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Local Recommendations (San Diego)
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ASTR 2018 Forum (La Jolla)

Some Downtown San Diego Recommendations

D.J. Hopkins, Conference Committee

Welcome to San Diego. I’ve lived here for 25 years, to my surprise. The city is an archipelago of neighborhoods, often disconnected due to natural geography and the built environment of SoCal car country. Downtown is one San Diego neighborhood among many, and not really representative.

The following is my own idiosyncratic listing: Downtown locations that I like to visit and recommendations that I would want if I were visiting a new city for a conference. The list is not exhaustive; the emphasis is on the essentials — a bottle of water, a quick lunch, lots of coffee — and local / small businesses.

San Diego is a foodie town, though I don’t include many cloth-napkin restaurants here. If you’re looking for a great meal, you might visit this website, which lists quality restaurants at a range of prices:

Ubiquitous electric scooters and rental bikes (both dockless and docked) might facilitate a trip around Downtown for some visitors. BYO helmet. 

If you want to explore San Diego without a car: Little Italy is one trolley stop up the Green Line from Santa Fe Depot: dining, drinking, shopping. Old Town is four stops north on the Green Line from Santa Fe Depot: historical sites, touristy attractions, restaurants. Try Old Town Mexican Café for good carnitas and arguably the best tortillas in San Diego. If you get tired of theatre and performance, check out the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art (SDMCA) next to the Santa Fe Depot.

It’s easy to forget that San Diego is a real city with real urban challenges. The conference committee reminds you to stay alert while you explore the Downtown area and travel in groups at night.

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San Diegans love breakfast and brunch. Here’s a sample of nearby options.

Broken Yolk. (355 Sixth Ave.) A popular local chain serving traditional breakfast favorites.
Donut Bar. (631 B St.) Nationally famous. Following a recent renovation, it’s no longer a hole in the wall and there is seating. Check their social media for daily menu. If they are serving their version of the cronut — the CroBar — please bring me one!
The Mission. (1250 J St.) Popular East Village destination for breakfast and lunch.
Richard Walker's Pancake House. (520 Front St.) Come for the pancakes, stay for the exceptional Children’s Museum around the corner.
Spill the Beans. (555 Market St.) Good breakfast sandwiches. Bagels and other baked goods made on location. My 10-year-old on their bagels: “Pretty tasty, unless you’re expecting a bagel…” Bagel purists will be disappointed. There’s a Brueggers Bagels west of the conference hotel on Broadway.


Biga. (531 Broadway) “Fast-casual” Italian. Biga has a sign in the window that says “Best Pizza in San Diego.” As we say in California, “Yeah, no,” though it’s among the best pizza Downtown. Neapolitan style.
Basic. (410 Tenth Ave.) Thin crust pizza with both conventional and eccentric toppings, beer, wine, and full bar in an industrial loft setting.
Salvucci's. (935 J St.) Neapolitan pizza, salads, and other Italian-American fare.

If you want to explore:
Buona Forchetta. (3001 Beech St.) The actual perennial candidate for the best pizza in San Diego, certainly the best Neapolitan Pizza in town. South Park location = cute neighborhood.
URBN. (3085 University Ave.) Thin crust, coal-fired pizza in North Park (the Brooklyn of San Diego).


Because you want to avoid hotel prices for bottled water, snacks, and the toiletries you forgot. You’ll find 7-11 and CVS locations all around Downtown. Here are some other options.

Jimbo’s. (92 Horton Plaza) Whole Foods-ish grocery store in the mall behind the conference hotel.
Krisp Beverages + Natural Foods. (1036 7th Ave.) Small urban grocery store. Grab and go food, groceries, beer, wine.
Ralph’s. (101 G St.) Full-size grocery store.


San Diego’s coffee culture is a whole thing. If you want familiar dark roast coffee, there are a dozen Starbucks locations Downtown; Specialty’s [sic] serves Peet’s. If you’re looking for a craft coffee place, here are some good options, mostly local.

Bean Bar. (1068 K St.) When their A Team is on, Bean Bar serves the best avocado toast in town. (Don’t sneer — avocado toast is good.) 
Coava Coffee. (400 W. Broadway) San Diego branch of Portland coffee establishment.
Copa Vida. (655 W. Broadway; 905 J St.) Coffee, teas, and a limited menu for breakfast and lunch. Two locations Downtown, one just west of the conference hotel.
James Coffee. (531 Broadway) This popular local coffee company has a pop-up shop inside Biga.
Spill the Beans. (555 Market St.) Serving local Dark Horse coffee.
West Bean. (240 Broadway) Tiny outpost of local chain. This spartan spot has none of the food options of their airy marble and glass HQ in Bankers Hill, but they still serve good coffee.

