity-level workout, there’s the Full Body MetCon, or metabolic conditioning.
Hourlong Spin Class
Rare is the spin class that runs a full 60 minutes, but that changed when SoulCycle opened up in Westfield UTC last year and One Paseo more recently. SoulCycle’s SoulSurvivor is our favorite. They only happen once a week—Saturdays at UTC and Sundays at One Paseo. And because it’s the same price as a regular class, it’s like 15 additional minutes of torture for free. Clip in!
One Paseo (Carmel Valley), Westfield UTC
This studio is exploding all over the county, with the newest digs in Del Mar, Pacific Beach, and Cardiff. Every day is a different theme and combo of exercises. Alongside a workout buddy, you rotate through cardio or strength training in quick succession. Instructors help you with form, and there are video demos on constant loop for quick reference.
New Concert Hall
La Jolla Music Society’s new $82 million home, which debuted in spring, is as impressive as the artists who perform there. The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center’s 513-seat hall was engineered with acoustics in mind, and is geared to accommodate everything from solo piano to large choirs and movie screenings. Visit the Conrad for SummerFest August 2–23, when over 80 musicians and artists will perform. While you’re there, check out the courtyard, terrace, and ballroom—the rentable event spaces make us want to plan a gala or wedding.
Night at the Museum
At the San Diego Natural History Museum
Leave the kiddos at home for this one. By popular demand, the San Diego Natural History Museum added an extra night to its Nat at Night events—now on Thursdays and Fridays this summer (through August 30)—when the museum is open until 10 p.m., with half-price admission after 5 p.m., plus pop-up programming on select dates, after-hours access to the museum’s themed escape room, and rooftop trivia on Thursdays at 7 p.m. Oh yes, did we mention they have a rooftop bar? Pair your beer and wine with light bites like tacos, ceviche, and poke, against jaw-dropping views of Balboa Park. Date night delivered.
This Oceanside micro-venue is a passion project from two local women who wanted to foster a vibrant, creative space for San Diego makers and DIY-ers. Planning an event? They keep the foundation bright and minimalistic for you to add a personal touch to your next intimate gathering. If you prefer to set aside your hosting hat, you can get crafty and attend their workshops, where San Diego artists teach jewelry making, macramé, painting, and more.
Nathan Myhrvold is famous for showcasing food in never-before-seen ways through his avant-garde and scientific approach to food photography. Myhrvold, a former chief technology officer at Microsoft (he has 800 patents to his name!) followed his passion for food and pursued a culinary education in France. He took all the photos that appear in his James Beard Award–winning cookbook anthology, Modernist Cuisine, and imagery from the cookbooks became so popular that art galleries showcasing his work have opened around the country. The new gallery in La Jolla is his fourth and the largest to date; you have to see it to believe it. His engineering background is evident in his work, as he uses machines he built himself—everything from catapults to robots—to capture the images, and is known for cutting appliances in half for a good shot. The results are arresting, such as cross-sections of blueberries magnified so intensely you can see the cells inside the fruit.
Turns out the old saying’s true: When one door closes, another Door opens. After Patric Stillman closed his four-year-old art gallery in North Park last year when its block was bought, he felt all was lost—and so did the contemporary artists who’d been working out of an exhibition and studio space there. That changed when he scooped up the vacant American Apparel shop in Hillcrest to nearly double his old space. They wasted no time following up their February grand reopening with their fifth annual Crow Show, and added more new events to engage the community, like a quarterly art walk, the Hillcrest Art Stumble, returning in September.
Their e-boutique has charmed us with its selection of organic baby brands like Billie Blooms, Gray Label, and Lexy Pexy since 2015. But it’s Noble’s own line, launched last year, that really won us—and our wee ones—over. No tacky sequins or goofy cartoons here. Owner Jen Hartford plant-dyes her comfy monochromatic onesies, like the waffle sleeper and utility suit, right in South Park. Dress your toddler in a denim kimono bodysuit and suddenly everyone else will be the ones going gaga.
Theme Park Draw
The Carlsbad theme park turned 20 this year, but if your kid still moves in the preschool set, check out the recently renovated and relocated Duplo Playtown. Toddlers will thrill over the new Legoland Express Train and even more interactive play structures. And don’t forget: free birthday admission this year for kids under 12.
