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Two measly nights in SD

I'm going to be more general in my request than usual but the board is a little overwhelming and I didn't book enough time in town (coming from Boston in March w/ a stop in SEA first and LA after). I saw the threads on "visiting town what should I not miss" (overwhelming amount of names w/ little info but the Philippine bbq place sounded good) and "need recs during convention" which was a little more manageable. I'm pretty sure we're staying at the Lafayette Hotel which I've found out is in hipster central (aka North Park). I'm tempted to be by the water but for someone who's looking for great bars, both swanky and divey and fun food, I think this might be the best location. Will do more research but want a great taco and/or torta, a fancy "craft" cocktail, one dinner of new American/upscale Mexican/Calif in a fun environment ($16-30 range) and any cool burger/dog/donut shops you can recommend without driving all over. We'll have a car but since the time is so limited, I'd rather not spending it driving until we head back to LA so if there are recs on the way, I'll take them.

Coming from BOS, I don't need to eat Italian food but is the Little Italy section essential to visit? What's the best stop in the Gaslamp section? If you had one off the beaten path touristy visit to make, what would it be? And a great cheap breakfast too. Thanks a lot.

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  1. Some places reasonably close to your hotel (you will need to drive in SD nothing will be in walking distance): Urban Solace, Smoking Goat (both New American, I prefer Smoking Goat with better food and service), Mama Testa (large variety of tacos from all parts of Mexico), mariscos Nine Seas Foodtruck (very good Mexican Seafood at corner of Fern and Grape), Polite Provision (relative new bar (haven't tried it yet) but gets very good reviews). If you are willing to drive there are many more great options all over SD

    1. From your hotel you can walk to 30th street bars and restaurants and/or take the #2 bus up and down 30th and into downtown/gaslamp.

      It is 1.1 miles from the hotel to 30th and University and you would basically pass several good places that specialize in beer- Tiger! Tiger!, Ritual Tavern and Toronado. I have only recently eaten at Ritual but they have changed chefs since my last visit.

      Little Italy is NOT essential and do not bother with Italian food.

      I enjoyed the cocktails at Coin Op on 30th (a bar with arcade games lining the walls). You can specify a spirit and allow the bartender to make something up on the spot.

      If you want Mexican food but are not necessarily set on a taco or torta, check out Super Cocina - a homestyle Mexican restaurant with about 20 steamtable dishes on offer at any given time. They will let you sample the sauces and then choose what you like. 2 miles from your hotel but not especially walkable.

      Live Wire is a fun divey bar near your hotel.

      1 Reply
      1. re: JRSD

        I was about to chime in with Live Wire, but I see that JRSD beat me to it. They'll make you a good cocktail *and* they'll have a pretty good selection of local "craft beer". One stop shopping.

        For places within a block or two, I'm surprised that Honkman didn't suggest Pizza Bruno Napoletano - worth a stop if you like or want to try Naples wood fired style pizza. Some people like the San Diego Chicken Pie shop.

        I'm not sure *why* you want to stop in the Gaslamp. In my opinion (and that of many people here), it is not a destination spot. If you are already there in a hotel, sure, but why go through the pain of getting there (though public transit from where you are is pretty easy) to find mostly mediocre, overpriced restaurants, and/or pretty boy clubs?

        In my opinion, you've chosen one of the best places to stay in San Diego. Well done.

      2. Let me begin by saying Little Italy is not worth a visit.

        While it doesn't necessarily fit any of your criteria, you might consider Carnitas Snack Shack, which is close by to your hotel.

        For cocktails, check out Polite Provisions, which if I have the location of your hotel right, just go east on El Cajon and turn left (north) onto 30th until you hit Adams, and it's right there.

        1. No offense to the Lafayette Hotel in North Park and don't know what you are paying but imho, there are much better and prettier parts of SD to stay and party in.

          Bayfront Hilton is $139 on Expedia and its a couple years old with bay views and a Ped bridge to Gaslamp.
          Blind Burro, Noble Experiment, Starlite, Lions Den..some are short cab rides.

          La Jolla Inn for $139 ..Colonial for $229..Empress $162..then you can walk everywhere and eat/drink in one of the prettiest places in SD/planet..great bars, restaurants and all within blocks of the ocean/village.
          George's at the Cove, Eddie V's, Alfonso's, Nine-Ten, Jose's Courtroom, Harry's Coffee Shop, Coffee Cup.

          Might as well make your 'measly' two nights good ones..
          Just my two Aloha cents..

          Have fun and I'm a Native San Diegan..
          ; )

          1. I guess I should clarify in that I know driving needs to be done but I don't want to go to Chula Vista or other suburbs where I've seen some recs for food. As far as the hotel, it's $114 for two BR, two bath so can't beat that while the Gaslamp hotels get up there AND charge $30-40 for parking. I'd still stay there if I wasn't told it's super touristy and doesn't really have what I'm looking for but maybe that friend doesn't know what he's talking about (but RB Hound agrees). The ocean's great but if the "cool" stuff isn't there, I won't be spending so much time. I'm conflicted tho. Found a good deal in Mission Bay but the same question arises.

