14 of the Best Coffee Shops in San Diego
Whether you’re looking for a chill place to work, top-notch craft coffee, or unique offerings like Turkish sand brew, these shops have your caffeine fix covered.
San Diegans love coffee almost as much as they love craft beer, so it’s no surprise that new shops are popping up throughout the county, with more new roasters and cafes than ever competing to deliver your caffeine jolt. Perhaps all that growth was spurred because so many of us were working from home for the past few years, and sitting in a coffee shop gave us a mini vacation from our own four walls, but whatever the reason, we’re more in love than ever with cappuccinos, cold brews, and cortados.
To help navigate some of the best options in the city, we’ve put together a shortlist of the best places to linger over a cup of coffee, including neighborhood favorites that have been around for ages and new additions to our ever-growing bean scene.
Sarah Jaeger’s new coffee shop Bohemian Alchemist isn’t your typical coffeehouse. Boasting the first and only sand-brewing system approved by San Diego’s health department, the base of their drinks is Turkish coffee, a smoother, silkier counterpart to traditional espresso. If you’re not familiar with sand brewing, a cezve (Turkish coffee pot) is placed on very hot sand, which heats your coffee, tea, or hot chocolate to barely boiling, producing a rich taste and pleasantly thick mouthfeel. French press, pour over, and cold brew options are also available, along with coffee and tea blends, herbal beverages, and seasonal iced teas. The space itself is inspiring—a low Turkish seating area with a colorful silky tent roof and handmade Art Nouveau tables; antique and eclectic pieces repurposed to serve as counters and shelves are inviting and serene. Since coffee and tea just beg for a sweet treat, you’ll want one of their lovingly baked cream scones, muffins, shortbread cookies, fruit tarts, caramel apple hand pies, and more. Sign up for email news and updates online.
Flor & Seed
Focusing on micro- and family lot batches of coffee purchased directly from the farmers, Flor & Seed brings beans from well-known Mexican coffee-producing states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, as well as from lesser-known coffee-producing states like Nayarit, Puebla, and Guerrero. In addition, the owners, Yan Yanez and Leo Nunez, who together have a combined 20 years of experience in the industry, buy at above-market prices and offer technical support to farmers who want to produce specialty coffee. Beans are always from the current growing season, never warehoused or put into long-term storage. Choose from espresso drinks, Curtis batch brews, or a slow bar, where three different Mexican coffees are brewed, each using a specific method to draw out the subtle aromas and enhance the regional flavors. Accompaniments like pastries, molletes, breads, and Mexican-style open-face sandwiches are from local Latina-owned bakery Pan Del Barrio. You can also purchase beans or take advantage of their subscription service
Ever wonder if you could just plop down with a coffee in the midst of a flower shop and enjoy the surroundings? That’s what Communal Coffee achieves by surrounding cafe elements with gorgeous greenery that’s for sale. Each location has its own unique look, but those who want an al-fresco experience should head to South Park where drinks are prepped in a coffee camper with lots of dedicated outdoor seating nearby. Go to Communal for simple-batch brews, cold brew concentrates, or our favorite, a latte flight featuring your choice of two: lavender honey, rose vanilla, or vanilla bean.
The WestBean Coffee Roasters
WestBean’s Kryptonite, a mint-infused cold brew, is what put this local roaster on the map but the other drinks are just as good. From classic drip coffee to flat whites and specialty lattes like honey cinnamon and mocha, the quality is in the beans. Coffee beans are trial-roasted before they are committed to a full production roast and then cupped prior to being released to the public.
Ryan Bros Coffee
Ryan Bros. Coffee is an old timer when it comes to the local coffee scene. Founded in 1994 by siblings Harry, Carmine, and Tom, this purveyor got its start as a coffee cart in La Jolla and Old Town before moving to a brick and mortar shop in Barrio Logan in 2003, where today they serve the largest collection of nitro cold coffee in California. Select from 12 flavors including Mexican mocha, vanilla latte, and classic mocha.
