This San Diego Plant Based Eating Guide is full of great restaurants to hit when staying in San Diego! All spots have vegan and gluten-free options, and some serve all styles of food to satisfy everyone in your crew.
Here’s some trivia for ya: I used to live in America’s Finest City – the super humble nickname that San Diegans call their city by. After college, I packed up my car and best friend and we drove to the sunshine state with nothing but a dream. Actually, we aren’t that cool or free spirited. I am a chronic type A who doesn’t do anything without a plan, a backup plan, a
Actually, we aren’t that cool or free spirited. I dream of being that girl, but I am a chronic type A lady who doesn’t do anything without a plan, a backup plan, a backup backup plan, and a full list of emergency contacts. So we drove into the sunset with our dream…. and jobs, a place live, an emergency preparedness kit, printed directions on how to change a tire, and a map of every highway on the west coast.
BUT, despite my type A tendencies, it was still a time filled with adventures, beach visits, exploring new places, and eating all the good food. San Diego is an easy place to eat on no matter what your dietary preferences. Whether you’re Paleo, vegan, juice cleansing, or living on a steady diet of burgers and fries, there are places on this list for you.
As a disclaimer, I have only listed places that I have been to and love, but there are nearly 7,000 restaurants (true fact!) in this city, so don’t be afraid to break away from this list and find your favorite joint!
This Trendy SoCal based spot has locations spanning from LA to San Diego. Cafe Gratitude is the name in upscale vegan food. Their food is wacky, inventive, and downright delicious. I chose to go here for each and every birthday I celebrated in San Diego. Not everything here is gluten-free, so be sure to double check with the server before ordering, if needed. Their menu changes some with the seasons, but favorites for dinner include the Humble / Indian Curry Bowl and Liberated / Raw Pesto Kelp Noodles. Their happy hour, from 3-6pm, is a steal with $6 drinks and apps, and breakfast, I die for their Trusting / Barbecue Tempeh Scramble. And just promise me you’ll get the gluten free cinnamon roll? Then send me a photo so that I can vicariously live through you? K, thanks.
When you are craving a greasy, satisfying burger and fries after a long beach day, head straight to evolution. This local joint is the OG when it comes to vegan fast food. They have it all from burgers and milkshakes to raw tacos and kombucha. I usually go for their Bacon Cheeseburger with a GF bun. They have three burger patty options to choose from, and I recommend their house-made tempeh burger.
Kindred is technically a bar, but they have such a great dinner menu, that I had to include them on the list. Most items here aren’t, gluten free, but the ones that are are so good that I keep coming back for more! Their Skewers (choose tofu rather than seitan) are the best single vegan bite I have ever had. The warm squares of tofu are smothered in Chimichurri, Harissa, Horseradish Aioli. For dinner, I recommend the Beet Rissoto or the Cauliflower Steak (just ask for the puff pastry to be left off for a GF option.) And drinks…. as good as the food is, the drinks are their specialty. You can’t go wrong.
Look no further for the most Hippy Dippy Cafe in Southern California. This raw vegan restaurant has flower child vibes going strong. Their raw desserts, I am looking at you Cherry Chocolate Cheesecake, are to die for. I am also a big fan of their Peaceful Pizza, Nori Nirvana, and Cheezy Kelp N’ Kale noodles. They have two brick and mortar locations, one in Ocean Beach and one in Encinitas, plus you can find them at all the local farmer’s markets.
This is my go-to spot in North County for a great Buddha Bowl. Their bowls are a mash-up of crazy ingredients that somehow mix together into something truly tasty. I usually get the Havana Affair or the Legendary Hero. They also have a to-go market featuring house-made ferments, juices, and a rotating selection of desserts. This joint is about 4 blocks from the beach, so take your bowl for a sunshine filled picnic.
This growing vegan chain has several locations throughout San Diego County. This place is not gluten-free, but they offer a comprehensive allergy menu. Their menu is ever expanding, but I usually grab their Moroccan Bowl or Bangkok Curry Bowl. Finishing your meal with a Peanut Butter Parfait is always a good idea.
If I am only in SD for a day or two, I always make sure to stop at this joint. Plumeria is a vegetarian Thai restaurant and is ranked in the top 100 restaurants on Yelp. I recommend their Chicken Satay Skewers, Pad Thai, Yellow Curry, Tuna Flower Cups, Zen Soup, and vegan ice cream. Basically, order it all. This is another spot that requires reservations.
