San Diego has several go-to neighborhoods for food, drink, and fun: Little Italy, Old Town, Del Mar, and La Jolla, to name a few. But, if you want to experience San Diego like a local, add these five neighborhoods to your itinerary.
1: Encinitas: This one-time hippie hangout fell out of favor with tourists and locals alike for a number of years, but recently, thanks to an influx of hip restaurants, bars, and shops, locals are beginning to take notice again. Spend a day window shopping at the 100-plus-year-old downtown shopping district or ambling through the 37-acre San Diego Botanic Garden. Then, reserve a table at La Especial Norte, known for its tortilla soup, or Solterra Winery & Kitchen, where winemaker Chris Van Alyea serves his award-winning libations with rustic tapas. No Encinitas visit is complete without heading to the beach. Locals bemoan the crowds at Moonlight State Beach, so we go further south to Swamis Seaside Park, where you can watch the surfers conquer the waves.
2: North Park: Located on the northeast border of Balboa Park, North Park is a hipster neighborhood of Craftsman cottages, funky galleries, and seriously good eats. It’s also a mecca for craft beer lovers who flock to Barn Brewery, Modern Times, and the neighborhood’s other breweries. Don’t want to limit yourself to just one? Visit Waypoint Public for more than 30 beers on tap and 100 in the bottle. Between pints, walk Ray Street, a commercial district turned arts epicenter that has been compared to SoHo in New York City. (Go on the second Saturday of the month, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., for the Ray at Night art walk.) Then, grab a bite to eat at City Tacos, considered some of San Diego’s best. Music lovers will want to check the line-up for the historic North Park Theatre.
3: Mission Hills: Tree-lined streets and historic architecture characterize this neighborhood that is fast becoming one of San Diego’s hottest foodie destinations. Snag an outdoor table at The Patio on Goldfinch, for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. (Tip: Order a dish that features cheese aged in the restaurant’s on-site cheese cave.) Or, try the restaurant San Diego Magazine named best for farm-to-table fare, The Red Door. For a unique meal, stop by Izakaya Masa to enjoy the equivalent Japanese tapas served with imported beers, sake, soju (vodka), and cocktails.
4: Solana Beach: Sandwiched between Encinitas and Del Mar, Solano Beach has come into its own as one of San Diego’s premier shopping destinations with Cedros Avenue, nicknamed by local fashionistas, interior designers, and collectors “the Avenue with Everything.” Drop in Mabel’s for contemporary jewelry and couture; Mistral for luxurious soaps and fragrances; and The David Allen Collection for handcrafted Balinese furniture, textiles, and treasures. Reward yourself after a day of successful shopping with a glass of wine at Carruth Cellars or a cold one at Culture Brewing Co.
5: University City: Home to high-tech, biotech, and clean-tech businesses and research institutes, University City is way off the tourist map, but it may not be for long. That’s because a slew of new and exciting restaurants are popping up in the neighborhood next door to the University of California, San Diego. Case in point: Rick Bayless’ latest Red O location, set to open this summer. Truluck’s Seafood, Steak and Crab House already has a restaurant here, and Draft Republic, featuring 36 taps of craft beer, is a local favorite. Looking for something to do in the area? The campus offers university tours, and you can always find a shopping bargain at Westfield UTC, but we recommend spending the day at nearby Torrey Pines State Reserve.