Queer Girl City Guide: San Diego, California

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I was born and raised in San Diego. I’ve played tour guide to plenty of visitors and the more I learn about San Diego, the more I love it. The majority of the city is gay friendly, but like any city, the best part is the gayborhood. About three miles north of downtown sits San Diego’s own gayborhood, Hillcrest. Hillcrest is home to some of the best restaurants, bars and thrift stores in the city. The neighborhoods surrounding Hillcrest are also vibrant little gems as well. It’s where my heart is happiest.

The Gossip Grill (1440 University Avenue) Like many cities, the LGBT scene is male dominated. Gossip Grill is the one bar/restaurant where the ladies always outnumber the dudes. They have a full menu and dining area and an amazing happy hour. Every day from 2-7pm and from 2- Close on Wednesday when you buy one drink, you get a token for the next drink FREE. The best part is you don’t have to use it the same night. There is no expiration date. It goes without saying that Wednesdays at Gossip are very popular with the female loving set. Seriously, it gets packed. Arrive early to grab a table or stake out your territory. Every other day Gossip Grill has theme nights and drink specials. Theme nights change often, so be sure to check the website for the latest updates in the Events section.

Manic Monday at Brass Rail (3796 Fifth Avenue) Just another Manic Monday? Not with $1-$2 wells and the best 80’s dance music at Brass Rail! Brass Rail is the oldest gay club in San Diego and Manic Monday is by far the best night to go. Mondays are not exclusively a ladies night, but there is never a shortage of women. I love this place. Cover is $5.

Repent at Rich’s (1051 University Avenue) Repent is lesbian night at Rich’s. Every Thursday you can come pelvic thrust to your gay little heart’s content. Music is the usual top 40 and hip hop. Cover is in the $5-10 range, depending on the event.

Juicy at Bourbon Street  (4612 Park Boulevard) My Sunday fundays end at Juicy at Bourbon Street. After a full day of imbibing, all I want to do is shake my ass until early Monday morning. And the best part: NO COVER! Woot! Save that money for your Monday morning hangover latte.

A few words about San Diego and Beer:

Lesbians (and San Diego as a whole, really) love their microbrews. While I usually stick to lambic in these establishments, I do enjoy the bars and pubs that specialize in microbrews and imported beers. The bar food is particularly awesome and there are vegan options at all of them! I recommend you pop into Small Bar (4628 Park Boulevard), Hamilton’s Tavern (1531 30th Street) or Toronado (4026 30th Street) for a brew.

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Brunch

Let me start by saying: I love day drinking. Bottomless mimosas are a huge draw on weekends and Sunday funday is kind of a big deal in San Diego. My lovely girlfriend loves breakfast; I hate it. So weekend brunch solves a lot of our adorable lovers quarrels.

R Gang Eatery (3683 Fifth Avenue) If you like bottomless mimosas with Tang and tater tots that taste like they dropped from the heavens, come to R Gang.

Baja Betty’s (1421 University Avenue) What’s that? You don’t just like bottomless mimosas? You desire and all-you-can-eat buffet as well? Baja Betty’s is your answer to that, serving Mexican food and some traditional breakfasty things. The best thing at Baja Betty’s are the margaritas. You heard it here first, best margaritas in town. They have big ones, small ones, sweet ones and sour ones. Give the pomegranate margarita a go; you’ll be glad you did.

Snooze Eatery (3940 Fifth Avenue) I know Snooze isn’t a uniquely San Diego restaurant; I believe they originated in Colorado. But everything I have tasted here is yummy. The only downside is that, since it recently opened, the lines are ridiculous. We’re talking 2 hour waits. So if you have the time to kill and have a lot of patience, go to Snooze.

Deli Llama (3702 Fifth Avenue) This place is cute, has fresh ingredients, and is my favorite deli in San Diego.

Sushi Deli 1 (228 W. Washington Street) Remember Goldilocks and the Three Bears? Well, I am Goldilocks and the three Sushi Delis are the three bears. Sushi Deli #2 is too small. Sushi Deli #3 is too big. But Sushi Deli #1 is just right. It’s also close to the gayborhood, and therefore more convenient for bar hopping afterwards. They have delicious food and very affordable prices and dollar beers are a delightful plus.

Hillcrest Brewing Company (1458 University Avenue) Remember how I told you San Diegans loves their microbrews? Well, it’s no surprise that the first gay brewery opened right here in San Diego earlier this year. I have had a sampling of some of their liquid offerings and I’m here to tell you that they are tasty and potent. But even I have to admit, I don’t come here for the booze; I come here for the food. And by food, I mean pizza.

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Caffeine and Desserts

Lestatís Coffee Shop (3343 Adams Ave. & 4496 Park Blvd.)  I love this café. The coffee and tea are yummy, there’s plenty of seating indoors and some seating outside and an eclectic crowd gathers at either location. It’s great for people watching or awkwardly staring at people you find attractive.

