Where to Grab a Drink in San Diego Right Now

From upcycled spirits to boozy ice cream, we’ve got you covered.

If there’s one thing you can count on in San Diego’s bar scene, it’s always changing. After a year of uncertainty, we’re ready to hit our old favorites and check out the newest entries into the market. There’s no shortage of luxe lounges and sparkling rooftop showstoppers, but we also love our low-key, casual hangouts too. Whether you’re looking for a quiet evening catching up with friends, a sexy setting to romance someone special, or a lavish blowout, San Diego has the perfect vibe for all your tippling adventures.

A word of caution: COVID-19 is not over. The CDC recommends that fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people follow their mask guidelines in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission. If you’re asked to mask up, do it. In addition, many of our favorite watering holes are still struggling with staffing, so check their hours of operation before heading out, and above all, be patient and tip generously. With that in mind, here are the best places to grab a drink in San Diego right now:

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 four flavors (so far); mojito, lemonade iced tea, mango colada, and passion berry. When your hunger strikes, the adjacent HottMess pizza joint makes wood-fired pies using the spent grains from local breweries in the crust, and SideYard BBQ serves up pulled pork, brisket, smoked turkey, ribs, and more. 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 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 Whaley House Punch, a combo of mezcal verde, pineapple juice, salted watermelon syrup, Campari, fresh lime, and an absinthe rinse, and The Ancelote, a spirit-forward blend of Abasolo Mexican whiskey, Ancho Reyes
Verde, chipotle habanero honey, and lemon show off the mixologist’s skills, or dive into the smokey world of mezcal with a flight from their collection of nearly 100 bottles.

Available for Reservations

“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 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 rotating collection of of-the-moment cocktails that range from spirit-forward and 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 a wide 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'' or "Beets by Bali." Sunday brunch features sparkling brunchtails and faves like Dija Hangover burritos 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

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 sizable 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.

Vino Carta - Wine Shop & Bar
Photo courtesy of Vino Carta

This wine shop-slash-bar focuses on carrying small, sustainable brands to bring flavors from around the world to the heart of Little Italy. With hundreds of bottles to choose from and an expert staff of oenophiles ready to chat all things wine, Vino Carta makes diving into the wine world easy and fun for newbies and experts alike. The bar hosts plenty of tastings and winemaker visits, but the well-stocked bottle shop means you're unlikely to leave empty-handed. Be sure to keep up with their Instagram page for things like paella pop-ups, exclusive seasonal arrivals, and rotating food trucks. Also a plus; they’re open seven days a week from until 10pm Sunday-Wednesday and until midnight Thursday-Saturday.
How to order: Seating 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 has reopened with not one, but two “hidden” speakeasies within the walls. The first, Noble Experiment, arguably launched 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 Young Blood 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 their stunning selection of wine, beer, and non-alcoholic options means all their bases are covered.
How to order: Reservations are recommended and can be made via Tock.

J & Tony’s Discount Cured Meats and Negroni Warehouse
Photo by Zack Benson, courtesy of J & Tony’s Discount Cured Meats and Negroni Warehouse

Featuring a ten-seat bar, an outdoor patio splashed in pink, amaro-centric cocktails, and of course negronis, J & Tony’s shares an eye-catchingly bizarre space with The Invigatorium, a coffee-centric arm of local brewery Modern Times. Every weekday from 3–6 pm, J & Tony's offers a "tiny tini'' for $2.69, but even more wacky touches abound, thanks to the inventive minds behind the concept, CH Projects. If in doubt on where to start, don't overthink it: a classic negroni is always a slam dunk.
How to order: Seating is on a first-come basis.

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, one of their fresh, innovative takes 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 has run the gamut of 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 Tuesday–Sunday 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 a “Build Your Own Mimosas” (available during 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

Mission Hills

Thanks to its location adjacent to the 5 freeway and a plethora of steep one-way streets, arriving at Starlite can be a little difficult, 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.

Lost Cause Meadery

Multiple locations

If craft beverages had a power couple, it would be cider and mead. These sweetly-styled libations are quickly gaining market share, and San Diego’s beer scene is seriously feeling it. The Lost Cause Meadery (cited as "The World's Most Awarded Meadery")—along with Serpentine Cider and The Good Seed Food Company—carved out a niche in the heart of Beer Country (aka Miramar) in 2017. Much to the delight of drinkers seeking alternatives to craft beer, the trio offers house-made meads, ciders, and bites all in the same 3,000-square-foot shared space. Bonus: A portion of the proceeds goes to charitable endeavors, so your drinks can go down easy. The shared tasting room's current hours of operation are Wednesday through Thursday, 4–8pm, Friday 4–9pm, Saturday noon–9pm, and Sunday noon–8pm, but don't miss their satellite locations for alternate hours as well.
How to order: Seating is on a first-come basis.

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—like “Sonic Death Monkey” from High Fidelity—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, surprisingly 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.

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 onsite 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. Hard cider is currently one of the fastest-growing alcohol segments in the United States, and Calico is well-poised to support the revolution. Leashed dogs are welcome at the cidery.
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 area 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 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.
How to order:Seating is on a first-come basis. Reservations can be made for large groups by calling 619-546-6424.

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).