I spent my senior year of college in Pacific Beach, so I always look forward to returning to this hip area of San Diego. When I lived here the restaurant choices were limited while the selection of dive bars was impressive. Fortunately, things have changed. There are now many good restaurants as well as bars and nightclubs still frequented by students.
We were lucky enough to spend a weekend in Pacific Beach (or PB as the locals call it) and devoted ourselves to eating. We dined with excellent seafood, unique pizzas, Spanish tapas and breakfast burritos. We returned home very satisfied.
Here are six restaurants I recommend in PB in no particular order.
This trip was organized in part by Tower23 Hotel, but all opinions are my own.
Located in the Tower23 Hotel, JRDN combines the best parts of Pacific Beach: a lively bar, beachfront restaurants and fresh seafood. The minute we walked in on a Friday night, we heard the buzz of conversation rival the background music and clinking glasses. By 6 p.m., indoor seating was mostly open while the terrace and bar were packed with casually dressed and looking casual people celebrating the start of the weekend.
We ordered cocktails and appetizers and enjoyed watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. Our BC oysters along with the ahi tuna nachos were the perfect complement to the experience.
JRDN specializes in sushi, fish and seafood, all prepared simply and deliciously. If you’re not in the mood for fish, there’s a special section of the menu called “No Fish”. I opted for the grilled hamachi necklace and Jason selected the lamb lollipops. I learned from our server that the hamachi was originally ordered for use in sushi, but the necklaces were going to go to waste. The chef therefore added grilled necklaces as a starter. It’s a dish we’ve enjoyed elsewhere, but found this version – grilled and served with sweet chilli ponzu – to be the best we’ve ever had.
We lingered over our dinner, like many other guests. I appreciated the friendly but unhurried service that allowed us to enjoy our meal and the setting.
Pro Tip: JRDN is a popular spot in PB, especially on weekends, so be sure to make reservations. I recommend coming before sunset and asking for a patio table.
Opened in 2016, Ambrogio15 was so successful that it has since expanded to two more locations in San Diego County. Founded by Milan-turned-San Diego residents Giacomo Pizzigoni, Andrea Burrone and Luca Salvi, this Italian restaurant serves up some of the best and most creative pizzas I’ve had in a long time. Its focus is authentic Milanese gourmet pizza made with dough recipes developed in Italy. I confess that I had never heard of Milanese pizza before our visit, but I would compare it to Neapolitan style pizza. Either way, it’s really delicious.
Jason ordered the salsiccia, asiago e porcini pizza and I opted for the Mediterranea pizza. Both were excellent. Our lovely waiter’s Italian accent made the experience even better. Their wine list focuses on biodynamic wines imported from small winemakers in Italy. I always enjoy orange wines – white wines made with a bit of skin – and they offered several. If this place was closer to home, we’d be regulars.
3. Costa Brava
Located several blocks inland, Costa Brava is a hidden gem in PB. You’re unlikely to stumble upon this place as the exterior is plain, but the interior is warm and welcoming and the food brought back fond memories of our travels in Spain.
The menu has all the classic Spanish starters, including paella mixta and paella de mariscos, but we opted to order a tapas meal. We feasted on marinated olives, Spanish anchovies, croquetas, tortilla española and patatas bravas. All washed down with a good bottle of Albariño, a white wine that I discovered during a visit to Spain. The sangria sipped at other tables also looked delicious.
If you’re unfamiliar with Spanish cuisine and unsure of what to order, the servers know the menu very well and are happy to offer suggestions based on individual preferences.
Live flamenco music is offered occasionally, so if you’re interested, be sure to call for the schedule.
4. Water bar
One of the best views in PB can be had at water bar, thanks to its location on the second floor. Instead of looking through crowds of people, you’ll be looking directly over the sand to see the waves breaking. And luckily, those views are complemented by good food and fun cocktails. There are outdoor tables, but I highly recommend going upstairs for a better view and more stylish decor.
Jason and I had lunch at the Waterbar, which included shrimp and fish ceviche, clam chowder, and a spicy shrimp roll, all topped off with a margarita. Service was quick and friendly, and we certainly liked our table next to the oversized open windows.
Pro Tip: Waterbar is a popular large restaurant that can get very busy and loud later at night and on weekends, more like a disco. If you’re hoping for something quieter, try visiting earlier in the day.
There’s a reason people line up outside Kono’s long before it opens each morning: the breakfast burritos are good and cheap. Prices tend to be high in PB due to its beautiful location, so it’s good to know that an affordable meal can be had. And what makes it even better is supporting a family restaurant that’s been around since 1991.
Officially known as Kono’s Cafe, this popular spot is right across from the Crystal Pier, so it’s easy to find wherever you are in PB. It is said to have been made popular by local surfers looking to refuel after a morning surfing the waves. Since then, a combination of locals and regular visitors have occupied Kono almost continuously every day from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Don’t be put off by the queues, though, they are very efficient and the burritos are worth the wait.
I didn’t get a chance to visit their second location, Konito’s Cafe, but that’s also in PB, just a bit inland.
Pro Tip: Grab a coffee nearby Best buzz cafe to make your queue more enjoyable – they open at 6am. This San Diego-based coffeehouse chain serves strong java and creative coffee drinks.
6. Famous in the world
After a morning of cycling along the promenade, we were hungry and the nearest restaurant was called world famous. I admit that the name of this restaurant bothered me. world famous what? Turns out that’s the full name. I learned later that it had been there since 1970 so it has become well known to locals and regular visitors over time. Once I got over that, I settled in to take in the view, sip a few drinks, and have a nice meal.
If you come on a weekend, there will be a wait at World Famous. We put our names on the list and headed to the bar. It was while I was sitting at the bar that I turned to my left and saw the blue ocean water through the large open windows of the restaurant. I live near the ocean so you would think I got used to this view, but that’s not the case.
We were seated about 30 minutes later at a table facing the windows so we could continue to enjoy the view. When our server put down the steaming bowls of cioppino, we were excited. It’s a smaller portion than we’ve had at other restaurants, but it was really good. Lots of fish and seafood in a tasty but not too salty broth. Two pieces of thick, toasted bread accompanied the cioppino.
Pro tip: World Famous takes reservations, so if you don’t have time to wait, this is a useful option. I will admit, however, that we weren’t rushed and enjoyed waiting at the bar, chatting with the bartender, and generally enjoying the PB vibe.
Where to stay in Pacific Beach
The best way to dine at all of these restaurants is to spend the weekend in PB, so if you’re able to, I highly recommend staying right on the boardwalk at Tower23 Hotel. Named after the nearby Watchtower 23, the location of this hotel is ideal. Stroll to nearby Crystal Pier, head north to La Jolla, or take one of the available bikes to get to Mission Bay. Most of the restaurants listed are within walking distance. We parked on a Friday afternoon and picked up our car on Sunday.
Rooms are bright and airy with minimalist decor. Most have partial or full ocean views with balconies or terraces. In the morning, before too many people were awake, we could open our sliding glass door and hear the waves on the sand. We chose to have breakfast in the room each day, which we ate on the balcony.
Pacific Beach is a neighborhood well known to San Diego locals, but lesser known to visitors. If you’re looking for a fun and vibrant vacation destination with plenty of outdoor activities and a wide selection of great restaurants, then PB might just be for you.
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