I am a native Northern Californian who adopted San Diego as my city seven years ago. Any Californian will tell you that there is a distinct difference (and friendly rivalry) between Northern (“Norcal”) and Southern (“Socal”) California. So seven years ago, I couldn’t help but be skeptical about how well I would adapt to my new, easy breezy home by the ocean. What was I going to do with all my fleece tops?
Well, Sunday brunch by the beach, meeting friendly, unpretentious people, running along the shore at sunset, soaking in culture in Balboa Park, chowing down on fish tacos, and packing away my sweaters quickly made me realize that San Diego is a special place with a lot of heart. I have not felt a connection to a community or city like this since the town I grew up in, and I’m proud to call San Diego home.
Read on for our local’s guide to San Diego!
San Diego Zoo
San Diego is famous for its zoo, and rightly so—this 100-acre park houses over 4,000 animals from 800 different species and is dedicated to saving endangered species worldwide. See the famous pandas (a fourth panda was just born last year!), feed the giraffes, and check out the zoo’s newest exhibit, Koalafornia Dreamin’, which houses my favorite animal—the wombat.
San Diego Zoo, 2920 Zoo Drive
Balboa Park is one of my favorite places in San Diego. On lazy weekend days, I’ll go strolling through Balboa Park to check out the exhibits, walk through the gardens, and get an ice cream cone. The nation’s largest urban cultural park, Balboa Park is home to 15 museums, the San Diego Zoo, performing arts centers, beautifully landscaped gardens, fountains, restaurants, and the list of treasures go on. On a summer night, a perfect date would include dinner at the Prado Restaurant and Shakespeare in the outdoor theater at The Old Globe. Care to join me?
Balboa Park, 1549 El Prado, Balboa Park
On our one-year wedding anniversary, my husband and I walked along Sunset Cliffs. It’s a romantic, sun-drenched 1.5 mile-long strip of California perfection along the shore. Perfect for meditating, yoga, surfing, taking pictures, cuddling, and all-around relaxation.
Sunset Cliffs, Point Loma
Noon Designs is a design studio and adorable storefront in quirky, eclectic Ocean Beach. The store, opened by graphic designer Maie Liis Webb and jewelry designer Nora Alexander, sells beautiful, handcrafted jewelry (I have several pairs of earrings,) letterpress printed cards, and goods by local artisans. The store itself is quite the sight as it’s always decorated in the most wonderfully whimsical way.
Noon Designs, 4993 Niagara Ave #105
Pigment is comprised of a cornucopia of items filed under the “I want this” category. This hip boutique manages to fit an impressive array of goodies in its small space: succulents, terrariums, artwork, home goods, stationery, jewelry, books, and children’s supplies are among the treasures found at Pigment. I come here when I need a gift and when I’m feeling ambitious about sprucing up my apartment.
Pigment, 3801 30th Street
Mimi & Red
Mimi & Red is the boutique I go to when I want to buy myself a treat but don’t want the prices of Kate Spade or the quality of Forever 21. It is a great, local alternative for buying women’s clothes without heading to the mall. The bonus is the very friendly staff—every time I shop here, I feel as though I’m shopping with girlfriends and not salespeople.
Mimi & Red, 3032 University Ave
Pannikin Coffee & Tea
Pannikin’s La Jolla location was my go-to spot while I finished my graduate degree, so I know it like an old friend. Grab a chai latte and a cookie and go sit in the cool repurposed school chairs inside, or spread out on the large porch and watch the locals of La Jolla go by.
Pannikin Coffee & Tea, Locations in Encinitas, La Jolla, and Del Mar
Take a break from the beach and head to vintage and artistic Adams Avenue, a street in the neighborhood of Normal Heights. This hip street is home to tons of restaurants perfect for date night and any palette. In addition to all great food and drink, Normal Heights has a lot of spirit and holds neighborhood events year round, like the Adams Ave Street Fair.
Veggie-friendly DaoFu brings the heat! Although their menu boasts spicy levels from 1-10, choose wisely as a 5 is usually enough for even the biggest spice-lover.
DaoFu, 3332 Adams Ave
A main stay for years in the heart of Kensington, romantic, French Bleu Boheme is our favorite restaurant!
Bleu Boheme, 4090 Adams Ave
Don’t forget dessert—grab an organic, gourmet popsicle at Viva Pops.
Viva Pops, 3330 Adams Ave
Mariposa Ice Cream
Or if ice cream is more your thing, you’ll love the homemade treats at Mariposa Ice Cream.
Mariposa Ice Cream, 3450 Adams Ave
Prepkitchen is a cozy, warm, unpretentious restaurant that serves yummy, seasonal food. The Del Mar location makes me feel like I’m in someone’s well-curated living room for dinner, while the La Jolla restaurant is one of my favorite places to go to for brunch after a walk around the village. I have never had a disappointing meal at Prepkitchen—it’s a local gem of a restaurant.
Prepkitchen, 7556 Fay Ave (La Jolla), 1660 India Street (Little Italy), 1201 Camino Del Mar (Del Mar, CA)
Pacific Beach Fish Shop
Southern California is known for its fish taco, and although Pacific Beach Fish Shop is hardly the only game in town, it gives a good range of options: 12 fish and 8 marinade options, with a local craft beer menu to wash it all down. My personal favorite is the Ahi tuna taco in garlic butter marinade. It’s all that with a side of fries.
Pacific Beach Fish Shop, 1775 Garnet Ave