Where to Grab a Drink in San Diego Right Now
Raise a glass—in person!
San Diegans loved to drink before the pandemic, and that didn’t change when the world shut down. Now, as we continue to march towards a new sense of normalcy, locals and tourists alike are flocking to their favorite watering holes. Some are old favorites, some recently opened their doors, but every one of these offers something you’re unlikely to find anywhere else. From beachside breweries to mod wine bars, craft cocktails to hard kombucha, San Diego is called “The Capital of Craft” for a reason. Be sure to check each spot’s website and/or social media for the latest updates within our quickly changing landscape, and find out where your next tipple awaits.
Here are our favorite bars for grabbing a drink in San Diego:
When a brewery messes up a batch of beer, down the drain it goes. If a keg of beer gets too old to sell, down the drain it goes. Millions of gallons of beer get wasted every year, but ReBru Spirits is addressing the problem by collecting beer headed for the drain and distilling it into vodka, gin, and whiskey. Their adjacent pizza spot, HottMess, kicks up their sustainability focus another notch by using spent grain from nearby breweries to create wood-fired pizza perfection. If pizza's not your thing, that's a little weird, but you're in luck—SideYard BBQ slings brisket, pulled pork, and other smoked faves as the third leg of the ReBru compound. Try one of the constantly rotating specialty cocktails like the Sigsbee, made with gin, grapefruit liqueur, rosemary syrup, lime juice, and a fresh rosemary sprig garnish.
How to order: Open for online orders, and make an appointment to pick up on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday. Open for BBQ and tours on Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm.
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 pork belly skewers to ceviche, 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."
How to order: Open Tuesday through Saturday from 5–9 pm, plus Sunday brunch from 11 am–2:30 pm and dinner from 5-9 pm. Outdoor dining and takeout available.
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: Visit the Boochyard Monday through Friday, 3–8 pm, and Saturday and Sunday noon–8pm, or order online for local delivery.
Vino Carta - Wine Shop & Bar
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.
How to order: Open Thursday through Sunday from noon to midnight, and Sunday through Wednesday noon–10pm, or use their contact form to request suggestions and specific wines.
Neighborhood was way ahead of its time when it opened in San Diego’s East Village ‘hood in 2007 before shuttering 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 unique creations individually mixed for every 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.
How to order: Neighborhood is open 11:30 am—midnight daily. Noble Experiment is first-come, first-served from 6 pm–midnight daily. Make reservations for Young Blood via OpenTable.
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: Make reservations online. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 am–10 pm.
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 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: Open from 8 am–11 pm Sunday through Thursday, and 8 am–midnight Friday and Saturday. Pickup and delivery options available through Toast.
Madison on Park
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 for the freshest, most innovative takes on spritzes, classic cocktails, and signature suggestions like the tequila-based Stone Stairs.
How to order: Reserve a table online. The bar is open from 5–10 pm every day except Monday. Weekend brunch starts at 9:30 am through 2:30pm. Takeout and delivery options are available via Doordash and Postmates.
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. The bar has expanded its outdoor space for safe dining, and now offers takeout on food and margaritas every Tuesday through Sunday from 1-7:30pm.
How to order: Walk-ins available on a first-come basis. Open noon–10 pm every day except Monday.
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. When the pandemic closed indoor operations, dimly lit dives without much of an outdoor element—like Sycamore—struggled to stay afloat. But they're open and ready to quench your thirst, as long as you bring along a mask.
How to order: Open 5 pm–2 am daily.
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: Open Monday through Wednesday, 11 am–9:30 pm, Thursday through Saturday 11 am–10 pm, and Sunday 11 am–5 pm.
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 Mimosa” option (available during brunch), The Nolen makes it easy to find something delightful to drink in an equally divine setting.
How to order: Reservations available through Resy and takeout available to order online. Open Monday through Wednesday, 11 am–9:30 pm, Thursday through Saturday 11 am–10 pm, and Sunday 11 am–5 pm.
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. The bar recently revamped its patio to better accommodate in-house dining, and happy hour runs from 5–6 pm every day it's open.
How to order: Reservations available via Yelp. Open Tuesday through Saturday 5–9:30 pm.
Lost Cause Meadery
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, all in the same 3,000-square-foot shared space. Much to the delight of drinkers seeking alternatives to craft beer, the trio offers house-made meads, ciders, and bites in a shared space. Bonus: A portion of the proceeds goes to charitable endeavors, so your drinks can go down easy.
How to order: The shared tasting room's current hours of operation are Wednesday through Thursday, 4–8 pm, Friday 4–9 pm, Saturday noon–9 pm, and Sunday noon–5 pm, but don't miss their satellite locations for alternate hours as well.
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 The Spice Must Flow from Dune—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: All dine-in seating is walk-in only. Takeout and delivery are available, but hours of operation are Monday through Thursday, 4:30–10 pm, Friday 4:30–11 pm, Saturday and Sunday 10 am–2 pm for brunch and 4:30–11 pm for dinner.
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.
How to order: Current hours are Friday through Sunday from 11am until sunset, and leashed dogs are welcome.
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. Check out the bar’s “pay it forward” program, where you can get a free meal if you’re in need, or pay it forward for someone for just $10.
How to order: Open daily for dine-in, outside seating, or takeout from 12-11pm, with last seating/kitchen closed at 10pm. Reservations are required or you can order takeout.
The Rose Wine Pub
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: Dine on the patio Tuesday through Sunday, call 619-281-0718 for reservations.
Pure Project Brewing
Opening a second location in beer-heavy San Diego is always a gamble, but Pure Project went all-in on its posh tasting room in the affluent Bankers Hill ’hood. That gamble seems to be paying off: its Hazy IPAs consistently bring in crowds, despite the more cocktail-centric area. Expect to pay a premium for the adjunct-heavy beers, but with 20 taps to choose from, there’s a nice variety of styles on offer. The wraparound patio makes the most of the world-famous San Diego climate, but it's just as impressive inside with plenty of decor touches styled by Tec/scape Design.
How to order: Open seven days a week, with certain days/hours dedicated to takeout beer only, as well as dining and takeout. Of course, there are also locations in Miramar and Carlsbad, with varying hours as well.
Beth Demmon is a San Diego-based food + drink writer who loves craft beer and motorcycles (not necessarily enjoyed together).