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Your Guide to San Diego’s South Bay

Where to eat, explore, stay, and shop in Chula Vista, Imperial Beach, and other South County cities
Imperial Beach featuring a view of South Bay San Diego
Photo Credit: Cole Novak

Hey, South Bay. The strip of San Diego County closest to the border offers an oft-overlooked wealth of restaurants, restaurants, activities, lodging, and shopping opportunities. 

Home to around a quarter of the county’s Hispanic population, the area’s neighborhoods and cities celebrate Latin culture, and coastal towns like Imperial Beach provide the SoCal seaside experience with fewer crowds.

Here are some of the top places to eat, drink, shop, stay, and explore in San Diego’s southernmost communities.

Food from
Courtesy of Market on 8th
La Central Mexican Food

Eat & Drink

Market on 8th 

Market on 8th is a popular National City food hall that offers indoor and outdoor seating and a wide variety of food and beverage vendors serving bites like poke, po’boys, and pizza. For even more fun, join in on weekly events such as trivia and live music.

41 East 8th Street, National City

Chula Vista Brewery 

Black- and veteran-owned alehouse Chula Vista Brewery has won numerous awards at beer festivals and competitions. The brewery frequently hosts events, including comedy nights and DJ sets, at its Third Avenue and Eastlake locations.

294 3rd Avenue, Chula Vista


Bonita bistro Romesco melds Mediterranean techniques with Mexican cuisine, creating dishes like fideo tacos with Spanish chorizo. Their multiple menus—offering tapas, bottomless brunch, and family-style dishes, among other options—pair perfectly with recurring musical entertainment and craft cocktails.

4346 Bonita Road, Bonita

Mixed Grounds Coffee 

Vietnamese-owned coffee shop Mixed Grounds serves a side of art with every espresso, acting as a gallery and community gathering space. The café also hosts events, including food truck parties and musical performances. 

41 East 8th Street, National City

SEA180 Coastal Tavern 

Situated on the beach at Pier South Resort, SEA180 Coastal Tavern offers guests gorgeous vistas and a roundup of Latin-inspired dishes. Open for lunch and dinner all week and for breakfast on Fridays and Saturdays, the restaurant crafts grilled octopus, short rib tamales, and other bites.

800 Seacoast Drive, Imperial Beach

Trident Coffee 

If you’re looking for a break from a ride down Bayshore Bikeway, Trident Coffee’s Imperial Beach outpost is the perfect pit stop. The veteran-owned-and-operated spot features eight cold brews on tap and a variety of gluten-free treats.

536 13th Street, Suite 6, Imperial Beach

Thr3e Punk Ales 

Chula Vista brewery Thr3e Punk Ales launched in 2017, offering guests a large selection of core beers, collaborations, and seltzers. The taproom also serves as a recording studio for the brand’s podcast, which considers Mexican culture through a Southern California lens.

259 3rd Ave, Chula Vista

Grind House Chula Vista 

Seeking a morning work space? Head to Grind House Chula Vista for breakfast sandwiches and mood-boosting coffee drinks (hello, vanilla sweet cream cold brew). Once the job is done, stick around for a happy hour michelada.

260 1/2 3rd Avenue, Chula Vista


A National City staple, Niederfrank’s ice cream shop has been scooping sweet stuff for the community since 1948. Whatever your favorite flavor is (options include cappuccino crunch, avocado-pistachio, salted caramel, and jamaica sorbet), be sure to order it in a housemade waffle cone. 

726 A Avenue, National City

Oak & Anchor BBQ

Smoked-meat purveyors Oak & Anchor BBQ got their start in Chula Vista. The disabled veteran– and minority-owned small business is family-operated and can be found at farmer’s markets and pop-ups around the county.

San Diego County

The Tin Fish

Located at the end of the Imperial Beach Pier, The Tin Fish has been slinging seafood for over 20 years. The eatery is beloved for their fish and chips, lobster rolls, and stunning views. If you’re craving comfort food, order their coziest combo: a sourdough grilled cheese and a hot bowl of clam chowder.

910 Seacoast Drive, Imperial Beach

Mexipino Craft

Welcome to your new favorite fusion cuisine: Mexipino Craft. The family-owned Chula Vista restaurant blends Mexican and Philippine culture, offering massive ube pancakes and a namesake breakfast sandwich that loads a conchita with chicken tocino, spam, and chorizo.

1660 Broadway, Suite 14, Chula Vista

Agave Coffee & Cafe

Located in Chula Vista, Agave Coffee & Cafe is a great place to catch up with friends or get some remote work done. They offer coffee favorites and seasonal specials, while their breakfast and lunch menus include morning plates, wraps, and bowls, plus takeaway sandwich boxes for those on the go.

303 H Street, Chula Vista

Courtesy of the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve


Sesame Place San Diego

Chula Vista’s Sesame Place San Diego has rides, water slides, eats, and activities for families with young children. As a Certified Autism Center, the theme park is dedicated to providing accommodations and resources for children with special needs.

