Split between hilly suburban locales and the bohemian grit of beautiful Ocean Beach, the laid-back atmosphere of Point Loma comes as a welcome relief for most visitors after the hectic hustle of downtown. Despite the feeling of remove, Point Loma—the elongated peninsula that separates the violent waves of the Pacific from the smoother waters of San Diego Bay—still encompasses some of the best San Diego has to offer, whether it be gorgeous ocean shores, cozy dive bars, or world class seafood and Mexican cuisine.
San Diego is justifiably renowned for its Mexican food, thanks to a border-side location that puts it miles ahead of any Californian city further north.
Mike’s Taco Club (5060 Newport Ave) is a standout even among such stiff competition, both for its quintessential Cali-Mex favorites and its location mere steps away from the sands at the center of Ocean Beach. They have fish, scallop and octopus tacos, as well as a Surfin’ Cali burrito that improves on the winning formula of the city’s signature California burrito with the addition of shrimp. Don’t miss their cheap selection of margaritas or fresh made aguas frescas that can be supplemented with a shot of rum or tequila for just two dollars extra.
Pho is a delicacy in most west coast cities with a sizable Vietnamese population, but OB Noodle House (2218 Cable St) is one of the few that’s accessible to vegetarians as well as carnivores. Their cuisine blends the traditional brothy soup with a selection of other Southeast Asian favorites, including fried dumplings, Vietnamese barbecue, and pan-seared egg noodles with assorted veggies and seafood. It’s one of San Diego’s most consistently crowded spots, but their uniquely rich beef broth—substituted with a vegetarian option upon request—makes it worth the occasional wait.
There may be no better way to spend a morning in San Diego than with a hearty brunch at Shade’s Oceanfront Bistro (5083 Santa Monica Ave). Furry friends are welcome at this dog-friendly restaurant overlooking the perpetual activity of Ocean Beach, so much so that they even have their own menu. The human menu, meanwhile, is extensive and the portions often excessively generous, filling up guests with avocado-heavy Mexican omelets in the morning and juicy ceviche with house-made tortilla chips in the evening.
Boasting the same view that makes Shade’s Oceanfront Bistro such a great brunch spot, the menu at Wonderland Ocean Pub (5083 Santa Monica Ave) seems like the perfect amalgamation of cultures to represent the diversity of San Diego’s people and cuisine. New American pub foods like fish & chips battered with IPA beer (a symbol of the city’s booming craft beer scene) mingle with other coastal dishes that draw influence in equal parts from the east, like the miso tuna wrap or short rib burger, and the south, like the chile verde pork or mahi mahi ceviche.
Sometimes the best way to get great seafood is to go straight to the source, or at least as close as possible. Point Loma Seafoods (2805 Emerson St), along the bayside of Point Loma, doubles as a seafood market and a casual fish-and-chips stand—albeit with far more surf selection than just the usual fried cod. Like so much great seafood, the sandwiches, seafood plates and sushi that make up most of the menu are all wonderfully simple and let the flavor of the day’s freshest catches shine through the fluffy sourdough bread and rich tartar sauce.
San Diego is a city that knows its beaches are best enjoyed with a drink in hand. As such, the beachside neighborhoods of Point Loma are crowded with sunny tiki bars and dingy dives, the best of which are unique yet homey places to relax and throw back a few cheap drinks.
Pacific Shores (4927 Newport Ave) falls firmly in the latter category—an unassuming dive tucked away along busy Newport Avenue, so darkly lit it feels like a nocturnal sanctuary during the day. Blue lights are always shining a little , the bartenders are always friendly, and the jukebox is perpetually playing old-school favorites you might otherwise have forgot about. There’s usually a surprising amount of space to hang out considering how bafflingly cheap yet strong the drinks always are.
The 3rd Corner (2265 Bacon St) is half-wine bar and half-wine market, featuring shelves of quality red and white varietals that run the gamut from eye-poppingly expensive and dirt cheap. Corkage is only five dollars too, so order something reasonably priced from their menu of new American classics from both land and sea—the lamb shank and Loch Duart salmon are particular standouts—and then browse through the selection for your favorite bottle while you wait.
