One way to immerse yourself in local culture is to enjoy a leisurely meal outdoors. Most San Diego restaurants take advantage of the excellent weather by offering some sort of patio dining which is great for families, date night or meeting friends out for a drink.
George's Ocean Terrace, the rooftop casual bistro above George's at the Cove in La Jolla, offers guests incredible California cuisine and a panoramic view of the ocean. It's common for residents to take out-of-town guests here to show off the scenery. Dress is casual, umbrellas provide shade on sunny days and there's also an al fresco bar area. Do make a reservation and order the black bean soup.
Craving a margarita in Old Town? Though there are a variety of festive outdoor dining options here, Cafe Coyote, offers fresh tortillas made right on the patio in front of you, a long list of tequila and good Mexican food.
C Level is another popular outdoor dining spot where guests dine on an elevated patio over the water. Watch boats cruise around San Diego bay, enjoy the downtown skyline view with a nice glass of wine and hearty menu (highly recommend the lobster mac and cheese).
Eat like a local and reserve a table at one of San Diego's 10 best outdoor dining restaurants. And, yes, do reserve a table if it's an option, as these spots are hot!
From tortillas to tamales to salsa, Coyote Cafe; makes everything from scratch every day, on the premises. Start the day with a Breakfast Margarita, chilaquiles, menudo, or a chile relleno omelette. For lunch, try the chile verde, a quesadilla, tortilla soup, or a taco salad. If your appetite is massive by dinnertime, this is the place to go. Hearty portions of traditional and gringo favorites arrive steaming and flavorful: tamales, tequila-lime shrimp, carnitas, California burritos (huge tortilla stuffed with carne asada, cheese and French fries!), and enchiladas. Good margaritas, a decent selection of tequila, pitchers of sangria, and ice cold cerveza, too. (619-291-4695)
Stone Brewing Co.
Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens is almost an attraction in itself. Sure, it's San Diego's largest craft brewery but there is much more to it than delicious beer. It's family-friendly by day. What kid wouldn't love to wander a beautiful one-acre organic garden (on the pathways and grass only)? And what parent wouldn't want to join with a beer in hand? Food for all ages includes a unique take on comfort food, a kids menu, and other eclectic world-inspired cuisine. Plus, if you don't like beer (there are 36 on tap), there's an extensive wine list to choose from. (760-294-7899)
At KITCHEN 1540, an award-winning restaurant located in the L'Auberge Del Mar, a comfortable and simple atmosphere complements an intriguing, eclectic, and extraordinary menu by Chef Brandon Fortune. If you like Southern comfort food, this is where to find it. Try Chicken 'n' Dumplins, Memphis-style ribs and be sure to save room for his amazing baked bread pudding. The restaurant features an open presentation kitchen, tasting table, a private dining room wrapped in wine-encased walls, and a cozy wine bar with 24 wines on tap. Guests can also opt to dine on a lovely outdoor patio, where they can enjoy the ocean breezes, a gurgling waterfall and hanging lanterns to set just the right mood. (8587936460)
JRDN is beachfront Tower 23 Hotel's 10,000 square foot contemporary oceanfront steak and seafood restaurant that features casually sophisticated cuisine. If you need a hip and trendy place that's less hectic than Gaslamp options, here's your place. Lounge with your companions, listen to live music and enjoy a specialty cocktail along with ocean breezes. JRDN has indoor/outdoor seating right on the Pacific Beach boardwalk which makes for excellent views and people watching. The clean, simple but modern decor includes color-changing lights and a giant water wall. It's probably the hippest place in Pacific Beach to have a drink and you can even bring your laptop because there's WiFi. (858-270-5736)
Grab some complimentary coffee and coffee cake and leg out the weekend wait, because the food will be worth it. Recipient of accolades locally and nation-wide, breakfast is what The Cottage--very popular with local La Jollans--is known for. The light, airy interior and outside patio both provide family-friendly, pleasant dining space. Stay for the oatmeal pancakes, grilled vegetable omelet and Baja chicken hash. Take home some baked goods and granola with you, which are for sale inside. Kids receive a menu to color and Wikki Stix, usually. The Cottage is open for dinner seasonally and has a cookbook available, too. ((858) 454-8409)
