San Diego is synonymous with laid-back living and blissed-out coastal vibes. But look a little closer and you’ll find a buzzing coffee culture full of discerning (and well-caffeinated) locals. Over the last decade, the Southern California city has stepped up its coffee game thanks to a number of emerging small-batch roasters and shops taking an experimental, artisanal approach.
With more than 850 coffee shops spread across San Diego County, the options may feel overwhelming. Aficionados can plan a trip around the city’s annual Caffeine Crawl—or take your own self-guided coffee tour to one (or all) of these 13 spots.
Better Buzz, multiple locations
This local, single-origin roaster has cafes in some of San Diego’s most popular neighborhoods, including Encinitas, Hillcrest, and Mission Beach. The bright, airy, and perpetually buzzy locations serve up chic decor and breakfast sandwiches alongside creative drinks like the Rose Water Latte, Mint-Infused Iced Coffee, and the “Best Drink Ever” (Americano with vanilla cream).
Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, multiple locations
One of the first San Diego spots to get serious about good coffee, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters has been recognized as Roaster of the Year by Roast Magazine and as one of the Best Coffee Roasters in America by Forbes. Visit the original La Jolla location to enjoy your single-origin espresso with an ocean view or stop by the Torrey Pines cafe for a post-hike cold brew.
Cafe Virtuoso, Barrio Logan
You’ll find beans from this 100-percent certified organic roaster on the menu of some of San Diego’s best farm-to-table restaurants. Get a little closer to the source at the Barrio Logan cafe close to downtown near the base of the Coronado Bridge. Even traditionalists will be wooed by their spin on a mocha, flavored with rich dark chocolate.
Caffè Calabria, North Park
Calabria helped to usher in San Diego’s coffee craze—and 20 years later, it’s still going strong. Pop in the North Parkshop for classic Italian-style coffee. From Wednesday through Sunday, the cafe also serves exceptional Neapolitan pizza and ice-cold cocktails.
Communal Coffee, multiple locations
Communal’s flower-shop-meets-cafe concept makes for an exceptionally beautiful (and great smelling) space to enjoy your morning brew. Order your Almond Bark Cold Brew from an outdoor coffee camper bursting with ferns in South Park, or head north to Oceanside to sip under a chandelier crafted from delicate branches.
Dark Horse, multiple locations
Once a North Park hub for in-the-know locals, this ethically sourced roaster has expanded over the last 10 years with half a dozen locations. Not sure what to order? Try house favorite “The Champ,” a latte spiked with honey and cinnamon. Don’t miss the house-made doughnuts.
Holsem, North Park
With loft-style ceilings and beans roasted onsite, this North Park hot spot is known for unique drinks. Instead of using bottled syrups, Holsem’s baristas craft drinks such as Lemon Meringue Cold Brew and Baklava Latte from fresh ingredients and house-made nut milk.
Ironsmith Coffee Roasters, Encinitas
This small-batch roaster, tucked into a small storefront on Coast Highway 101, serves straightforward coffee for discerning drinkers. The commitment to exceptional sourcing—the owners won’t buy beans before visiting the farm—comes through in the velvety smooth cortados and Colombia drip.
Lofty Coffee, multiple locations
This North County favorite has four locations spread throughout the beach towns that stretch north of downtown San Diego, as well as a cafe in the heart of Little Italy. Visit any of the shops to find both novel and traditional drinks alongside superfood bowls and avocado toast piled high with fresh organic produce.
Manzanita Roasting Company, Escondido and Rancho Bernardo
When a sommelier husband and wine-industry veteran wife turned their attention to coffee, Manzanita was born. The couple fittingly opened their first location in Bernardo Winery, and the business has expanded to an Escondido cafe located in the Ritz Theater.
Mostra Coffee, 4S Ranch, Bankers Hill, and Carmel Mountain Ranch
Named Roaster of the Year by Roast Magazine in 2020, this up-and-coming local chain features coffee with a Filipino spin. Mostra uses beans (some of which are grown in the Philippines) to craft drinks such as Choconana (cold brew, banana milk, Tahitian vanilla bean) and Spicy Gimme So-Mocha (espresso, Torani chocolate, and barrel-aged hot sauce).
Por Vida, Barrio Logan, National City, and Sherman Heights
Chicano art meets inspired coffee concoctions at Por Vida. The cafe-gallery combo celebrates Mexican culture with drinks like the Del Olla Latte (orange peel, cinnamon, and clove) and Vida Pop (espresso, Topo Chico, and lime).
Zumbar Coffee & Tea, Cardiff and Sorrento Valley
This unassuming boutique coffee roasting company was founded on the simple idea of “getting the basics right.” This isn’t the place for new flavors. Head to Zumbar for a smooth pour-over or perfectly pulled espresso.