San Diego Gluten-Free Guide
San Diego is the perfect getaway. Ideal weather, beautiful beaches, trails with views, cultural attractions, and a few theme parks to round out the fun! It is also one of the top places in the US to find gluten-free food.
Living in Southern California, my family has made countless trips to San Diego and discovered gluten-free treasures with every trip.
In this San Diego Gluten-Free Guide, we’ll cover the many dedicated gluten-free restaurants and bakeries, wonderful restaurants that aren’t dedicated but understand celiac disease, what to do on your San Diego vacation, and where to stay… all from the perspective of a mom and daughter with celiac disease.
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Best Gluten-Free Bakeries in San Diego
There are several dedicated bakeries in San Diego and throughout San Diego county. Here are some of the most popular:
Starry Lane Bakery Popular with celiacs for being gluten-free and delicious. Equally popular with sweet-lovers living with other allergies and intolerances for being free of the top 10 allergens. Starry Lane bakery serves yummy cookies, cupcakes, bread, pies, and more. Double-check the days and hours before visiting, as they are open Wednesday-Saturday, at the time of writing. The location is ideal for picking up sweets before heading to the San Diego Zoo or Balboa Park.
The Gluten Free Baking Co. This adorable bakery has two locations in the City of San Diego, one in North Park & another in Clairmont. The Gluten Free Baking Co. is especially wonderful for seasonal treats, like Halloween cupcakes, heart-shaped cookies and champagne cupcakes for Valentine’s Day, and gingerbread house kits. The lemon bars, donuts, cream puffs, and everything bagels are wonderful! There are also some vegan options, and the Northpark location serves espresso.
Gluten Freedom Baking Company It’s easy to get the name of this baking company mixed up with the previous one, but the big difference is that Gluten Freedom Baking Company does not have a storefront. You can preorder by Monday for pick up on Thursday afternoon. Sign up for the Gluten Freedom Baking Company’s email newsletter or follow on social media to get updates on where to find goodies (including cookies, pot pies, dessert pies, bread, and scones) throughout San Diego. A fun place to find them is at Little Italy’s Farmers Mercato on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Kula Ice Cream Oh, my! Where to put this special place? It landed on the list of dedicated gluten-free bakeries because of a few baked items on the menu, but it is so much more. This 100% vegan and gluten-free ice cream shop was voted the Best Ice Cream in San Diego and scoops wonderful flavors like “chocolate chip cookie dough” and “but first, coffee!” all served on a gluten-free waffle cone. It gets even better… Kula Ice Cream sells vegan, gluten-free ice cream cakes!
The Famous High Pie is in Oceanside, within San Diego County about a 45-minute drive from the city. This shop is all about the historical home that appeared in the original Top Gun, lovingly restored with 1887 era details and, of course, Top Gun photos. Those of us on the gluten-free diet were pleasantly surprised to find that the hand pies served here are all gluten-free. Be warned, the pies are tiny, like the old Hostess hand pies, about 4-5 bites. Order a High Pie Party Box of 3, 12, or 24 pies if you are hungry or feeding a group. The flavors change. Apple, blueberry, and cherry are the reliable stand-bys, with seasonal flavors, such as strawberry-rhubarb or pumpkin rounding out your choices. The location is great, right by the pier.
Daisy Maisy GF Bakery is a gluten-free (and soy-free) home bakery, so there’s no storefront. You can order online for curbside pickup or delivery in San Marcos, or find Daisy Maisy every Saturday at the Vista Farmer’s Market. Both San Marcos and Vista are about 45 minutes from the city of San Diego. You’ll love the brownies, blondies, cookies, and custom cakes.
Best Gluten-Free Restaurants and Cafes in San Diego
El Tianguis Rolled Taquitos All of the food (not the beer) at El Tianguis is gluten-free. They are known and loved for their delicious taquitos (rolled, fried tacos). They also offer bowls and sides, including fries and chips made in a gluten-free fryer, because everything is gluten-free. There are a few locations, but I’m partial to the North Park restaurant. It is three minutes from the Gluten Free Baking Co. and ten minutes from Starry Lane Bakery, so swing by either (or both) to get dessert!
Trilogy Sanctuary in La Jolla is a rooftop cafe with a cool vibe and beautiful view. Everything on the menu is gluten-free, flavorful, and vegan. You can even catch a yoga class while you are there. The enchiladas, enticing eggplant, and vegan-nachos are all highly recommended!
Nectarine Grove Leucadia is 100% gluten-free and well worth a stop in Encinitas on your drive between LA and San Diego… or worth the 30-minute trip from San Diego to Encinitas. I love this place. Right now, my husband is driving home from a work trip in San Diego. I just placed an online order at Nectarine Grove for him to pick up on the way home!
The extensive, gluten-free menu at Nectarine Grove Leucadia will “paralyze” the average gluten-free brain. We are not used to So. Many. Choices. Truly! Pizza, chicken & waffles, tacos, salads, steak bowls, breakfast entrees, crispy chicken salads, burgers, sandwiches, sweets, and beverages from fabulous smoothies to Holidaily Beer (gluten-Free), and lattes.