This was my go-to joint for Mexican eats. This trendy place is located right off of Balboa Park, and serves up quite a few vegan-friendly dishes. Their Sweet Corn Tamal with Green Chili SAuce makes me weak in the knees and their Potato Tacos are not to be missed. Plus, their selection of tequila is spot on.
The only thing dreamier than the Italian brothers who run this joint is the food itself. This is authentic vegan Italian fine dining tucked into San Diego’s quaint Little Italy neighborhood. Expect to hear people speak fluently in Italian. Their menu is constantly changing, but I have yet to have a dish I haven’t fallen in love with. Most all of their pasta can be made gluten-free. And do not pass on the wine list, the Nebbiolo they serve is my favorite drink in the city.
This whole food based restaurant is my go-to when eating out with just about anyone. Their menu is based on an anti-inflammatory diet, and they serve plenty of options for everyone. Their menu changes slightly with the four seasons, but you can’t go wrong with their Farmer’s Market Crudites. As a vegetarian, I love to order their Panang Curry and Inside Out Quinoa Burger (hold the feta and tzatziki). They also have an alluring bar menu and plenty of feel-good elixirs to choose from.
This fun spot is located on the Pacific Coast Highway and boasts great views of the beach. They have a vegan/vegetarian menu plus a gluten free, so ordering here is easy. Their eclectic menu includes everything from curry to ceviche, tacos and seafood. They are also open for breakfast and brunch when they serve up smoothies, acai bowls, omelets, and tofu scrambles.
This hippy Encinitas joint was just voted Best Breakfast. This is another spot where the whole gang will find something to eat. Their menu spans thee gamut from bacon and eggs to gluten free pancakes, sandwiches, and burgers. On this veggie heavy menu, I usually order the Nourishing Natural or the Veggie Stuffed Spud.
Healthy Creations is a 100 percent gluten free bakery and cafe, with plenty of paleo, vegan and vegetarian options. I usually build my own sandwich here and order the raw cacao drink to go. Their bakery case is filled with some of the best gluten-free baked goods I have had. Be sure to check out their freezer case as well, I usually pick up a loaf of bread to take home.
San Diego is home to some amazing breweries, and one of the most famous is Ballast Point. While I don’t drink beer due to my nagging gluten intolerance, I do enjoy some good bar food from time to time! (And my gluten drinking friends swear their beers are well worth a stop.) While there aren’t admittedly a ton of vegan/gluten free options, I will go for their Organic Kale Salad (no cheese) with a side of Truffle Fries any night of the week. Plus, the fun atmosphere makes up for the limited menu. Certain locations offer more gf/vegan options, so be sure to check out the menus online before deciding on which location works best for you.
As someone who was born and raised in the Northwest, I am no stranger to good coffee. While I am loyal to many of the independent local spots in my home state, I might have to rate Better Buzz as my favorite coffee stop of all time. Their cafes are trendy, their staff is friendly, and their coffee is great. They also offer a real-deal matcha latte (no fillers, milk powders, or added sugars), and serve up toast, acai bowls, and have kombucha on tap – basically my happy place.
This coffee shop is located in the heart of Little Italy. Independent coffee shops are hard to find in San Deigo, so this small joint makes my PNW heart go pitter patter. Their coffee is great, and they have a nice tea selection as well. Be sure to check out their goods too! They sell some of the most unique mugs and coffee accessories.
Oh Cafe Gratitude, the only spot to make it on this list twice. To say that I am in love with this place is an understatement. In addition to their sit down dining, they also have a to-go section where you can walk up and order some of their coffee drinks and other elixirs. You will find some of the tastiest adaptogen and medicinal herb infused lattes. I bounce back and forth between ordering their Restored / Adrenal Latté, Vibrant / Matcha Latté, and Immortal / Ayurvedic Latté. They also just came out with the Activated / Charcoal Latté which I am itching to try! More choices include traditional coffee drinks, fresh-pressed juices, wellness shots, and kombucha.
