Where to Grab a Drink in San Diego Right Now

From a rotating carousel bar to an absinthe den, secret speakeasies, and more.

San Diego’s bar scene continues to amaze us with its variety—in addition to being the capital of craft beer, we’ve got sparkling rooftop showstoppers and luxe lounges, as well as great sports bars to watch your favorite teams and low-key dive bars too. Whether you want to spend a quiet evening catching up with friends by the fire pits, throw a lavish blowout at a carousel bar, or romance someone special in a sexy speakeasy, San Diego has the perfect vibe for all your tippling adventures.

Now that California’s mask mandate has been lifted, it’s easy to forget that COVID-19 is still around. Remember that private businesses have the right to create specific COVID guidelines to protect themselves and their staff—so if someone asks you to put a mask on when going to the restroom, don’t be a jerk about it. Many of our favorite watering holes continue to struggle with staffing, so check hours of operation before heading out, and above all, be patient and tip generously. From South Park to the Gaslamp District and beyond, here are the best places to grab a drink in San Diego right now:

Go Go Amigo

Liberty Station
$$$$

Brought to you by Good Time Design, the folks behind some of San Diego’s most fun venues like The Presley, The Blind Burro, and Moonshine Beach, Go Go Amigo, a south of the border-inspired restaurant, just landed in the old El Jardin space in Liberty Station. The extensive renovation has created additional patio space, as well as a new outdoor bar area, while the beverage program showcases tequila-based cocktails like prickly pear slushies and cucumber jalapeno margaritas. Hit them up from 4–10 pm on Taco Tuesdays for half-price on icy palomas, house margaritas, and all tequilas, plus $3 street tacos. The food menu highlights shareable plates of classic Mexican fare and unique fusion dishes, including Rockfish and Pulpo Aguachile, Chicken Tinga Grilled Cheese, plus an array of starters, tacos, soups, salads, and desserts.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Understory

Carmel Valley
$$$$

Understory, the resident cocktail bar inside The SkyDeck at Del Mar Highlands Town Center, aims to elevate your craft cocktail adventure. Besides a full slate of exciting, innovative creations on the regular menu, they’ve launched a tableside experience with two cocktail options, Jalisco Pine (barrel-aged tequila, elderflower and rosemary syrup, lemon juice, cardamom-infused Angostura bitters, rosemary spice, and egg white), and Brush Fire (barrel-aged Woodford Reserve Bourbon, charcoal, grapefruit, jalapeno syrup, cardamom-infused Angostura bitters, rosemary spice, and egg white). In addition, they’ve recently introduced Martini Mondays, offering a trio-flight of martinis, and Throwback Thursday every second Thursday of the month, with a rotating list of themed-throwback drinks, a DJ spinning throwback tunes, and bottle specials on Uncle Ed’s Damn Good Vodka.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Wormwood

University Heights
$$$$

San Diego’s first absinthe bar and restaurant brings a brand-new drinking and dining adventure to University Heights. The brainchild of Tahona Bar founder Amar Harrag, Wormwood showcases more than 30 absinthes sourced from Europe, New York, Louisiana, and other distilleries, and like Tahona, 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, including luxurious dishes like sturgeon 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.

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 newest 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, curated by executive chef Peter Ziegler (Charles + Dinorah) features stylish interpretations of the classics; think Oysters Rockefeller, sourced from Baja and prepared with housemade butter, heavy cream, spinach, parmesan, and breadcrumbs; Wagyu Tartare with gremolata, quail yolk, and brioche toast points; or steak frites with a 14-ounce New York strip, sauce au poivre, and pommes frites.

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 liquors from different countries. Day drinkers can pair their 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 Monday through Thursday from 4–6 pm for deals on drinks, wine, beer, and select food options.

Available for Reservations

The Acre of Awesome

Barrio Logan
$$$$

We love the idea of shared spaces—and one of the best in San Diego is in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Barrio Logan. The Acre of Awesome houses three different drinking establishments, starting with Thorn Brewing and their 30-barrel brewhouse and tasting room, where you can sip signature brews as well as unique varieties that aren’t available at their other venues. ReBru Spirits rescues beer that’s either overstocked or nearing its expiration date from being dumped down the drain and upcycles it into small-batch craft vodka, gin, and whiskey, which can be purchased by the bottle or in a rotating selection of craft cocktails. Kové Hard Yerba Mate brews and serves up the world’s first alcoholic yerba mate—a native South American plant that’s brewed into a wildly popular, often communally shared beverage. Kové’s version is organic, vegan, gluten-free, and comes in a half-dozen flavors (so far); including mojito, lemonade iced tea, mango colada, and passion berry. Check the individual websites for hours of operation.
How to order: Seating is on a first-come basis.

Tahona Bar

Old Town
$$$$

Located next to one of San Diego’s most iconic landmarks, the Campo Santo Cemetery, Tahona Bar 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 (Paranubes Oaxacan Rum, Chinola passion fruit, Lo fi amaro, fresh lemon, and egg white) and The Old Town Old Fashioned (Verde Mezcal, lapsang-infused demerara, scotch rinse, Angostura, and grapefruit bitters) show off the mixologist’s skills, or dive into the world of mezcal with a flight from their collection of nearly 100 bottles.