            Gonna look up all the stuff you gave me and make a list that will last me two weeks (or 2 months) not the 2 days I'm there. Thanks.

            7 Replies
            1. re: Joanie

              Can't beat the price for a 2bdr/2bath for $114..
              In regards to the list I gave you..its a list to pick and chose from..trying to give you some great eating in LJ and other parts of SD..
              So. Cal isn't BOS so get used to driving everywhere...getting to CV is 15 mins or less.

              Lots of good burger places but SD is not really known for dogs and donuts..we do taco shops really well..maybe a TJ dog in South Bay.
              SD County is huge.

              1. re: Joanie

                If you're into craft beer, you're definitely staying in the most convenient hotel to the craft beer central. Toronado is arguably the best craft beer bar in San Diego (or country for that matter). Plus a bunch of other spots: Waypoint Public, Ritual Tavern, Coin-Op and Bottlecraft. Good neighborhood for craft cocktails as well: Polite Provisions, Seven Grand and Coin-Op.

                1. re: DougOLis

                  Haven't been to Mikkeller Bar, I see.

                  1. re: Josh

                    Just the Mikkeller and Mikkeller & Friends in Copenhagen. Haven't been to SF since the new one opened. Did most of my travels to Europe and Asia while I was working in Saudi recently (wish the Bangkok location had been open when I went to Thailand). Now that I'm in Canada, I'll probably make it to SF on one of my R&Rs at some point.

                    And for the record, I would probably choose Toronado over the original Mikkeller Bar location. Mikkeller & Friends is more of a fight though.

                    1. re: DougOLis

                      The one in SF I think bests Toronado; though they don't get the RR stuff like Toro does they make up for it with really unusual European stuff, plus other good new locals like Cellarmaker and Faction. The "flux capacitor" thing they have is pretty impressive, allowing them to custom mix the gas per draught line.

                    2. re: Josh

                      The only thing I didn't like about Mikkeller SF (my single visit) was the distinct lack of Cali style IPAs. In fact there were only 2 IPAs on the tap list. For a "brewery" that loves to attempt American IPA styles I found that a bit strange. A lot of other styles were well represented and the Cellar is fantastic.

                      I have found Toronado SF to be a feeble shell of its former self, although I have friends that have mentioned the taplist improving the last 6 months or so. If you need a Moonlight fix it is a must-stop, but otherwise there are much more reliable places in SF for beer selection...not grime however haha.

                      Back to San Diego, I find it odd that some better funded people haven't bought some boutique hotels in on 30th street. It seems like a no-brainer.

                      1. re: MrKrispy

                        That's changed. Something to keep in mind about it is it's not a brewpub, nor an outpost for Mikkeller beers specifically.


                        They almost always have Cali IPA on draft these days, along with a bunch of other exotic stuff. Next time you're in SF check it out, but also make sure to check out Cellarmaker. They are making some great IPAs.

                2. Now you're talking my neighborhood - I live across the street from the Lafayette. Here are a few of my suggestions:

                  1) Little Italy is okay, but not a must visit unless you decide to go to the Embarcadero. Then swing by and grab a bite to eat - Bencotto and PrepKitchen are probably the best bets.

                  2) I tend to avoid the Gaslamp as its too touristy. Since you are, in fact, a tourist, it might be worth swinging by, but whatever you do, don't stay there long.

                  With that said, here's a quick info on the places around you:

                  Luigi's Pizza serves good New York style pizza and is half a block from you, though Pizzeria Bruno Napoletano which is two blocks away, is absolutely better. Must go.

                  The Live Wire, about a block from the Hotel, is my favorite dive bar in San Diego, hands down. Good beer, great jukebox, and well, its a dive. Mama's Kitchen, right next door, is a Lebanese restaurant that makes its own bread and/or pastries. Good for lunch.

                  Across the street from the Hotel is Pomegranate, Taste of East Africa, and the barbeque place. Don't go to the barbeque place. Pomegranate is a Russian/Georgian restaurant and is chow-worthy. Taste of East Africa is also good, but skippable.

                  For breakfast, Mystic Mocha is about 4 blocks from you, but kind of hidden. The coffee is good (though leaning too much on different types of mocha drinks), but the food is great. If you are more of a coffee snob, then go with the Coffee & Tea Collective, about eight blocks east.

                  That will also take you to 30th Street, which is exactly where you want to go. The Co-Op Arcade is pretty sweet, and is a great addition to the street. If you want to drive, Polite Provisions, which is on 30th and Adams (Adams is 4 blocks north of El Cajon, so this bar would be about 12 blocks from the hotel), is also a good choice. The meatball centric menu at Soda & Swine (connected to Polite Provisions) is delicious. Jayne's Gastropub would also be a good choice.