If your kids copy dance moves from Fortnite, then taking a hip-hop class at Alaina and Jason Horton’s kid-friendly studio totally tracks. Launched with a mission to cultivate courage, confidence, creativity, and community, it offers dance classes for students as young as two years (there’s a toddler breakdancing class and a hula class!). Rates run $15 per drop-in, less if you buy a four-, eight-, or 16-class package. The studio also hosts yoga (ages 8+), Hawaiian (ages 2+), and eskrima (Filipino martial arts) sessions (ages 7+).
This Liberty Station newcomer dishes up ice cream by the scoop, DIY froyo, housemade ice pops, and more. But what makes it so special is its retro vibe: bright pineapple wallpaper, glittery pink vinyl upholstery, and Beatles music playing overhead. They also project movies like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on the wall outside. As for that Airstream trailer that doubles as a kids’ playhouse? We call it the cherry on top!
Coming strong from an ever-growing product line of refrigerated snack bars, San Diego–based Perfect Snacks launched a Perfect Kids line last year. They come in two flavors—peanut butter cookie and chocolate chip—and are not as filling as the full-size bars, but still pack a lot of protein. The organic snack can be taken on the go, unrefrigerated for up to a week. That’s practically perfect.
Sakura Bloom’s been handcrafting baby carriers out of natural textiles in Oceanside since 2014, and just last year they brought their products into a brick and mortar in Encinitas—then again to a second store in LA this spring. There are three styles: the Ring Sling for babes 8–35 pounds; Onbuhimo to wear on your front or back for wee ones 15–35 pounds; and the heftiest, the Scout, for tykes up to 45 pounds. Pop into the shop, try on the simply crafted wares, and walk out wearing your baby. You can feel good doing it, since they recycle, reuse, or repurpose old carriers and donate scraps of silks, linens, and bamboo to art groups and nonprofits.
At The New Children’s Museum
Fiber artist Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam has crocheted her way into our hearts with this eye-popping installation at The New Children’s Museum downtown. The play structure is made of 40 miles of braided nylon; parts of it resemble an enormous hammock. In the words of one three-year-old: "I just liked to peek my little head out and then climb back down." In our words? Whammock will artfully tire them out before nap time.
Insurgente isn’t the newest name in the Tijuana brewing game, but they’re helping shape the burgeoning Baja beer scene in a major way. Their ultramodern tasting room opened last year, complete with a second-story bar overlooking the working brewhouse as well as a covered rooftop patio offering a panorama of the surrounding Tijuana cityscape. The bottle and draft lists are hugely diverse—think Belgian witbiers, imperial stouts, kettle sours, and plenty of San Diego–inspired IPAs—with a number of taproom exclusives and collaborations also available.
Owners Aldo Monraz Garcia and Juan Hurtado have created Tijuana’s first beer garden, where you can sample the region’s famous craft brews and bites in one lively outdoor space that’s perfect for taking in summer nights—and maybe even a local band or two. Boasting more than 64 beers on tap, courtesy of breweries from Tijuana, Mexicali, and Los Cabos, plus tacos, ceviches, and burgers from Satabu and Slow Burger, you can find the perfect pairing for those cold ones.
After the success of Horno 320’s first beachfront location in Playas de Tijuana, Horno 320 has taken its crisp oak-fired pizzas and smoked ribs to Tijuana’s gastronomic center. Guests are encouraged to create their own pizza with a mélange of meats, cheeses, veggies, and sauces to choose from, including jamón serrano, feta, zucchini blossoms, roasted garlic, and many more. Not sure what to order? You can’t go wrong pairing spicy shrimp pizza with some white wine or the house specialty, a glistening sangria.
New Direct Flight
Volaris recently added a nonstop from Tijuana to Loreto that’s super affordable (one-way fares are as low as $37 USD). Take the 105-minute flight to this quiet little colonial town that sits on the Gulf of California side of the Baja Peninsula. You’ve got a beach in the front yard and mountain trails in the back that lead you to prehistoric cave paintings. Culture, nature, and tequila all on a budget? Viva Volaris!
La Cocina Secreta and acclaimed chef and ceviche master Daniela de la Puente have been offering a pop-up eating experience for the past five years. Now, she’s expanding La Cocina Secreta with "gastro-sensory experiences" (i.e., blind tastings) within Baja and San Diego. This month’s event is August 3: a five-course meal somewhere in San Diego that departs from Fashion Valley. De la Puente brings the blindfolds; you bring all of your senses.
RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s a full-on fiesta to celebrate the vintners’ harvest every fall at the Valle Food & Wine Fest, a convergence of wine tastings, artisan markets, live music, kids’ activities, and celebrity chef food stations, all at Javier Plascencia’s Finca Altozano restaurant. This year’s event is slated for October 5, with big-name chefs like Rick Bayless, Wolfgang Puck, Drew Deckman, and so many more on the lineup. The three-year-old shebang is the brainchild of Plascencia himself, chef Nancy Silverton, and food writer Carolina Carreño. Here’s to many more years to come!
