Like a Local: San Diego’s Best Coffee Shops

by Jeff Rindskopf  |  Published March 1, 2016

The warm weather of California’s southernmost big city might not seem well-suited for a cup of hot coffee, but San Diego has more than its fair share of great cafes scattered across the massive city. The best of these cafes specialize in preparing their beverages and food from scratch, each one offering something unique from the last.

Café Bassam

Café Bassam (Photo: cowboytrix via Flickr)

Café Bassam (Photo: cowboytrix via Flickr)

Just a block away from the city’s massive urban greenspace Balboa Park, Café Bassam provides the perfect pick-me-up before a long walk in the park, with an interior of beautiful antiques and an outdoor patio ideal for a sunny San Diego day. Their menu includes basic cups of joe as well as unique concoctions like winter chai teas and Mexican mochas, plus a few simple but nonetheless delicious toasted sandwiches or bagels.

3088 5th Ave

Caffe Calabria

Drawing inspiration from Italian culinary traditions and decor, Caffe Calabria roasts their own coffee beans, giving each cup a unique and flavorful personal touch. The North Park café also specializes in espresso featuring foam art so lovely you won’t want to sip it until you’ve snapped pictures. Equally impressive for food as well as beverages, they serve wood-fired Neapolitan pizza, grilled paninis and pastries made fresh by the popular nearby bakery Bread & Cie.

3933 30th St


Breakfast at Pappalecco (Photo: effgeezee via Flickr)

Breakfast at Pappalecco (Photo: effgeezee via Flickr)

Three locations across the city hardly seems like enough for this genuine Italian import that offers everything you could want from a cafe and plenty more. Try their croissants or eggs cooked with prosciutto and fresh veggies in the morning, fresh-tossed salads or rustic “peasant paninis” for lunch or dinner, and a sinful scoop of swirled Italian gelato in a waffle cone for dessert. That’s not even mentioning their friendly service or their many warm beverages, including one brewed with real Nutella. What more could you want?

3650 5th Ave, 1602 State St and 3402 Kurtz St

The Swell Café

Locations of Swell Cafe in Mission Beach and Del Mar serve fresh-brewed drip coffee with powerful, delicious flavor and cups of espresso that often elevate foam art to a whole new level that might be called foam sculpture. Their menu also boasts sweet and savory breakfasts, including flavorful acai bowls dredged in coconut shreds and fresh fruit. Set aside some time to lounge around their outdoor patio; of a weekend they have live music to accompany your brunch.

3833 Mission Blvd and 2670 Via De La Valle

James Coffee Co.

A sprawling café in Little Italy easily identified by its striking owl logo, James Coffee Co. keeps things simple with their coffee, which is brewed in-house from single origin beans – they’re all grown in one place, allowing for an extra distinct flavor with each cup. Their food is simple too, mostly consisting of old-fashioned donuts, but that simplicity and devotion to quality keeps customers coming back for more, and even buying the coffee grounds and swag they offer inside their store.

2355 India St

Bird Rock Coffee Roasters

Coffee and a muffin at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters (Photo: RaviChugh via Flickr)

Coffee and a muffin at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters (Photo: RaviChugh via Flickr)

Yet another local favorite in the midst of expanding its shops, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters specialize in organic espressos prepared with half as much water as is usual and organic coffees infused with complex sweeteners including macadamia nuts, honey and cinnamon. They have plenty of tasty baked goods to accompany your beverage of choice, ranging from sweet macarons to savory pizza pastries. Enjoy a flaky-crusted baked good and one of their award-winning mochas in the morning or in the evening during one of their weekly open-mics.

5627 La Jolla Blvd, 2295 Kettner Blvd and 1270 Morena Blvd

Dark Horse Coffee Roasters

Having just expanded, there are now three places throughout San Diego to try the suitably dark roast coffees and lattes that have made Dark Horse Coffee Roasters so successful. Each location roasts fresh coffee beans in-house and specializes in some of the finest brewing practices, including cold brew, French press and pour over. Their singular focus on great coffee doesn’t get in the way of their fresh-baked vegan donuts or their impressive online shop, where caffeine addicts can order well-designed merchandise and custom-roasted beans from the comfort of home.

3260 Adams Ave, 3794 30th St and 811 25th St

Lazy Hummingbird

Lazy Hummingbird is the perfect homey place to lounge about in between visits to the nearby beach. Enjoy fresh-brewed coffees and teas as well as tasty pastries and sandwiches made to suit any dietary needs. The sense of laid-back community is an essential part of this Ocean Beach coffee shop, which also serves as an acoustic concert venue, community learning center and an art gallery, where every lovely handmade item is for sale.

4876 Santa Monica Ave