Lofty Coffee is a local coffee roaster that has several sit-in locations. This trendy spot roasts “fruity” coffee with a prominent flavor. They are full on coffee nerds who specialize in brewing the perfect cup. They even have guides on their website on how to properly brew your cuppa joe in everything from a Cemex to an Aeropress.
Juice & Smoothie Bars:
Juice Crafters is dishing out some of the best smoothies in SoCal (I think only non-locals still use that term?). Their inventive blends use superfoods and high-quality ingredients. I live for the Pacific Love and Crunchy Monkey Smoothies. They have 4 locations spread around San Diego.
The Pressed Freeze is taking over the internet, and I am not mad about it at all. There take on vegan soft serve is made with nuts, sweetened with dates, and comes in a variety of creamy flavors. I have to stop myself from ordering one twice a day when I am near one of their shops. I always go vanilla chocolate swirl with chocolate sauce and almond butter. They sell some great fresh-pressed Juices as well! Not all locations sell their Pressed Freeze, some just vend juice, so check online before you go!
Choice Juicery has the best healthy smoothie bowls around! All of their smoothies can be ordered in bowl form and you get to pick your toppings. My personal favorite is the PB&J bowl. They make their own plant-based protein powder, and it is the best one I have ever found. They are also churning out some inventive juices like their Lavender Almond Milk and Electrolyte Superaid. Their cold case is full of plant based entrees and snacks – this place has it all.
When I think of the southern California Acai Bowl, this is the first place that comes to mind. Their bowls are huge and on the sweeter side. They come loaded with tons of granola and lots of fruit toppings. This is the perfect beach meal. They have two locations – one in La Jolla and another in Pacific Beach. They also sell fresh juice, smoothies, and sandwiches/wraps.
Nekter was the first juice bar I frequented after moving to SD, thanks to the fact that one was less than 5 minutes from my house, and I remained loyal. They make some great smoothies, juices, and vegan protein milks. I am a fan of the Little Beet Juice, the Health Nut Smoothie, and their Peanut Butter Acai Bowl. They just came out with smoothie juices, which are a just like a juice but with all the fiber left in, and I am a big fan!
This is a downtown restaurant that I like best for their drinks! The food is great, but not exactly plant-based friendly, but the atmosphere and drinks are top notch! I usually order the Careless Whisper, English Remedy, or Monks Gone Wild.
Blue Boheme is another restaurant, but with a killer wine list. Grab a group of friends and order a bottle or order one of their bubbly champagne cocktails.
I am a self-proclaimed chocolate nerd. I can usually taste a chocolate bar and guess where the beans originated from, so when I say that this San Diego based chocolatier is good, they are GOOD. Their bars contain just two ingredients: organic cacao beans, and organic cane sugar. All of their bars come in three different percentages, 72, 77, and 85, so you can pick your sweetness level. My two favorite bars are the 85% from Brazil and 85% from the Dominican Republic. I recommend buying the flight of their four single origin bars and having a tasting party. Their chocolate is so pure that you will be able to taste the differences between each one. You can pick up one of their bars from any of the major farmer’s markets. I have also recently seen them in Jimbo’s Naturally, a local SD natural grocery chain.
I worked close to this Whole Foods location and frequented their hot bar for lunch. They are the only Whole Foods I have been to that serves Indian food in the hot bar, and I cannot get enough! Like most Whole Foods locations, they have a great produce and wine section. This spot also has a restaurant called 7th Avenue Pub that serves some great eats.
The Little Italy Mercado is the best farmer’s market in the area. There are hundreds of vendors including organic produce, gourmet foods, and food trucks. Some of my favorite stops include:
This company is just wacky enough to be cool. They serve coffee, kefir, and kombucha laced with superfoods like mangosteen, sacha inchi, burdock root, dandelion root and more. Anytime I can I pick up a cup of their Mexican Style coffee and their Sweet Mint kefir.
Edible Alchemy makes specialty ferments like sourkrout, kimchi, coconut yogurt, and kombucha. They also sell medicinal mushroom tinctures and other products that my fellow health food nerds would geek out about. Majestic Garlic
This company makes the best hummus, and as the six-time winner of the America’s Best Food Award, they have the credentials to prove it! I have yet to find another hummus that comes even close. And, if they couldn’t get any better, their hummus is better for you since the garbanzo beans are sprouted before they get blended, easing digestive load.