If you moved to San Diego thinking California burritos are sold on every street corner at 2 a.m., think again. Most restaurants close their kitchen around 10; Balboa Park is quiet at twilight; heck, one Poway McDonald’s closes at 9 p.m. Even our airport has a curfew. Like it or not, we are a morning city. To find out what’s happening while many of us are sleeping, we interviewed the early birds keeping our city running (and many of them are literally running), compiled hacks to avoid the snooze button, and rounded up four dozen reasons to wake up early. Rise and shine, San Diego!
how to start Your Morning:
Reward yourself for completing an early-morning hike up Cowles Mountain with a dragon fruit bowl or keto-friendly smoothie at Pure Press, a grab-and-go stand near the trailhead. Or skip the hike and simply admire a clear view of the mountain from the few seats at the bar. Open at 6:30 a.m.
There’s always a line at Kono’s Surf Club in Pacific Beach, especially in the morning. Arrive when they open at 7 a.m. for the breakfast burritos and a table with a Crystal Pier view.
Get in line before 7 a.m. on weekdays or 8 a.m. on weekends at Donut Bar downtown, which stays open until it sells out between 11 a.m. and noon. Go for the Homer donut, topped with pink cake batter and sprinkles, or opt for two dozen other daily flavors. Whether you want to pair your sugar rush with beer, coffee, a mimosa, or strawberry milk, they’ve got you covered.
It’s new to San Diego, but Copenhagen-born Joe & the Juice has an enthusiastic worldwide following. One local bestseller is the Prince of Green Juice, made with cucumber, lemon, and pineapple. Bonus: The café just launched acai bowls. Open at 7 a.m. in Westfield UTC and 9 a.m. in One Paseo.
En route to an early-morning hike in East County, get your carbo-loading in order at La Mesa Bistro and Bakery. They open at 5:30 a.m. and have hearty options like corned beef hash and chilaquiles, along with lighter fare (breakfast sandwiches and fruit bowls).
If fruit and muffins sound bland, nontraditional breakfast entrées abound at Breakfast Republic: jambalaya, eggs Benedict with a crab-and-crawfish cake, and Oreo cookie pancakes are served starting at 7 a.m. All seven locations don’t accept reservations. (Word to the wise: Get there early before the brunch crowd comes.)
Prefer to start the day with fluffy pancakes and waffles? Head to Richard Walker’s Pancake House as early as 6:30 a.m. The famed institution pleases die-hard breakfast connoisseurs with baked-apple pancakes, Dutch babies, and four-egg omelets. Locations in Carlsbad, downtown, and La Jolla.
For a sunrise view of Lake Murray, climb the hills of the Del Cerro neighborhood to Dwane Avenue, and then take a look across the lake. To extend your hike, travel around to the tennis courts and join up with the lake path below. Six miles, if you walk the lake path.
Whether you’re in awe of the graceful, flowing movements of tai chi and want to learn it or are looking to join fellow enthusiasts, Tai Chi Push Hands hosts an informal class every Sunday in Balboa Park from 7 to 9 a.m.
Here’s motivation for you and your furry friend to get out of bed. Pack Walk is a Saturday morning meetup for people and their pups to hike together with others. The dog walks vary in location, but the pack typically meets at 8 a.m.
Cowles Mountain in San Carlos can be extremely crowded during the day, but not so at sunrise. The view from the top looks far to the east, where you can catch a beautiful break in the horizon at dawn. Three miles out and back.
Twentysomethings love November Project’s free year-round outdoor workouts, started by two Bostonians who wanted to get outside in the winter. Chances of having to run and do planks? High. But don’t hate: The "tribe" gives hugs. They meet at 6:29 a.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays. Check their social media for locations.
Bring your friends to Daybreaker, a monthly dance party where revelers can kickstart their day with joy and mindfulness—and without the substances. Begun in NYC as a social experiment, the "morning movement" has spread to 20 cities worldwide, Past events have taken place at Skateworld in Linda Vista and Sandbox in the East Village. Check Facebook for the next event date and location.
Feel the burn without a sunburn at outdoor boot camp classes. Wired Fitness hosts HIIT sessions at 6 a.m. on weekdays in Carmel Valley. San Diego Core Fitness breaks out the weights at 6 a.m. on weekdays at Morley Field. And Gut Check Fitness starts curling dumbbells at 6 a.m. at Moonlight Beach or Sage Canyon Park. Schedules and locations may vary.
There are only a handful of tennis courts in San Diego that open at the break of dawn. Grab your racket and roll out of bed to Mission Hills/Pioneer Park, Murray Ridge Park, Cadman Recreation Center, Clairemont Recreation Center (North and South), Colina del Sol Park, Gershwin Park, Santa Clara Recreation Center, and La Jolla Tennis Courts.
