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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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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