A vegan’s guide to… San Diego

Read Time:   |  12th June 2019

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Published on 12 Jun 2019 

With 70-miles of spectacular coastline and an enviable year-round climate, San Diego offers visitors beachside attitude with big-city excitement, as travel writer Sophia Amos discovers. She has put together this vegan guide to San Diego to help you plan your trip.

Where to eat…

San Diego is renowned for its diverse culinary offerings, award-winning chefs, craft beer culture and thriving local wine regions, with Cali-Baja cuisine in particular leading the way.

A vibrant mix of locally inspired flavours, from the simple to sophisticatedly artful, San Diego’s proximity to the ocean and Mexico has influenced both the local cuisine and culture, known as Cali-Baja, which sits at the intersection of two culinary styles: California cuisine, distinguished for its devotion to fresh local ingredients and farm-to-table roots, and Mexico’s Baja Med cuisine, a food revolution that combines traditional Mexican ingredients with those of the Mediterranean. 

With unique monthly food festivals taking place each year – more recently the Cado, a pop-up immersive experience celebrating the Californian staple the avocado – San Diego is definitely the place for foodies. The city is home to many plant-based eateries, catering for all-day dining and proving that vegan food can be delicious and healthy. 


Mon-Fri 5:30pm-10pm, Sat & Sun 10am-10pm, 1503 30th Street, barkindred.com

Plant-based comfort fare and tasty craft cocktails are served amid Gothic Victorian decor at this South Park brick-and-mortar from chef Kory Stetina, who previously organized the pop-up dinner series Love.Like.Beer. Generous portions and affordable prices make Kindred a worthy gamble, even if you’re travelling with someone who isn’t entirely convinced of the vegan lifestyle.

Seared cauliflower steak, Memphis BBQ jackfruit sandwich, and green garbanzo chilli all prove worthy alternatives to meat entrées, while brunch items like smoked carrot (in lieu of smoked salmon) and banana bread French toast topped with whipped coconut cream and dark chocolate are excellent ways to convince anyone that dairy and eggs aren’t a requisite for your weekend mornings.

Café Gratitude

11am-8pm daily, 1980 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101, www.cafegratitude.com

Café Gratitude is a collection of plant-based restaurants specialising in gourmet cuisines that strive to create a menu and environment that supports health and sustainability. Ingredients are selected from the finest organic local farmers and prepared fresh in the kitchen daily. Inviting dishes on the menu include coconut ceviche, buffalo cauliflower, eggplant paninis, raw Mexican lasagnas and tempeh enchiladas.

Evolution Fast Food

11am-8pm daily, 2965 Fifth Ave, San Diego, CA 92103, www.evolutionfastfood.com

Evolution Fast Food is the original San Diego drive-thru restaurant offering a healthy, delicious, vegan menu using fresh and local ingredients promoting a healthy lifestyle. Serving vegetarian and vegan burgers alongside sandwiches and smoothies, Evolution has revolutionised fast food.

Civico 1845

Mon-Thurs 4pm-10pm, Fri & Sat 12noon-11pm, Sun 12noon-10pm, 1845 India St, San Diego, CA 92101, www.civico1845.com

From Italy to San Diego, Civico 1845 is an authentic, yet contemporary Italian restaurant that features fresh flavours and a health-conscious menu. Dishes are made from scratch and the vegan menu focuses on locally grown and seasonal ingredients that are healthy, light and 100% vegan versions of Italian classics. Zucchini Blossom stuffed with vegan mozzarella, pistachio fettuccine and vegan Italian sausage ragout are popular dishes to try.


Mon-Fri 11am-10pm, Fri-Sat 11am-11pm, Sun 11am-10pm, 4661 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92116, www.myplumeria.com

Plumeria is located in the heart of University Heights and believes in offering San Diegans and visitors alike high-quality vegan and vegetarian food. All of the dishes are free of fish sauces and animal products, prepared fresh daily and using only the finest ingredients available. Unique dishes on the menu include flower cups with tofu, peas and carrots, pad Thai beans and pumpkin curry.

Donna Jean

Wed-Fri 3pm-8pm, Sat & Sun 10am-8pm, 2949 Fifth Ave, San Diego, CA 92103, www.donnajeanrestaurant.com

Donna Jeans’ concept is simple, home-style dishes using the best ingredients. A spacious patio and herb garden offers a welcoming environment for diners where seasonal, sustainable, plant-based, rustic and comforting dishes are served. Award-winning Head Chef Roy, welcomes even the most stubborn of meat-eaters to try breakfast, lunch and dinner and try stand-out dishes, including king oyster chowder, Jane Dough pizza and California grains salad.

Nomad Donuts

Mon-Fri 7am-1pm, Sat & Sun 7am – 2pm, 3102 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92104,n www.nomaddonuts.com

For something sweet, globally renowned gourmet bakery, Nomad Donuts, serve an eclectic selection of dairy-free artisanal donuts with locations in North Park, Normal Heights and University Heights. The donuts are all handcrafted using small batch ingredients from local farmers markets and flavours rotate daily, stocking five to eight options. Flavours include apple spice, peanut butter chocolate banana, habanero peach guava and lemon poppy thyme.

Out & About

With its close proximity to Mexico, hopping over the border to Tijuana is a must for anyone visiting San Diego. Only 20 minutes from downtown San Diego, you can be discovering the incredible food scene in charming food courts, markets and a restaurant dedicated to the humble Caesar salad.