Filter Coffee House (1295 University Ave.) The brownies here are delicious. I am pretty sure there is ground up unicorn bone and liquid rainbows in the batter. They’re THAT good. Actually, everything (coffee, paninis, teas, hot chocolate, etc) is all really tasty. And it’s open late in case you have studies and whatnot.

Extraordinary Desserts (2929 Fifth Ave.) Got a date in San Diego? Bring her here to this delicious little cottage of wonder in Hillcrest. There are amazing desserts on intimate candle lit tables. Very romantic.

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Universities

There are three major universities in San Diego: San Diego State University, University of San Diego, and University of California San Diego. In addition to these there are nine community colleges.

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Sports

San Diego has a couple of Roller Derby teams: San Diego Derby Dolls and San Diego Roller Derby. There is also an LGBT softball league, America’s Finest City Soft Ball League. Professionally there is an NFL team, the Chargers, and MLB team, the Padres. San Diego Pride even has an event with the San Diego Padres, Out at the Park, which gives the LGBT community a chance to show support for the local baseball team.

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Neighborhoods

You’ll usually find me in Hillcrest, University Heights or Normal Heights. North Park just underwent some major gentrification. Pro: much safer at night. Con: lost a lot of my favorite neighborhood bars and gained a lot more college douche bags. I usually steer clear. Little Italy is where you will find a load of Italian restaurants. (Surprise!!) There are also a lot of galleries, an amazing art store and adorable cafes. It’s a great place to take a date. Gaslamp District is downtown,and I tend to avoid it. It’s very touristy which translates to overpriced drinks and food, ridiculous cover charges at bars and nightclubs with dress codes.

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 The Center and LGBT Support

The Center (3909 Centre Street) I have to admit, I was not aware of half of the services that The Center provides for the San Diego LGBT community. But now that I know I am impressed: there are all sorts of group meet ups that occur at The Center, from Coming Out/Questioning Support Groups, to transgender counseling to substance abuse counseling. In addition it is a great resource or LGBT friendly health services, provides HIV testing and can recommend fertility clinics. The center is also home to the Toni Atkins Lesbian Health Fund which assists low income and uninsured lesbian, bisexual and transgender women in accessing health care.

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Pride!

The first San Diego Pride was in 1974. It included a pot luck (I wish this still existed because yum!) and an informal parade. Today, San Diego Pride is much larger; festivities take place over three days. SD Pride was the stage for awesome historical moments in more recent years. Last year, hundreds of military service members marched for the first time in the parade after the repeal of DADT and earlier this year the Department of Defense gave their approval for branches to march in uniform.

Pride festivities kick off with the Stonewall Rally — new this year — the Hillcrest Block Party. The Parade pops off on Normal Street and travels down University Avenue and down Sixth Avenue ending at Balboa Park, the location of the Pride Festival. The festival runs for two fabulous days with a variety of music, booths and of course, beer.

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LGBT Books and Reading

UCSD Women’s Center  (9500 Gilman Dr. #0096) Has an amazing feminist library and has a feminist book club that meets once a week. If you prefer to purchase, make sure you check out the Controversial Bookstore (3063 University Ave.) and Bluestocking Books (3817 Fifth Ave.). For some sexy time reads try The Rubber Rose (917 E Street). I friggin’ love this store. It calls itself a “sexuality boutique.” but it’s not your usual sex shop. It has toys, yes, but it’s inclusive of all orientations. So, you won’t feel like a creep when you go in to purchase goodies with your partner or have some creepy dude in the corner staring at you. And it’s not just toys, it also has some good reads, hence my filing it under the books and reading section. You’ll find a variety of topics including erotic reads and stuff specifically for bisexuals, threesomes, lesbians, etc.

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Performing Arts

Wanna get your artsy on? Try catching a play at Diversionary Theater (4545 Park Blvd.). It gets +10 points for being San Diego’s premier LGBT theater. It’s dedicated to providing the community with plays that portray LGBT characters as multidimensional. For film, the Birch North Park Theater (2891 University Ave.) is the place to go. It’s home to FilmOut, San Diego’s LGBT Film Festival.

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Salons

Hair Drezzers on Fire (3463 Adams Ave.) and  Mary Jane Salon (3919 4th Ave.) will get your hairs happy

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Tattoos and Bod Mods

Try Enigma Piercing  (3041 Adams Ave.), Vital Lines (2183 Sunset Cliffs Blvd.), and  Full Circle Tattoo (2312 30th St.).

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Other Good Times

Just when you think your liver has fully recovered from Pride, your sun burn has healed, and you have shooed off the last of your Pride admirers, it’s time for City Fest! City Fest is the gayborhood block party, also known as Pride Light. And it ends up being exactly that: a baby Pride. Because one is just not enough for SD LGBT crowd.

