You guys know that I’m a hard-core caffeine article and, although I’ve written about coffee in other countries – like the UAE, France, and Germany – I’ve actually never done one for my own city, San Diego. If you find yourself in this sunny city, just North of Mexico, you can use this list as your reference for the best third wave coffee shops here. Let’s dive on in.
11. Coava Roasters
Whenever I go downtown, I usually find my way over to Coava. The shop is huge, with tons of seating area, so it’s also a great place to meet up with a friend or two. They specialize in single-origin GREEN coffee, my favorite being the one from Kilenso, Ethiopia.
Address: 400 W Broadway, San Diego
What To Order: Drip coffee in a for-here mug
10. Revolution Roasters
Revolution Roasters is one of the furthest-north San Diego coffee shops on this list, nuzzled just between Oceanside and Carlsbad. They provide beans for a variety of coffee shops, hotels, offices, and restaurants all over San Diego. But Revolution Roasters also has a very nice brick-and-mortar; one that’s easy to get sucked into if you sit down with a good book. If you can’t find the time to get downtown, or just don’t want to have to deal with parking, Revolution Roasters is a great North County option!
Address: 1836 S Coast Hwy. Oceanside
What To Order: The Surfing Madonna’s Elixir French Press and their beautifully-decorated and seriously delicious morning bun
Quite possibly the most quixotic coffee shop imaginable, the popular Cardiff coffee shop, Bump, is making some waves in the SD coffee scene. Run by avid surfers and well-traveled coffee lovers, the only coffee drinks Bump sells are cold brew (my single favorite in all of San Diego) and pour over. They also offer a small selection of teas, but the main attraction is their empanadas. If you’re lucky, on some weekend mornings you might also get their in time before their free breakfast tacos and bacon run out 🙂
Fair warning: they usually close the store around noon, depending on when they run out of empanadas or cold brew.
Address: 126 Aberdeen Dr, Cardiff
What To Order: Breakfast empanada and a cold brew 🙂
Although slightly out of the way, Mostra is absolutely worth the trip. Of course you’ve got the usual popular industrial decor and fancy-shmancy coffee equipment, but that’s not hard to find these days. What’s not so easy is finding a coffee shop that actually lives up to the hype.
When I saw that Mostra one the Roaster of the Year Award (the first San Diego winner since Bird Rock’s win in 2012) I knew I had to make the 40-minute trek over there. And, damn, was it worth it.
Address: 12045 Carmel Mountain Rd #302, San Diego
What To Order: Breakfast sandwich and the Brazil cold brew (which tastes slightly coconut-ty)
James Coffee Co. is not just a coffee shop; more like a barber shop meets a concept store meets an optometry store meets a coffee shop. Located in Little Italy, James Coffee Co. a unique space with an underground warehouse kind of vibe. You can drink your coffee while playing a game of chess and then head over to the Danish library next door. It’s a good way to waste your time.
Address: 2355 India Street, San Diego
What To Order: Horchata; Single Origin Guatemalan Pour-Over
6. Lofty Coffee
Perched on a hill in the surfer’s Mecca, Encinitas, Lofty is a local favorite which has set up shop all over San Diego County. During peak hours, you’ll find a line out the door and it’s almost impossible to find a seat at any time. I typically take my drink to go and then wander over to Moonlight Beach. Fair warning: their cold brew (which is made Kyoto-style) is delicious but is basically a whole cup of espresso.
Lucky for me, they also just opened up another location just down the street from me 🙂
Address: 90 N. Coast Highway 101, Suite 214, Encinitas
What To Order: The Dangerously Strong Cold Brew, Nitro or Regular; Lofty Eggs Breakfast
Dark Horse is one of my absolutely favorites, not only for the coffee, but also the atmosphere. I imagine this place would do quite well situated on the top of a snowy mountain, where local sweethearts go to share an afternoon. But this tiny shop is found in the busy San Diego district of Normal Heights. You won’t be able to bring your 5 closest friends for a cup of coffee but you sure as hell can enjoy the nostalgia of a warm-wooded room covered in posters, local art, stickers, and trinkets.
Address: 811 25th Street, San Diego
What To Order: Ethiopian Drip Coffee
4. Communal Coffee
Communal Coffee is a hectic place with a lot of seating, but which is almost always packed. Like Lofty, this is a place where I usually take my drink to go. While I wait, I poke around the shop and look at the weird notebooks, pens, books, paperweights, and everything in between. Then, with a coffee in hand, I’ll wander around the North Park Nursery next door. It’s a nice routine for those who like to people-watch and do some pleasant but mindless shopping, while still getting their caffeine fix.
Address: 2335 University Ave., San Diego
What To Order: Lavender Honey Latte; Lavender Honey Toast (see a pattern?)
If you’re wanting to get a bit adventurous with your coffee, this is where you go. You’ll find original drinks like the Toasted Coconut Colada, Beet Latte, Pear Cider Float, and, on special occassions, the Pumpkin Spice Cold Brew. Holsem Coffee reminds me of the Swedish-styled café in Paris, Coutume Institutti, one of my all-time favorites. They have unique and open space, packed with creatives and business people alike. They roast their beans in-house, have a variety of healthy brunch items (a must in San Diego) and make their own peppermint syrup. Need I say more?
Address: 2911 University Ave., San Diego
What To Order: Gingerbread Cold Brew; Lemon-Poppyseed Muffin
2. Steel Mill
A bit far from downtown, Steel Mill is a coffee shop and record store created by Riley Hawk, son of the pro skater Tony Hawk. It has a much more laid-back vibe than places like Communal Coffee, but you’ll also feel the buzz of of what the shop was founded on: late nights, early mornings, heavy metal, and fatigue.
Address: 605 Mission Ave., Oceanside
What To Order: Black Cold Brew (no cream or sugar needed – trust me)
Ah, Ironsmith. My home base; my saving grace. A little blue shop next to the aforementioned Moonlight Beach, Ironsmith will not only serve you the best cup of coffee in all of San Diego, but a kind word as well. Ironsmith is the kind of place you spend the whole day because the coffee is made better by the company. They roast their beans in shop and if you’re lucky enough to find yourself there on one of those days, you’ll never be able to forget that smell. If you go to only one of these amazing coffee shops, I suggest that you go to Ironsmith.
Address: 458 S. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas
What To Order: Barista Special and any of their seasonal pastries!!
If you make it to any of these places, let me know in the comments or tag me in your Instagram posts!