SURF ROAD TRIPS were one of my favorite parts of growing up in Coastal California. When I first started driving as a teenager, it didn’t take me long to hit the road heading south. It’s hard not to be a little bit in love with the long stretches of warm, mellow beaches, the pods of dolphins just past the breaks, and fish tacos for three meals a day. San Diego was an obvious destination for these trips, with its abundance of great surf and beaches. It’s as close as you can get to Mexico without crossing the border, and plenty of that sun-drenched Baja tranquility spills over.
Thankfully, San Diego surf road trips are still a part of life for me. Some things have stayed the same since those days in the ’90s. The long, chill surf sessions haven’t changed much, and the fish tacos are still epic. My taste in food and wine has maybe evolved a little, though. I’ve spent the last 20 years working in the food industry, from dive bars to world-class bakeries (Tartine) and fine-dining restaurants (Flour + Water). Some of my favorite people from that world have made their way down to San Diego in the last few years too. Luckily, the city’s food scene has grown up along with us. Chic natural-wine bars, gintonerías (don’t worry, I didn’t know what that was either, although I’m really glad I found out), and sea-to-table fine dining mean that it’s not just post-surf tacos and beer anymore.
Much of San Diego's food scene rightly draws inspiration from the proximity to the sea, often with tremendous success. The area is also home to beautiful and hardworking small farms, which means you’ll find carefully grown heirloom vegetables, grains, and meat on menus all over town. I’ve collected some of my favorite spots here to carry you from morning to night. I won’t say you have to like seafood to eat in and around San Diego, but it helps.
Breakfast and Coffee
Wayfarer Bread and PastryFlawless foundations and classics
Steady State RoastingA welcoming third-wave coffee shop and roaster
El Pescador Fish MarketLaid-back atmosphere with top-quality seafood
The FisheryAn industry destination
Royal RoosterUnmatched Baja-style tacos
Dinner and Drinks
Wrench & Rodent SeabasstropubExcellent sushi with a punk edge
MarisiIndulgent Italian cuisine
ParadisaeaWhimsy with an eye for detail
Mabel’s Gone FishingA Michelin-starred gintonería
Jeune et JolieAn ideal prix-fixe date-night spot
Eppig BrewingA rotating selection of German-inspired fresh beers
Jennifer Latham Writer
Jennifer Latham is the author of “Baking Bread With Kids” from Ten Speed Press and co-author of “Bread Book” with Chad Robertson. She is the former director of bread for Tartine Bakery. She studied philosophy and journalism at the University of California, Santa Cruz, before following her love of dough into professional kitchens. Jennifer believes that healthy local food systems foster healthy people, communities, and environments. She lives in Northern California, where she loves to play outside.