Sandwiches, Salads, etc.

Harvest. (Tenth and J) Grab and go lunches downstairs, seating and bar upstairs.
Neighborhood. (777 G St.) Burgers and a large selection of local craft beers.
Specialty’s [sic] Café and Bakery. (101 W. Broadway) It’s corporate not local, but it’s got sandwiches, salads, Peet’s coffee, and good cookies at reasonable prices. Bonuses: close to conference hotel, lots of seating, Wi-Fi.
Sushi 2 (aka Sushi Deli). (135 Broadway) A Downtown institution. Good food at a good price. Food and drink specials during Saturday happy hour / late lunch 12-4pm.
Tender Greens. (110 W. Broadway) A contemporary take on the cafeteria.


It’s San Diego. Order the fish tacos.

Lola 55. (1290 F St.) Tacos and other Cal-Mex dishes at good prices. Lots of seating, incl. a lounge area and a bar. I see no reason to disagree with the following assessment:

I cannot definitively rule out the possibility that somewhere, on some street corner in San Diego, there are tacos as good as the ones [at Lola 55]. I also can’t rule out the technical possibility I’ll win the lottery today, but I certainly wouldn’t want to bet on it. At the end of the day, it’s simply a far better bet that there are no tacos in town better than those at Lola 55… (emphasis added). —Michael A. Gardiner, San Diego CityBeat

Oscar’s Mexican Seafood. (927 J St.) Fish tacos. It’s like the brick and mortar expression of a San Diego food truck.
Puesto. (789 W. Harbor Dr. #7079) SoCal Mexican restaurant. Reliable quality and service.

If you want to explore:
Las Cuatro Milpas. (1857 Logan Ave.) Serving homey, unpretentious Mexican food in Barrio Logan (south east of Downtown) since 1933. Expect a line.

Bars (and a couple restaurants)

San Diego has a wealth of welcoming bars, and drinking is the primary Gaslamp pastime. Here are a just few of many options. NOTE: San Diego is the craft beer capital of the United States. Try a local IPA.

Dobson’s Bar and Restaurant. (956 Broadway Circle) A San Diego classic.
The Field. (544 Fifth Ave.) Irish Pub.
Havana 1920. (548 Fifth Ave.) Cuban cuisine and rum-based cocktails.
Neighborhood. (777 G St.) Burgers and a large selection of local craft beers.
Tivoli Bar. (505 Sixth Ave.) The oldest “saloon” in San Diego. Paradigmatic Gaslamp dive.
Top of the Hyatt. (1 Market Place) Great view. Smart-casual dress code.
Trailer Park After Dark. (835 Fifth Ave.) Subterranean dive bar.

The conference committee encourages our ASTR friends and colleagues to drink responsibly. If you feel that you need support with a drinking problem, you can talk to someone 24 hours a day at this number: 619-265-8762 (AA San Diego). Other resources at this link:

Little Italy

Kind of an extension of Downtown, on a more human scale. A short trolley ride from Santa Fe Depot.

All the best ice cream places near Downtown are in Little Italy.

Extraordinary Desserts. (1430 Union St.) “But,” you ask, “are the desserts actually extraordinary?” Yes.
iDessert. (1608 India St.) There’s a sci-fi vibe to this ice cream factory. The soft serve is unremarkable, but iDessert is about toppings and spectacle. Order a Las Vegas Bowl. Don’t ask, just order it...
Pappalecco. (1602 State St.) A nice stop for gelato and panini.
Salt and Straw. (1670 India St.) A candidate for best ice cream parlor in San Diego. Traditional flavors (rich vanilla, roasted strawberry), innovative ones (avocado ice cream with Oaxacan fudge), and adventurous experiments (grass ice cream with chocolate-covered crickets and worms).

Additional Little Italy destinations include some highly regarded San Diego restaurants.

Born and Raised. (1909 India St.) Popular steak house. Impressive interior design.
Burger Lounge. (1608 India St.) Local chain serves good burgers, fries, salads.
Ironside Fish and Oyster. (1654 India St.) Reliable spot for quality seafood. Call ahead for tables that can seat a crowd.
Civico 1845. (1845 India St.) Menu emphasizes Southern Italian cuisine. Try the cheese plate.
Lofty Coffee. (444. W. Cedar St.) One of my favorites. Limited food menu, open air location.
Prepkitchen. (1660 India St.) Upgraded comfort food, including good fish tacos. Full bar.

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