Mt. Helix is a short hike in La Mesa that gets you 1,300 feet above sea level with wonderful chances for a sunrise view to the east. The park is usually crowded, but not early in the morning. One mile out and back.
F45 has been exploding around San Diego with 16 locations. The 45-minute workouts incorporate HIIT, circuit, and functional training. Most studios hold their first workout at 5 a.m.
Hotel Solamar offers a good reason to rise and shine for a rooftop cardio and core workout with a fantastic twist—mermaid tails. One Saturday a month, the hotel overhauls its Upper East rooftop bar for its 8 a.m. Spin + Swim, a 45-minute spin sesh followed by light breakfast bites. Then it’s slipping into monofins and splashing around in the pool for a core workout that ends right before the bar opens up for brunch. Next class is July 13.
Garnet Peak is a shorter hike in the Laguna Mountains and has beautiful eastern views of the desert, which means it’s a fabulous place to watch the sunrise. You can start at the Penny Pines Trailhead, which has free parking. Four miles out and back.
Six or seven o’clock sharp is par for the course when it comes to tee times—this, avid golfers know—but there are a few golf courses in San Diego with quirkier and even earlier starts. Rancho Bernardo Inn opens their course at 6:24 a.m. on weekdays (6 a.m. on weekends), Riverwalk Golf Club begins bookings at 5:20 a.m., and Balboa Park Golf Course begins play at "first light" on weekends (6:30 a.m. on weekdays). As for our world-renowned greens at Coronado and Torrey Pines? Plain old 6 a.m.
For a longer hike along Sunrise Highway in the Laguna Mountains, jump on the Pacific Crest Trail. Start at Storm Canyon Vista Point and follow the PCT north. If you can reach all the way to Kwaaymii Point, you’ll have covered 11 miles, but you can turn back at any point.
From Fallbrook to Coronado, moms and babies are showing up for Stroller Strides, which begins between 9 and 9:30 a.m. depending on the location, and Body Back drop-in workouts starting as early as 5:30 a.m. We know your baby’s up, and that means you are, too. No excuses!
Kick off the weekend with the Balboa Park Saturday Morning Soccer group. RSVP online to get a spot, bring a $10 donation and be geared up and ready to run at 9 a.m.
In San Diego, iced coffee is more of a state of mind than a season—and there’s one we willingly roll out of bed for. The mint-infused version at Better Buzz has muddled mint and raw cane sugar for a refreshing spin on the staple. They have eight locations, and the Point Loma and Pacific Beach shops open at 5 a.m.
Find yourself running an early-morning errand in downtown or, dare we say, going to jury duty? Do as the downtowners do and head to WestBean Coffee Roasters on Broadway for a pour-over, flat white, or salted caramel latte. Open at 6 a.m.
Sunrise surfers finishing dawn patrol in Cardiff have hot empanadas, fresh juice, and strong pour-overs roasted from organic beans awaiting them at Bump Coffee. Open daily from 6 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
After a morning run or walk through Balboa Park, follow the colorful tiles in the Spanish Village to Daniel’s Coffee Cart, where the daily brew is just $3 and served starting at 7 a.m. In the center of the park by the Timken Museum, Prado Perk whips up a good matcha iced latte and is open at 8 a.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. on weekends.
No matter how early you rise, Lestat’s is open, serving a hot cuppa 24/7. The San Diego institution (named after the famous Anne Rice vampire) has three locations in central San Diego, with smoothies, avo toast, and more on their menus.
Pannikin was sourcing fair-trade and organic coffee years before it became the norm. Aside from a coffee bar, their Encinitas and La Jolla locations have an extensive selection of beans from around the world you can take home (try the Pannikin Blue Sky). Place an order by phone or online, and they’ll roast it by hand and have it ready for you the next day. Open at 6 a.m.
There are few froufrou drinks we’d get out of bed for, but Lofty Coffee Co. in Solana Beach pours two exceptions. Try the Aztec mocha (cinnamon, dark cacao, and cayenne) or Turkish latte brewed with cardamom, and take either to go for the five-minute walk to Fletcher Cove. Open at 6 a.m. on weekdays, 7 a.m. on weekends. Locations also in Encinitas and Little Italy.
During racing season in Del Mar—this is its 80th summer—you can catch the horses having their morning workout at the track. Daybreak at Del Mar (Saturdays and Sundays, 7:30–9:30 a.m.) offers breakfast in the Clubhouse Terrace Restaurant while you watch. Donut Days are July 27 and August 10 from 8 to 10 a.m. The Thoroughbred Club also opens weekday workouts to the public from 5 to 10 a.m. (but no breakfast).
