Best Restaurants in San DiegoOur favorites include some of this destination's best local restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
Opened in 1971 in a fully functional Harbor Island lighthouse known as Beacon #9, Tom Ham's Lighthouse offers sweeping views of San Diego Bay and the downtown skyline. For the best bang for your vacation buck, make reservations for the longtime eatery’s Sunday brunch. For under $50, you can gorge on crab legs, peel-and-eat shrimp, scallops, smoked salmon and oysters—and those are just the seafood selections! The bountiful buffet also features made-to-order omelet and pasta stations, carved rosemary rib roast and unlimited mimosas.
Craftsman-style architecture, stained glass lanterns and plush booths create a cozy ambiance at AR Valentien . The urbane decor also includes artwork by the restaurant’s namesake, an early 20th-century California artist noted for his botanical watercolors. Emphasizing local ingredients, the menu changes seasonally at this elegant farm-to-table restaurant, the main fine-dining option at La Jolla’s renowned AAA Five Diamond golf resort, The Lodge at Torrey Pines .
Local food providers like Crows Pass Farm and Chino Farms supply Nine-Ten with some of the fresh ingredients needed to make “evolving California cuisine” a happy addiction for La Jolla residents. Located in Grande Colonial hotel, the upscale restaurant has garnered acclaim for its artistically plated entrées and desserts—both of which are best enjoyed al fresco, while taking in the sights and sounds of busy Prospect Street.
Also on Prospect Street is George’s at the Cove - California Modern , on the lower level of George’s at the Cove. Often heralded as one of the area’s best places to eat, the establishment garners acclaim thanks to innovative modern American fare and a chic dining room with some seriously stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. If you can’t snag a reservation at California Modern, try George’s Bar, one level up, which offers a casual menu and the same awesome panorama of La Jolla Cove.
If you’re craving Mexican food during your trip, Old Town offers numerous authentic restaurants. Just outside the north entrance to Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is festive Casa Guadalajara , which boasts a beautiful courtyard and daily live musical entertainment. Strolling mariachis also can be found at another popular Old Town option, Cafe Coyote y Cantina . Many pedestrians who stop to watch fresh, handmade tortillas being slapped on the grill by the eatery's famed “tortilla ladies” are drawn inside for a meal or one of the cantina's massive margaritas, made with some of the finest tequilas on the market.
San Diego's Little Italy is home to Nonna + Zucchero , a popular café serving panini sandwiches, pizza, and a few pasta and risotto dishes. In the evening, the menu features entrées with chicken, veal and seafood. You must try one of the many desserts made daily on the premises, which include tempting cakes, marzipan creations, ice cream and gelato.
Coastal North Country
A sophisticated banquet experience plays out at Addison Restaurant , San Diego’s only AAA Five Diamond restaurant. Located inside Fairmont Grand Del Mar , a luxurious Five Diamond Rated resort in Carmel Valley, the warm, tastefully appointed main dining room overlooks the hotel’s Tom Fazio-designed golf course. For a guided culinary adventure, select the chef’s tasting menu, which showcases some of the restaurant’s best contemporary French dishes as well as seasonally inspired recipes.
At The Oceanaire Seafood Room in the historic Gaslamp Quarter, dark, rich interiors and nautical details evoke a 1930s ocean liner. Guests travel up a grand, winding staircase to the sprawling dining room filled with plush booths and tables. The oyster bar is very popular during the week thanks to its half-price oysters and shrimp cocktail, and traditional caviar service also is available.
Although businesses along the nearby Embarcadero—downtown's waterfront district—tend to cater to out-of-towners, both locals and tourists alike enjoy The Fish Market and Top of the Market . The Fish Market (downstairs) offers fresh fish takeout, while in the dining room upstairs (Top of the Market), an enormous menu printed daily lists more than a dozen fresh catches, all grilled over mesquite.
Central San Diego
A wonderful place to enjoy Southern California's mild weather is the covered patio at Baci Ristorante , a San Diego institution since 1979. Conveniently located near Mission Valley, Mission Bay and La Jolla, it has three inviting, indoor dining areas with cozy seating, while its patio's golden colors create a soothing outdoor space infused with light. Here you can relish such tasty Northern Italian cuisine as broiled veal chops, sweet clams and mussels, osso buco and veal Marsala.
Old-school Bali Hai Restaurant , opened in the mid-1950s, is home to two quirky tiki icons, Mr. Bali Hai and “The Goof.” The swank Hawaiian-themed destination also has more than 100 Polynesian artifacts on display inside. As you might expect, island drinks—like piña coladas, hurricanes and rum runners, garnished with pineapple wedges and other tropical fruits and served in fun tiki mugs—are big sellers here. Tip for boaters: If you're wondering where to eat while you’re cruising around San Diego Bay, Bali Hai, located on the northeastern tip of Shelter Island, conveniently offers “Dock and Dine” service.
See all the AAA Diamond designated restaurants for this destination.
San Diego, CA
AAA’s in-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. To pass inspection, all hotels must meet the same rigorous standards for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality. These hotels receive a AAA Diamond designation that tells members what type of experience to expect.
State and county sales taxes total 7.75 percent in San Diego. A lodging tax, called a transient occupancy tax, of 10.5 to 12.5 percent also is levied along with a 10.5 percent (11 percent at the airport) rental car tax.
Alvarado Hospital, (619) 287-3270; Scripps Mercy Hospital, (619) 294-8111; Sharp Memorial Hospital, (858) 939-3400; University of California-San Diego Medical Center, (858) 657-7000.
996 N. Harbor Dr. San Diego, CA 92101. Phone:(619)236-1242
San Diego International Airport
San Diego County is served by major rental car agencies. Hertz, at the airport, offers discounts to AAA members; phone (619) 767-5700 or (800) 654-3080.
Amtrak, (800) 872-7245, rolls from the historic
Greyhound Lines Inc., (619) 515-1100 or (800) 231-2222, has a depot at 1313 National Ave. Greyhound buses and Five Star Tours' eight-passenger shuttles, (619) 232-5040, offer service to downtown Tijuana, Mexico; reservations are required 24 hours in advance.
Local taxis are metered. Cab companies include Orange, (619) 223-5555; San Diego Dispatch, (800) 368-2947; USA, (619) 231-1144; and Yellow, (619) 444-4444. Base fare is around $2.80, with a rate of approximately $3 for each additional mile. Limousine service is available throughout the area averaging about $75 an hour.
Transportation by bus and trolley is available in San Diego.