I spent my senior year of college living in Pacific Beach, so I’m always eager to return to this funky neighborhood 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 plenty of great restaurants now along with the bars and nightclubs still frequented by students.
We had the chance to spend a weekend in Pacific Beach (or PB as locals call it) and dedicated ourselves to eating. We dined on excellent seafood, unique pizzas, Spanish tapas, and breakfast burritos. We went home very satisfied.
Here are six restaurants I recommend in PB in no particular order.
This trip was hosted in part by Tower23 Hotel, but all opinions are my own.
Located in Tower23 Hotel, JRDN combines the best parts of Pacific Beach: a lively bar scene, oceanfront dining, and fresh seafood. The minute we entered on a Friday evening, we heard the buzz of conversation competing with background music and clinking glasses. At 6 o’clock, the indoor seating was mostly open while both the patio and bar were full of casually dressed, relaxed-looking people celebrating the start of the weekend.
We ordered cocktails and appetizers and enjoyed watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. Our oysters from British Columbia along with ahi tuna nachos were the perfect complement to the experience.
JRDN specializes in sushi, fish, and seafood, all simply and deliciously prepared. In case you’re not in the mood for fish, there’s a special section of the menu titled “Not Fish.” I opted for the grilled hamachi collar and Jason selected the lamb lollipops. I learned from our waiter that hamachi was originally ordered for use in the sushi, but the collars were going to waste. So the chef added grilled collars as an entree. It’s a dish we’ve enjoyed elsewhere, but found this version — grilled and served with sweet chili ponzu — to be the best we’ve ever had.
We lingered over our dinner, as did many other guests. I appreciated the friendly, but unrushed service that allowed us to savor 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 requesting a patio table.
Opened in 2016, Ambrogio15 has done so well that it’s 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 some of the best and most creative pizza I’ve had in a while. Its focus is authentic Milanese gourmet pizza made with dough recipes developed in Italy. I’ll admit I had never heard of Milanese pizza before our visit, but I’d compare it to Neapolitan-style pizza. No matter what the style, it’s seriously delicious.
Jason ordered the salsiccia, asiago e porcini pizza and I opted for the pizza Mediterranea. Both were excellent. The Italian accent of our charming server made the experience even better. Their wine list focuses on biodynamic wines imported from small-scale vintners in Italy. I always appreciate orange wines — white wines made with some skin contact — and they offered several. If this place was closer to home we would be regulars.
3. Costa Brava
Located several blocks inland, Costa Brava is a hidden jewel in PB. It’s unlikely you’d stumble upon this place since the outside is nondescript, but the interior is warm and welcoming and the food brought back great memories of our trips to Spain.
The menu offers all the classic Spanish entrees including paella mixta and paella de mariscos, but we opted to order a meal of tapas. We feasted on marinated olives, Spanish anchovies, croquetas, tortilla española, and patatas bravas. All was washed down with a good bottle of Albariño, a white wine I discovered while visiting Spain. The sangria being sipped at other tables looked delicious as well.
If you’re not familiar with Spanish cuisine and are not quite sure what to order, the servers are very knowledgeable about the menu and happy to offer suggestions based on individual preferences.
Live Flamenco music is offered occasionally, so if that’s of interest to you, be sure to call for the schedule.
One of the best views in PB can be had at the Waterbar, thanks to its second-story location. Instead of looking through throngs of people, you’ll instead look straight out over the sand to see the waves rolling in. And fortunately, these views are complemented by good food and fun cocktails. There are outdoor tables, but I definitely recommend heading upstairs for a better view and more stylish decor.
Jason and I enjoyed lunch at Waterbar which included shrimp and fish ceviche, clam chowder, and a spicy shrimp roll, all complemented by a margarita. The service was prompt and friendly, and we certainly liked our table next to the open, oversized windows.
Pro Tip: Waterbar is a large and popular restaurant which can get very busy and noisy later at night and on weekends, more like a nightclub. 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 gorgeous location, so it’s nice to know that an affordable meal can be had. And what makes it even better is supporting a family-owned restaurant that’s been in operation since 1991.
Officially known as Kono’s Cafe, this popular spot is directly across from the Crystal Pier, so it’s easy to find no matter where you are in PB. It’s rumored it was made popular by local surfers looking to fuel up after a morning of riding the waves. Since then, a combination of locals and regular visitors have kept Kono’s busy almost non-stop each day from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Don’t be deterred by the lines however, they are very efficient and the burritos are worth the wait.
I haven’t had the chance to visit their second location, Konito’s Cafe, but it’s also in PB, just a bit inland.
Pro Tip: Grab a coffee at the nearby Better Buzz Coffee to help make your wait in line more enjoyable — they open at 6 a.m. This San Diego-based coffee chain serves strong java and creative coffee drinks.
6. World Famous
After a morning of riding bikes along the boardwalk, we were hungry, and the closest restaurant was called World Famous. I’ll admit that the name of this restaurant bugged me. World Famous what? It turns out that’s the full name. I later learned it’s been here since 1970, so it has become well known to locals and regular visitors over time. Once I got over that issue, I settled in to gawk at the view, sip a couple of drinks, and have a good meal.
If you’re coming 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 seated at the bar that I turned to my left and saw the bright blue ocean water through the large, open windows of the restaurant. I live near the ocean, so you’d think I’d become accustomed to that view, but I haven’t.
We were seated about 30 minutes later at a table facing the windows so we could continue enjoying the view. When our server set down the steaming hot bowls of cioppino, we were excited. It’s a smaller portion than we’ve had at other restaurants, but it was seriously good. Plenty of fish and seafood in a savory, but not overly salted broth. Two pieces of thick, toasted bread accompanied the cioppino.
Pro Tip: World Famous does take reservations, so if you don’t have time to wait, that’s a helpful option. I’ll admit, however, that we were in no rush and enjoyed waiting in the bar, chatting with the bartender, and generally enjoying the PB vibes.
Where To Stay In Pacific Beach
The best way to dine at all of these restaurants is by spending the weekend in PB, so if you’re able to do that, I highly recommend staying right on the boardwalk at Tower23 Hotel. Named for the nearby lifeguard tower 23, the location of this hotel is ideal. Stroll to the nearby Crystal Pier, head north into La Jolla, or borrow one of the available bikes for a ride to Mission Bay. Most of the restaurants listed are within walking distance. We parked on a Friday afternoon and retrieved our car on Sunday.
The rooms are bright and airy with minimalist decor. Many feature a partial or full ocean view with a balcony or terrace. In the morning, before too many people were awake, we could open our sliding glass door and hear the waves on the sand. We opted to have room service breakfast each day which we ate on the balcony.
Pacific Beach is a neighborhood well known by San Diego residents, 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 good restaurants, then PB might just be for you.