Where to Grab a Drink in San Diego Right Now

San Diego’s best bars include botanical delights, jungle hideouts, secret speakeasies, and more.

San Diego’s bars continue to amaze us with their cutting edge variety—we’ve got showstopping rooftops, scenic spots for boozing at the beach, low-key dive bars, and, of course, plenty of breweries to cement our status as the capital of craft beer. The cocktail scene in San Diego is trending again, from a flashy Yucatan-influenced newcomer in the Gaslamp Quarter to an artsy venue with showstopping botanical flair. Whatever your spirited leanings, San Diego’s bars and cocktail lounges are ready to step up and give you the best our region has to offer. Here’s our list of the hottest places in town to grab a drink right now.
 

Botanica
Botanica | Photo by Mary Beth Abate

Botanica

North Park
$$$$

The newest concept from Be Saha Hospitality Group founder Amar Harrag, who’s known for highlighting unexpected artisanal spirits in Tahona and Wormwood, Botanica’s bar program highlights genever, one of Europe’s oldest distilled spirits, served in elegant flutes, as well as one of San Diego’s most diverse selections of gin and other botanical spirits sourced from around the world. Like its sister bars, Botanica will also offer educational genever and gin tastings and other events themed around both spirits. The chic lounge area features an art gallery of carefully curated pieces by local and international talent, and is one of very few cocktail bars in the United States with an onsite NFT gallery. Beverage director Marina Ferreira has fashioned an art-centric cocktail program as well, with each drink reflecting a famous artwork. Standouts include No. 1 Swan, a vintage swan bowl with Monkey 47 gin, vermouth, olives and caviar and Meditative Rose with genever, vermouth blanc, rose, sandalwood, harissa, champagne cordial, egg white. There’s also a contingent of classic genever and gin cocktails like the Negroni and French 75, plus non-alcoholic options, including Cacao Mushroom Chai with Meow Meow chai, turmeric, cinnamon, a 10-mushroom blend, and cashew milk, and Beauty Tonic with passion fruit cordial, lychee, orange blossom water, and sparkling water.
How to book: Reservations can be made via Resy. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Zama San Diego
Zama | Photo by Mary Beth Abate

Zama

Gaslamp Quarter
$$$$

Zama, the Gaslamp Quarter’s newest hotspot showcases Asian and Latin American fusion cuisine against the backdrop of the Amazon jungle. The beverage program mirrors the restaurant’s tropical flair, offering cocktails like Junglerita, a tequila-based drink with lime, curacao, and pineapple-serrano shrub, and Endless Nights, with espresso-infused vodka, Mr. Black coffee liqueur, walnut liqueur, and topped with a boozy coconut whip, as well as strong, spirited choices with a dramatic, smoked-at-your-table finish. Pair them with choice selections from chef Tayuka Kudo, whose resume includes stints at Nobu and Lumi, and chef de cuisine Luis Alberto Vergara, both of whom seamlessly blend the flavors of two continents, from a quartet of raw and marinated seafood, through robust sushi and maki rolls, to brawny steaks and delicate fish.
How to book: Reservations can be made via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Available for Reservations
Madam Bonnie’s
Photo courtesy of Madame Bonnies

Madam Bonnies

Gaslamp Quarter
$$$$

Madam Bonnies is named for Bertha “Bonnie” White, who ran a brothel in the historic Hotel Lester building from the 1920s through the 1940s. Elegantly decked out with exposed brick, sleek banquettes, and three massive, colored glass chandeliers, the space is well-suited to everything from ladies’ night to a romantic tête-à-tête.The cocktail program showcases spirit-forward gin, vodka, and bourbon drinks, light and fruity refreshers, mocktails, wines by the glass or bottle, and a daily selection of beer. Bonnie’s signature rotisserie meats represent outstanding choices, including a comforting chicken soup and chicken pot pie, but lighter options like Mussels and Chorizo in garlic-wine butter broth are also available.
How to book: Reservations can be made via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Available for Reservations
Coco Maya
Photo courtesy of Coco Maya

