It may have 70 miles of sandy beaches, but California's second largest city offers so much more than just sunny days at the seaside. This is a place that teems with energy and personality. Waking up is not hard to do in San Diego, where breakfast choices are aplenty. Be sure to bring some green to the cash-only Rose Donuts. Over at Donut Bar, the menu changes daily—with Friday and Saturday nights featuring beer and donut pairings for a sugary spin on happy hour. It's hard to beat Breakfast Republic, where s'mores French toast and egg-shaped chairs promise to boost anyone's daybreak. Snooze: an AM eatery is a standby for breakfast, lunch and morning cocktails; while Café 21 tempts with unusual variations on pancakes—from tiramisu to Japanese.
Downtown's Little Italy is a paradise for foodies with a penchant for pasta. Wake up with an espresso at Caffe Italia, tucked inside the Pensione Hotel, or come on Sundays for a wonderful waffle-bar brunch. From its basket-encased bottles of Chianti dangling from the ceiling to the red-and-white checkered tablecloths, Filippi's Pizza Grotto is classic red-sauce cooking. Lasagna lovers however may head to Mona Lisa Italian Foods, a family-owned deli/restaurant, which also boasts everything from manicotti to Marsala. Meanwhile, Davanti Enoteca's menu flaunts a Tuscany-meets-Napa flair, and Civico 1845 serves up a modern approach to mama's favorites—including vegan-friendly hits—on their open-air patio. Napizza's crust may be Roman, but this green-minded collection of artisan pizza shops feels classic Californian. Of course, no visit to Little Italy is complete without a stop at Pappalecco for outrageously good gelato-stuffed croissants or cookie sandwiches.
The Gaslamp Quarter is where Victorian-era structures sit side by side with some of the most popular restaurants and bars around. Speaking of which, Mariscos El Pulpo plates up Mexican-style seafood along with the namesake octopus. Not far from Petco Park, Tin Fish is a casual stop for tacos, just as Mezé Greek Fusion has a funky menu of Greek and American eats. If burgers float your boat, then kitschy-chic Hodad's is your best bet. San Diego city's myriad global cuisines mean you can take your pick from Asian restaurants lining Convoy Street. Old Town, appropriately named, is widely considered the birthplace of California and marks the first Spanish settlement in the western U.S. Vibrant and festive, this 12-acre expanse is the ideal place for Mexican plates. Case in point: rural and lively Cafe Coyote, with traditional south-of-the-border cuisine and a notable selection of tequilas.
Inspectors on places that may not make the MICHELIN Guide but are well worth a visit