Food & Drink

San Diego’s 15 Best Waterfront Restaurants

Published On 06/29/2015 Published On 06/29/2015
MIKE NEWTON

Even if you’re not much of a surfer or beach bum in general, everyone needs to eat... so you might as well take advantage of living in San Diego and do that eating somewhere near the water. Our spoiled citizenry has many different options for drinking and dining amidst ocean, bay, and harbor views. Here are 15 prime picks, including a few that are surprisingly budget-friendly.
 

Hello Betty Fish House

Oceanside
Drink in ocean views from the rooftop patio while you feast on SoCal favorites like fried and grilled fish tacos, Baja stone crab cocktails, and oyster shooters with spicy Bloody Mary cocktail sauce. Not a fan of fish? No worries, the menu has you covered with items like the spicy grilled chicken sandwich and Loco Moco Burger (Spam, brown gravy, fried egg, and huli huli onions). Or, go for cocktails and dessert, like a frozen margarita and grilled pineapple sundae.

COHN RESTAURANT GROUP

Sea180 Coastal Tavern

Imperial Beach
The name of this spacious restaurant in Imperial Beach really says it all. Come here for sweeping 180-degree ocean views and coastal fare like Tuna Takoshimi Tacos, East/West Crabcakes, and macadamia-nut crusted fish. Social hour (2:30-5pm daily) is a great time to get small plates for $5-$9, plus beer, wine, and cocktails for $5 a pop; but you won’t get the full benefit of the wrap-around ocean views, so it’s better to extend your stay and have dinner on the patio.

MINXI RAO

Mitch's Seafood

Point Loma
There’s something really special about chowing down on tacos made from locally caught fish while looking out on fishing boats, and that’s exactly what you get here. The restaurant is casual, with prices to match. On Tuesdays, fried fish tacos are $2, grilled tacos are $3, and you can get a can of ice-cold Tecate for $1.50.

ANDREW JORGENSEN

C Level

Harbor Island
The more-casual concept that shares space with Island Prime is a great pick for $6 cocktails and small plates during happy hour or a satisfying dinner with bay and Downtown skyline views. The restaurant sits on several large stilts on top of the San Diego Bay, so you really can’t get any closer to the water. Most entrees are reasonably priced, but if you’re comfortable splurging, the Lobster Truffle Mac 'n Cheese is a worthy choice.

JRDN

JRDN

Pacific Beach
One of the few truly nice options in PB, Tower23 Hotel’s on-site restaurant is several steps up from most of the other options in the neighborhood. From the patio, you get the double benefit of top-notch people-watching and an ocean view. The surf and turf menu is suited for a semi-fancy night out, but there’s also some great options at brunch time, including baked bananas Foster-style French toast with candied pecans and whipped mascarpone.

Zack Benson

Oceana Coastal Kitchen

Pacific Beach
Multiple millions were spent outfitting this bayfront restaurant in the Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa that houses a 25ftcold bar, an 800-gallon aquarium where fluorescent jellyfish float, and an airy patio overlooking Mission Bay. If you’re visiting for lunch, try the Drugstore Burger, a near carbon copy of the famous burger served at The Lodge at Torrey Pines (another luxury hotel property under the same brand as the Catamaran).

Draft Mission Beach

Draft

Mission Beach
Enormous TVs blasting sportsball and endless beer options draw a rowdy crowd to this beachfront bar in Belmont Park, but there are also some prime boardwalk-facing tables away from the din that will reward you with priceless ocean views. The twice-daily happy hour (4-6pm and 9-11pm) is a nice bonus. If you want to avoid the crowds, come in for an early brunch (but be prepared to head directly back to bed... portions are big and the food tends to be heavy).

Tidal

Tidal

Mission Bay
The bay view from the patio at this upscale (yet laid-back) restaurant located within Paradise Point Resort in Mission Bay is beautiful any time of day, but you get the best return on your investment during sunset. With plentiful parking and easy access to the sand (and fire pits), you can easily turn a dinner or happy hour visit into multiple hours of fun and relaxation, at no extra charge.

SARA NORRIS/THRILLIST

Wonderland Ocean Pub

Ocean Beach
Unbeatable views of the Ocean Beach Pier (and hula hoopers!), a solid menu with something for everyone, and a chill vibe are three reasons to beeline it to this second-story restaurant in OB, but that’s not all! There are also bar games, outstanding local brews and cocktails, and it even has a small (and somewhat treacherous) on-site parking lot.

The Marine Room

The Marine Room

La Jolla
If you’ve lived in San Diego long enough to celebrate a special occasion, there’s a good chance you’ve done it here. Every seat in the critically acclaimed restaurant has a great view of the ocean, to the point that waves sometimes splash against the window during high tide. If that’s the experience you’re after, check the event calendar for high-tide dinners during the summer and high-tide breakfasts during the fall.

GEORGE’S AT THE COVE

George's Ocean Terrace

La Jolla
No list of ocean-view restaurants would be complete without a nod to George’s, a San Diego staple since forever. Technically, it’s not on the beach, but the views from the rooftop patio are so great it almost doesn’t matter what you order (that being said, we recommend the fish tacos and warm chocolate cake).

JAKE’S DEL MAR

Jake’s Del Mar

Del Mar
The view at many oceanfront restaurants comes with a price hike, but only one item, the Lobster Club, is over $20 at this peaceful and seaside stunner with casual, beachy decor and a view that draws eyes toward the horizon. The menu’s a good size, with meat, fish, and vegetarian dishes, plus the famous Hula Pie (macadamia nut ice cream pie with chocolate cookie crust, hot fudge, toasted macadamia nuts, and whipped cream). Save room for a slice... it’s huge.

