Among the surf beaches and Cali Burritos, there's another notable San Diego culture brewing – coffee. This city’s small-batch roasters and one-of-a-kind cafes are sought out by locals and travelers alike. Their meticulous craftsmanship, innovative cafe concepts, and fascination with specialty drinks push the boundaries of how we traditionally enjoy coffee.
On our SanDiegoHumor Instagram stories, we asked our followers about their favorite coffee shops in San Diego. We were blown away by the number of responses we received. We had over 1700 responses...
And the results are in!
Table of Contents
Bird Rock Coffee Roasters (192 votes)
Awarded by industry experts, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters claims the top spot for its exceptional quality, from sourcing to roasting. Experience all the complexities their carefully brewed coffee has to offer with an order from their pour-over bar. If you’re feeling indulgent, the affogato is made with their housemade honeycomb ice cream and is drowned in espresso.
You can take an in-depth look at their processes, taste new products, and discuss all things coffee at their Weekly Coffee Cupping in La Jolla. Many of their nine cafes offer indoor and outdoor seating with garage-style windows that open up to take the neighborhood atmosphere in.
Better Buzz Coffee Roaster (87 votes)
Coffee lovers make a beeline for Better Buzz to order specialty drinks and lattes made with espresso roasted for optimum caffeine levels. Proudly home to the “Best Drink Ever” – a mint-infused iced coffee masterpiece and a favorite on their menu of handcrafted drinks, many of which can be served hot or cold. Taking quality a step further, they’re certified by CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) for their organic coffee and are dedicated to sourcing Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance beans. Take a look around at any of their nine vibrant San Diego hubs, and you'll notice hive-shaped accents, a nod to their name.
Dark Horse Coffee Roasters (67 votes)
This rustic small-batch specialty roaster is rising to success for its bold coffee, iconic horsehead logo, and freshly made vegan donuts that even non-vegans can't resist. We recommend getting to one of their six locations early to have your choice of daily donut flavors. Once the donut is secured, chase it with a velvety smooth coffee made with beans sourced directly from smallholder farmers worldwide. If you’re feeling the logo, creative versions are featured on their merch, from tumblers to cycling jerseys.
Surf Lounge (44 votes)
Just a ten-minute walk away from Tourmaline Surf Park, this place goes beyond your typical coffee bar – it’s also a surf shop haven. If you’re looking for things to do in Pacific Beach, you can rent one of their in-house crafted surfboards, fuel up with an espresso, and go ride the waves. Lounging is an option too, enjoy a coffee, latte, or smoothie on the deck or inside their boutique, where you can explore beach essentials like sun cream, custom-designed surfboards, and organic hemp CBD & CBG joints. Taking the surf culture a step further, they rent time in their onsite board shaping bay, host board shaping lessons, and throw events from parties to swap meets.
S3 Coffee Bar (41 votes)
Rainbow signature drinks and a whimsical atmosphere are what sets S3 apart from the rest. Black and white drawings on the walls make parts of the interior look almost like a coloring book, and skylights surrounded by green earth-like accents bring the outdoor feel in. Noted for their specialty Rainbow Latte and Mermaid Toast, this Grantville cafe has a robust breakfast and lunch menu. In addition to coffee, they serve colorful tea concoctions and always have seasonal specials.
James Coffee Co (39 votes)
Born from the vision of two brothers in a metal shop, this independently owned gem is a must-try for coffee enthusiasts with an interest in quality and sustainability. James Coffee Co. is renowned for its single-origin beans and exclusive, expertly crafted coffee blends. They take their commitment to sustainability seriously, which is why all of their drinks are served in mason jars to eliminate paper waste. Of four locations, the heart of their coffee bar and roastery operation resides in "The Space," an industrial building in Little Italy reminiscent of an old airplane hangar that houses a curated collection of boutique shops.
Cafe Moto (33 votes)
Driven by a passion for vintage motorcycle racing and a lineage of family roasting techniques, Cafe Moto came to life through technical mastery of espresso machines and coffee blending. Operating from a solar-powered roastery located in Barrio Logan, they are committed to delivering Kosher, Fair Trade, and organic coffee, tea, and cocoa. Ethical sourcing methods ensure that their products and core values align to benefit both consumers and growers. For coffee lovers who want an elevated experience at home, they sell new espresso machines, grinders, and water filtration systems that adhere to SCAA gold cup standards. Their installation and repair team, Cafe Mechanica, offers support to clients with machinery.
Lofty Coffee Co (29 votes)
Visit Little Italy to discover Lofty's daily organic housemade coffee, fresh-pressed juices, pastries, and toasts. Coffee lovers will appreciate the range of meticulously roasted organic blends from various origins, each crafted to highlight its inherent flavors. They offer breakfast and lunch menus with a curated selection of organic teas in an open industrial cafe setting.
Mostra Coffee (27 votes)
The name "Mostra" stems from the Italian word for performance, so there’s no surprise that this awarded micro coffee roaster is setting new standards with specialty drinks. Owned by a dynamic team of women, minorities, veterans, and immigrants, their innovation shines through in the Bibingka creme brulee latte, inspired by Filipino rice cakes. For those wanting to try one of their treats without the jolt, many of their drinks can also be made caffeine-free. All four locations provide a sleek, welcoming space to work and sip away.
Communal Coffee (26 votes)
Designed to be in harmony with the surrounding neighborhoods, Communal venues are the place where coffee meets community. South Park takes the form of a vintage trailer set back in a courtyard where coffee drinkers can enjoy the sun and fresh air. Thoughtfully laid-out bar and table seating make North Park the perfect location for meet-ups and work. Beyond coffee, their menu includes seasonal delights, like the refreshing Sparkling Butterfly Pea Lemonade, a Toast Bar, cocktails and even pizza at select locations. They embrace the local arts by selling bouquets, hosting workshops, and throwing comedy shows.
Pannikin Coffee & Tea (25 votes)
Once an old train station dating back to 1887, Pannikin Coffee & Tea is now your go-to spot for hand-roasted coffee with a Victorian-era feel. Enjoy the preserved original features from the second-floor mezzanine inside or relax on the wrap-around porch to savor their imported teas, fresh pastries, and coffee roasted using techniques over 55 years old. Take it to go and walk less than ten minutes to Encinitas’ Stone Steps Beach.