Food & Drink

Here's Why San Diego's Tourist-Riddled Oceanfront Boardwalk Doesn't Totally Suck

Published On 06/15/2016 Published On 06/15/2016
San Diego oceanfront illustration by Daniel Fishel
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Courtesy of JRDN

JRDN/Tower23

Pacific Beach

Attached to the Tower23 hotel, JRDN is the spot on the boardwalk for high-end dining with a fancy ocean view, so it’s best to stop here before you get all sweaty on your journey down the boardwalk. Have a cocktail while you crack open Alaskan king crab, slurp down some oysters from one of the seafood platters, and watch the surfers catch waves around Crystal Pier. During weekend brunch, you can build your own mimosas with a choice of blood orange rosemary, pineapple mango, or blackberry mint splashed with either cava or prosecco because nothing complements an ocean view like a mimosa.

Sara Norris/Thrillist

Kono's Cafe

Pacific Beach

This beloved PB staple serves up hot coffee and the best breakfast on the boardwalk that won’t break the bank. Starting at 7am, seven days a week, you can get a hearty breakfast plate piled with enough food to feed a small village for around eight bucks. They’re open for lunch until 3 or 4pm everyday, too, serving American classics like burgers and grilled cheeses with steak fries. Get your food at the cafe and take it down to the beach, or walk across the boardwalk to check out the ocean view from its hidden outdoor seating area overlooking Crystal Pier.

710 Beach Club

710 Beach Club

Pacific Beach

710 is more than just a beach bar; it’s a sports bar by day and a nightclub/music venue after the sun goes down. From trivia and Liquid Courage Karaoke to live bands, there’s plenty going on in there to keep you entertained all day. There's an all-day happy hour until... wait for it... 7:10pm. Every day of the week has a different special, like 2-4-1 whiskey shots, $17 pitchers of margaritas, or $5 endless pulled pork sliders.

Sara Norris/Thrillist

Firehouse

Pacific Beach

This isn’t the Firehouse you thought you knew that opened by the beach almost a decade ago -- the restaurant underwent a million dollar renovation last year. If that isn’t enough to pique your curiosity, then the new menu from Chef Brian Redzikowski of Kettner Exchange should be. Now, the cocktails are a little craftier and the food is a little fancier, but is there a person on Earth who would complain about eating bacon fat mac & cheese or Kobe beef sliders on a rooftop with the ocean breeze on your face?

Courtesy of Shore Club

PB Shore Club

Pacific Beach

Shore Club has always had one of the best beach views on the boardwalk, but it stepped up its game last summer with the addition of a brand-spankin’-new open-air rooftop patio. It's still giving people crippling hangovers with those infamous goblets of Red Bull vodka slushies (worth it), but now you can guzzle them while catching some rays and watching all of those sand-covered suckers down on the beach. The kitchen is open late night so they’re slinging sautéed lobster tacos and brisket nacho fries from 9pm until close. It’s a good thing, too, because you can work up quite the appetite during those Wednesday night goldfish races, which don’t start until 10pm.

Courtesy of Alehouse

Pacific Beach Alehouse

Pacific Beach

Last year, Alehouse was such a hot spot that the place literally burst into flames. OK, so maybe that was just a kitchen fire that got a little out of hand, but it reopened five months later like a phoenix rising from its greasy ashes with a new award-winning head brewer, updated interior design, and two remodeled bars. The new head brewer, Jonathon Rielly, brought along several house-made micro brews with locally inspired names like the Slomo Saison and Law Street Lager. This rooftop bar is made for weekend brunching with ocean views, but come by for specials during the week for $1 oysters all day on Wednesdays, or all-you-can-eat crab on Thursdays from 5-10pm. Five hours to eat all the crab you can stomach? Challenge accepted.

Beach Bungalow Hostel

Beach Bungalow Hostel

Pacific Beach

OK, so you can’t really eat or drink anything here, but that's fine -- you might make a tourist’s day or learn a little something about the world. Travelers are always hanging out on this beach-facing patio, and they’d probably jump at the chance to cruise the beach with a local. Don’t be shy: make some new friends to bring along on the rest of your journey down the boardwalk.

Baja Beach Cafe

Baja Beach Cafe

Pacific Beach

The Baja Beach Cafe epitomizes everything a beach bar should be, from the color scheme and palm fronds lining the roof to the gigantic margaritas with tiny paper umbrellas. You can come in early for breakfast or stay for the two-for-one late-night happy hour, because it’s summer and everyone should be double-fisting giant margaritas at half past midnight. The beach-level patio is perfect for people watching on the boardwalk or for stopping in after a little surfing. The food won't do anything for your beach body, but are you gonna pass up prime rib specials or lobster chowder in a sourdough bread bowl? Thought so. Plus, you’ll need those carbs for the margarita double duty.

Sara Norris/Thrillist

Lahaina Beach House

Pacific Beach

Despite being a cash-only bar, Lahaina’s is a boardwalk favorite. Their wooden deck is usually bursting at the rails with people trying to get their drink on, so if you hate crowds... we didn’t want to hang out with you anyway. If you’re lucky enough to find a seat on the deck then order yourself a pitcher of beer or margaritas and don’t give up your post until you see the sunset. There’s also plenty of bike parking conveniently right out front so you won’t have to worry too much about losing your ride while you’re otherwise too occupied with the beautiful sunset.

