A blog about special neighbourhoods, local atmosphere and stellar coffee.

San Diego - hipster enclave North Park

North Park is a vibrant, creative enclave slightly off the beaten track. A beloved local hangout, the neighbourhood boasts an eclectic array of restaurants, phenomenal coffee, craft beer and indie shop.

North Park is a vibrant inner city neighbourhood that in recent years has become a hip, creative enclave slightly off the beaten track. It is a famous local hangout for university students, hipsters, young professionals and those young-at-heart, seducing them with an eclectic array of restaurants, phenomenal coffee, craft breweries as well as independent shops. Equally, its never-ending wide residential roads boast a special low-key appeal. Apart from the dominating low craftsman style bungalows the roads have an arid desert feel with Spanish Revival houses and gardens dotted with cacti and other succulent plants. It may not have the opulent houses of Coronado or the beaches of the Pacific, but somehow this neighbourhood won us over.

Coffee shops

North Park is teeming with a great selection of independent coffee shops often serving house roasted single origins and blends, pour-overs, and cold brews. Due to the close proximity of the university campus, these cafes were buzzing with people, books and laptops. Although vibrant, they also offered a quiet little sanctuary in this lively neighbourhood and were perfect places to energise.

Coffee & Tea Collective

Coffee & Tea Collective (2911 El Cajon Blvd) is a minimalist cafe and a working roastery that definitely feels like the micro coffee enclave of the neighbourhood. The decoration is kept simple, dominated by light hues and the seating is fairly sparse. The space is suffused with natural light from the big front windows, from which to observe life happening on the Boulevard, one of the major thoroughfares of North Park. Coffee & Tea Collective is known for their small-batch coffee, and they intend to bring the coffee community together by their tasting sessions. The baristas were perfectionists, asked for the bean preferences and always took their time to make the coffee. Our aromatic, rich coffee was enjoyed with fervour. The pastry selection was sparse as everything revolves around good coffee here. I loved this small cafe with a bigger soul; it was a calm place to start the day before hitting the busier corners of the neighbourhood.

Holsem Coffee

Holsem Coffee (2912 University Ave) is already a pillar of the San Diego coffee scene. It felt like an extension of a nearby uni campus with all the laptop-tapping customers, outlets and books and was an ideal spot to relax a bit. They did offer seriously good coffee using their own house roasted, ethically sourced fair trade beans. My latte was well balanced with the right amount of nutty espresso and creamy milk, and C’s flat white had that robust, intense taste he always expects. Although coffee is the protagonist here, Holsem offers some fresh pastries as well as a small selection of made-to-order sandwiches and healthy bowls. The space is eye-pleasing with beautiful marble worktops, herringbone tiled walls, concrete floors and grey hues. The studious co-patrons inspired us to grab our books, unwind a bit and enjoy the atmosphere.

Communal Coffee

A sweet pastel-coloured oasis of the neighbourhood is Communal Coffee (2335 University Ave) that is also a working florist (Native Poppy). The cafe creates an impression you are enveloped in foliage when in fact you are surrounded by traffic lights and food chains. I loved the earthy floral theme evident throughout the space, replete with plants and natural materials like wood and wicker. There is a warm communal feel with couples stopping for a cup while walking their dogs or mamas gathering with their babies. A big communal table was filled with youngsters and their school books. Communal Coffee serves small, healthy plates with a big emphasis on presentation. Their beans are provided by Sightglass Coffee, an excellent independent roaster we knew from our trip to their hometown San Francisco. I never really have sweetened drinks but perhaps inspired by the sweet decor I chose a vanilla bean latte. It was creamy and sweet yet had that kick to get a caffeine boost. Whilst we were sipping coffee flower bouquets were made and the mixture of fresh coffee and freshly cut flowers filled the air. They have tables in the backyard too where you can mingle amidst plants or even buy flower pots if your green finger gets inspired by Communal Coffee’s floral interior.


North Park is a foodies’ wonderland, buzzing with unique eateries. Various different gastronomic spheres are represented there and enjoyed with equal enthusiasm. Many establishments extend their square foot to the street, and the sun-drenched terraces were pivoted places, offering good spots to observe the local vibes and pick up on the idiosyncrasies of the neighbourhood. The prime vantage points are Waypoint Public (3974 30th St) and Encontro (3001 University Ave), the latter also being a brilliant place for brunch. Like in any casual, hip neighbourhood, there are a handful of healthy food options in North Park. I was happy to find a Hawaiian poke restaurant Poki One N Half (3030 University Ave). Their fish concoction with mouth-watering toppings such as edamame, fresh avocado, seaweed and crab meat was really tasty and also excellent value for money. You don’t go to Poki One N Half for the decoration though, it is rather bland and fast-food-like, but you can also sit outside and enjoy the sun as we did.

North Park is a good neighbourhood to grab some Mexican food as there are various Mexican restaurants. These range from shabby taquerias and colourful eateries to upmarket terrace bars. Before the local breweries we went to get some grub at Lucha Libre Taco Shop (3016 University Ave). The decoration is inspired by lucha libre (Mexican free wrestling), filled with bright colours and blink items. I found it quite tacky and shabby but the food did not let us down. Our burritos were big, full of flavour and probably the cheapest meal we had in San Diego.


One of the main reasons we ventured to North Park in the first place, apart from their famous coffee scene, was the vast amount of micro-breweries and tasting rooms. The neighbourhood is all about beer and they are proud of it. Although IPA is a big thing in this neck of the woods, these establishments also serve solid stouts, blonds, and barrel-aged beers. Some of them are working breweries where you can observe brewing in action whilst tasting your beer. As they all have their own stable crafts, it is a good idea to order a ‘flight’, that is a selection of their different beers. We were impressed how the staff were passionate about the industry and demonstrated a vast knowledge of their brews. We enjoyed Belching Beaver Brewery (4223 30th St), Mike Hess Brewing (3812 Grim Ave), Bottlecraft (3007 University Ave) and our favourite Modern Times Tasting Room (3000 Upas St, corner of 30th St). The latter’s beer simply was one of the best we have ever tried. The atmosphere is very laid back and the decor calculated yet artsy. This eye for design extends to their arty cans too that can be bought to take home. I would highly recommend not leaving San Diego before enjoying some quality IPAs at Modern Times and perhaps grabbing a few cans with you.


Although it seems that food and beverage establishments dominate, North Park’s streets are lined with a great selection of well curated independent shops. It was my favourite area for browsing in San Diego. We checked some exciting ones, such as Pigment (3801 30th St) an airy, trendy boutique full of home décor, plants, lifestyle oriented goods and accessories; Bottlecraft (3007 University Ave), a tasting room but also a craft beer shop with an impressive collection; Artelexia (3803 Ray Street) a colourful corner shop with even more colourful Mexican handcrafted imports; and Aloha Beach Club (3039 University Ave) specialising in surfer vibes and accessories. As any hip neighbourhood, North Park also has bookshops, vintage, trendy barbers as well as thrift stores.

North Park has most of the ingredients to score as one of our favourite neighbourhoods. We would have happily spent more time there scouting out all the fascinating eateries, microbreweries and residential roads. We always love hoods that feel less touristy, and North Park really offered opportunities to soak into the local atmosphere.