Food & Drink

San Diego's Best Rooftop Bars for Elevated Drinking

Updated On 04/17/2019 at 03:59PM EST Updated On 04/17/2019 at 03:59PM EST
the nolen
The Nolen | Gregory Pierce Photography
Kairoa Brewing Company

Kairoa Brewing Company

University Heights

If drinking outdoors is a San Diego tradition, then drinking outdoors at a brewery must be, I don’t know, a double tradition or something? Forgetting semantics, the newly opened Kairoa pays homage to the owners New Zealand heritage with a menu replete with Kiwi-inspired food and brews. That means hearty dishes like sausage rolls and meat pies, and beers that utilize the country’s crown jewel hop varietal (Nelson hops), like the Tasman Bay IPA. You’ll be hard pressed to find a joy more simple than digging into a sausage roll and chasing it down with a New Zealand IPA on a sunny, modernistic rooftop.

Courtesy of Hotel Republic San Diego

Topside Terrace Kitchen and Bar

Little Italy

Yet another recent addition to the Little Italy scene, Topside Terrace Kitchen and Bar is located atop the newly rebranded Hotel Republic. It’s a decidedly relaxed, yet refined, spot that doesn’t attract too large of crowds and plies visitors with delicious dishes like roasted bone marrow and crafted cocktails like an Old Cuban: a rum-based drink that’s a bit of a hybrid between a mojito and a French 75. Combine all of that with a non-exorbitant price point (the bone marrow is only $9), and you’ve found yourself a diamond in the rough.

Blade 1936

Oceanside

Blade 1936 is set to open its doors any day now, and when it does it will be a welcome addition to Oceanside’s rapidly emerging dining scene. Located in the same building that housed the former Oceanside Blade-Tribune and News newsroom, Blade 1936 pays homage to the heritage of America’s Finest City (with authentic retro newsprint covering the walls) while offering a modern take on Neapolitan-style Italian cuisine just a few blocks from the pier. Wood-fired pizza with rooftop ocean views will never not be good.

King and Queen Cantina

Little Italy

King and Queen Founder Jorge Cueva wanted to bring the atmosphere of a Latin cantina to Little Italy -- that is, a spot where you wear your Sunday best and prepare to be treated like royalty. That said, he also wanted to tweak it a bit for the modern San Diego crowd by adding dance music and a party vibe. The result is a spot that's both lively and surprisingly intimate, with an over-the-top brunch menu and skyline views of downtown.

Two Seven Eight

Two Seven Eight

Hillcrest

Two Seven Eight isn’t like any other rooftop in San Diego, and classifying it simply as a “bar” would do a great disservice to it: it’s a meeting place, a commune of sorts. The spot is an homage to Executive Chef Jessica Fisher’s old apartment in Brooklyn -- she wanted a visit to the restaurant to feel like a visit to a longtime friend’s pad -- and as such, it’s an intimate rooftop with a focus on unpretentious, shared plates, from mac and cheese to roasted duck breast. Everything at Two Seven Eight is locally sourced as well (they pride themselves on supporting San Diego’s craft spirit scene), so the underlying feeling of community is always present.

Firehouse Pacific Beach

Firehouse

Pacific Beach

Firehouse has become a Pacific Beach institution by focusing on two things: offering an excellent boozy brunch during the daytime (try the chicken and waffles), and really leaning into the dance lounge vibes at night, all with an ocean view. It inevitably will be crowded almost any night, as those looking to cut a rug flock to it in packs (Firehouse has DJs spinning house music multiple times a week), but it never feels uncomfortable due to how well the highly exposed rooftop catches a breeze.

Zack Benson

Born & Raised

Little Italy

Spend any amount of time at Born & Raised, and the adjective “elevated” will likely come to mind. The entire experience is opulent yet eccentric; the decor is ornate and seemingly inspired by the roaring ‘20s (think marble bar tops and waiters in white dinner coats), but sprinkled with homages to modern style and gangster rap (think framed photos of Eazy-E on the walls and those same waiters wearing Chuck Taylors with those dinner jackets). The menu reflects that eccentricity as well: there’s a $150, 21-day dry aged duck that you can order and then follow up with a giant chocolate macaroon emblazoned with the Wu-Tang logo. Come prepared to spend a pretty penny in exchange for one of the best food and beverage experiences of your life.