Coco Maya

Little Italy
$$$$

Coco Maya explores the flavors of the Yucatan and Caribbean with cane- and agave-based spirits enhanced by citrus and spices in direct and fruit-forward cocktails. Let’s Do Mushrooms is a curious blend of leather-infused Reposado tequila, cinnamon agave, huitlacoche, amontillado sherry, and pina balsamic that straddles earthy and savory elements, while Cocomaya Cocktel, with a house rum blend, passionfruit, coconut cream, and pina orange cordial is a fresh, tropical escape. Daily brunch serves up coffee cocktails, mimosas, Bloody Marys, micheladas, and mojitos alongside Bokits, a stuffed sandwich made with Guadeloupan fry bread.
How to book: Reservations can be made via SevenRooms. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Part Time Lover
Photo by Arlene Ibarra, courtesy of Part Time Lover

Part Time Lover

North Park
$$$$

A combination listening bar and record shop, Part Time Lover recently took over the space occupied by the legendary Bar Pink. The visually dazzling room has an open layout for optimal sound, cushy seating, a custom sound system built by Chicago-based Uncanned Music and music chosen by San Diego’s own Folk Arts Rare Records store. The bar program focuses on Japanese American highballs like the Kaiju—a cooling, neon-green, melon-inspired beverage, made with a touch of aquavit, genepy, and a splash of lemon, plus amped-up takes on traditional cocktails, like the Dirty Martini with dry gin, fino sherry, and PTL.’s olive-scallion brine.
How to book: Seating is on a first-come basis.

Go Go Amigo

Liberty Station
$$$$

Go Go Amigo, Liberty Station’s south of the border-inspired restaurant, boasts expansive patios, an outdoor bar area, and a beverage program showcasing tequila-based cocktails like prickly pear slushies and cucumber jalapeno margaritas. Brunch on weekends offers exclusive brunch cocktails including the Carajillo, with Licor 43 and cold brew, and The Green Machine Bloody, with cucumber-infused Hooch Brothers vodka, house-made green Bloody Mary mix, bacon, green chile, cheese, and a Tajín or salt rim. The regular food menu highlights shareable plates of classic Mexican fare and unique fusion dishes, including Esquite Egg Rolls and Chicken Tinga Grilled Cheese, plus an array of starters, tacos, soups, salads, and desserts. Join them for an extended happy hour, nightly in the bar area from 6–9 pm.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Available for Reservations

Understory

Carmel Valley
$$$$

Understory, the resident cocktail bar inside The SkyDeck at Del Mar Highlands Town Center, aims to elevate your craft cocktail adventure. Named for the area between the main forest canopy and the forest floor, the innovative creations on the cocktail menu evoke the denizens of the ecosystem, like the Satanic Nightjar, with Ford’s London Dry Gin, turmeric, ginger, chili, tamarind, lemongrass, mint, and club bubbles, or The Black Back Puffback, a cherrywood-smoked cocktail with Cazadores Cristalino Tequila, Verde Mezcal, lime, agave, and cinnamon. Classic cocktails, crafted mocktails, and a well-rounded wine list ensure there’s something for everyone.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made via Tock. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Available for Reservations

Wormwood

University Heights
$$$$

San Diego’s first absinthe bar and restaurant, Wormwood, brings a brand new drinking and dining adventure to University Heights, showcasing nearly 40 absinthes sourced from Europe, New York, Louisiana, and other distilleries. Like Tahona Bar, its sister cocktail venue, Wormwood will also be a place of education about this mysterious, often misunderstood spirit. Enjoy absinthe in the traditional fashion of early 20th century Paris, served from slow-drip fountains with a cube of sugar, or choose from a cocktail menu showcasing revisited absinthe classics as well as a selection of non-absinthe drinks. Shareable entrees and small plates feature French influences, updated for modern tastes and including luxurious dishes like Regiis Ova Caviar served with sea urchin custard, masa blinis, eggplant creme fraîche, and chives, or Confit de Canard over Parisian gnocchi, banana vinegar beurre blanc, parsnips, and peanuts.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Available for Reservations
Wolfie’s Carousel Bar
Photo by James Tran, courtesy of Wolfie’s Carousel Bar

