Staycation Eats in San Diego

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Staycationing? Just visiting San Diego? Either way, here are some tips for enjoying the best of both worlds in San Diego.

One of my complaints about vacations is that the food is not always up to par. If you’ve never visited the destination before, every meal you eat is an experiment. You might find a gem of a restaurant, or you might find a total disaster. This wreaks havoc on your experience as well as on your budget.

This is not the case when you take a staycation. A staycation is a vacation where you stay at home, or thereabouts, but play the tourist in your own town. Not only does this give you a break from the monotony of your daily life, but it also allows you to see your city from a new perspective.

Since you’re a local, it also gives you an advantage when it comes to good eating.

No matter where you live, there are some things you can do to make your staycation a tasty one. Check it:

1. Allow for a slightly bigger food budget.

Since you’re staying close to home and saving some coin, allow a little wiggle room in the food budget for your staycation. By doing so you’re giving yourself permission to eat out a little more, buy a few convenience items, or splurge on that steak dinner instead of eating rice and beans. Buy some fun food to enhance your vacation at home.

There are lots of ways to eat well and spend less on a staycation.

fanny packs with snacks

2. Pack snacks for outings.

When you’re on the road, it’s sometimes difficult to pack snacks. You might be wrangling with an unfamiliar grocery store or even foreign currency. But at home, you have all the advantages of familiarity plus your personal collection of coolers and ice packs is within easy reach.

You’ll save a huge chunk of change packing snacks instead of paying the higher prices of eating out while you play the tourist.

3. Enjoy your favorite haunts.

If you’re vacationing at home, you most likely have some favorite places to eat. So, do it! It’s vacation. Plus, you have the added benefit of knowing that your dining experience will be successful since you already know the venue.

4. Take a risk or two.

That said, don’t be afraid to try a new place or two. Since you’re saving money in other ways and you know you’ll have a chance to return to this new restaurant if you enjoy it, it’s worth your while to take a risk and try a new restaurant.

Don’t forget to review these tips in Saving Money on Spring (or Summer) Break Eating.

Good Cheap Eats in San Diego

We’ve lived in San Diego for almost five years. Our budget hasn’t allowed a ton of fancy dining, especially with eight mouths to feed. But, we’ve found some places that we enjoy that don’t break the budget.

Mexican Food

Obviously with our close proximity to Mexico, we have a good supply of Mexican food restaurants. Some of our favorites include:

Pub Grub

San Diego has made a name for itself when it comes to micro-breweries. If you’re a beer connoisseur, this is the place for you.

  • Karl Strauss – another local brewery with many locations
  • Pizza Port – local brewery that offers a huge assortment of beers from other labels; the rootbeer is awesome for kids and those non-beer drinkers in your midst
  • Fox Sports Grill – their salads are fabulous!

pizza at rosina's


I’ve yet to explore Little Italy, but it’s on our staycation list for this summer. Here are some of our favorite Italian places farther afield:


I’m a sucker for feta cheese — and thankful to have found at least three places to satisfy that craving for gyros.

Burgers and Fries

It’s pretty easy to cook your own at home, but it’s nice when someone else does it — especially on vacation. I’m really wanting to try Hodad’s this summer.

  • The Counter – organic and good for you, lots of combinations
  • Elevation Burger –  grassfed beef and some organic ingredients; the rootbeer is worth the splurge
  • Ty’s Burger House – definitely on the healthier side in terms of ingredients
  • In-N-Out – where else can you get a burger and fries for less than $5?
  • Five Guys Burgers and Fries – steer clear if you’ve got peanut allergies in your party.

Got a favorite Good Cheap Eat in San Diego?

I’d love to hear about it. Share your recs in the comments section.

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. Martha says

    The Mexican chicken soup at Lourdes in Escondido is the best! Anytime anyone in our family is sick, this soup is prescribed.
    So delicious and feels like Abuelita made it just for you!

    • Jessica says

      @Martha, thanks for the tip. We don’t go to Escondido very often, but I’ll remember the name in case we do.

  2. My family will be doing a mini-vacation in SD this summer, so this is super helpful. What a great place to “stay-cation” at because there is so much to do! Our favorites our visiting the zoo (we’re annual pass holders this year), going to a Padres game (and sitting on the huge lawn so our little boys can get their energy out!), and eating good food. We’re not too familiar with good places to eat there so this info is great. Thanks for sharing!

