Enjoy Lattes, Cold Brew, and More at 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 stands to reason that new shops seem to be popping up all over the county, with more new roasters and cafes than ever competing to deliver your caffeine jolt. It could be that all that growth was spurred because for the past few years so many of us were working from home, and relaxing in a coffee shop gave us a break from our own four walls, but whatever the reason, we’re more in love than ever with cappuccinos, cold brews, and cortados.
To help you navigate some of the best options in the city, we’ve put together a shortlist of our favorite places to linger over a cup of coffee, from neighborhood haunts that have been around for ages and new additions to our ever-growing bean scene.
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, and a current total of ten locations. The original shop in Bird Rock holds sentimental value for many of the city’s coffee connoisseurs, plus comfortable seating and a chill ocean view, but the newer locations throughout San Diego have their unique charms too.
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. Sand brewing uses a cezve (Turkish coffee pot) placed on very hot sand, which heats your coffee, tea, or hot chocolate to barely boiling, producing a rich taste and pleasantly thick mouthfeel. Also available are French press, pour over, and cold brew options, 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.
Every 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 and curated home goods for sale. Each location has its own unique look, but if you’re looking for an al-fresco experience, 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. All three locations serve breakfast sandwiches and toasts all day—the North Park and Oceanside menus also include cocktails, wine, pizza and charcuterie after 12 pm. Communal hosts a series of workshops at its Oceanside and North Park “Haven” locations, ranging from floral arranging and Vinyasa yoga to cookie decorating, ring making, and more.
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 five other locations throughout the county make it easy to get your caffeine fix on the go.
Dark Horse Coffee Roasters
Find this small-batch roaster in six San Diego locations, plus additional spots in Orange County, Truckee, and Hawaii. Known for fostering strong community ties, they usually choose locations with great walkability and create a space you’ll go to when you just want to hang out. Satisfy your caffeine fix with the Salted Maple latte while you pick up whole beans to enjoy at home. Food selections vary with the location, but they all carry a nice selection of vegan donuts.
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, and are 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, and vegetarian chilaquiles, quesadillas and tortas from Casa Ocho Mexa Grub, the farmers market popup that’s newly installed on the back patio. You can also purchase beans, cafe de olla or Mex mocha kits, or take advantage of their subscription service.
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, dairy-free 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. House baked pastries run the sweet and savory gamut from cardamom buns to tomato pesto babka rolls and build your own waffles or toasts topped with your choice of two dozen options.
This North Park coffee shop serves up the usual caffeine-fueled beverages but its house-made creations are where it really shines—there’s three unique cold brews in flavors like lemon meringue, nutella, and banana bread, and a trio of lattes featuring organic maple syrup, rosewater and vanilla bean, and strawberry malt. Beans are roasted on-site, and the nut milks and fruit purees are house-made.
Another project from Consortium Holdings, The Invigatorium is a coffee bar featuring Modern Times Coffee, the coffee roasting arm of Modern Times Beer. In keeping with CH’s typically whimsical and over-the-top decor, you’ll be greeted by a lifesize velociraptor perched behind the bar, a pterodactyl swinging from the ceiling, Ronald McDonald relaxing at the end of a booth and an enormous Godzilla mural made entirely of Post-It notes. In addition to Modern Times slate of coffee and espresso beverages, ranging from a single origin pour overs to vanilla lattes, there’s also a complete cocktail program and a rotating menu that includes snacks, breakfast, Mexican cuisine, and even cheeseboards.
Founded in 2017 by San Diego native and second-generation Italian Sara De Luca, Invita Café aspires to bring Italian coffee culture to America. The name comes from the Italian word ‘invitare,’ or, ‘to invite,’ reflecting the centuries-old Italian tradition of gathering at a neighborhood cafe to socialize, work, and relax with family, friends and colleagues. The cafés are designed with the customer experience in mind—counters are low to allow easy customer/barista interactions, and while most coffee shops have their espresso machines facing away from customers, here they are angled so that guests can watch as the baristas handcraft their drinks. In addition to Invita’s two brick-and-mortar locations, Invita is also available to book for off-site events, offering pop-up latte bars and catering services with their mobile coffee cart.
Locally owned and operated Mostra Coffee had a banner year in 2020 after 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. Pick up a sweet or savory treat from Hommage Bakehouse to go with your cuppa.
Coffee and Chicano culture come together at this locally owned coffee shop that’s part art gallery and part cafe. The menu is diverse, featuring espresso-based drinks like casa de cafe and cortado, plus a variety of cold brews. Even more enticing is the selection of specialty drinks using traditional Mexican ingredients for authentic flavors. Try 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.
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. Accompaniments include muffins, pastries, and a variety of sandwiches.
Santos Coffee House
Beans are roasted weekly at this North Park spot, meaning every cup you order will be ultra fresh. You can taste it in espresso drinks like the Cafe Breve, as well as a simple hot coffee. If you’re craving a big jolt of caffeine, try the shop’s signature drink, the Flying Nun—three shots of espresso, sweetened condensed milk, steamed milk, finished with whipped cream and caramel sauce. Fifteen different bagel sandwiches, fresh fruit smoothies, acai bowls, avo toast and Hawaiian shave ice fulfill your breakfast and lunch hankerings.
Spill the Beans
Spill the Beans coffee and bagel shop currently has two locations, with two new venues coming to Mission Valley and Ocean Beach later this year. Until recently, they partnered with Dark Horse for their coffee, but they now produce their own Pot Head Coffee Beans and Pot Head Coffee Espresso Beans for use in their coffee and espresso beverages. Try one of the house favorites, like Basic Sitch with caramel, vanilla, espresso, and milk, or La Vida Mocha, a rich cup of aztec chocolate, dark chocolate, espresso and milk.
The WestBean Coffee Roasters
WestBean’s Kryptonite, a mint-infused cold brew, may have put this local roaster on the map but don’t sleep on the other drinks. From classic drip coffee to flat whites and specialty lattes like honey cinnamon and mocha, the beans go through a rigorous tasting process before and after roasting. Small test batches of coffee beans are trial-roasted before they are committed to a full production roast and then cupped prior to being released to the public.
Zumbar Coffee & Tea
If you like your coffee strong and fuss-free, Zumbar is the place to go for French press, Americanos, espressos, and cold brews, but they do have lattes and macchiatos as well. The difference 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.