Wolfie’s Carousel Bar

Little Italy
$$$$

Words like “stunning” and “jaw-dropping” get tossed around a lot, but that’s exactly how to describe Wolfie’s Carousel Bar, Little Italy’s buzzy drinking den. The centerpiece is a dazzling 24-seat, carousel-shaped bar that rotates slowly, giving you a 360-degree view of the room every 14 minutes. Inspired by The Carousel Bar & Lounge in New Orleans, the beverage program serves NOLA signature cocktails like the French 75, Sazerac, and Vieux Carré, while the food menu features stylish interpretations of the classics, like Oysters Rockefeller, sourced from Baja and prepared with Comté, shallots, spinach, and persillade; Wagyu Tartare with gremolata, quail yolk, and brioche toast points; and Steak Frites with an eight-ounce grilled Australian Wagyu New York strip cut, sauce au poivre, and pommes frites. Weekend brunch features Brûlée French Toast, with or without duck confit, croques, tartines and bennies, plus a handful of déjeuner options.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made online via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Available for Reservations

Shake & Muddle

Chula Vista
$$$$

Chula Vista’s burgeoning cocktail scene got a massive upgrade with the opening of Shake & Muddle. Billing itself as “a next generation/fusion cocktail mixology bar,” Shake & Muddle pushes the boundaries of your senses by exploring the savory, sweet, tart, and fruity flavors of cocktails, sorted into categories like Citrus, Spice, and Everything Nice; Bubbles and Herbs; and Worldly Old Fashions, which reinterprets the classic cocktail with spirits from different countries. Day drinkers can pair boozy creations with breakfast items like bennies, burritos, croissants, and croques, or shareable apps, soups, salads, and sandwiches for lunch. The extensive dinner menu features hot and cold starters, plus large plates, signature steaks, pasta, and risotto. Join them for happy hour Tuesday through Thursday from 4–6 pm and all night on Monday for deals on drinks, wine, beer, and select food options.
How to book: Reservations can be made via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Available for Reservations

Tahona Bar

Old Town
$$$$

Located next to one of San Diego’s most iconic landmarks, the Campo Santo Cemetery, Tahona features Oaxacan-influenced cuisine and agave-based libations. Executive chef Adrian Villarreal’s extraordinary craft cocktails and contemporary Mexican flavors are sourced from local, sustainable vendors. Fresh and fruity Oaxacan Lady, a blend of Paranubes Oaxacan Rum, Chinola Passion Fruit, Lo fi Amaro, fresh lemon, and egg white, and The Old Town Old Fashioned, a spirit-forward blend of Verde Mezcal, lapsang-infused demerara,
scotch rinse, Angostura, and grapefruit bitters, show off the mixologist’s skills, or dive into the smokey world of mezcal with a flight from their collection of nearly 100 bottles.
How to order: Make a reservation for indoor dining via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if available.

Available for Reservations

Realm Of The 52 Remedies

Convoy District
$$$$

Realm breathed new life into the speakeasy concept in San Diego, starting with the door situated in plain sight at the back of Kearny Mesa’s Common Theory Public House. Behind it lies The Apothecary, a futuristic white space with gleaming jars of exotic herbs and tonics that you can explore and merchandise for purchase. Then, you’ll maneuver through the final passageway into an opulent Art Deco masterpiece fused seamlessly with Korean and Chinese elements. A long, jade bar gives you a front row view of the mixology magic, while private booths are cast in flattering, flickering light. Remedies For Your Ailments is a seasonally-rotating collection of of-the-moment cocktails that range from spirit-forward to tropical to spiced and smoky; Modern Remedies Around the World pays homage to inspiring new classics from the 2000s, and Prescriptions From the Old Days covers time-honored creations of the 1800-1900s. If all of that seems overwhelming, just let your mixologist craft you something wonderful, or choose from their impressive list of rare and unusual spirits, neat or on a big, crystal clear ice rock.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made up to two weeks in advance via Tock. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Dija Mara
Photo courtesy of Dija Mara