PACIFIC COAST GRILL

Pacific Coast Grill

Encinitas
This upscale-casual seaside restaurant boasts an extensive menu served up alongside stunning views. If you’re stuck on what to choose, go with the lobster tacos at lunch or dinner. It’s also a great bet for an exciting breakfast, with enticing options like Hawaiian Loco Moco, lobster and shrimp chowder, and butter-poached lobster croissant sandwiches.

Stratford at the Harbor

Stratford at the Harbor

Oceanside
Get here early to snag a picnic table overlooking the Oceanside Harbor. Best for brunch, this reasonably priced spot is known for fresh-baked cinnamon coffee cake, enormous pancakes, and chicken-fried steak doused with homemade country gravy.

HARBOR FISH & CHIPS

Harbor Fish & Chips

Oceanside
This classic, family-owned fish and chippery in Oceanside’s South Harbor is proof that waterfront dining doesn’t need to be a pricey affair. Portions are generous and everything is delicious, just be prepared to defend your food from seagulls that patrol the area, especially if you sit outside.

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1. Hello Betty Fish House 211 Mission Ave, Oceanside, CA 92054 (Oceanside)

Hello Betty pairs a stunning ocean view with a Baja-inspired menu that includes ceviches, oyster shooters, and delicious tacos filled with everything from pork belly carnitas to fried avocado.

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2. Sea180 Coastal Tavern 800 Seacoast Dr, Imperial Beach, CA 91932 (Imperial Beach)

As the name implies, this beachfront spot has a sweeping 180-degree ocean view. Grab a seat on the patio and dine on coastal fare like Tuna Takoshimi Tacos, East/West Crabcakes, and macadamia-nut crusted fish.

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3. Mitch's Seafood 1403 Scott St, San Diego, CA 92106 (Point Loma)

Mitch's graces Point Loma with casual fish dinners right on the dock. Decent prices and a laid-back atmosphere, not to mention great fish tacos, make Mitch's a go-to San Diego seafood spot.

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4. C Level 880 Harbor Island Dr, San Diego, CA 92101

C Level isn’t shy about sticking to its maritime theme. The San Diego restaurant boasts a dinner menu divided into “Under Way,” “Kelp Beds & Tide Pools,” “High Tide,” and “Market Fresh Seafood,” offering highlights like the ahi tuna stack with fresh crab, avocado and tomato, papaya-mango salsa, taro chips, caviar, and sweet chili sauce, as well as lobster truffle mac & cheese with local organic greens, candied walnuts, and fresh herb vinaigrette. The waterfront views provide a window onto the San Diego skyline, making for a meal that pleases the eye as well as the stomach.

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5. 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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6. Oceana Coastal Kitchen 3999 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109 (Pacific Beach)

Millions were spent on outfitting this water front restaurant, complete with a 25 ft cold bar, an 800-gallon aquarium where fluorescent jellyfish float, and an airy patio overlooking Mission Bay.

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7. 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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8. Tidal 1404 Vacation Rd, San Diego, CA 92109 (Mission Bay)

At this relaxed, waterfront spot, you can sit on the porch, experience an ocean breeze as you sip "Monkey See Monkey Do," and nibble on fine cheese. Does it get any better? As far as eats go, they've got you covered with seafood dishes such as olive oil poached halibut and baja stone crab cake.

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9. Wonderland Ocean Pub 5083 Santa Monica Ave , San Diego, CA 92107 (Ocean Beach)

Overlooking the O.B. Pier, the longest concrete pier on the coast, it's no wonder that Wonderland Ocean Pub is an Ocean Beach favorite. The tavern is named after a short-lived amusement park in the area that was open 1913-1916, but these days all the amusement comes from the a breezy, seafood version of an American pub menu (with cocnonut calamari and oysters on the half-shell next to fish & chips and short-rib burgers) and classic cocktails garnished with a view.

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10. The Marine Room 2000 Spindrift Dr, La Jolla, CA 92037 (La Jolla)

Every seat in this critically acclaimed restaurant has an ocean view, and during high tide the waves actually splash against the windows. This is certainly a special occasion sort of place, so come ready to celebrate.

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11. George's Ocean Terrace 1250 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037 (La Jolla)

George's is a San Diego staple. The views from the rooftop patio are so great it almost doesn’t matter what you order (that being said, we recommend the fish tacos and warm chocolate cake).

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12. Jake's Del Mar 1660 Coast Blvd, Del Mar, CA 92014 (Del Mar)

Typically, a beach front view would mean a price hike on the menu, but there's only one item at Jake's over $20 (it's the Lobster Club and it's totally great). Don't forget to save room for a slice the famous Hula Pie (macadamia nut ice cream pie with chocolate cookie crust, hot fudge, toasted macadamia nuts, and whipped cream).

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13. Pacific Coast Grill 2526 Hwy 101, Cardiff, CA 92007 (Encinitas)

PCG boasts two levels for dining with an oceanfront view. If you're not sold just on that, there's a plethora of seafood choices (do yourself a favor and try the Wild Salmon Wonton Tacos) and also an "On & Off Shore" option, which consists of the most overwhelming and indigestion-inducing filet and lobster plate.

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14. Stratford at the Harbor 280 S Harbor Dr, Oceanside, CA 92054 (Oceanside)

This reasonably priced harbor-side spot is best for brunch, as it is known for it's fresh-baked cinnamon coffee cake, enormous pancakes, and chicken-fried steak doused with homemade country gravy.

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15. Harbor Fish & Chips 276 Harbor Dr S, Oceanside, CA 92054 (Oceanside)

At this classic, family-owned fish and chippery portions are generous and everything is delicious, just be prepared to defend your food from seagulls that patrol the area, especially if you sit outside.

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