Comic Con International It’s every year. It’s internationally known. And if you’re a huge geek, you’re gonna feel right at home. Even if you’re not a geek, this increasingly mainstream convention will have something to interest you whether it’s Star Wars, cosplay, horror film trailers or just ogling booth girls.

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Places to Avoid

I find San Diego to be a safe place. Please use some common sense. The buddy system doesn’t hurt (Unless it is your ex. Then that might be painful.) Stay out of dark, spooky alleys. Most of the uptown neighborhoods (North Park, South Park, Hillcrest, Bankers Hill, Normal Heights) are gay friendly. I would stay away from City Heights as it can be a little dodgey in places. The beach areas (La Jolla, Ocean Beach, Coronado) are picturesque and safe as well.

San Diego is full of friendly people; it must be all the sun and tacos. The LGBT community gets along pretty well for the most part. I have a diverse group of friends and I have never encountered any discrimination or bad vibes from anyone within the LGBT community. San Diego is a great place to visit an amazing place to live.

Stay classy, Autostraddlers.

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49 Comments

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      YES! Seconding the Snooze thing (even if their owner kind of always makes himself look like an asshole by opposing things like paid sick days in Denver and supporting things like criminalizing homelessness. sigh.) Those sweet potato pancakes, though, are epic.

      And you’re welcome, also, for D Bar, the other Denver-originated restaurant that now sits next door to the San Diego Snooze in Hillcrest. Y’all can head over there and grab a drink at the bar or some sweet things to go while you’re waiting to get into Snooze. Or just stay there and eat dessert for brunch, which is always an excellent idea.

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            so i guess i should probs disclose that i work at d bar (in denver). but i promise they don’t pay me to tell you all how awesome they are. they pay me, instead, to make coffee and milkshakes and try all the new desserts before we put them on the menu. i talk them up for free, ’cause they’re just that good.

            (the savory food is actually wicked good, too – and san diego has our original and really amazing savory chefs, so you really can’t go wrong with the savory menu. just make sure you save room for dessert, because you really don’t want to miss out on them. really.)

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            they don’t do brunch (in denver, at least. they may in san diego?) and don’t open until 5pm on sundays, so that’s a no, unfortunately. unless you continue to brunch/drink mimosas until 5pm, which is a perfectly reasonable way to spend your sunday, and you could then retire to d bar for some post-brunch desserts.

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      I actually had a terrible experience at guru. I can’t remember the artist’s name, but he was a total douche. He also effed up my tattoo. I have to pay to get it fixed elsewhere. I want to say the guy’s name was Justin.

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    Yes! I’ve been waiting to see my hometown repped on here. I’d add that brunch at Hash House a Go-Go is RIDICULOUS. It’s crazy huge and crazy delicious and I have never gone and not spotted several queers among the staff/patrons.

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      I was totally just thinking of that too! Last time I went to Hash House a- Go Go, saw what looked like the L Word characters in line ahead of me… and the food was amazing. My friends and I shared some fried chicken, biscuit, potatoes, egg thing (we were all totally full) and it was good enough to appease my well-trained Southern tastebuds

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    I’m from SD, and if you want the best beaches, you gotta go to north county SD. I grew up in a sleepy beach town (not so sleepy anymore). You can find GREAT breakfast places, amazing beaches (a lot less crowded than OB, PB, Mission beach), and of course, the surf is epic. North county would include: La Jolla , Del Mar, Solana Beach, Cardiff, Encinitas, Leucadia, Carlsbad, and Oceanside. My favorites are Solana Beach, Encinitas, and Leucadia (technically it’s part of encinitas).

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    I’ve lived in SD for 8 years. This was a very comprehensive guide. I would recommend going to #1 Fifth Avenue on 5th and University in Hillcrest. It’s a gay dive bar, unpretentious and casual. It’s mostly frequented by older gay men but there’s a variety of people. If you go, please tell Ed the bartender I sent you so he can owe me a free drink.

    Also, check out SRO in Banker’s Hill. It is the queerest spot in SD. Frequented by a ton of transwomen, drag queens and genderqueer folks. It has really interesting decor, a great jukebox and laid back.

    San Diego is a cool town for queer peeps. I thought I’d move back to the Bay Area after moving to SD but 8 years later I’m still here. You can’t beat the weather, it’s beautiful and people are cool.

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    I’ve been waiting for an SD city guide for quite some time. I moved to San Diego two months ago for grad school. Really love Gossip Grill (Spinach pear salad!) and Filter (vegan cooking and an americano!) I’m waiting until the semester ends to indulge fully and completely in an all you can drink mimosa situation.

    Also, it’s so hot here. All the time.

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      Well, I have good news. It is only miserable for about two months out of the year. You just happened to move during that time. Usually its really mild. It will get better. I promise. :)

      Warning: San Diegans cannot drive in rain.