Dija Mara

Oceanside
$$$$

This coastal city's food and drink renaissance over the past few years has yielded some serious gems, and Dija Mara is one of the crown jewels. The unassuming location provides a lot of things nowhere else really does: Balinese-inspired fusion food, Oceanside's only all-natural wine program, and an array of low-ABV cocktails. From Ayam Penyet to Nasi Goreng, all the food is meant to pair with something from their extensive drinks list, including hard-to-find wines from around the world, local craft beer, and signature cocktails like the Cardinal Sin and Beets by Bali. Sunday brunch features sparkling cocktails and faves like Dija Hangover roti wraps and Kaya Jam Toast.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made via Tock. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Neighborhood
Photo by James Tran, courtesy of Neighborhood

Neighborhood

East Village
$$$$

Neighborhood was way ahead of its time when it opened in San Diego’s East Village in 2007. Now, the swanky spot houses not one, but two “hidden” speakeasies within the walls. The first, Noble Experiment, helped launch San Diego’s reputation as a cocktail destination, and recently ditched the menu in favor of the bespoke model, where unique creations are individually mixed for each customer. Newcomer Youngblood adds to the mystique with a prix-fixe cocktail menu starting at around $65, as well as a collection of rare libations not likely to be found anywhere else. Hours vary for each venue; check the individual website for current day/times.
How to order: Reservations are required and can be made for Youngblood via OpenTable and for Noble Experiment also via OpenTable.

Available for Reservations
The Waverly
Photo courtesy of The Waverly

The Waverly

Cardiff-by-the-Sea
$$$$

From the hospitality experts that brought us Kettner Exchange, The Grass Skirt, and more comes The Waverly, a breezy, bright beachside eatery with a cocktail menu crafted by some of the best bartenders in San Diego. The beverage program is specifically designed to provide options for all times of day, so there’s no shame in snagging a rum-infused Kingston Cold Brew in the morning and switching to a smoky mezcal Bodega Boy in the evening. The Sunny Days Old Fashioned with Nikka Days Japanese Whisky, Benedictine, Angostura, and a large sexy ice cube is a wonderful twist on the classic, but the amazing selection of wine, beer, and alcohol-free options means all bases are covered.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made via Tock. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Madison
Photo courtesy of Madison on Park

Madison on Park

University Heights
$$$$

Madison’s sleek, modern interior, with its 25-foot vaulted and arched cedar-lined ceilings, is the ideal backdrop for Instagram portraiture, but it's the drinks that really shine. Try one of their rotating seasonal options, featuring innovative additions like butterfly pea flower, passionfruit sparkle dust, and Humboldt hemp-infused vodka. Weekend brunch pairs Mediterranean-inspired dishes and beautiful mimosas with activated charcoal or spirulina.
How to book: Reservations for indoor and patio dining can be made via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if available.

Available for Reservations
Cantina Mayahuel
Photo courtesy of Cantina Mayahuel Instagram

Cantina Mayahuel

Normal Heights
$$$$

In a city with no shortage of phenomenal Mexican eateries, Cantina Mayahuel’s food menu isn’t the most groundbreaking. (Except for the carnitas street tacos, which are ridiculously good.) No, the real jewel of this Normal Heights cantina is its collection of premium tequilas and mezcals. From classic margaritas to rare bottles, the agave-based spirits selection is second-to-none, and the experts behind the bar are always happy to shake things up with their own spins. They’re open Tuesday-Sunday from noon-10pm, and happy hour runs from noon to 6pm, Tuesday through Friday, with specials on tacos, margaritas, and Palomas, making it the ideal time to sample a little of everything.
How to order: Indoor and patio seating is available on a first-come basis.