There is a second location about 10 minutes south. The Nectarine Grove Del Mar is more of a bakery-cafe. It offers a scaled-down but still a wide selection of sandwiches, salads, breakfast meals, baked goods, and your favorite coffee shop beverages.
Sweetfin is a Southern California chain restaurant that stretches down from LA County to two locations in San Diego. This dedicated gluten-free restaurant is the perfect place to order poke.
Healthy Creations Cafe If you are lucky enough to be staying in the Encinitas area, visit Healthy Creations. The menu is organic and gluten-free. You’ll find soups, salads, paninis, wraps, bowls, smoothies, cafe beverages, and baked goods with ingredients plainly listed, in case you have additional food intolerances or dietary needs. The paninis and cinnamon rolls are so good! If you are just making a day trip to San Diego, it’s about a 10-minute drive off the 5 Freeway. Healthy Creations is great place to stop for a hot breakfast and to grab a delicious sandwich for your day at the beach or the zoo.
Deanna’s Gluten Free Bakery/Deli is at Fran’s Original Farm Stand and the Farm Stand West. It’s the perfect opportunity to get fresh produce from the farm and enjoy a delicious gluten-free meal. Both locations serve Deanna’s gluten-free sandwiches, and Fran’s Original Farm Stand also has pizza. Call first to verify hours, as they vary seasonally. While you’re there, pick up frozen products (pot pies, brownies, cookies, cakes, bread, and more) to heat up at home!
Best Restaurants with Gluten-Free Options in San Diego
The following restaurants are not dedicated gluten-free establishments, but they have a variety of gluten-free options and a good awareness of allergy protocols. Ask for a manager or chef to answer your questions regarding ingredients and cross-contamination.
Phil’s BBQ There are a few locations in San Diego. Nearly everything at Phil’s is gluten-free. The only items that contain gluten are onion rings, cornbread, macaroni salad, croutons, cookies, and sandwich bread. Everything else is gluten-free, including french fries in a dedicated fryer, the BBQ sauce, and all of the meat options.
Fresh Brothers This Southern California pizzeria chain cares about the celiac and gluten-free community. Imagine… gluten-free, delicious pizza, delivered! The safety protocols are excellent. Gluten-free crusts are brought in from the outside, toppings are separate, and pizzas are prepared in a dedicated area and cooked on the top level to prevent cross-contamination. They also have options for gluten-free salads and gluten-free chicken bites (Miss E is a big fan of those). Let the staff know you have celiac disease or a “gluten allergy” so those wonderful safety procedures kick in. Your pizza will come sealed with a “gluten-free” sticker.
Calvin’s Korean Hot Chicken in La Jolla is the best place to get gluten-free Korean fried chicken. Highly recommend the “garlicky soy” tender box! And the waffle fries, cajun waffle fries, and sweet potato fries are also made in a dedicated gluten-free fryer.
Puesto Who knew tacos could be so special?! Each taco at Puesto is comparable to a mini-entree from a fine restaurant displayed on a handmade corn tortilla. The menus can change seasonally and by location (there are a few locations in San Diego and several more in the state). Gluten-free items are clearly noted on the menu.
Las Hadas Bar and Grill is a great option for gluten-free Mexican food if you are in the Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego’s lively downtown. There is a separate gluten-free menu, and the staff is knowledgeable about cross-contamination. There is not a dedicated fryer for chips. The chef will bake chips separately for you so that you can enjoy everyone’s favorite appetizer, chips and salsa!
Chain Restaurants with Gluten-Free Options in San Diego
San Diego is also home to a number of chain restaurants with gluten-free options and a reputation in the celiac community for good cross-contamination protocols.
In addition to the California chain restaurants already mentioned above (Fresh Brothers, Puesto, and Sweetfin), chains to consider include:
- In-N-Out – dedicated fryer
- Jersey Mike’s – Udi’s sub roll
- Chipotle – everything is gluten-free but the flour tortillas
- BJ’s Restaurant Brewhouse – gluten-free pazookie
- The Melting Pot – a Validated Gluten-Free Safe-Spot, located in the Gaslamp District, you can enjoy gluten-free fondue and dippers, including dessert fondue and brownie dippers
For more suggestions get the Celiac Dining Out Guide, which includes 10 chain restaurants I trust.
Always check with the employees at each location to determine which menu items are safely gluten-free.
Things to Do in San Diego
Money-saving tip! San Diego traditionally has a Kids Free October, where theme parks, zoos, and museums offer a free kid’s admission with a paid adult ticket. It’s a great time to visit San Diego. The weather is perfect and the price is right.
SeaWorld San Diego provides marine animal viewing, presentations, and encounters, along with more typical theme park attractions and rides. For gluten-free options, bbq meat (plain, without the sauce) and fruit are available at Calypso Bay Smokehouse, Hibiscus Modern Mexican is mostly gluten-free, and there are grab-and-go snacks at the Discovery Fresh Market.
