Like most San Diego residents, I endlessly enjoyed (and frequently miss) the mostly perfect weather, the laidback beaches, and the carne asada fries. But the truth is, I miss the local coffee scene the most.
Once brewed under the radar, it’s practically exploded in recent years. There are tons of local roasteries popping up all the time. Each neighborhood boasts its own beloved coffee hub with distinctive charm, all catering to every kind of coffee drinker under the endlessly sunny sky.
So if you’re planning a trip to San Diego, these are the creme de la creme of coffee shops, my friend.
This standout, small-batch roaster has four San Diego locations. They’ve also branched out to Orange County, Truckee, and Hawaii. And there’s a very good reason for that.
Dark Horse is known for choosing hot spots that are extremely walkable. In fact, I’d stroll from my apartment to their Golden Hill location almost every day. But no matter the location you’re nearest to, Dark Horse is perhaps the most hang-worthy, community-oriented coffee shop on the list. The vibe is funky, the coffee is fresh, and the in-house roasted whole beans are reasonably priced and thoughtfully sourced.
Not so long ago, Mostra was San Diego’s best-kept coffee secret. But in 2020, the locally owned and operated roastery was named Roaster of the Year by Roast Magazine and Micro Roaster of the Year. Their beans are thoughtfully sourced from around the world, and namely, the Philippines. And they’ve got a tight-knit family feel.
Today, they have an easily accessed location in beautiful Bankers Hill, but I used to brave weekend freeway traffic for the one day a week that their microbrewery, tucked in a Carmel Mountain Ranch shopping strip, became a pop-up shop. They’re just that good. As for their story, it’s pretty inspirational. “We started this company fueled by a dream to close the divide between rich and poor and to help elevate and dignify the Filipino farmer. By championing Philippine Specialty Coffee and helping to bring it back to the world stage, we envisioned generational impact wherein the farmers’ children would be the beneficiary of our work.”
James Coffee Co.
If you’re venturing to Little Italy, make sure you stop by India Street, even if only for James Coffee Co. These guys really know coffee.
In addition to their superior specialty drinks and solid brews, the warehouse atmosphere is as cool as it gets. It’s also full of independent shops, artists, and a barber in the back. Like many coffee shops in San Diego, it’s also dog friendly, but unlike all, it features chessboard tabletops. They’re also big on motorcycle culture, adding to their uniqueness and spunk.
Word to the wise and hungry: do not miss out on their pastries, which are as beautiful as they are scrumptious.
Coffee & Tea Collective
If you’re looking for a coffee shop that doesn’t try too hard but always gets it right, stop by the Coffee & Tea Collective for a pick-me-up. They’re one of San Diego’s best roasters, hands down. Reminiscent of Nordic coffee shops, the interior is stark white and minimalistic, and the baristas are warm. They also have a location in the East Village, but I strongly recommended the North Park original.
Do you like a strong and straightforward coffee that doesn’t have to show off to dazzle you? You need to go to Zumbar. If you’re all about the French press, Americanos, pour overs, and cold brews, you’ll be hooked. Their beans are sourced from all over the planet, but they only use the best. The first time I had Zumbar, I knew I’d found something different. As it turns out, their beans are meticulously roasted in a vintage, cast iron coffee roaster.
Bird Rock has made a name for itself by boasting responsibly sourced, sustainable, and direct-trade beans since it first opened back in 2006. And while they make a mean cup of coffee, if you’re a person who loves chai, give this one a try. One of the biggest names in San Diego coffee, they’ve won a plethora of high-profile awards, including Roast Magazine’s Micro Coffee Roaster.
If you want a sentimental and truly SD experience, head to the OG Bird Rock in La Jolla and stare into the sea. But no matter which Bird Rock you stumble upon, they all offer up their own charm and equally well-crafted drinks.
A North Park powerhouse, Communal Coffee is just as frequented for its delicious drinks as it is for the insanely gram-friendly aesthetic. If you’ve ever wanted to sip your lavender honey latte and eat your avocado toast surrounded by fresh flowers, macrame, and general delicateness, you’ll probably fall in love with this place the moment you walk in.
And yes, all the stunning greenery is for sale. Communal is attached to a wonderful plant nursery, so when you finish your simple batch brew or latte flight, walk next door for a truly So Cal shopping spree.
If you want to see the soul of San Diego, head down to Barrio Logan. At Pora Vida, coffee and Chicano culture are blended into one. The local coffee crafters have two locations, but you’ll want to go to the one in BL and check out the nearby art galleries full of local flavor.
Try the casa de cafe, cortado, and pan dulce. Also noteworthy, they use traditional Mexican ingredients in their specialty drinks. For a truly authentic experience, order the De La Olla Cafe and breathe in the orange peel, cinnamon, and clover as you sip.
This tucked-away Barrio Logan gem is sorely underrated and too often overlooked. Industrial, yet cozy, the solar-powered roastery uses a variety of brewing methods for their kosher fair trade coffee. They’re not serving up anything too fancy, but their consistent focus on taking better care of the planet, responsibly sourcing their products, and positively impacting their community makes them a coffee shop worthy of respect, and a visit.