The Mercado de Artesanias

The Mercado de Artesanías is one of the city’s oldest open-air markets. Located in the historic southwest corner of Zona Rio and open 7-days a week, this is where the locals themselves do their weekly shop and sell the most unusual yet super fresh products grown locally by generations of families in Mexico. You can find a host of fresh fruits and spices amongst rails of hanging trinkets, traditional clothing and brightly coloured piñatas.

Telefonica Gastro Park

Boulevard Agua Caliente 8860, Centro, 22000 Tijuana, B.C., Mexico, www.facebook.com/TelefonicaGastroPark

Lined with food trucks and disguised as a parking lot, this gastronomic quarter offers fresh cuisine and lots of craft beers. Benched seating with umbrellas located in an enclosed patio next to a building resembling an aeroplane hangar, offers the perfect setting to enjoy a variety of traditional Mexican dishes, including tacos, freshly BBQ grilled vegetables and ceviche – try the cactus one, it’s delicious!

Top five places to visit

1. Balboa Park

1549 El Prado, balboapark.org

Ever changing, always amazing. Where culture, science and nature collide, Balboa Park is home to more than 16 museums, multiple performing arts venues, lovely gardens, trails and other attractions. With a variety of cultural institutions among its 1,200 beautiful and lushly planted acres, there is something for everyone.

vegan guide to san diego

2. Liberty Station and Public Market


Liberty Public Market in historic Liberty Station brings together the cuisines and culture of San Diego. The 361-acre waterfront urban village is located within San Diego’s storied Point Loma community, on a peninsula jutting into the sea. It’s filled with a curated mix of artisans, makers and galleries, locally-based shops, restaurants, family-friendly entertainment, cultural activities and acres of public parks and gardens where locals and visitors alike come to discover the true spirit of San Diego.

3. Neighbourhood

La Jolla

Often referred to as the jewel by the sea, this hilly seaside and affluent community is one of the most popular beach destinations in California. Try kayaking the sea-caves at La Jolla cove before taking a rest-bite at Galaxy Taco’s and tucking into Trey Foshee’s simple Mexican food done well – the mushroom and grilled avocado tacos are a must.


4. Torrey Pines State Reserve


Located on the cliffs above Torrey Pines State Beach, is a 1,750 acre reserve dedicated to preserving its namesake, the Torrey Pine tree and other indigenous wildlife in its native environment. A coastal wilderness of pine forests and sandstone canyons, the park has a series of well-kept trails that wind along the cliffs offering breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.

vegan guide to san diego

5. Chicano Park


The park is the geographic and emotional heart of Barrio Logan. It’s home to the largest concentration of Chicano murals in the world, along with sculpture, gardens, picnic tables and playgrounds. It hosts festivals of music and Aztec dance, the biggest being Chicano Park Day, held each April. It’s also an emerging arts district, with galleries, boutiques, brew-pubs and craft coffee shops nearby.

vegan guide to san diego

There are also a multitude of cruises that you can do on your visit whether you want to go whale watching or having a private tour. Check out the various cruises available at Isango!.

Where to stay

Pendry San Diego 

550 J Street, San Diego, CA 92101, www.pendry.com 

Standing proudly in the centre of the Gaslamp Quarter, the Pendry strikes a balance between modern and traditional, pairing classic Southern California influence with modern luxury. Featuring six unique restaurants and bars, and highlighting some of the city’s most talented chefs and concepts, Pendry San Diego is a true culinary hub within the city.

Andaz San Diego 

600 F St, San Diego, CA 92101, www.hyatt.com

Andaz San Diego is a kaleidoscope of local history and culture in the Gaslamp Quarter, which is 16 square blocks of Victorian-era buildings with more than 100 of the city’s best restaurants, pubs, clubs, and shops. Opened in 1913 for the World’s Fair, the building has been transformed into a benchmark for modern luxury and style.


Hotel Republic

421 West B St, San Diego, CA 92101, hotelrepublicsd.com

A vibrant new boutique hotel in downtown San Diego, visitors are welcomed to California style with soaring ceilings and driftwood chandeliers. Hailed as the new social hub among downtown hotels, people gather here for sociable drinks around the open air bar fire pit or take part in lively events from wine tasting and mixology to mindfulness sessions.

Shelter Island, Kona Kai Resort and Spa  

1551 Shelter Island Dr, San Diego, CA 92106, www.resortkonakai.com

Located on a private beach in Shelter Island, this beachfront casual luxury hotel is steeped in Polynesian and Spanish Colonial history, which is portrayed through its lush gardens and architecture. With astounding bay and marina views along San Diego’s most magnificent stretch of waterfront, the hotel also provides a host of beachside activity.

La Jolla, The Lodge at Torrey Pines 

11480 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, CA 92037, www.lodgetorreypines.com

The Lodge at Torrey Pines is an award-winning resort set atop the cliffs of Torrey Pines State Beach in La Jolla. The Lodge provides stunning views of the world-renowned Torrey Pines Golf Course and Pacific Ocean and endless opportunities for guests to enjoy the warm climate – from outdoor dining and a spa to hiking, golfing and more.

vegan guide to san diego

Visit SanDiego.org for more information.

Did you find this vegan guide to San Diego helpful? Check out our vegan city guides here

This article first appeared in the January 2019 issue of Vegan Food & Living. Get your copy here: http://bit.ly/2QE3ZW3

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Vegan Food & Living

Vegan Food & Living is a magazine dedicated to celebrating the vegan lifestyle. Every issue is packed with 75 tasty recipes, plus informative features.

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