Available for Delivery/Takeout
Available for Reservations

Realm Of The 52 Remedies

Convoy District
$$$$

“Hidden” speakeasies are a bit of a tired concept, but Realm has breathed new life into the idea, 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 (courtesy of master “hidden entrance” designer Michael Soriano) into an opulent Art Deco masterpiece fused seamlessly with Korean and Chinese design 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 pay 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 Beef Short Rib Pendang, all the food is prepped 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 Dija Monkey and Beets by Bali. Sunday brunch features sparkling cocktails and faves like Dija Hangover roti wraps and Kaya French toast.
How to order: Reservations are recommended and can be made via Tock. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Local Roots
Photo courtesy of Local Roots

Local Roots

Vista
$$$$

Alternative beverages like hard seltzer have swept the craft beverage category off its feet, and hard kombucha is definitely along for the ride. From JuneShine to Boochcraft, San Diego has embraced the craze wholeheartedly, but it's Local Roots that keeps us on our toes with flavors like their best-selling Boochmosa (a riff on the classic brunch cocktail), Purple Haze (blueberry and ginger), and Island Vibes (pineapple and coconut). Their newly remodeled tasting room, dubbed "The Boochyard," has even more flavors on draft, including traditional non-alcoholic kombuchas. Their cans are easy to find in off-premise outlets like Ralph's, Whole Foods, and more, but a visit to The Boochyard is a quintessential San Diego stop that shouldn't be missed.
How to order: Seating at The Boochyard is on a first-come basis.

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, before shutting for a massive renovation in 2019. But two years and $2 million later, the swanky spot reopened with 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.

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 cold brew in the morning and switching to mezcal in the evening. The Kona Old Fashioned with bourbon, macadamia nut, and mole 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 order: Reservations are recommended and can be made via Tock.

Madison
Photo courtesy of Madison on Park

Madison on Park

University Heights
$$$$

When the pandemic hit, Madison took to the streets—literally. Their sprawling parklet means guests can now enjoy high-quality cocktails under the iconic University Heights sign, paired with their small, but well-curated menu of continental and Mediterranean-inspired bites. Inside, the modern interior is the ideal backdrop for Instagram portraiture, but it's the drinks that really shine. Try one of their rotating seasonal options, innovative take on spritzes, classic cocktails, and signature suggestions like the tequila-based Stone Stairs.

Available for Delivery/Takeout
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.

Sycamore Den

Normal Heights
$$$$

The 1970s are alive and well at Sycamore Den, a kitschy lounge that’s incubated some of San Diego’s best bartenders since opening in 2013. The menu runs the gamut from gimmicky (a Jägermeister and vodka cocktail served inside a functioning lamp, for instance) to grandiose (hot buttered rum, available in both vegan and non-vegan forms). Of course, classics like Moscow Mules and Tom Collins shine just as brightly. Snag a spot by the fireplace or piano and sip on a little something that’s sure to be sublime. Happy hour runs from 5–6 pm daily and includes deals on beer, cocktails, and wine.
How to order: Seating is on a first-come basis.

O'Brien's Pub

Convoy District
$$$$

O’Brien’s Pub was way ahead of the craft beer game. The bar has been a bastion of the beer scene and a local favorite watering hole since opening in 1994, but don’t expect velvet gloves here; 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 order: Seating is on a first-come basis.

The Nolen

Gaslamp District
$$$$

After their 2019 revamp by award-winning design group Basile Studio, the Courtyard San Diego Gaslamp Hotel’s rooftop bar wowed cocktail fans and design enthusiasts alike with its bird's-eye view of San Diego’s 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.

Available for Delivery/Takeout
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, Middletown’s retro-cool hot spot. Its location adjacent to the I-5 freeway and a plethora of steep one-way streets, make the location a bit vexing, but this 21+ up stunner is worth a trip for the drinks alone (although the food menu is excellent as well). Specialty cocktails abound, as do draft and bottled beers, small-batch bourbons, and other high-end spirits.
How to order: 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
$$$$

When Julian Ciderworks closed in the summer of 2019, the quaint mountain town 60 miles northeast of downtown San Diego lost a big piece of apple tourism at the cusp of its biggest season. However, Calico Cidery quietly took its place and quickly established itself as a welcome addition to the tight-knit community. The small organic orchard grows, presses, ferments, and kegs everything on-site in its open-air barn using only apples and native yeast, and serves cold and refreshing glasses at tables set under oak and apple trees in the orchard. Calico Cidery is currently open Friday-Sunday from 11 am-7 pm, and leashed dogs are welcome.
How to order: Seating is on a first-come basis.

Metl

Gaslamp District
$$$$

It takes a lot for a local to head to Gaslamp for a night out, but Metl’s entry to the tourist-heavy district is a welcome exception. Touted as an upscale dive bar that highlights mezcal and tequila, Metl aims to seduce industry folk with comfort food (poutine, burgers featuring Flaming Hot Cheetos, and pulled pork sliders), and plenty of booze—including its luscious spirited ice creams in 38 rotating flavors, available in scoops, cones, and pints, plus ice cream sandwiches and cocktail lickers (push pops). Boozy scoops are 21+, but there are non-alcoholic options as well. Check out their family-friendly North Park Creamery and Cafe for Southern-style brunch and dinner and a full lineup of boozy frozen concoctions.
How to order: Reservations for the Gaslamp Quarter venue can be made via TableAgent.
Make reservations for the North Park Creamery and Cafe via TableAgent.

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 various vegetables and beverages, reading cookbooks and traveling through Mexico. 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).