High City Guides is Weedmaps News' ongoing look at all the weed-offerings cities have to offer to the modern-day traveling cannabis consumer. With the help of a local tour guide, High City Guides provides recommendations on how to spend your time and money while giving you the ins and outs of San Diego's weed scene.
Between the surfing, beaches, craft beer, and near-perfect weather, San Diego is decidedly the most laid-back of California's coastal cities.
It also has a rich cannabis heritage that has made Southern California a destination for traveling tokers for decades. While smokers used to settle for mediocre herb from the border region, legalization has brought prominent cannabis companies like OutCo and Two Roots Brewing Co. to San Diego, making it as easy to get high-quality cannabis as it is to order a pizza.
While weed has always been a big part of the San Diego lifestyle, the city has blossomed into a place where smoking a blunt on the beach isn't just accepted, it's celebrated. In San Diego, there's no shortage of places to buy high-quality bud and secluded, beautiful spots to enjoy it. Oh, and the food is pretty killer, too. Whether you're looking for vegan grub or a burger by the beach, San Diego has all of your post-smoke cravings covered.
Meet Your Tour Guide: Matt Darby
Matt Darby (who goes by Darby) is a San Diego native and social media influencer who knows the local weed culture inside and out. Darby plays tour guide and takes us around the city to explore the best places to rest your head, buy weed, get high, and satisfy your munchies.
“Hi, my name is Darby and I'm a San Diego-based weed connoisseur and social media influencer. I've been researching the different types of pot and where to get the best bud since high school,” Darby said. “When I couldn't find high-quality weed in San Diego, I started growing my own. My brand, Top Shelf Life, is about providing the cannabis industry what it deserves and sharing knowledge along the way.
“I was born and raised in San Diego and while the weed culture hasn't changed much, it has come into its own. In Ocean Beach, the cannabis community is friendly and inclusive. You can cruise up to people smoking in a session and they'll probably pass it your way. If you ask around if someone has some nug, people will point you in the right direction. It's all love, sharing, and inclusive in OB.”
Where's the Best Weed?
“Before Prop[osition] 64 passed, Left Coast Collective, Urbn Leaf, Southwest Patients Group, and Alpha Medic were all independently popular dispensaries for many years,” explained Darby. “Now, they all work together to offer an amazing array of weed, from mainstreams to exotics.”
Also worth keeping in mind: San Diego County has a population of more than three million people and only 16 dispensaries, so there's certainly room in the community for budding entrepreneurs and others to expand the market and provide even greater access to weed for both medical patients and adult use consumers. For now, here are the spots worth hitting up.
Left Coast Collective
658 E. San Ysidro Blvd., San Diego (San Ysidro; located inside Urbn Leaf)
Left Coast Collective is known for its delivery services (it delivers all over San Diego County) but they also offer pickup inside Urbn Leaf if you call ahead.
“Left Coast Collective is my favorite overall dispensary,” Darby said. “They have great products from popular brands like Jungle Boys.” Left Coast Collective has a variety of deals (check out the Weedmaps listing under “Details”), including first-time customers getting a premium top shelf preroll for a penny.
Urbn Leaf Southwest
658 E San Ysidro Blvd., San Diego (San Ysidro)
Southwest Patients Group, one of the first licensed dispensaries in San Diego, merged with Urbn Leaf in late 2018 to form Urbn Leaf Southwest. “I like Urbn Leaf because it has an upscale, yet relaxed lounge vibe — like a place you'd actually want to hang out,” Darby said.
Since the merger, the dispensary menu has expanded to match the top-quality offerings at Urbn Leaf Bay Park. “They have all the stuff you haven't heard of yet.” Urbn Leaf runs a bus that picks customers up at the Ocean Beach Pier parking lot and takes them to the dispensary and back. It runs from noon to 8 p.m. every hour on the hour. Passengers can call (858) 483-2257 to confirm the route and schedule.
Travelers on a budget will find the best deals with Alpha Medic. According to Darby, the delivery service has some of the lowest prices in town. Surprisingly, they also have incredible weed. “Alpha Medic is a part of the group that's doing some of the best quality work in San Diego in terms of quality and variety,” Darby said.
In addition to its own impressive menu, the company also provides delivery services for Urbn Leaf Southwest. If you're looking to try something new and aren't sure what to get, Alpha Medic has highly knowledgeable consultants on staff that can help you choose the best bud for your needs.
5017 Newport Ave., San Diego (Ocean Beach)
While it isn't a dispensary, the Black has been catering to San Diego locals and visitors since the 1960s, and it shows. This must visit stop hits you with the nostalgic smell of incense and old books the moment you walk in. Glass cases filled with pipes and bowls line the perimeter, and bead curtains and dream catchers dangle from the ceiling. More than just a place to buy supplies, The Black is an experience.
“It's the first smoke shop anyone goes to in San Diego because it's also a gift shop; they sell tapestries, beads, posters, and incense,” Darby said. “The Black is an OB staple.”
The Local Scene
100 Park Blvd., San Diego (Downtown)
Baseball is alive and well in San Diego, and sports fans have plenty of opportunities to catch a game between March and October. The Padres play at Petco Park in downtown San Diego, spitting distance from some of the best restaurants and bars in town. For those who want an elevated experience, Darby recommends vaping or eating an edible before watching a game. Or, if you want to try your luck, bring your vape inside. “It's not unusual to see a huge cloud of vapor rising above the crowd,” Darby said.
Note: Petco Park prohibits attendees from bringing in drugs, including medical marijuana, into the stadium, and bags are searched by security, according to its website.
