Life in San Diego: La Mesa

Aug 20, 2019 - Junvi Ola

Ask any local to recommend some of San Diego’s happening neighborhoods, and they’ll likely answer Hillcrest, North Park, Encinitas, or La Jolla. Little do many locals know, cosmopolitan cool has been sprouting wildly in the once-sleepy town of La Mesa, located in San Diego’s East County. Impress even long-time San Diegans with all you know of this trendy ‘hood:

Climb new heights.

Sure, La Mesa has gyms, bootcamps, pilates, and yoga. But, ask any local for the best kick-butt climb in the city and they’ll point to Cowles Mountain in the La Mesa area. At 1,592-feet high, Cowles Mountain is the highest point in the entire city of San Diego. It takes an average of 1.5 hours to climb the switchbacks and reach the top, where you’re awarded with stunning views in all directions. Just as intense, but not as well-known, are the La Mesa Secret Stairs. Broken into seven sections totaling 489 steps, the stairs weave thru the neighborhood above downtown La Mesa, while giving you some unexpected gorgeous views.

Hiking Cowles Mountain in La Mesa

That outdoor patio lifestyle.

Outdoor dining is what San Diego does best. And, La Mesa is no exception with options ranging from a chic terrace to a dog-friendly patio, all serving great eats. Order avocado toast or breakfast burritos at Sheldon’s Service Station, an always-packed outdoor café built on the site of a former gas station. Hand’s down, Farmer’s Table is the best place to brunch, with its repurposed farmhouse design, open-air patio and its hunger-inducing, farm-to-table menu. Distract the kids with a litany of pizza slices, desserts, and a large outdoor and dining area at Surf Rider Pizza, Co.  Or, head to the chic Bo Beau Kitchen + Garden where they serve Cal-French bistro fare in a lush outdoor garden/patio.

People drink here.

Downtown, North Park and Hillcrest aren’t the only bar hot spots in town. La Mesa pours their own share of awesome. Curbside Eatery and Drinkery attracts people like magnets with their patio bar seating that wraps around the street corner and sophisticated gastropub menu. As close to a cozy Scottish bar that you’ll ever find in San Diego, Fourpenny House dishes up elevated gastropub fare, with their own beer and cider. Adults deserve their own playground, am I right? At Coin Haus, you can try your hand in 30+ retro arcade game classics and pinball machines, while tasting craft beers, keg wines, kombucha and cider from 50 self-serve taps.

East County can be hip, too.

Some places are just too good to stay in one place. That’s why some San Diego loved-by-local eateries have made La Mesa their East County address.  Line up for inventive tacos filled with wild mushrooms, adobo-rubbed mahi mahi, pork tenderloin, and Serrano tempura-battered shrimp at the popular City Tacos (also located in North Park, Encinitas, and Imperial Beach). What started as a beach-lover’s casual eatery near the surf shores of Encinitas now feeds the hungry locals in La Mesa at Swami’s Café.

City Tacos in La Mesa

Throw out everything you might think of small-town suburbia. La Mesa is a hip haven that is carving it’s own little corner of cool. Explore for yourself! They’re located just off Interstate 8 Highway heading east, about 20 minutes away from downtown San Diego.


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