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Noble Experiment
Photograph: Courtesy Noble Experiment/Zack Benson

The 12 best bars in San Diego for great drinks and good vibes

From creative cocktails to craft beers, enjoy your next drink at one of the best bars in San Diego

Written by
Kai Oliver-Kurtin
Garrick Ramirez

Sure, San Diego is known for its impressive number of craft breweries (150+ and counting!), but there are also jaw-dropping rooftop bars, tiki bars, and beachside bars you won't find anywhere else. You'll find creative craft cocktails, high-end wine lists, tasty bar food, and rockin' music without searching too hard. The nightlife scene is alive and well in Little Italy, the Gaslamp Quarter, and Pacific Beach, among others. The hardest part will be deciding where to drink first. 

Happy hour specials can be found in most spots, and they often include food deals as well (dollar oysters are a thing here). Sip libations poolside or beachside - doesn't matter since San Diego has a notable laidback, casual vibe where flip flops are accepted in most places. You'll be hard-pressed to find restaurants that serve "big beer" brands like Bud and Miller since most San Diegans demand local brews. Mixologists certainly have their work cut out for them designing new concoctions on the regular.

If you're planning to sip your way through the city, use our guide to San Diego's best bars as a jumping-off point. We'll drink to that!

🍸 The best winter rum cocktails in San Diego
🍷 The best rooftop bars in San Diego
🍺 The best breweries in San Diego
🍽️ The best restaurants in San Diego
📍 The best things to do in San Diego

Best bars in San Diego

This swanky drinks spot does exactly what you want a cocktail bar to do, but with a twist. Seriously good, well-thought-out cocktails by expert mixologists who really know their stuff, a vibey venue, and poppin’ music choices. But what pulls it all together is that Polite Provisions replicates an old-school drugstore and soda fountain, with 46 taps dispensing beer, wine and more, and a menu inspired by activity books (yes, there are mazes, puzzles and crosswords to go alongside your drinks). 

Well, it’s San Diego. You have to get drinks at a rooftop bar. And this is one of the best, characterized by tiled blue interiors, Tiki-inspired cocktails and seriously good Mexican food. Dip into spicy shrimp, veggie and steak tacos, or share a loaded quesadilla and carne asada nachos with your whole group. The best part? The al fresco bar looks out over the beautiful Petco Park stadium. It's the definition of drinks with a view. 


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.

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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 Naked on a Plane (a bold concoction of mezcal, Aperol, Luxardo Maraschino and lime juice) 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.


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 pad thai, 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 appetiziers, wine, beer and cocktails (try the Good Day Sunshine, a drink made with rum, sunflower orgeat, pineapple, banana liqueur, lime, ginger and orange bitters). 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 craft cocktails and noshes on duck fat fries.

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.


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.

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.


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 (yes, you can reserve your own private trailer) outfitted with plastic-sheathed sofas and TV trays. You stay classy, San Diego.

Pair saisons with sprinkles after 5 pm, 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 colorful unicorn donut, a Circus Circus donut with sprinkles and an animal cracker stuck on top, and the butterscotch-glazed Butter Beer (which comes adorned with Harry Potter glasses).

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