Sara Norris/Thrillist

World Famous

Pacific Beach

Who knows if World Famous is actually world famous, but it's certainly known for breakfast by the beach in San Diego. Go for brunch and order the smoked carnitas chilaquiles or one of the house eggs Benedict dishes made with carne asada, lobster, crab cakes, or BBQ pork. Wash it all down with a spicy SKYY Bloody Caliente Bloody Mary, made with atomic-grade horseradish.

Sara Norris/Thrillist

Sandbar

Mission Beach

If you’re looking for the best fish taco on the boardwalk, look no further. SandBar has won so many awards for its TKO Fish Tacos that we’ve lost count. It recently switched things up behind the bar with a serious tequila program and some fancy cocktails. Even though it's focused on the agave, Sandbar just added a few new beverages for summer, like the totally Instagramable hard root beer float, made with vanilla vodka, Coney Island Hard Root Beer, and whipped cream, perfect for sipping on the rooftop patio.

WaveHouse San Diego

WaveHouse

Mission Beach

It doesn’t matter if the real waves suck when WaveHouse has perfect never-ending waves right next to the beach. Come by the rooftop for Rhythm and Moves at 6pm on the first and third Wednesdays of the month until September. You can get your vinyasa on with a DJ for 75 minutes, followed by craft beer or wine. On June 18th, it's hosting the Second Annual US Open of Flowboarding; competing will be its own professional flowboarding team. Catch them in action at Night Flight every Thursday after sunset.

Draft

Draft

Mission Beach

While Draft has a full bar, it also has 69 craft brews on tap -- this is the stop for beer on the boardwalk. If you can’t decide on just one, there's a Flight Night on Tuesdays. Pick any four beers to build your own while listening to live music from 6-9pm. Draft’s boardwalk patio is also a prime spot for grabbing a bite with an oceanfront view, but you'd be content to simply park your towel on the sand out front and pop in for beers during your beach day.

Sara Norris/Thrillist

Cannonball

Mission Beach

The largest oceanfront rooftop patio in San Diego is perched right above Draft at Cannonball. Take in the insane view of the Pacific while sipping on a crafty cocktail and eating sushi around a fire pit.

Belmont Park

Belmont Park

Mission Beach

Carnival rides, arcade games, hot dogs on sticks... we could go on, but do you really need more convincing? Do something good for your inner 10-year-old and take a ride on the wooden roller coaster, spend all your quarters on Skee-Ball, and eat cotton candy until you’re nauseous, which shouldn’t take long because you don't have the steel stomach of a preteen anymore.

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Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. JRDN 723 Felspar St, San Diego, CA 92109 (Pacific Beach)

JRDN is a contemporary steak and seafood restaurant at the Tower23 Hotel that serves up California cuisine in menu sections like raw bar, starters, soups and salads, and “supper” and “butcher’s cut,” both of which feature larger plates, like American wagyu skirt steak and baked rigatoni with milk-braised pork shoulder, Swiss chard, lemon, and oregano. The décor is fresh, cool, clean, and upbeat, with polished concrete floors, dark leather booths, and light wood tables and chairs. Head to JRDN before dusk to witness the 70-foot long “wave wall” at the back of the restaurant as it’s filled with an ambient reflection of the Pacific sunset.

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2. Kono's Cafe 704 Garnet Ave, San Diego, CA 92109 (Pacific Beach)

This beloved Pacific Beach staple serves up hot coffee and the best breakfast on the boardwalk that won’t break the bank. Starting at 7am, seven days a week, you can get a hearty breakfast plate piled with enough food to feed a small village. Kono's is open for lunch until 3 or 4pm everyday, too, serving American classics like burgers and grilled cheeses with steak fries. Get your food at the cafe and take it down to the beach, or walk across the boardwalk to check out the ocean view from its hidden outdoor seating area overlooking Crystal Pier.

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3. 710 Beach Club 710 Garnet Ave, San Diego, CA 92109 (Pacific Beach)

Located in Pacific Beach at 710 Garnet Ave (we see what you did there), this spot's got space for live music and DJs, some of the best burgers and sliders in PB, and they don't shy away from events like bikini contests. From trivia and Liquid Courage Karaoke to live bands, there’s plenty going on in there to keep you entertained all day. There's also an all-day happy hour until... wait for it... 7:10pm.

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4. Firehouse Pacific Beach 722 Grand Ave, San Diego, CA 92109 (Pacific Beach)

What's better than brunching on a rooftop? Why, brunching on a rooftop overlooking the Pacific Ocean, of course. At Firehouse you get just that, in addition to a killer happy hour and the spinning stylings of live DJs by night. The place is huge, modern and sleek, with spacious leather booths and tabletops that double as fire pits. You'll be served American fare and local fish alongside creative cocktails, beer and wine.