O'Brien's Pub

Convoy District
$$$$

A pioneer in the craft beer game, O’Brien’s Pub has been a bastion of the beer scene and a local favorite watering hole since opening in 1994. Don’t expect velvet gloves here, though—it’s a tried-and-true tavern that focuses on good draughts, good conversation, and good pub fare that provides a solid base for when “one more pint” turns into two or three. Local beers are the highlight here, but don't miss the hard to find out-of-town craft favorites when they're available.
How to book: Seating is on a first-come basis.

The Nolen

Gaslamp District
$$$$

The Courtyard San Diego Gaslamp Hotel’s rooftop bar wows cocktail fans and design enthusiasts alike with its bird's-eye view of the San Diego skyline, as well as its seasonal menus. An array of different seating areas allow guests to comfortably lounge and the extensive drinks list means you've got loads of booze options. From Nolen originals to build-your-own mimosas available during Sunday brunch, The Nolen makes it easy to find something delightful to drink in an equally divine setting.
How to book: Reservations are available through Resy. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Available for Reservations

Starlite

Middletown
$$$$

Slip through the iconic hexagonal entry and into one of the luxurious black leather banquettes or under the twinkling starburst over the rectangular bar at Starlite one last time before they close for renovations in March 2023. Middletown’s retro-cool hot spot was sold to Consortium Holdings earlier this year and will undergo a month-long revamp before opening as a vintage steakhouse. Not to worry, though, CH Projects co-founder Arsalun Tafazoli intends to keep the most beloved architectural and culinary elements, like the sunken bar and the classic burger and mules, while revamping necessary areas like the back patio. Happy hour brings deals on food, beer, wine, well, and specialty cocktails Tuesday-Thursday from 5–6 pm.
How to book: Reservations for indoor and patio dining are available via Yelp. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Kindred

South Park
$$$$

A vegan/metal-themed bar and restaurant sounds suspiciously like a Portlandia sketch, but in real life, it’s a pretty kickass spot to grab a drink. With plenty of highly nerdy references serving as inspiration for Kindred’s cocktails, the menu reads like one big inside joke that only the most culturally savvy guests will be in on. Still, with an award-winning Gothic-inspired interior, delicious vegan fare, and plenty of skilled bartenders shaking things up, it’s an impressive and cherished spot in the quiet neighborhood of South Park.
How to order: Seating is on a first-come basis.

Calico Cidery

Julian
$$$$

Calico Cidery has quickly established itself as a welcome addition to the tight-knit community of Julian. The small, organic orchard grows, presses, ferments, and kegs everything on-site in its open-air barn using only apples and native yeast, and often has single varietals as well as blends available. Enjoy them at tables set under oak and apple trees in the orchard. Calico Cidery is currently open Thursday–Sunday from 11 am–7 pm, for growlers, flights, and pints. Leashed dogs are welcome.
How to book: Seating is on a first-come basis.

Wine may not be as buzzy as craft beer in San Diego, but The Rose has proven to be one of the city’s oenophilic highlights. The woman-owned and operated natural wine bar and bottle shop lies in the heart of the laid-back South Park neighborhood and slings small plates to pair with its well-curated wine list, featuring thoughtful selections for all price points. Off-menu bottles purchased in-house can be corked for $10, and the dozen Kumiai oysters is a great way to kick off a light meal. Brunch is a surprising highlight, but don’t play it safe with mimosas — rely on the servers’ guidance, and you can’t go wrong.
How to order: Seating for indoor and patio dining is on a first-come basis.

Mary Beth Abate is a San Diego-based freelance writer by way of Chicago and Los Angeles. Her hobbies include yoga, pickling and fermenting stuff, reading cookbooks and drinking fabulous gin. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.
Beth Demmon is a San Diego-based food + drink writer who loves craft beer and motorcycles (not necessarily enjoyed together).