I'm heading to Orange County, CA in July but flying into San Diego and I was looking for suggestions for a good restaurant for lunch with a good atmosphere/vibe in San Diego. We are planning on renting a car from the San Diego airport and then driving up to Orange County and wanted to grab lunch in the San Diego area.
Most of the people in our group have never been to San Diego so we are trying to get as much of the SD experience in a very small lunch time window (I know that's not really possible). Our initial thoughts are to go to LaJolla...grab a bite and then continue on to the OC.
You basically have the Gas Lamp district (near the new baseball stadium downtown), the waterfront, Old Town (mostly Mexican food), Little Italy and La Jolla.
Gas Lamp is newer and trendy, not real San Diego atmosphere if you ask me - some place to go if you have a few days. The water front restaurants are mostly big operations - ok, has a view if you are not stuck in back and you are on the water. Old Town has some good places (e.g., Agave) and some average for San Diego (which might be much better than back East), more touristy area. After eating drive up the mountain to the public park overview. Little Italy has some good eateries but not much "San Diego atmosphere." La Jolla has several good restaurants in and around the village and you can take a long walk along the coast from the cove to the surf breaks on the south end (Hospital and Horseshoe), passing body surfing only Boomer along the way. Ladies will love window (or real) shopping in La Jolla. On the southside of town is a nice car dealership, Symbolic, that is worth checking out - not your run of the mill vehicles and a decent Mexican restaurant right down the street. A little further south and down to the beach is classic Windansea Beach. Nearbye, on La Jolla Drive near Neptune, is a small strip shopping area with a few stores including a liquor store and a Mexican eatery (mostly carryout, Robertos I believe) - grab some beers in cans and order the half dozen rolled tacos with cheese and guacamole and take it all down to the beach.
There is also the San Diego classic, independent nation of Ocean Beach. Several decent restaurants there plus beach atmosphere and shops. Then drive south along the cliffs to check out The Cliffs.