1600 Pacific Hwy., San Diego (Waterfront Park)
CRSSD Fest is a two-day electronic music festival that happens twice a year in downtown San Diego. There's live music on three stages, drinks, and food with plenty of vegetarian and vegan options. CRSSD has hosted big headliners in the past, including ODESZA and Phantogram.
“San Diego socialites like to go; it's probably the only cool festival that locals go to,” Darby said.
Note: CRSSD Fest is a non-smoking event and has a zero-tolerance policy in regards to drugs, according to its website.
Location disclosed with invitation
Trap City is an underground secret sesh, like a farmers market for weed, with 35 to 40 prominent cannabis brands selling their product at affordable prices. It's difficult to get approved by the organizers to know when and where these events are held, and you need someone they trust to co-sign you in — but the trouble can be worth it to tourists or locals looking for an insane deal. “You can get a gram of weed for as low as $5 and an ounce for as little as $90,” Darby said.
Where to Post Up and Smoke
Ocean Beach Pier
Niagara Ave., San Diego (Ocean Beach)
The Ocean Beach Pier juts out from a residential neighborhood a quick five-minute walk from the main strip in Ocean Beach. “If I were showing someone around San Diego and they wanted to smoke, I'd bring them to the OB Pier to make them feel comfortable,” Darby said. There are tidepools just south of the pier that provide a scenic, secluded spot to vape or smoke a blunt.
Ocean Beach Farmers Market
4900 Newport Ave, San Diego (Ocean Beach)
Every Wednesday from 4-8 p.m., Newport Avenue is blocked off between Cable and Bacon streets in Ocean Beach for the weekly farmers' market. It has the same free-spirited and funky vibe you'd expect from Ocean Beach and boasts a variety of fresh produce, ready-to-eat grub, homemade arts and crafts, and live music.
“The farmers market is always packed with people, so you can smoke and no one will say anything,” Darby said. “If you're not comfortable, there's an alley you can dip into.”
3146 Mission Blvd., San Diego (Mission Bay)
Belmont Park is a little tourist attraction on the beach in Mission Bay. It's exactly what you'd imagine a beachside amusement park and boardwalk in Southern California to be — think bumper cars, a roller coaster, restaurants, and shops. Belmont Park is always packed with people, making it easy to blend into the crowd, hit a vape, and enjoy the experience.
1253 Sunset Cliffs Blvd, San Diego (Ocean Beach)
Sunset Cliffs is a 10 minute drive south of Ocean Beach Pier. The scene: rocky cliffs with amazing views of the Pacific. Sunset Cliffs is secluded but has well-traveled pathways where you can walk down and smoke while looking out at the ocean.
Mount Helix Park
4901 Mount Helix Dr, La Mesa
Mount Helix Park is just southwest of El Cajon. It has lush gardens, little trails, and an amphitheater. “The views are amazing,” Darby said. You can see all of San Diego and the surrounding mountains and valleys. It's never crowded, making it a great place to light up and hang out.
The Munchie Situation
5010 Newport Ave, San Diego (Ocean Beach)
Hodad's is an Ocean Beach staple across the street from The Black, making it the ultimate spot for a post-smoke food fest. The sign out front advertises the “World's Best Burger!” and it's not far off.
Darby's pick: the single bacon cheeseburger with onion rings. “The burgers are great and the service is excellent.”
Our advice: get there early and grab a spot at the window. The line is often wrapped around the block, but it's worth the wait.
Nico's Mexican Food
4918 Newport Ave, San Diego (Ocean Beach)
Given its close proximity to the border, it's no surprise San Diego has a stellar reputation for Mexican food. Those in pursuit of the best Mexican grub in town can end their search at Nico's Mexican Food in Ocean Beach. Since 1982, locals have been coming to Nico's for tacos and burritos (the carne asada burrito is a favorite) and quick, friendly service. It's the perfect antidote to the munchies.
111 Washington St, San Diego (Downtown)
If you're of the mind-set that good pizza only exists in the Eastern time zone, you haven't tried Bronx Pizza. This zero-frills, cash-only pizza place in downtown San Diego serves up paper thin slices and whole pies that will remind you of hazed-out college nights in New York City's East Village.
“Everyone goes to Bronx after the club (OMNIA Nightclub) and smokes a joint,” Darby said. “It's 'the pizza spot downtown.”
3914 30th St, San Diego (North Park)
It wouldn't be San Diego — or Southern California, for that matter — without a plethora of options for vegans and vegetarians. According to Darby, Sipz is among the best. It serves an extensive menu of plant-based Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, and Japanese food that Darby describes as “high-end gourmet, but affordable.” The restaurant is right by Belching Beaver, the brewery's dog-friendly craft beer tasting room.
Where do I Stay?
La Casa Bonita
Escondido, North San Diego County. Address visible to booked guests on Airbnb. $50/night
La Casa Bonita is San Diego's first and only cannabis boutique hotel. Hosts Alec and Nikki rent out two of their bedrooms on Airbnb that are both dog- and weed-friendly. They offer free cannabidiol (CBD) products to their guests, such as salve, honey, and lip balm, which are donated by small local businesses. There are also cannabis massages, reiki, ganja yoga, and sound healing sessions available upon request.
Last Tips for Your Trip to San Diego
It's impossible to go to San Diego and not experience the cannabis culture that proliferates from Ocean Beach to downtown. Still, it's important to be low-key about your smoking. Public consumption is illegal, and the DEA has offices in town. According to Darby, Ocean Beach is the place to be if you're looking for a laid-back spot to relax, light a joint, and enjoy.
Photos by Gina Coleman