The 24 Coolest Small Businesses In San Diego

With its mild climate, seaside location, and diverse neighborhoods, San Diego’s small businesses never lack for influence or inspiration.

In celebration of the upcoming San Diego Entrepreneur Day (September 27-28), we found the 24 coolest small businesses in San Diego.

There’s a sandwich shop that fills its sandwiches with local fish found in San Diego waters, a candy store that draws on flavours from south of the border, and a hair salon named for the newly proposed city streetcar system.

Having so many different influences makes for some crazy, unusual, and downright cool companies.

Art and Libations

Various locations in San Diego

What it is: A BYOB paint class inspired by a more edgy kind of art.

Why it's cool: Professional and aspiring painters flock to Art & Libations to let their creative juices flow. Students listen to rock 'n' roll and drink their alcohol of choice while painting. They find inspiration from tattoo artists, graffiti, and Southern California culture.

Café Bassam

3088 Fifth Avenue

What it is: An antique coffee shop.

Why it's cool: Visiting Café Bassam is like getting transported back to the 1920s. The coffee shop has a vintage vibe, and customers can enjoy a piping hot chai latte beside the piano, typically humming with live music.

The bar features old-fashioned brewing machines that look more like bells and whistles than coffee pots, but they make incredible drinks, especially chai lattes.

Cave Store

1325 Coast Boulevard, La Jolla

What it is: A curio shop inside a cave.

Why it's cool: It's the location of this place that really draws the most attention. From the outside it looks like a regular shop, but when you enter you descend the stairs to the cave, where you can find trinkets and jewelry for sale. You'll also get rewarded with beautiful ocean views.

Cellar Door

35th Street

What it is: A private supper club hosted by professional chefs.

Why it's cool: Cellar Door gives patrons an intimate look into the kitchens and lives of Logan Mitchell and Gary McIntire, the talented chefs cooking their dinner. The menu is as eclectic as the guests around the table, who come from all different backgrounds. The ingredients are always fresh and follow a different theme each month from the fowl-themed 'birds of a feather' dinner to the all gluten-free menu.

Crow Thief

3009 Grape Street

What it is: Hand-crafted and custom-made menswear.

Why it's cool: Crow Thief sources its fabrics from around the world and assembles them into stylish men's clothing locally in San Diego. Customers can create their own vision from scratch, choosing from an array of hand picked leathers, fabrics and trims to make shirts, suits, and other apparel.

Doughnut Bar

631 B Street

What it is: An artisan doughnut store operating out of a renovated print shop.

Why it's cool: Doughnut Bar is Southern California's only 'doughnut exhibition kitchen' and 'doughnut design studio.' They have fresh new flavours every day and the menu is never the same. Their mission is to make doughnuts the way they were intended to be made -- carefully, creatively, and with TLC.

Goldline Salon

3009 Beech Street

What it is: A salon that treats you like you've just come home from work.

Why it's cool: Named for the proposed Gold Line streetcar system, going to Goldline is like going home -- walk in for your appointment and they'll offer you a cold, local beer. Not into beer? Ask for wine, coffee, tea, or espresso.

And no need to worry about leaving your dog outside since pets are allowed inside the salon, and get treats of their own.

Aside from the incredible perks, Goldline is a salon full of talented barbers and stylists who not only know how to do a natural, good-looking cut and colour, but know how to take care of their customers.

Harvey Milk's American Diner

Pride bread pudding

535 University Avenue

What it is: A 'gay Jewish deli.'

Why it's cool: HMAD pays tribute to the first openly gay elected official in California. Affectionately called a 'gay Jewish deli' by one of its customers, it offers baked goods, alcoholic beverages, traditional diner fare and low-calorie options, but mainly it's a restaurant with an all-are-welcome attitude.


828 G Street

What it is: A military-inspired apparel and accessories shop.

Why it's cool: Known for its caps and other headwear, HDQTRS carries all manner of military-inspired apparel and accessories for men, from custom shaving bowls and brushes to sunglasses and watches. Their motto is ''Originality before popularity' is our call of duty,' and they make all the gear their customers need to stand out.

Lucha Libre Gourmet Taco Shop

1810 W. Washington Street

What it is: Purveyors of gourmet tacos, burritos, and quesadillas.

Why it's cool: Unlike traditional taco shops, Lucha Libre is a flamboyant and colourful place with fresh ingredients, warm service, and a champion's booth (you need to make a reservation at least 24 hours in advance to sit there). Adam Richman even visited this place on the San Diego episode of 'Man v. Food.'

Mudville Flats

747 Tenth Avenue

What it is: A baseball-centric boutique hotel in the Ballpark District of San Diego.

Why it's cool: The Ballpark District is home to the San Diego Padres, and what better place to stay in the neighbourhood than a hotel that honours San Diego's celebrated ball team?

The 'flats' in the hotel are fully-furnished apartments with kitchens, living rooms, and private patios. Of course, proximity to the stadium is one amenity of Mudville, as are the barbecues in the rooms perfect for cooking up hot dogs and burgers for the game.

Noble Experiment

777 G Street

What it is: An ultra-hidden upscale bar within a gastropub.

