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The 12 best bars in San Diego

From tiki bars to rooftop lounges and speakeasies, here are the best bars in San Diego

Written by
Kai Oliver-Kurtin
Contributor
Garrick Ramirez
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If you prefer sipping on craft beer and cocktails rather than dancing til dawn, well, the best bars in San Diego are just for you. Although the city’s vibe tends to be rather carefree, we’re pretty serious about quality nightlife here—a flourishing cocktail scene has locals sipping hand-crafted concoctions on hip rooftops while craft breweries seem to pop up around every corner. Plus, the city’s tropical environs have inspired a reinvigorated tiki scene that puts rum cocktails in the spotlight. In other words, San Diego knows how to have a good time.

Thanks to city’s nearly perfect year-round weather, many of its bars and restaurants have ample outdoor seating and spacious rooftop decks. While there are nightclubs and dance parties throughout the Gaslamp Quarter and Pacific Beach, most nightlife spots are lounges where you can actually have a conversation with good company. And while most bars in San Diego close by 1:30 or 2 a.m., plenty of late-night dining options extend into the evening just a bit longer—even if it’s just a means of soaking up all that booze.

After catching a sunset over the bay, stroll San Diego’s varied neighborhoods and you’ll discover that the laid-back beach town keeps humming long after the surfboards have been stowed and the kids have gone to bed. Ready to explore? Follow our guide to the best bars in San Diego.

RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in San Diego

Best bars in San Diego, ranked

This light-filled, North Park cocktail parlor is a modern take on an old-timey drugstore and soda fountain. Under a solarium-like glass roof, 46 sparkling taps dispense not only beer and wine, but also craft spirits and batched cocktails. Pick a drink from the activity book-inspired menu—there are 80 drinks here, all listed alongside crossword puzzles, mazes, and word games for an extra dose of fun.

Bask in the trade winds at this tropical rooftop bar overlooking Petco Park stadium. Sheathed in bold patterned tile, lush living walls, and mounds of citrus, the open-air bar channels a mid-century beach resort with bright, vacation-worthy drinks. Sip mojitos, Aperol Spritzes, and Singapore Slings under a canopy of colorful nautical rope; nosh on street tacos and Cubano sandwiches while you root for the Padres just across the way.

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At Craft & Commerce, Little Italy’s famed cocktail haven, peer behind a vine-shrouded doorway and you’ll discover an enchanting, tiki-filled grotto. Make an offering—or just a reservation—and you’ll be led through a cave-like entrance with glowing skulls. Inside this exotic hideaway, ceilings are blanketed in colorful glass buoys while the bar itself displays treasures from local tiki bars past and present. An illustrated menu features tiki classics and False Idol originals like Alkala the Fierce, a drink served in a shareable bowl with a flaming volcano.

These retro-themed barcades, with locations in North Park and the Gaslamp Quarter, are fun-loving tributes to the ’80s. Before you plunk your first quarter into Dig Dug, look around and you’ll find nostalgia-inducing decor that ranges from movie posters to old-school game consoles. Nab a cocktail at the bar while The Goonies and The Karate Kid play overhead, and shoot for the high score on Donkey Kong Jr. and Addams Family pinball. When it’s game over, power up with chicken wings, Italian sausage pizza, and cocktails on tap.

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This Pacific Beach tiki bar pulls out all the stops. Hidden behind a freezer door in an adjacent poké shop, this Polynesian fantasy world teems with lava rock, neon hula girls, and potent rum drinks served in fanciful tiki mugs. But the fun doesn’t end with the clever banana-octopus garnishes—certain drink orders trigger a theatrical thunderstorm of holograms projected behind the bar. A contemporary menu swaps traditional deep-fried pupus for bao buns, dan dan noodles, and poké bowls.

Enjoy cocktails and movies around an oyster-shaped pool at this indoor-outdoor, mid-century-themed eatery within The Pearl Hotel. A lively bar scene picks up early for happy hour oysters, fish tacos, and craft cocktails (try the Peaty Princess, a drink made with rye whiskey, Chartreuse, Drambuie, and lemon). Linger on Wednesday nights for classic flicks such as Grease and Austin Powers that are projected above the glowing pool as a spirited audience sips cocktails and noshes on chicken skewers.

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Noble Experiment is an atmospheric speakeasy hidden within a casual East Village pub called Neighborhood. If it weren’t for the towering wall of gold skulls, this snug cocktail lounge might be mistaken for an upscale lobby bar with soaring wood-paneled walls, chandeliers, and a ceiling adorned with ornately framed oil paintings. Skip the small menu of classics and ask the barkeep to whip you up something crafty.

Perched high above street level on the 14th floor of Courtyard San Diego Gaslamp/Convention Center hotel, The Nolen rooftop bar has great skyline views and creatively-named cocktails. Try the Hot Girl Summer (a bold concoction of mezcal, yellow chartreuse, orgeat, lemon, and strawberry puree) and pair it with one of the bar’s shareable snacks (like the smoked salmon dip). Arrive early to score a spot near one of the cozy fire pits for unobstructed views of the city.

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Follow the music to Kettner Exchange, a split-level restaurant that turns into a lively scene after dark. Complete with indoor and outdoor bars and seating, live DJs get the party started while private parties fill coveted rooftop cabanas. Pro tip: The rooftop bar tends to get a touch crowded on weekends, but the first-floor bar is usually more accessible.

Hop between four stylish joints on a lively bar crawl through The Pendry, an uber-hip downtown hotel that houses several venues all in one place. Start with a rosé slushie at the rooftop Pool House, then sample local craft brews at the boisterous Nason’s Beer Hall. Sit down for an expertly-made cocktail in the buzzy lobby bar, Fifth & Rose, and end the night dancing on tables at the swanky, subterranean Oxford Social Club.

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Kitschy good fun is had by all at this Gaslamp bar strewn with vintage trailers and lounge chairs fashioned from wheelbarrows. The yacht rock is loud, the Miller High Life is cold, and the TV dinner plates come with Jell-O shots. Pull up a shopping cart-stool at the bar or settle into one of the cozy trailers outfitted with plastic-sheathed sofas and TV trays. You stay classy, San Diego.

Pair saisons with sprinkles after 5 p.m., when this donut shop transforms into a craft beer bar on Friday and Saturday evenings. This downtown shop taps 24 beers that pair with a rotating selection of freshly-baked donuts. The colorful Insta-worthy confections include a pink Homer’s Donut, a Big Poppa Tart stuffed with a Kellogg’s Pop Tart, and the butterscotch-glazed Butter Beer (which comes adorned with Harry Potter glasses).

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