Harbor Town Pub (1125 Rosecrans St) is a true neighborhood bar, complete with funky décor decisions, hefty bar burgers, and nightly specials and activities that provide guests a reason to visit any day of the week. Whether you come on a Wednesday for karaoke or on a Sunday for the all-you-can-eat snow crab special, be sure to take advantage of their specialty cocktails, particularly the award winning Mai Tai.
Ocean Beach is a beacon of hippie chic overlooking the Pacific, which means its residents take pride in their local businesses, favoring distinct hole-in-the-walls and crafty artisan vendors over fancy boutiques and big-name chain stores.
As with many great book stores, Point Loma Books (1026 Rosecrans St) is so crowded with old tomes it can feel like a challenge to wade through them all. It’s a challenge worth taking, since this neighborhood book shop is stacked nearly to the ceilings with discounted classics and rare finds. Better still, the owner is almost always around to help you sift through the store’s ever-changing collection of quality literature.
Long rows of used clothes in clean condition line the walls of Thrift Trader (4879 Newport Ave), surrounding a table of boxes stocked with used books and vinyl. It can take some digging to find the real gems among the endless selection of colorful wares, but it’s worth supporting a shop that recycles so much worthy merchandise and does its fair share to help other community organizations. Trade in old clothes and records of your own to earn store credit and find new threads for even cheaper than the original prices.
Often Wander (4993 Niagara Ave) is a distinctly personal store, with almost everything stocked here coming from the mind and hands of store founder Sarah. Her beaded bracelets and other jewelry are colorful but cleanly designed with noticeable influence from the Native American culture she grew up with. Her extensive selection of deliciously scented candles not only brighten up any room but also seem to last forever. Even when they run out, Sarah is more than willing to refill the wax for just a dollar per ounce so you can enjoy her creations for as long as possible.
Vintage and new band posters plaster the front windows of beachside record store Cow (5040 Newport Ave), luring in music buffs and vinyl enthusiasts guaranteed to be impressed by the store’s long shelves of used records, CDs and DVDs. The knowledgeable staff members are always friendly, ready and willing to play any record you’re wondering about over the house stereo system per request.
The independent-minded spirit of San Diego, and of Point Loma in particular, shines through its cafes. The best ones are more than just good coffee and basic pastries, instead using their modest spaces to support the community and offer something truly unique.
The flaky goodness of classic French pastries meets the decadent flavors of Cuban spices and tropical fruits at Azucar (4820 Newport Ave). The coffee is bold with flavors smoothed by the addition of natural cane sugar while brewing, but handheld meat pies and novel sweets like the guava cheese pastry are the true stars here.
Lazy Hummingbird (4876 Santa Monica Ave) is a wonderful coffee shop that doubles as an attractive community space, hosting art galleries, music performances and community classes within walking distance from the Ocean Beach swell. Their sandwiches are light and made to suit any dietary requirements. The coffee is both fresh and cheap. Bring your own mug on Tuesdays to get a full cup for only one dollar.
Jungle Java (5047 Newport Ave) is a café and garden shop mixed into one; a place where you can sip strong fresh-brewed coffee and peruse the outdoor décor made primarily from recycled materials in search of a souvenir. Most everything, from the Burmese baklavas on the menu to the vibrant sustainable dreamcatchers, comes from and benefits other local shops and artisans.
The first European explorers to arrive in modern-day California came ashore in Point Loma, otherwise known as “where California began,” and what a spectacular view they must have had from the southern tip of the peninsula. The panoramic view of both ocean and bay is still intact at the Cabrillo National Monument—named for the explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo—and perhaps even more stunning now than it includes the skyline of downtown San Diego.
After enjoying the view from the area’s highest point at the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, hike or drive south to the Pacific shores to check out the Point Loma Tide Pools. Short sandstone cliffs slope into the water, where surf-sculpted tide pools house underwater life like crabs, anemones, mussels and octopus. The rugged coastline is beautiful any time of year, but winter and autumn offer the best opportunity to spot such creatures.
The sandstone scenery around the tide pools is typical of Point Loma’s Pacific coast, especially near Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. The sandy beaches turn to layered vistas of eroded cliffs dotted with vibrant succulents. The entire neighborhood is a thing of beauty, but the best spot to appreciate the turbulent meeting of land and water is through nearby Point Loma Nazarene University, where you can park short-term in a lot off the far end of Lomaland Drive. As you may have guessed, the views are best enjoyed around sunset.