Why it's cool: Noble Experiment is a speakeasy that you have to be in-the-know to find. The website is just a logo and contact information, which tells you just how secretive this place is.

Reservations are made by text message, and once you're in you get to the bar through a gastropub called Neighbourhood. The kegs in the back are actually a hidden doorway into Noble Experiment, where you can order classic crafted cocktails all night.

Pangea Pal

Online, based in San Diego

What it is: An online service that helps travellers discover the best of a city by connecting them with people who live there.

Why it's cool: On Pangea Pal you have the option of finding a pal, being a pal, or both. Travellers can write to Pals on the site who live in the place they plan to visit and schedule a time to meet up and explore the area like the residents do.

As a traveller, it's a great way to meet people who know a place really well and get off the beaten path, especially if you're not fluent in the language. As a Pal, you get paid to show off the places you know and love, and meet some cool people to boot.

Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens

2816 Historic Decatur Road #116

What it is: A gigantic restaurant and brewery in an old Navy mess hall.

Why it's cool: San Diego is a mecca to craft and microbreweries, and the biggest brewery in the city is Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. It lives on more than 23,500 square feet of indoor and outdoor dining room space that used to be a United States Navy mess hall.

Stone Brewing World Bistro is more than just a restaurant or a brewery. Its other 'amenities' include the bars that serve its beer, a bocce ball court, outdoor cinema space, and a lush 11,315-square-foot garden.

Supernatural Sandwiches

Three locations in San Diego

What it is: Crazy seafood sandwiches that have been called the best in San Diego.

Why it's cool: Supernatural Sandwiches has some of the most outrageous sandwiches on the west coast, each named for something relating to the sea (the Kraken, the Siren, the Hydra).

Their bread-laden creations are delicious and unpretentious, but the artists behind them regularly show off their culinary skills in food competitions that take sandwiches to another level.

Technomania Circus

2558 Imperial Avenue

What it is: A combination vaudeville/sideshow/Cirque du Soleil-type performance.

Why it's cool: Technomania Circus takes the traditional three ring circus of clowns, acrobats, and entertainers and jacks it up with trippy blacklight choreography and different dynamic props. It's an experimental reordering of puppetry and performance art, blurring the line between fun family outing and alternative new age sideshow.

The New Yorker

535 Fourth Avenue

What it is: A New York-themed bar and restaurant.

Why it's cool: It may be the closest you can get to New York outside of New York. The menu consists of all the foods you're likely to find in New York, from hot Buffalo wings to New York-style craft pizzas to a giant Yankee Stadium pretzel, and the walls are painted like the New York City subway system (crumbling bricks and graffiti all around). Even New York natives approve of the place's authenticity.

The Secret Cookie Service

'Top secret undisclosed location, La Jolla'

What it is: An ultra-secretive late night cookie delivery service.

Why it's cool: Operating in and around UC San Diego, SCS delivers fresh baked cookies anywhere in the greater La Jolla area, including to the UC San Diego campus. The service was started by a UC San Diego dropout known as Agent Snickerdoodle whose on-campus venture thrived and went from a fledgling side gig into a legitimate business.

The prices are fair -- even better for college students and military personnel -- and the cookies are delivered the right way: warm, gooey, and by secret agents. Flavours can change day-to-day, and range from chocolate chip or lemon sugar to Reeses Pieces or pumpkin.

The Tipsy Crow

770 Fifth Avenue

What it is: A multi-tiered bar in one accessible location.

Why it's cool: The Tipsy Crow is San Diego's longest-standing bar. Or rather, three bars on three levels in the same building: The Nest (top level), the Main (ground level), and the Underground (basement level). Each bar has its own vibe and menu for food and drinks, with old-school games, dancing, and chilled-out hangout spots.

Therapie Boutique

Check their calendar for locations

What it is: A mobile fashion boutique operating out of an RV.

Why it's cool: Kelly Carney re-engineered the old 2001 Ford RV she named Ellie to be a welcoming, style-on-the-go mobile boutique that brings a little retail therapy to people all around San Diego. Carney stocks the RV with unique pieces and vintage clothing, jewelry, and other accessories from all over. Carney aims to have the Therapie Boutique support and highlight the work of local San Diego-based fashion designers.


7853 Herschel Avenue, La Jolla

What it is: A hand-crafted, custom-made perfumery.

Why it's cool: Tijón sells hand-crafted perfumes from its own recipes, but it also provides customers with the option of designing their own unique scents.

For first-time perfumists, Tijón hosts Perfume 101 classes, complete with lab coats, where students learn the breakdown of the different scent elements of perfume and how to mix and isolate them to make unique combinations.


Online, based in San Diego

What it is: Touch display solutions for businesses that want to collect data about their consumers.

Why it's cool: Zoomkube provides a one-stop solution to consumer data analytics.

With this service, businesses create touch display ads (Zoomkubes) that customers interact with. All this information is then reported back to the business in real time, explaining which ads are gaining the most traction, and with whom.

Zoomkube is also planning to launch units with facial recognition, which means that a company could tell how many people interacted with their Zoomkube ad, as well as the age and gender of the consumer.

Head up the west coast for some more cool businesses.

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