Catania Italian food in La Jolla
Photograph: Courtesy Catania

The 10 best restaurants in La Jolla

Your guide to finding tasty tacos, fresh seafood, oceanfront dining, and more at La Jolla's best restaurants

Contributor: Stephanie Breijo
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La Jolla sits atop one of San Diego’s most scenic coastlines—a beacon of beauty, cuisine, and culture. Given its proximity to the ocean alone, you know you’ll find stellar seafood here. But dig a bit deeper and you’ll find some of the area’s best tacos, not to mention world-class Italian food and gorgeous spots to dine al fresco. Take a break from the boutique shopping scene and trendy art galleries, come up for air from your snorkeling excursion in the sea caves, and sit down at the best La Jolla restaurants.

Known as "the jewel" of San Diego, La Jolla is an upscale beach city about 13 miles north of downtown San Diego. The La Jolla Cove area is largely considered the main business district, attracting tourists year-round with its staggering sea cliffs and sweeping ocean views. Many of the best restaurants are located within hotels, but are open to the public for dining. Reservations are recommended, especially during weekends in the summertime when the cove swells with visitors.

Plan to park the car: La Jolla Cove is best explored on foot as you browse the area's shops, galleries, hotels, and scenic walkways. When visiting La Jolla Shores (about two miles away) for a beach day, kayak, or snorkel excursion, spend time exploring the main drag along Avenida de la Playa, which has another slew of dining options.

In other words: come hungry. Get your fill by following our guide to the best restaurants in La Jolla.

RECOMMENDED: the best The best restaurants in San Diego

Best La Jolla restaurants

There's a reason why foodies are flying in from across the country to have dinner at Ambrogio by Acquerello: Michelin Star Chef Silvio Salmoiraghi, who left his home in Italy to helm this new fine dining restaurant in La Jolla. The seven-course tasting menu delivers innovative New Italian cuisine with influences from France, Korea, Japan and California. Vegetarians shouldn't shy away from Ambrogio since Chef Salmoiraghi earned his first Michelin Star for vegetarian cuisine. Diners can choose the menu with meat and seafood, or go the vegetarian route, with optional add-ons like black truffle, caviar and wine pairings. With a charming ambiance that includes outdoor and patio seating, this is a perfect date night spot. Plan to make a reservation in advance and come hungry! This is a meal that's sure to keep you talking.

  • Things to do
  • Bella Capri

Not to overwhelm you, but not only is George's at the Cove one of La Jolla's most prestigious restaurants, it happens to boast three distinct venues. The ground-floor California Modern is an oceanfront restaurant serving inspired takes on coastal cuisine—we're talking herb-crusted local yellowtail, grilled octopus, and lobster ravioli. Just above it, you'll find a sleek bar on the second level offering upscale bar bites and limited entrées, plus seasonal cocktails over hand-cut ice. Above it all, on the rooftop deck, Ocean Terrace features one of the best views in La Jolla along with a modern-American menu to boot. Decisions, decisions!

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  • Draper Villas

For a white tablecloth affair that’s anything but stuffy, Jason Knibb’s modern-American destination keeps diners guessing with a menu inspired by San Diego’s diverse cultures, local produce, and the chef’s hometown of Montego Bay, Jamaica. But there’s much more than the bold and beautifully arranged entreés: Nine-Ten is located inside La Jolla's oldest original hotel, the Grande Colonial, right in the heart of La Jolla Cove. Cap off your meal with a stroll around the corner and you’ll find yourself at the ocean where you can wave to barking seals at the Children’s Pool.

  • Mexican
  • Bella Capri
  • price 2 of 4
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Sure, La Jolla’s beachside location lends itself to upscale dining, cliffside restaurants, and seafood-centric menus. But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope for great tacos, too. At Puesto, the Adler brothers and their cousin serve up hand-pressed blue corn tortillas stuffed with crispy melted cheese, garlic-braised seasonal veggies, chicken al pastor, cactus, Baja fish, filet mignon, and more. It’s one of the area’s most colorful settings—decorated with neon murals and Mexican tiles—and sports a handful of vibrant and fun margaritas to match.

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  • La Jolla

Forget oceanfront—this restaurant provides a dining room built directly over the sea. Here, waves crash against the windows for one of the city’s most dynamic and dramatic settings. Though the Marine Room opened in 1941, the food is nevertheless current with a rotating menu of surf and turf spiced up with togarashi aioli, bone marrow butter, and other creative touches. Check out their new oceanfront dining room called Lounge at The Marine Room for creative (and beautiful!) small plates like dry-aged bluefin tuna carpaccio, surf & turf with scallops and pork belly, and A5 Japanese Wagyu nigiri. No matter where you sit, be sure to order one of their chef-driven cocktails like the Stay Gold with bourbon, egg white, agave, lemon and bitters. For the full Marine Room experience though, attend one of their High Tide Dinners held during summertime to get the best views during your meal.

  • Seafood
  • Torrey Pines

With all the elegance of a fine-dining concept next to a world-renowned golf course—and all the rustic charm of a California craftsman—The Lodge at Torrey Pines’ signature restaurant is one of La Jolla’s classiest establishments in one of its coziest settings. It’s hard to tell where to cast your attention: the French-leaning cuisine (with dishes like caramelized sea scallops and duck breast with confit leg) or the dining room's exposed wood beams and stained-glass accents. Take it all in from a patio table overlooking the 18th hole and let Executive Chef Jeff Jackson handle the rest.

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  • Italian
  • Bella Capri

This Italian charmer is perched atop La Plaza center and not surprisingly has great rooftop seating and a view of the ocean. Situated over one of La Jolla’s busiest thoroughfares, it’s an ideal place to people watch, catch the sunset, or simply enjoy some of the city’s best pastas and wood-fired pizzas. The focus here is Italian coastal, which means standout dishes like ahi tuna crudo, Sicilian pistachio pizza with burrata, shrimp risotto, whole roasted branzino, and more. Still hungry? Top it all off with classic Italian desserts like butterscotch budino.

Gorgeous waterfront views from La Valencia Hotel, known as the "Pink Lady," aren't the only reason to visit the storied La Jolla landmark. Mediterranean Room restaurant serves up California coastal cuisine with a Mediterranean influence (think shawarma-spiced octopus, aleppo-spiced chicken breast, and curried cauliflower). Sipping a pink lady cocktail is a must here, and during weekend brunch the chorizo benedict is another must-try. The all-day restaurant even has a special dog menu for furry companions to chow down, too.

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Feel the aloha vibes at Duke's, a casual Hawaiian-themed restaurant. Known for its mai tai cocktails, crispy coconut shrimp, and hula pie, the restaurant also serves up specialties like macadamia nut and herb-crusted fish, seafood hot pot, and fish tacos. Arrive early for patio seating to watch the sunset over the Pacific while listening to relaxing ukulele-filled tunes. 

  • Seafood
  • Draper Villas
  • price 2 of 4

This casual, well-rounded and locally-sourced seafood market is so much more than a fish counter. Look to the chalkboard menu for daily sandwich specials, and browse the display case for sashimi platters, ceviches, salads, and more. You’ll also find house-made fish soups, tacos, and char-grilled entrées—you really can't go wrong. Grab it to-go and have a picnic overlooking the ocean, eat at one of the market's high-top tables, or out on its cozy patio.

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