The chefs at the Dine with Orcas experience were knowledgeable about celiac disease and safely prepared our gluten-free meals in the kitchen (see food photos above), while the gluten-eaters in our party enjoyed food from the buffet.SeaWorld San Diego Tickets, Save up to $40 on Tickets
Seaport Village, on the waterfront of San Diego Bay, is a relaxing place to spend a couple of hours. Peek in quaint shops, ride the carousel, enjoy live music on the weekends, and then head across the parking lot for tacos from Puesto at the Headquarters.
The weather is ideal and San Diego is gorgeous. Get outside! Here are a few of my favorite outdoor activities in San Diego County:
- Ride a bike by the bay or ocean.
- Take surfing lessons.
- Have a picnic in Balboa Park.
- Lounge at the best beaches: Coronado Beach, Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, Coronado Beach, and La Jolla Shores.
- Try watersports: jetskiing, stand-up paddleboarding, and kayaking.
- Head to La Jolla Cove for sea lion viewing.
- Go for a hike in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.
Farmers Markets are popular in San Diego and a wonderful way to spend your morning.
Little Italy’s Mercato is every Wednesday at Saturday in the downtown neighborhood of Little Italy. You’ll find the Gluten-Freedom Baking Co (try the cinnamon rolls!) and The Brazillian Guys, who make stuffed hashbrowns, which I would describe as “hash brown sandwiches” and pao de queso (Brazilian cheese bread).
Vista Farmer’s Market is on Saturday Mornings, as well. Daisy Maisy GF Bakery is there, along with the Brazilian Guys, again.
You’ll also find the Brazilian Guys on Sundays at the Hillcrest Farmers Market.
Legoland is the perfect theme park for families with small children. There are fun rides, play areas, themed lands throughout the park, well-thought-out details like Lego building areas while waiting in line, and a dietary guide showing gluten-free options. Legoland’s gluten-free game is stellar! Allergy awareness is high. There is an interactive allergy menu on the website where you can search for gluten-free options before you visit. Check out my full Legoland review for more details.
San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park (two different locations)- The San Diego Zoo spans over 100 acres and is home to more than 12,000 animals, and visitors can add another 1,800 acres and 3,000 more animals with a multi-park pass to the Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
Ride the bus tour, Africa Tram, and the Skyfari Aerial Tram for amazing views of the animals, but wear comfortable tennis shoes for all the ground you will want to cover from the Lost Forest to Africa Rocks. Unique encounters abound, including Roar & Snore overnight at the Safari Park to an Early Morning Cheetah experience at the Zoo.
Gluten-free options are limited at the Zoo and Safari Park. We have safely eaten gluten-free chicken strips, chips, and fruit at the Safari Park, but your trip to either zoo is an ideal time to bring a picnic lunch. I like to grab breakfast and a to-go sandwich from Healthy Creations Cafe or Nectarine Grove before heading to the zoo.
Where to Stay in San Diego
A Vacation Rental is a great option for San Diego. My favorite vacation home in San Diego was on Mission Bay. We opened the garage-door-style walls for fresh ocean breezes, biked around Mission Bay, and kayaked from the beach in our backyard. The advantage of a vacation rental is you control the food. Get my Vacation Rental Gluten-Free Meal Planner to simplify your meal planning on your trip.
Omni Carlsbad is a lovely resort getaway. There is a kids’ club, your choice of pools from beach entry to water slides, and a changing schedule of on-property activities: we saw snakes, had a mermaid encounter, and watched a dive-in movie. We were well-taken care of, with gluten-free food throughout our stay. Email the resort in advance, and speak to a chef when you arrive. This is the kind of place you don’t have to leave. But if you venture off-property, Legoland, Healthy Creations, Nectarine Grove, and the beach are all relatively nearby!
Hotel Del Coronado (Hotel Del) is an iconic hotel on Coronado Island. Staying there is a splurge to be sure, but you can find the best prices by booking well in advance. We booked our room about six months before our stay, and it was half the cost of booking the week prior to our visit. I emailed about our gluten-free needs before we traveled. The chefs were knowledgeable about celiac disease and we ate well and safely at the Hotel Del. I highly recommend the newly built section of the hotel called the Cabanas, where some of the oceanfront rooms come with a beach cabana/patio and fire pit.
Legoland Hotel is my top recommendation if you have little ones. It is hands down the best hotel for families with elementary-age children or younger. The fabulously-themed rooms have separate parent and kid areas divided by a bathroom, so you don’t have to go to bed at 8 pm. The kid side has bunk beds, a trundle, a tv, cool lighting, and a Lego wall.
There are two hotels on the property. I have stayed at both and recommend them equally. The restaurants went above and beyond to safely accommodate our celiac disease, and one of the chefs even packed us gluten-free to-go bags with goodies for our day in the park.
You will love San Diego! It is an excellent place for anyone to visit, but when you also need a gluten-free haven on vacation, it checks all the boxes.