Here’s a great idea if you’re entertaining out-of-town guests waking up on Eastern time: Take them on a Hornblower morning cruise to see blue whales, dolphins, and sea lions. All aboard at 9 a.m.
When Fido’s feeling restless in the early hours, take a hint, jump in the car, and go watch the sunrise—at a dog park, leash-free. Nate’s Point and Morley Field near Balboa Park, plus Capehart Park in Pacific Beach and Dog Beach in Ocean Beach are open 24 hours a day, and all are leash-free. Rancho Peñasquitos Park and Ward Canyon Neighborhood Park in Normal Heights welcome pups to roam freely from dawn to dusk.
While the rest of San Diego’s barbacks and bouncers are slipping into bed at 3 a.m., on some mornings, Shakespeare Pub in Mission Hills broadcasts European football matches beginning at the bloody break of dawn in the US. For 4 a.m. games, you’ll see knackered fans standing outside at 3:45. The sweet spot, though, is the matches beginning at 6 a.m., when the pub is allowed to start serving alcohol. The European leagues’ season runs fall to spring. Bluefoot Bar and Lounge in North Park airs the games in the wee hours, too.
Seventeen thousand members can’t be wrong. A group called the San Diego Day Hikers has been meeting regularly to hike for over two decades, usually on the last Saturday of each month and on some weekdays, starting as early as 5:30 a.m.
A stress-free day starts with silence. Dharma Bum Temple in University Heights holds two silent meditation sessions every weekday morning (8–8:25 and 8:30–8:55 a.m.). In PB, Zen Center of San Diego hosts dawn sittings on weekdays (6–7 a.m.), Saturday morning beginner classes at 9 a.m., and beach sittings near Law Street (July 14 and September 15). Chopra Center in Carlsbad offers meditation classes on the weekends.
Get in while it’s hot! Compass Balloons offers hot air balloon rides at sunrise in Temecula (the sunset tours are in San Diego). It’s the perfect Instagram, no drone needed. Shared tours start at $139 per person.
Pair your morning coffee with some before-work motivation at Creative Mornings. The monthly breakfast lecture gives you a chance to network with local professionals before listening to a TED-esque talk about everything from living with intent to managing our water resources—and you’ll be out by 10 a.m.
Make a family affair out of your morning errands with Home Depot’s workshops for the wee ones, held the first Saturday of the month at 9 a.m. Garden supplies purchased and kid entertained in one place? Winning your morning!
Get your civic duty out of the way first thing in the morn. Traditionally, Citizens Coordinate for Century 3 (C-3) held its Breakfast Dialogues monthly and tackled issues such as economic inclusivity. But the event series has recently narrowed its focus to Mission Bay Park and the Mission Valley stadium site. Check the website for future breakfasts; the member-supported nonprofit opens these dialogues to the public; $25–$45.
Anyone can hop aboard the Star of India on Sunday mornings to volunteer on the maintenance crew. Tasks are divvied up beginning at 8:30 a.m., but they encourage you to get there 30 minutes earlier to mingle—and maybe discern how to get first dibs on dusting and rigging versus scrubbing the deck and cleaning the head (aka toilet).
San Diego Coastkeeper and Surfrider San Diego jointly host a handful of beach cleanups every month around the county, generally from 9 to 11 a.m. The day after July 4 is a special "Morning After Mess," which takes place at OB Pier, Crystal Pier, Fiesta Island, and Oceanside Pier and lasts until noon. Bring your own bag, bucket, and work gloves if you have them.
If you want to take in the fresh air of a hiking trail but not put in the steps, give something to the extreme PCT hikers instead—those backpackers aiming to cover the whole thing from Mexico to Canada. Post up on the frontcountry of the trail in the early morning, when the hikers are up and at ’em because it’s cool, and hand out goodies like granola bars, pastries and bottled water. There’s even a name for your random act of kindness: trail magic.
There’s nothing like a good barter before breakfast. Kobey’s Swap Meet holds court in the Pechanga Arena parking lot every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 7 a.m. The South Bay Drive-In converts to a swap meet, too, every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, and opens at 6 a.m. The Santee Drive-In does the same every Saturday and Sunday at 6:30 a.m.
True treasure hunters and vintage lovers should have no trouble waking for this one: a day trip to the Rose Bowl Flea Market. Renowned as one of the best fleas in the country, it’s held the second Sunday of the month at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena (two hours away—groan). Good news is, there’ll be no one on the highway when you’re road-tripping up for the 5 a.m. entry. It’s $20 to get in early, and ticket prices fall incrementally, ending with $9 at 9 a.m. Vendors break down at 3 p.m.