San Diego is just rife with trendy bars. Ask any of the locals where to find a drink and they will regale you with a detailed list of the latest additions to the bar scene and claim that you must visit them all, a feat that not even the most outgoing of us can accomplish. From a traditional gaslamp lounge to highly acclaimed new bars in San Diego, there certainly is no lack of excitement. Having so many different options means that choosing one can be burdensome, which is why we’ve made things easy for you by rounding up the 10 trendiest bars you absolutely need to consider while in San Diego. Make sure you have a local to give you a San Diego tour, otherwise here are our recommended best bars in San Diego to visit.
By the Beach…
Location, location, location. This huge Del Mar brewery is all about the beautiful setting. Sit on the gorgeous deck, overlooking the San Dieguito Lagoon, and watch the sunset fall over the ocean while enjoying a drink or two. We promise you; this is the most serene feeling you’ll have all week.
Viewpoint is Del Mar’s first brewery, and it’s evident in the way they know their beer and in their commitment to your taste buds. Every food item on their menu pairs perfectly with one of their craft beers and they are eager to find the pair that is best for you.
The tables, both inside and outside, are communal and is just their way of bringing the community together. In fact, in keeping with the sharing theme, there is a “buy a bird a beer” option on the menu, where a portion of your beer tab goes directly to the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy—a cause we can get behind.
This classy surf bar is new to the Pacific Beach neighborhood and is exactly what it sounds like. There is water, water everywhere. Sit along the oceanfront boardwalk and watch the waves roll in at this beautiful five-star bar.
Local microbrews, a diverse wine list, and craft cocktails served in fish bowls is just a portion is what Waterbar has to offer. Their menu is inspired by East and West Coast Baja cuisines and all of their food, including the fish and chips, is seaside fresh. Throw in a handful of friendly cocktail staff, some spacious communal table seating, and a breathtaking panoramic view of the beach, and we’re in business.
If False Idol gives you a taste of the island, The Grass Skirt, located in Pacific Beach, is the island. Workaholics be warned, everyone here is in total vacation mode. From the minute you step inside, you forget that the mundane exists. Don’t be surprised if a couple of folks give you the “hang ten” hand gesture as you walk in. That’s just how the islanders say hello.
Their menu is laced with classic 80s beach drinks such as Sex on the Beach and the ever-so-classic Mudslide. However, they mix it up with the ever-so-fun Tipsy Tentacle, a tropical drink with a smiling banana on top. When it comes to the food, we must say, friends don’t let friends leave this establishment without trying the Kimchi Fried Rice and Okonomiyaki Fries.
Don’t forget to call for a reservation if you want to reserve a spot at this exotic oasis, they book up fast!
If you’re looking for a little northern enjoyment, Shelter, at the heart of Encinitas, is where it’s at. The ambiance and lounge-type feel create a certain intimacy, but the massive fire pit and the retractable ceiling, making it possible to have drinks under the stars, is what makes Shelter a delightful, camp-like experience.
The bartenders definitely didn’t miss the camping memo. Man buns are all the rage here, and the staff all look as though they may or may not be heading to an Oregon campground after their shift. They do mix some great drinks though. Make sure you try The Tranquilizer, made with smooth Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum.
Uptown/Downtown San Diego…
Though it’s hard to go wrong with Gaslamp bars, this venue is on fire. Remove, for a second, the fact that the staff is extremely attractive (think Greek gods and goddesses). Visit on a weekend, and the entertainment is hotter than a goat in a pepper patch. Belly Dancers and Fire Dancers roam the floor, and the whole crew yell “OPA” every time their signature Saganaki is lit on fire at tableside. Three floors, including a mezzanine, overlooks the entire Greek experience.
Even more restaurant than bar, there is no shortage of flavor in this open-air, high walled sanctum. Just ask to see their many awards, including Best Mediterranean in San Diego. Their smorgasbord of small plates—with vegetarian and gluten-free options—is sure to delight all foodies.