2052 Entertainment Circle, Chula Vista

North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre

Opened in 1998, the North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre is the first and largest venue of its kind in the San Diego area. With both seated and lawn options, the Chula Vista spot is a great place to jam out to a variety of musical acts from June to November. Past performers include The Cure, Post Malone, and The Chicks. 

2050 Entertainment Circle, Chula Vista

Imperial Beach Pier

Enjoy a beautiful sunrise or colorful sunset at Imperial Beach Pier. Visitors are welcomed to the landmark by the iconic and Instagram-worthy art piece Surfhenge, while nearby bike paths, picnic tables, and fishing areas allow for all-day fun.

Seacoast Drive & Evergreen Avenue, Imperial Beach

The Living Coast Discovery Center

Founded in 1987, The Living Coast Discovery Center is a nonprofit zoo and aquarium located on the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Open to the public from Wednesday through Sunday, the center hosts animal presentations and guided hikes, as well as exhibits like Turtle Lagoon and Raptor Row.

1000 Gunpowder Point Drive, Chula Vista

South Bay Drive-In

Soon to be San Diego’s last remaining drive-in movie theater, the South Bay Drive-In boasts three screens and is open seven days a week. On Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, the space is also used for outdoor swap meets.

2170 Coronado Avenue, San Diego

Onstage Playhouse

South Bay’s only live theater venue hosts comedy and improv nights and other events in addition to bringing plays and musicals (including annual holiday shows) to the community. While the theater has previously put on big-ticket productions like Tony nominee Xanadu, look here for lesser-known scripts highlighting underrepresented stories.

291 3rd Avenue, Chula Vista

Otay Valley Regional Park

The 200-acre Otay Valley Regional Park offers playing fields, picnic areas, and 8.3 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. To beat the beach crowds and still unwind by the waterside, spend an afternoon near one of the park’s seven ponds.

2369 Beyer Boulevard, San Diego

Tijuana Estuary

Explore Southern California’s largest coastal wetland, the Tijuana Estuary. The national reserve is home to an array of plants and animals across seven different habitats. While exploring the estuary’s hiking and biking trails, keep an eye out for critters like ospreys, skinks, and gray foxes. 

301 Caspian Way, Imperial Beach

Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center

Want to know the real breakfast of champions? Ask the folks here what they eat. The Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center’s 155 acres cater to Olympic and Paralympic athletes from more than 20 sports, who come to the facility to train for their next chance at gold. The center also hosts events and offers tours to the public.

2800 Olympic Parkway, Chula Vista

Otay Ranch Town Center shopping mall located in South Bay, San Diego
Courtesy of Otay Ranch Town Center


Las Americas Premium Outlets

Located on the California-Mexico border, the Las Americas Premium Outlets is San Diego County’s biggest outlet center. Enjoy retail therapy on a budget with more than 100 stores (such as Banana Republic, Adidas, and J. Crew) offering discounted name-brand goodies.

4211 Camino De La Plaza, San Ysidro

Otay Ranch Town Center

Otay Ranch Town Center is an outdoor mall in Chula Vista with more than 100 stores and dining options, including locally owned outposts like Road Runner Sports and Fanboy Gaming. In addition, the shopping center houses a dog park and hosts a farmers market on Tuesdays.

2015 Birch Road, Chula Vista

Wordsmith Bookstore

Wordsmith’s categorization as a bookstore belies the sheer variety of its inventory. Perched in the Market on 8th food hall, the boutique vends culinary goods, plants, and clothing in addition to nonfiction titles and cookbooks.

41 East 8th Street, Suite 101, National City

Rambler Motel and coffee shop located in South Bay, San Diego
Courtesy of The Rambler Motel


The Rambler Motel

Multihued wall murals, a retro arcade, a friendly coffee shop—this laidback lodging in Chula Vista has a host of cute, photo-worthy amenities for budget-friendly prices (rooms start at less than $100 a night). Guests can also enjoy a picturesque pool and complimentary bike use. 

225 Bay Boulevard, Chula Vista

Pier South Resort, Autograph Collection

Whether you’re on a cross-country escape or a cozy staycation, this Marriot property offers an ideal beach getaway. Located within walking distance of the Imperial Beach Pier, the hotel boasts ocean views, relaxing spa treatments, and al fresco dining.

800 Seacoast Drive, Imperial Beach

Sand Castle Inn & Suites

An affordable option for families thanks to suite-style rooms equipped with kitchens and multiple beds, Sand Castle Inn & Suites sits mere feet from the beach. While it’s no-frills, the hotel provides a clean, comfy vantage point from which to explore San Diego County.

785 Seacoast Drive, Imperial Beach

By Jordyn Berg

Jordyn Berg is a freelance writer whose favorite topics include food and travel. A Pacific Northwest native, she delights in exploring the best of San Diego, by searching for hidden gems, experiencing must-try restaurants, and soaking in the city’s amazing views.

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