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5. PB Shore Club 4315 Ocean Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109 (Pacific Beach)

Right on the Pacific Ocean, Shore Club's got great bar fare as well as boozy slushies sure to cool you down on any summer (or any other season) day. There's an open air rooftop patio, and the kitchen is open late night, slinging greasy yet elevated eats (think in terms of sauteed lobster tacos) from 9pm until close. It’s a good thing, too, because you can work up quite the appetite during those Wednesday night goldfish races, which don’t start until 10pm.

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6. Pacific Beach AleHouse 721 Grand Ave, San Diego, CA 92109

This two-story beachfront bar serves house brews and standard pub fare to a mix of locals and tourists. Twenty flat-screen TVs give PB Alehouse a sports bar feel, while the oceanfront roof deck makes for an ideal lunch spot with stunning views and hearty dishes like the Aztec Burger, lobster mac & cheese, and grilled fish tacos.

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7. Beach Bungalow Hostel 707 Reed Ave, San Diego, CA 92109

This beachfront budget hostel overlooks the Pacific Ocean and offers travelers colorful, simply furnished rooms (both communal and private) with Wi-Fi, hot breakfast and beach necessities such as coolers and boogie boards. There's a beachfront deck with BBQ grills, and locals sometimes stop to hang out and show travelers around or just cruise the boardwalk.

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8. Baja Beach Cafe 701 Thomas Ave, San Diego, CA 92109

The Baja Beach Cafe is a beach bar at its core, from the tropical color scheme and palm fronds lining the roof to the gigantic margaritas with tiny paper umbrellas. Stop by for an early breakfast before hitting the beach, or stay for the two-for-one late-night happy hour, because it’s summer and everyone should be double-fisting giant margaritas at half past midnight. The beach-level patio is perfect for people watching on the boardwalk or for stopping in after a little surfing. The food is certainly not fit for a beach body, but it's definitely good fuel for all those margaritas.

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9. Lahaina Beach House Restaurant & Cocktails 710 Oliver Ave, San Diego, CA 92109

Lahaina’s in Pacific Beach is a boardwalk favorite, and the crowds can attest to that. Its wooden deck is usually bursting at the rails with people trying to get their drink on, to the point where they're at peace with the cash-only concept. If you’re lucky enough to find a seat on the deck then order yourself a pitcher of beer or margaritas and don’t give up your post until you see the sunset. If you get hungry, order something off their bar menu which contains standard bar fare from burgers to tacos.

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10. World Famous 711 Pacific Beach Dr, San Diego, CA 92109

Okay, so this place may not be world famous, but it's certainly known by locals for its beachside breakfasts. The nautical-themed spot has incredible patio seating right on the boardwalk, and the wood-paneled interior hosts plenty of comfy booths and tables. Overhead chalkboards list menu items and specials, from happy hours deals to local beers. The menu places a large emphasis on local seafood with some meat entrees mixed in.

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11. Sandbar 718 Ventura Pl, San Diego, CA 92109

Located right on scenic Ventura Beach, Sandbar offers award-winning tacos, along with a selection of tasty burgers and seafood and 66 high-end tequilas and mezcals -- including its own hand-selected barrel of tequila from Herradura Tequila distillery in Guadalajara, Mexico. Best of all, you can imbibe with a view of the sunset over the Pacific.

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12. WaveHouse Beach Club 3125 Ocean Front Walk, San Diego, CA 92109

Wavehouse, located directly on the Pacific Beach boardwalk, is a unique outdoor environment featuring tiki bars, cabanas and fire pits. It also houses the nation's only FlowBarrel, an artificial wave machine mimicking the Banzai Pipeline. You can ride it yourself, or take a seat by the bar to sip cocktails and eat local California eats while watching the more adventurous take the waves.

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13. Draft 3105 Ocean Front Walk, San Diego, CA 92109

This Pacific Beach spot has approximately 70 beers on tap and over 50 bottles of beer, making Draft a great place to kick back on your way home from the beach. While you're sipping, try some snacks from the menu, which is comprised of sharing plates, like mustard dusted pretzel bites; grilled items, like the bison burger with poblano pepper and cumin mayonnaise; greens, like the seared ahi salad; and sweets, like key lime pie. Draft’s boardwalk patio is a picturesque spot to grab a breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner bite with an oceanfront view, but if you want to catch the game, you’ll want to head inside to watch on one of the flat-screens.

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14. Cannonball 3105 Ocean Front Walk, San Diego, CA 92109 (Mission Bay)

San Diego's largest oceanfront rooftop bar, located at Belmont Park in Mission Beach, is perched right above beer bar Draft. Take in the insane view of the Pacific while sipping on a crafty cocktail and eating sushi around a fire pit. It may be lauded as a tourist spot, but once you visit, you'll understand why it's become such a mainstay: The glass walls give you a complete view of the busiest stretch of beach in San Diego.

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15. Belmont Park 3146 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109

This historic oceanfront amusement park brings out the kid in anyone, with carnival rides, arcade games, hot dogs on sticks... the list goes on. Do something good for your inner 10-year-old and take a ride on the wooden roller coaster or spend all your quarters on Skee-Ball. You can play, eat, shop and exercise in a myriad of ways in this sunny oasis of activity.