Craft & Commerce (and False Idol)
Possibly the most hipster upscale bar in Little Italy, this dark and stylish gastropub, with its library of books lining the walls, aesthetically pleasing taxidermy, and the faintest aroma of rich mahogany in the air, was ostensibly built with only the most sophisticated bar-goers in mind. The C&C Mixologists are nothing short of amazing. They will whip you up a delicious Lay Lady Lay with a berry on top faster than you can say, “Hey, is this the place with the secret tiki bar in the back?”
By the way, the “secret” tiki bar in the back is called False Idol and is usually packed with socialites. If you don’t mind the crowd, this cute cocktail bar, with its cool island vibe, is a great place to meet friends without having to stand on a chilly beach.
The locals will tell you that Rustic Root in Gaslamp Quarters is the place to visit for a classic rooftop experience. An upstairs bar overlooks a mesmeric, nighttime view of downtown San Diego. Downstairs, however, is perfect for a weekend brunch, as the bar provides a complimentary bottle of champagne for those who make a reservation before 10 am.
With traditional and classic drinks, even the most particular drinkers will find something to enjoy at this agrarian watering hole. However conventional, their drinks are far from boring. All of their drinks are twists on classic provisions, and what they call, “an inventive modern flare” we call a pleasant surprise.
If the 1920s is more your scene, you’ll want to visit Prohibition. At this swanky speakeasy, bowler hats, flat caps, suspenders, and flapper dresses have yet to go out of style. Dress code is enforced on Friday and Saturday night, so leave your jeans at home, and enjoy live music and a seasonally inspired craft cocktail in your most debonair garb.
No reservations. No calling ahead. Simply look for the covert “Eddie O’Hare Law Office” door (they wouldn’t want to tip off the authorities as to our illegal indulging of spirits) and tiptoe on in.
When you make it inside, you’ll be greeted by a very jazzy doorman, dark, subdued décor and bartenders who very evidently know their craft. Ask the tapster to make you a That’s Not a Martini, a Jesse Didn’t Die, a Hong Kong is for Lovers, or any of the deliciously dapper drinks of the evening. Drink it as you sit on a beatnik couch, or while you cut a rug in this basement lounge.
One Yelp reviewer said it best: “This place is so hip, it’s practically a pelvis.” This very retro North Park bar markets itself as “Manufacturers of Local Tonics, Elixirs, and Cures,” and once inside, you’ll feel like you’re stocking up on provisions before a long carriage ride.
Themed bars are always in danger of being cliché and kitschy. Polite Provisions is not that bar. Sure, they have giant gas lamps inside the place, but it only heightens the London-in-the-1930s mood. Furthermore, their flavorful drinks, such as the popular Old Fashioned, are neat and smartly made. The best part about this place is that if you’re hungry, you can order sliders from their neighbors Soda and Swine, and they’ll bring your food right to you.
Also known as KEX, Kettner Exchange pays homage to the notable realtor and congressman William Kettner, who helped bring the presence of the US Navy to San Diego. At KEX, you’ll see plenty of nods to San Diego’s Bay and Nautical History. You may even see a few nautical sextants.
We love the sheer curtains between booths that provide an intimate, eating-dinner-in-a-galley feel, while the open-air roof lounge, with its wood and steel private cabanas, is the perfect spot to enjoy one of their innovative beverages. The Apple Fell Far from the Tree drink made with butterfly pea infused blanco tequila, pineapple rum, allspice dram, lime, and Fuji apple, is just one of the many concoctions from the award-winning bartender and Beverage Director Steven Tuttle. After cocktails, keep strolling down Kettner Blvd. and enjoy other nightlife along the way.
So yes, we love all trendy bars in San Diego (hello, it’s us), but these ten bars hold a special place in our heart because they are cool enough to write home about. You don’t have to choose just one, but we sure hope we at least knocked your list down to ten.