Pacifica Breeze Cafe
There are few better places for al fresco dining than sunny San Diego. Part of seafood restaurant Pacifica Del Mar, this idyllic patio cafe has an unbeatable view. Breakfast is excellent here – enjoy the house smoked salmon benedict, turkey sausage hash, a breakfast burrito (chipotle mashed potatoes, eggs, bacon and spicy chili sauce), cinnamon brioche French toast, a veggie frittata, or a spicy shrimp omelette with jalapeno jack and tomatillos sauce. Lunch standouts include fish tacos and a Thai chicken wrap. It's casual, so you order at the counter and then find yourself a seat in the sunshine with a view. (858-509-9147)
Set within the fashionable and historic Hotel del Coronado, 1500 Ocean is an elegant yet comfortable space with stunning ocean views and contemporary decor, serving coastal California cuisine that emphasizes seafood, spices from around the world and fresh produce, including herbs harvested from the onsite garden. Chef de Cuisine Meredeth Manee recently joined the restaurant and has added interesting dishes such as grilled octopus with red bell pepper, Spanish olives, preserved lemon, and salsa verde. Local golden spotted bass with spaghetti squash, tomatoes, shishito peppers, and chorizo-clam broth is another good example of her creative flavors. There is an exceptional wine list, too. (619-522-8490, 800-468-3533)
Island Prime / C Level Lounge
C Level Lounge is the more casual dining area next to Island Prime but has a similar menu. Both are fashionable destinations for dinner or drinks. Island Prime boasts enchanting skyline views, a wealth of trendy cocktails, and flawless service. Start with a classic such as Oysters Rockefeller, or splurge on "A Study in Lobster" – a trio of lobster tostada, lobster-sherry bisque and lobster-fontina grilled cheese. Local celeb chef Debra Scott's deft touch is in evidence with creations like hazelnut-crusted diver scallops with goat cheese and elephant garlic risotto cakes. Perfectly grilled steaks are always a fine choice as well. C Level does not take reservations for happy hour so get there early! (619-298-6802)
Prado at Balboa Park
Picturesque Balboa Park, with its museums, lush gardens and performing arts venues, is on every visitor's itinerary. And at the end of a busy day exploring the park's many treasures, there's no better place to relax than Prado, where the eclectic decor blends historic charm with modern flair. The menu is a mix of traditional and modern as well, with options such charred Portobello carpaccio, adobo-braised pork osso bucco, seafood paella, and grilled flat iron steak. Gourmet sandwiches and salads are a great lunch option. The patio is family-friendly for both lunch and dinner and they also have a great happy hour. (619-557-9441)
George's at the Cove
Dramatically situated on Prospect Street in La Jolla overlooking the blue Pacific, George's at the Cove combines exceptional cuisine and service with spectacular views from every level of the multi-tiered restaurant. Dine in the contemporary restaurant and bar indoors, dubbed California Modern; choose the Ocean Terrace, a great rooftop dining spot; or settle in at George's Bar, a casual dining destination. The menu, which specializes in California cuisine, reflects the use of fresh local ingredients and unique combinations of flavors to create a memorable dining experience. The restaurant also offers a creative, delectable dessert menu. If you can splurge, try Chef Foshee's TBL3, a 12-14 course extravaganza. (858-454-4244)
About Katie Dillon
Katie Dillon originally moved to the seaside community of La Jolla to attend UC San Diego. When the opportunity presented itself, she and her husband set off for a 7 year stint overseas as expats in London and Hong Kong. After traveling the world, they returned to the La Jolla sunshine, with a young daughter in tow.
Katie now writes a lifestyle site called La Jolla Mom and is the author of a book called, “Flying With Kids.” Her work can be seen on NBC San Diego, Red Tricycle, Yahoo! Shine and Have Family Will Travel, a Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts blog.
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