Whether San Diego is a new city to you or not, there is a lot you must know to properly caffeinate yourself for the inevitable late nights, early mornings, coffee-shop dates and those coffee-fueled days in which you just have to sprawl the contents of your tote on a table and get your life together.
San Diego is not only home to a vast selection of coffee shops, but also an incredible coffee culture. You are one “coffee-near-me” search away from an overwhelming scroll of destinations, but with five dollars on the line (the approximate cost of a latte not including alternative milks or adding syrups), you want to make sure you are getting the best experience possible. Just like Spotify playlists (the elite music streaming service), your coffee shop should parallel your mood and meet your needs. Are you getting work done? Then you’ll need tables, outlets and wifi. Are you trying to get to know someone? You’ll need ambiance, people to watch and easy accessibility. Are you feeling existential and need to cry? Loud music and an open space are essential.
(Disclaimer: In order to maintain my own journalistic integrity, I must make it known that I am a barista at Moniker’s second location within The Craft Creamery. However, I promise to remain unbiased and use my knowledge of coffee only to inform and not to influence.)
The following coffee destinations are arranged and analyzed in no particular order. I encourage you to try them all.
The Convenient Shop: OB Beans
If you want to constantly be distracted by seeing people you know, go to OB Beans. The shop, founded by Mark Bell, Ryan Bardelli and Point Loma Nazarene University alumni Ben Nease and Taylor Langstaff, feels like an extension of the PLNU campus. This specialty coffee company participates in direct trade, which means that they cut out the middleman so that farmers are usually paid more and the coffee that roasters are getting is high quality. While you might run into people that look familiar from campus, OB Beans is a great place to sit at a table with your laptop, a friend, or a good book. The environment is just sociable enough to be fun, spacious enough to allow focus and usually plays music that boosts productivity.
The Hermit-Mode Shop: Portal Coffee
I once sat down at Portal Coffee only to discover I forgot my laptop, but still stayed because they had a live DJ mixing house music. If that doesn’t allude to the environment of Portal Coffee, perhaps the fact that you order and pay via iPad, minimizing your interaction with a barista, does. This shop is a great spot to get away from Loma and sit down to work. Its location on Pacific Highway makes it fairly accessible and brings in a decent amount of customers, making it fun for hermit-like workers to take the occasional people-watching break. If you forget your earbuds, no need to worry – the music is always easy to listen to while grinding away at work. The space also maintains a fun aesthetic, with brick walls, clean designs and cute outdoor seating.
The Versatile Shop: Moniker
While Moniker is known for their coffee in San Diego, in recent years they have branched out and are serving much more than a latte. Moniker General, located within Liberty Station, sells home goods. The Bar at Moniker General serves cocktails. Moniker Events offers event planning services. Moniker Commons is a communal workspace. Moniker Coffee Co. serves coffee and food. Their business extensions run across the city, a quality of the company that you can feel when you walk in the door. The craft coffee company partners with OB Beans Coffee roasters to get direct trade beans. They have two locations: the original and larger location at Moniker General in Liberty Station and the second at The Craft Creamery, which Moniker acquired in Feb. 2023. While I did promise to remain unbiased, there is a lot that Moniker does with their coffee that OB Beans does not – even though it’s the same roast. They promote specialty drinks, while the OB Beans menu tends to stick to the classics. Their main location is also spacious and bears an aesthetic one would expect from a southern California company that’s not quite as bare as OB Beans. They do, however, tend to be very busy, so free seating and outlets can be hard to come by. This is why some venture to the nearby Craft Creamery, which also serves ice cream from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. At this location, seating is limited, but there is usually not a crowd gathered. The shop is not an ideal workspace because of the lack of people to watch, the inefficiency of seating and the unalluring design of the space. However, it’s a fun place to sit outside or grab a coffee before a walk to Kellogg Beach. In addition to the OB Beans roasted coffee they serve, Moniker partners with Coffee & Tea Collective to serve single-origin roasts from direct trade partnerships with farmers.
The Shop with Ambiance: Coffee & Tea Collective
Coffee & Tea Collective has two locations: one on J Street in downtown San Diego and another in North Park. The downtown location is not the place to sit and study as their only seating is very limited to the couple of tables that litter their entrance to the hole-in-the-wall service. While this location lacks space, its vicinity to downtown makes it a fun spot to meet someone before moving on to another location. The North Park shop is much more accessible and has more seating. It’s not quite walkable to other North Park destinations, aside from Lang Books, just one storefront away. Even though the space is small, it still allows for in-house brewing and creates a lovely local-favorite feel. It’s a good place to sit and chat one on one, hunker down to study or enjoy a single-origin brew with no to-do lists involved.
The Eclectic Shop: The Template
If “Weird Barbie” from the Barbie movie was a coffee shop, then The Template would be it. I am personally not a fan of their coffee, but you have to at least go once for the experience. The decorations and employees are extremely fitting to the Ocean Beach community. While its eccentricity might be a bit too distracting to do academic work, The Template is a great environment to stimulate creativity. I recommend it as a place to journal and doodle, to chat with a friend, to be the destination of a walk or to stop for a pre-beach beverage.