                  As far as 30th around El Cajon and south, I would strongly suggest the Ritual or Urban Solace for new American food.

                  For tacos, I would go with the recommendations for Mariscos 9 Seas truck in South Park, or go to Mama Testa. If, however, you are looking for late night eats, Colima's Taco Shop is a solid, classic, San Diego taco shop (California burritos and everything). I also recommend Carnitas Snack Shack, though the lines are atrocious.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: jmtreg

                    Some great stuff. I've highlighted Urban Solace, Carnita's Snack Shack & Tacos El Panson. For Carnita's, what's a good time when the line isn't too long (must try the triple pork thing)? Will try to hit a bunch of bars, you guys have happy hours galore (liquor HH not allowed in MA) but Live Wire and Polite Prov will def be on the list. Isola sounds good too, nice happy hour.

                    I found a couple donut places, one fancier one (Donut Bar on B St) and one old school (Golden Donut, Univ Ave). I tend to prefer the latter, anyone know Golden?

                    Where would you go for a snack/drink by the water? And if you were making a stop in the Gaslamp, what would you suggest? I know the area I'm staying in is known for those craftsman houses and I enjoy architecture. What should my one (quick) cultural thing be? What's in the Old Town section? Thanks for your responses.

                    1. re: Joanie

                      There's no Happy Hour in MA? Really?

                      Fathom Bistro is great for a drink by the water, or hit up the Waterfront. For the quick cultural deal, Balboa Park really is fantastic with the Spanish Colonial architecture. Old Town goes for the late 19th Century, frontiery stuff. Not bad for a quick jaunt, but Balboa Park is probably better.

                      1. re: Joanie

                        For donuts, Mary's in Santee is an excellent choice.

                        And the Gascramp...well that's my opinion of food there. Howevah, if you like architecture and you don't mind divey places, go to the Golden West Hotel and the Plaza Hotel. You will be treated to some gorgeous old and ORIGINAL design features. Bonus: the Plaza has an old elevator with a bonafide elevator operator.

                    2. Well I now have 3 nites in SD, booked a flight for a day earlier, partly cuz a friend offered his house on Ocean Front Walk. It hurts not being in hipster central but free by the beach, how can I resist? So need a few Mission Beach area fun places (altho I think we'll be spending the majority of time in North Park cuz there are too many things to not hit). Anything that stands out in that area? And still curious what time is best to hit Carnita's to avoid a long line. Thanks.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: Joanie

                        Can't help you with the Shack as I have given up trying to go.

                        For the MIssion Beach area, try going to the Coaster Saloon to check off your dive bar, and they have been getting good local beers in as well.

                        Go north a bit to the Promenade (corner of PB Drive) and go to California Kebob/Amplified Aleworks for a lunch. They have an outdoor patio with a sliver of ocean view, good food and good beers.

                        I can't help you with dinner in those areas, I am usually out of MB/PB by the evening because of the flood of college students and the accompanying DUI checkpoints haha.

                        1. re: Joanie

                          The best time I've found so far is to show up 15 minutes before opening. That should put you in front of the line. Or, you can call in an order and pick it up (but no eating on premises).

                          1. re: Joanie

                            I was at carnitas snack shack last Friday around 2:30 pm (fresh off the plane from Boston). Absolutely no line and only about 5 or 6 of the tables around back were occupied

                            Definitely worth the trip. :-)

                            1. re: Trufflebaby

                              I think it's worth noting that the lines at CSS are nowhere near as persistent as those for Lucha Libre. And in contrast to Lucha Libre (which is a good, but not great taco shop), the lines to CSS actually make sense.

                            2. re: Joanie

                              I live a few blocks from Carnitas Snack Shack. Any time on the weekend is out of the question. Generally, M - F between 2:30 - 4 pm is not too bad. Occasionally, I even see a line at that time, but not often. Try a Wednesday at 3 pm!

                              1. re: wrldtrvl

                                Very good advice. But -- gasp -- now the secret is out!

                                That's the only timeframe that I've ever been to CSS, and I've never stood in a line.

                            3. There is a lot of good food in every neighborhood. Here is my summary of where you might want to try...

                              North Park/ South Park/ Uni. Heights: Great for people in their late 20's to go out for drinks, dancing, pool. More laid back than most other parts of town.

                              Downtown/ Gaslamp: Great for going ALL out. Whether its for a $40 dinner or partying all night, you probably won't have an early night here.

                              Little Italy/ Bankers Hill: Great for the bourgeois crowd. A bit more upscale but always a great experience.

                              North County/ La Jolla: Upper class all the way. Great beaches, fantastic views and restaurants. Expect to pay a bit more.

                              Have fun!

                              1 Reply