ALTITUDE Sky Lounge

Altitude Sky Lounge

Gaslamp

At 22 stories, ALTITUDE is the highest open-air rooftop bar in the area, which means you’ll have better views of the city here than anywhere else. In addition to the bird’s eve view of the city, ALTITUDE’s location next to Petco Park also means you can catch a free ball game, which -- given how godawful the Padres are -- is the perfect price. The bar rarely has a cover, but it does have a dress code, so don’t show up dressed like you just rolled out of bed and you should be good.

Amplified Ale Works

Pacific Beach

Look at everything I just wrote about OB Brewery, replace “Newport Ave” with “Mission Boulevard” and “snacks” with kebabs, and you have Amplified Ale Works. The brewery has gotten a ton of recognition as of late (we included it in our best brewery list, nbd), and head brewer Cy Henley is always working on new brews, so no two visits to Amplified will be alike.

Sara Norris/Thrillist

Cannonball

Mission Beach

Ignoring the scores of tourists that are sure to be at Cannonball on any given day, the bar has an unabated view of the beach and the best people watching in San Diego with the crowds that populate Ocean Front Walk.

Kimpton Solamar Hotel

Upper East Bar

Gaslamp

A rooftop pool bar in the middle of Gaslamp is great, but a rooftop pool bar in Gaslamp without a cover is an absolute dream come true. A companion to the hotel restaurant downstairs, this spot (formerly called LoungeSix and recently rebranded as Upper East Bar) might not be cheap, but the bartenders here pour strong drinks -- and isn’t that what really matters?

Catania SD

Catania

La Jolla

An excellent date spot, Catania serves up some of the best Italian food in San Diego in a relaxed environment with a view of La Jolla’s picturesque downtown. Try the duck sugo orecchiette, or go with a classic and order the pizza margherita.

Hotel Betty Fish House

Hello Betty Fish House

Oceanside

Too often, lists like these neglect North County, which is outright silly. Just one block off the beach, Hello Betty presents stunning views of the Oceanside Pier. It can get crowded up there with people putting back oyster shooters and ceviche and beers, but head downstairs to the main kitchen for the best salmon burger in town.

The Rooftop by STK

Gaslamp

Of all the rooftops on this list, the Rooftop by STK atop the Andaz in Gaslamp is arguably the clubbiest, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. STK hosts some great pool parties, and the music director always brings solid DJ acts. Go, get in the pool and have some fun.

Sara Norris/Thrillist

Kettner Exchange

Little Italy

There might not be a more “hip” (whatever the hell that means) neighborhood right now than Little Italy. Between spots like Ironside Fish & Oyster, Juniper & Ivy, and Crack Shack opening in the past few years, Little Italy has become THE place for daring new restaurant ventures, and Kettner Exchange is here to make sure libations are taken care of in a gorgeous, two-story rooftop setting.

Gregory Pierce Photography

The Nolen

Gaslamp

A 14-story jewel in the Gaslamp, The Nolen features both a patio and a rooftop, because why not? Its beautiful setting -- which features a communal fire pit -- underlies an immersive cocktail menu. It’s cocktails only at The Nolen, but the barrel-aged and classic menus featuring cant-miss drinks like sidecars and new-age cocktails like a Christmas in Nicaragua.

Ocean Beach Brewery

Ocean Beach

After years of being in the works, OB Brewery finally opened its doors this past July. Now, the brewery is open serving well-made craft beers on Newport Ave within spitting distance of the Ocean Beach Pier. The snacks it offers pair well with its beers at sunset, and it’s in the heart of OB, so you get all those weird hippy vibes as well.