    • Jessica says

      @Kimberly, finding good, affordable places is hard no matter where you go. So, it helps to get tips from other people.

  3. Donna says

    We were in SD a few years ago and LOVED Cafe 222 for breakfast! So good! I also enjoyed Mission Cafe. Their drinks and their wrap sandwiches were divine!

    • Jessica says

      @Donna, I’ve never been to either. Thanks for the tip!

  4. I second Rubio’s!! It was our first stop when we vacationed in SD last year, mostly because it was the closest, but it was delicious too! We enjoyed Georgia’s on the Cove in La Jolla too for a nice dinner out. Everything was local, organic and grass-fed and the price was pleasant to my frugal ears! We plan to go back to both when we visit again.

  5. Brenda says

    Don’t wait for Hodad’s. Best to hit before the summer crowds appear. Split the small order of fries. One large order for your 8? Took my 12 yo grandson on New Years eve. It was $30 for 2 burgers, 1 small fry, 1 beer, 1 lemonade. We ate less than half the fries? Burgers are worth it!

    I miss El Indio. It was always a stop on our trips south.

    Rubio’s Rules!

    We loved taking the southbound Coaster (train) from Carlsbad to Solana Beach. Have pizza & beer. Catch the northbound train back. Great treat when the boys were little.

    • Brenda says

      Oops. Forgot to mention the train was for Pizza Port.

    • Jessica says

      @Brenda, Thanks for the tip on Hodad’s. We do have to navigate differently in summertime.

      So, you went to Solana Beach for Pizza Port? Funny now that there’s a Pizza Port in Carlsbad. They must have figured it out.

  6. Mandy W. says

    Not in San Diego proper, but just north in Oceanside, you will find Beach Break Cafe. Their Banana Crunch French Toast is the best breakfast food ever, and I don’t normally eat much at breakfast. Their Fresco Burger is also divine. My family and I are already counting down the days until it is time for our annual beach vacation, and we can go eat there!

  7. Gabrielle Lynas says

    We live in North San Diego County and love going to Oggi’s down in San Diego or Encinitas with our kids. Decent pub fare/pizzas, good beer and entertainment for the kids. In Carlsbad we enjoy Al’s Cafe for good greasy spoon grub and Pipes in Cardiff for delish breakfast burritos. In Fallbrook we have a nice, new restaurant called Oink & Moo that has fab BBQ – and Estrella’s for Mexican is to die for. Nessy Burgers is also in our little town and although I have never been, it’s on my bucket list for a great burger!

    • Pam says

      We just recently moved from Fallbrook. 🙂 Loved Pedro’s – Fast, quick Mexican food. My favorite was the fish taco. Yum. We miss that place now that we are living on the other coast where there are no tasty Mexican restaurants. Estrella’s was good too. Nice to hear about the new restaurant. We will have to try that when we get a chance to visit.

  8. Jessica, I enjoy your blog! I have used many of your recipes and my family has liked everyone of them! I also ordered the vintage Ball mason jars from Amazon! I love them! Thanks for sharing them with us. : )

  9. Amy Rumberger says

    Recently visited my daughter who is attending UCSD and she took us to an amazing breakfast at “SNOOZE”. A very cute place with AMAZING pancakes. Looks like the Jetsons could live there with it adorable decor. They had the most exotic french toast and pancake combos.! My younger daughter loved the OMG French Toast which was fresh brioche stuffed with mascarpone and topped with vanilla creme, salted caramel, agave soaked strawberries and toasted coconut. The Eggs Benedict came in all varieties imaginable. A tiny bit higher than a normal breakfast spot, but the TASTE was worth it. We had a 20 minute wait for a table on a weekday. We had take out coffee from down the block to ease our wait time. Here’s the link:

  10. jill says

    One of our favorite stops is The Burger Lounge. It’s organic grass fed hamburgers. They always have something different to offer such as this month is the lamb burger, last time it was bison burgers. I like the classic or lounge burgers. A new one is open in del mar. But we’ve been to various ones around San Diego. We also realized a good lunch. After we ate lunch. Whole foods in del mar, same parking lot as the burger lounge has daily specials. The smoked beef bowl over rice looked tasty and was five bucks. They smoke their own meats, the smell is heavenly and the ingredients were even acceptable to me. I avoid any soy, msg, colorings and preservatives among a few other things. Makes eating out for me a difficult thing at times.

    • Jessica says

      Thanks for the tip! Sounds yummy!

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