Locally owned and operated Mostra Coffee had a banner year in 2020 being named Roaster of the Year by Roast Magazine, and hasn’t slowed down since. Each of the three locations serves up creations from beans sourced around the world, including the Philippines. Head in for hot espresso drinks ranging from Americanos to seasonal sips like champorado, based on the Filipino chocolate breakfast porridge of the same name but made into a chocolatey latte topped with crispy rice cereal and chocolate powder.
Santos Coffee House
Beans are roasted weekly at this North Park spot, meaning every cup you order will be super fresh. You can taste it in espresso drinks like the Cafe Breve, as well as a simple hot coffee. Those looking for a big jolt of caffeine should try the shop’s signature drink, the Flying Nun which incorporates three shots of espresso, sweetened condensed milk, steamed milk, and is finished with whipped cream and caramel sauce.
The Forum Coffee House
Programmers and those who know code will get a kick out of the names for all the beverages here, like Ko.Ko (a house-made cold brew with coconut cream and maple syrup), and Code Black (a single-origin infused with nitro). In addition, all coffee beans used are direct-traded and roasted with a zero-emission roaster so you can feel good about every sip.
Zumbar Coffee & Tea
If you like your coffee strong and without too much adornment, Zumbar is the place to go for French press, Americanos, espressos, and cold brews, but you can also find lattes and macchiatos here too. The difference here is that the beans, sourced from around the world, including Honduras, Guatemala, and Ethiopia, are roasted in a vintage, cast iron coffee roaster that is carefully monitored for optimum flavor.
Dark Horse Coffee Roasters
Find this small-batch roaster in five San Diego locations, plus additional spots in Orange County, Truckee, and Hawaii. Their strength is in the community they foster, usually choosing locations with great walkability and a place you’ll want to just hang out. While picking up whole beans to enjoy at home, also satisfy your caffeine fix with the Salted Maple latte.
Coffee and Chicano culture come together at this locally owned coffee shop. There are two locations but for a dose of art visit the Barrio Logan space that’s part gallery and part cafe. The menu is diverse, featuring espresso-based drinks like casa de cafe and cortado, plus a variety of cold brews. More enticing is the selection of specialty drinks using traditional Mexican ingredients for authentic flavors. Order the De La Olla Cafe with orange peel, cinnamon, and clover, or Vida Pop, featuring an espresso shot mixed with vanilla syrup, Topo Chico, and a twist of lime, for a quick boost of caffeine.
This North Park coffee shop serves up the usual caffeine-fueled beverages but shines with its house-made creations. One look at the menu and you’ll see three unique cold brew flavors, like lemon meringue, nutella, and banana bread, plus a bevy of lattes flavored with the likes of orange zest, rose water, and strawberry malt. The drinks feature house-made nut milks, fruit purees, and beans roasted on-site.
Bird Rock Coffee Roasters
Since 2006, this local roaster has been serious about brewing excellent coffee from responsibly sourced, sustainable, direct-trade beans. Its dedication has resulted in several high-profile awards, including being selected as Roast Magazine’s Micro Coffee Roaster of the Year in 2012. The original location in Bird Rock holds sentimental value for many of the city’s coffee connoisseurs (and has comfortable seating and a chill ocean view) but the newer locations throughout San Diego have their unique charms too.
When Copa Vida opened in the East Village in 2015, it already had some stiff competition, but its selection of quality coffee beverages and obsessive dedication to the craft of brewing the perfect cup of coffee (or tea) secured its coveted place in the local market. The shop’s original location in East Village features a lofty interior and spacious patio just a short walk from Petco Park, while other locations throughout the county make it easy to get your caffeine fix on the go.
Erin Jacksonis a contributor for Thrillist.
Mary Beth Abate is a San Diego-based freelance writer by way of Chicago and Los Angeles. Her hobbies include yoga, pickling and fermenting various vegetables and beverages, reading cookbooks and traveling through Mexico. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.