Mister A's Restaurant

Mister A’s

Banker’s Hill

Straight up, the best view in San Diego might be from Mister A’s. Its location just outside the heart of downtown in Banker’s Hill gives you a view of the entire city in all its splendor, from the airport to the bay. Also, the kitchen makes incredible mac and cheese, and if you can’t get down with mac and cheese on a rooftop, you are a horrible person.

Rustic Root

Gaslamp

When Gaslamp is a complete shitshow and you want a bit of a reprieve from insane lines and fighting for elbow room at the bar, head to Rustic Root. The super-relaxed atmosphere pairs really well with the rooftop view for watching the masses as they roll down Sixth Ave.

Level 9 - Rooftop Bar & Lounge

Level 9 Rooftop Bar

East Village

Another Downtown rooftop bar located in the shadow of Petco Park, Level 9 has one advantage over all the other rooftop bars: It’s dog friendly. Located atop the Hotel Indigo, Level 9 lets you have a beer or three with your canine pal at elevation, and you’ve never experienced a conversation like having a boozy heart-to-heart with your dog about how much you love him/her while standing nine floors up.

El Prez

Pacific Beach

Sometimes, the designers of rooftop spaces will sacrifice atmosphere in order to make a location look chic. Far too often a rooftop will look awesome, but be filled with stuffy people. That’s definitely not the case at El Prez. Yes, it can get crowded at times, but if you’re looking to let your hair down and have a good time, this is the spot.

Fairweather

Fairweather Bar

East Village

Much like Altitude and Level 9, Fairweather offers a great view of Petco, but unlike the former two options, Fairweather is a bit more intimate and laidback. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in killer cocktails; the bartenders here are some of the best in San Diego, and their gin drinks (particularly the Singapore Sling) are all to die for.

Il Fornaio

Enoteca del Fornaio

Del Mar

This fine dining Italian restaurant isn’t exactly the “sandals and tequila shots” rooftop joint you might be looking for, but if you're after great food for a decent price that comes with a stunning view, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better location. Get the antipasto della casa, a sampler that includes prosciutto di Parma, caprese, bruschetta, and grilled artichoke -- it's what Enoteca is known for, and it's perfect for groups.

Bagby Beer

Bagby Beer Company

Oceanside

Oceanside and Carlsbad have seen an influx of new breweries in recent years, and Bagby has helped lead the charge. The brewery features a rotating cast of beers (if you happen to be there when the Dork Squad is on tap, get it), as well a unique menu that features everything from pork belly sliders, to fried pb&j, to an ice cream sandwich sampler. And, in a recent study that I just made up, the combination of ice cream, beer, and a rooftop view is scientifically proven to be the greatest thing on Earth.

Starlite - San Diego

Starlite

Middletown

The term “hidden gem” isn’t often used to describe rooftop bars in San Diego, but it’s fitting for Starlite. It’s decorated absolutely beautifully, with wood paneling and dim lighting throughout giving it the feel of a downtown speakeasy. It’s as fantastic date spot, and great if you want a rooftop drink without ever having to worry about a crowd.

Hard Rock Hotel San Diego

Float Rooftop Pool and Bar at the Hard Rock

Gaslamp

Point-blank: If you’re looking to seriously party, head to Float. With a summer pool party season that rivals Vegas, Float isn’t exactly for the people hoping for a more laid-back night or, say, a productive next day. But, so long as you don’t mind inadvertently joining the occasional bachelor/bachelorette party, you’ll have a good time.

Luke’s on Front

Temecula

Sunsets in Temecula are a sight to behold, and with its excellent drafts list and full food menu, Luke’s is a great spot to take them in. Pair some local wines with a view of the town’s historic downtown, and try the homemade meatloaf sandwich on grilled sourdough.

Duke's La Jolla

Park 101

Carlsbad

Park 101 isn’t so much a “rooftop bar” as it is an adult Disneyland. Set up as a two-floor outdoor compound, Park 101 features a casual outdoor lounge with room for cornhole and other games as well as a menu that defines eclectic. You want cotton candy, pulled pork, and frosé? Park 101 has you covered.