Valle de Guadalupe
The fare is always healthy at RLP, but as of this spring, the famous destination spa has sweetened the menu. The new Xocolatl Experience package focuses on chocolate. Tour Tecate’s Kajkab (Mayan for "bitter juice") chocolate factory during a Bean-to-Bar class. Enjoy a tasting and learn about the health benefits of cacao. The package also includes a chocolate and wine tasting with vino from the Valle and, of course, a chocolate spa experience. We already loved RLP, but this is one sweet deal.
Without a doubt, one of Tijuana’s hottest restaurant openings in 2019 has been chef Adria Marina’s Georgina Restaurante. The gilded art-deco-inspired restaurant specializes in European-style dishes with modern Mexican touches. Apart from lunch and dinner service, a happy hour menu including the well-loved burger and several special cocktails is offered 5–7 p.m. weekdays.
The best high-quality sushi deal on either side of the border, Toshi Toshi opened in fall 2018 and is well worth the trip across la linea. Situated in the back of Velardo, a breakfast restaurant, it can be considered a speakeasy of sorts and is run by ex–Sushi Ota chef Toshiaki Tsutada. The omakase costs just $75 (depending on the exchange rate) and includes high-quality cuts of fish sourced from Baja California and beyond. Dining is limited to 14 seats, with service from Thursday to Sunday only.
An aura of gothic mystery surrounds this little bar inside Tras/Horizonte restaurant. One post on their Instagram feed is a shot of "Ana’s Kiss," a blood-red drink in an elegant glass with the caption "Visit us and let us tell you the story of Ana." Obscure foreign films play inside a space that fits about 20 people, with just three tables and a small bar where the drinks skew sweet or spicy. Color us intrigued. DM or ring them up for reservations.
When alcohol and horse race gambling were forbidden in the US during Prohibition, Tijuana was said to have rivaled Monte Carlo with its ritzy casinos and fancy bars, which attracted the Hollywood elite of the time. This luxurious bar in downtown Tijuana honors those days with impeccable design, sharply dressed bartenders, and craft cocktails. Order a seafood tower from the central cantina and sip a drink made with peach, mezcal, and beer. They also have a travel desk where you can book your next escape to the Valle.
The signature restaurant at the sleek luxury hotel Bruma, which is set on 200 acres of vineyards in the Valle, should be on your Baja bucket list. The rustic-meets-chic dining room is absolutely stunning, with high ceilings and a design that seamlessly opens up to views of the valley. Chef David Castro Hussong—formerly of New York’s lauded Eleven Madison Park—lovingly showcases all the ingredients he sources from Baja: crudités are plucked right from the garden and presented on ice like a sculpture, roasted bone marrow is served on a bed of herbs, and even a humble lamb barbacoa is plated with care. The experimental tasting menu and wine pairings will set you back about $100 USD.
The Neapolitan pizza and pasta joint has been attracting crowds since it opened in the Davila neighborhood last year, and they recently launched an inventive and elegant brunch menu. Start the day with pitch-black waffles made with activated charcoal and topped with fresh fruits; an omelet with truffle oil, mushrooms, and housemade ricotta; or chilaquiles fagioli—an Italian spin on the Mexican breakfast staple with beans, Parmesan, avocado crème, and chile and tomato sauce. Don’t forget to sample the wines; they serve exclusive vintages from Valle de Guadalupe.
One of Tijuana’s fanciest neighborhoods is home to the city’s first head shop. Tijuana High Club opened in April, specializing in CBD products and high-quality, design-forward cannabis accessories like vaporizers, bongs, and bowls from throughout Mexico and the US. Though it hopes to become one of Mexico’s first smoking clubs in the future, for now it operates as a completely legal accessory shop until recreational cannabis becomes fully decriminalized in the country.
Tucked into an unmarked storefront in La Cacho, this tiny, unassuming bar is quickly becoming Tijuana’s worst-kept secret—for good reason. Ten rotating taps keep regulars coming back to try new beers from around Baja California, like selections from Wendlandt, Teorema, Insurgente, Paralelo 28, Sci-Hop, Kaminari, and more. There’s usually at least one sour, malty, stout, and hoppy beer on the list at any given time. The crowd is quietly chef-heavy, which should be a mark of quality in anyone’s book.