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    This is literally the most perfectly timed article EVER!! I’m leaving to go to San Diego next Thursday and just got my heart broken two weeks ago of my girlfriend of a year and a half. My cousin (who I’m going to visit out there) has work all day Saturday and I need to fill up my whole day and hopefully meet new people (maybe even some Autostraddlers!)!

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        I’m Nicole from the comment above…. It’s not letting me log in :(

        Anywho, just wanted to say that if by next Saturday you mean Saturday the 13th, you should totally go to North County Pride. I’m always down for meeting new folks!

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    Steph Burnside has been tattooing in San Diego for over 10 years and opened Vivid Tattoo in 2010. Support a talented [and queer] artist. She inked lettering on my arm so tight and so fresh, people (especially other tattoo artists) ask me all the time who did it. She is on-point. Go see her. Tell her Mary B. sent ya. I cant say enough about her. University Heights. On Park Blvd. A few doors down from Bourbon Street.

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    I lived out in San Diego for a year and didn’t go to Extraordinary Desserts until I visited the following year… I nearly disowned my friends for keeping such joy from me.

    Sushi Deli is also one of the greatest things to happen to my stomach, I’m planning a return to SD trip around that place alone.

    Also! Cafe on Park HAS to be mentioned. I had the best veggie burger *of my life* there, I’ve never found one as good since. It was a while ago though… Hopefully it’s still all the same!

    http://www.cafeonpark.com/

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    We’re not. Please feel free to make one and invite folks though! This is a very collaborative brunch. Just keep me posted so I can give the folks at Bourbon Street a semi-accurate head count. Best to reach me at krisaerickson [at] gamil [dot] com.

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    this is exactly what I needed, I clearly dont go out enough and I’ve been in San Diego for 10 yrs now lol! Now if only I can find a few people to go out with haha.

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    C’mon, don’t just discount North Park because the asshole quotient has been seriously upped by places like True North or U31. Fabulous queer karaoke at Redwing? Toronado? Bar Pink? Sea Rocket? The lovely lesbian owned South Bark Dog Wash and all of the cute girls and bois who work there? Yeah, I know it’s just over the border in South Park, as are the Whistle Stop, the Station, Hamilton’s, and Alchemy, but since they are a super fast and easy walk/bike from my North Park house I am going to count them. Having just returned from Berlin to my once-lame hometown I’ve been pleasantly surprised by San Diego in general and my new little corner of it here in North Park in particular. I won’t pretend to love it as much as Friedrichshain, but it’s pretty good.

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      Of course there are more places in SD than what was listed above. I could have listed tons more spots that I frequent , but sadly there is just not enough room for all of the establishments that I frequent. I didn’t even touch on music venues (Casbah, Ruby Room, Tower Bar).

      I approached this with my gay friends experiences in mind in addition to my own. And I know we have had some problems with assholes in North Park, which is why I avoid it. There’s no doubt the neighborhood has changed. 5-10 years (well, that makes me feel old). I wouldn’t dismiss any neighborhood in SD. Like I said, most uptown neighborhoods are gay friendly. Also Urban Solace. Yum.

      Berlin is one of my top three favorite cities in the world. It is an incredibly unique city. But San Diego is also pretty amazing in its own way.

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    “I would stay away from City Heights as it can be a little dodgey in places. ”

    Ummm well if you come with that “i’m better than thou” attitude, you reap what you sew. *rolls eyes*

    if you want some of the best pho in town, best carne asada fries, and love a little soul and culture in yo life (because LGBT communities can be very WHITEWASHED) enter if you like. Of course, show some respect and dont come in with your shallow hipster attitude…that won’t fly well with the family owned businesses of the area.

    other than that…welcome to SD, ALL of it!

    #recognizesouthofthe8 (yea I just hastag and IDGAF) ;]

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      Ha ha. Woah there, negative Nancy.

      I approached this article as if I were writing a guide for a close LGBT friend visiting SD for the first time. I had to omit a lot of things to keep the focus on queer girls. So, due to personal experiences (and those of family and friends), no I cannot say I would recommend the neighborhood as a highlight of San Diego. And, no, it is not a race issue. Which, BTW, I find that accusation incredibly humorous since I am Mexican (who has lived south of the 8 my entire life). That being said, if you think carne asada fries are an accurate representation of Mexican culture, you need to be informed that they are not actually served in any *Mexican* restaurant.

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    I love City Heights. It’s not a destination spot for patios and tourists, but the queers are moving in, which has always been a good sign, and it’s easily the most culturally diverse area of San Diego. If you’re looking for farm to table eats and a ton of craft beers, visit Nate’s Garden Grill at Home and Euclid, right beside City Farmer’s Nursery. It’s my go to in City Heights.

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