In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is a relatively minor holiday commemorating the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla. In the United States, however, Cinco de Mayo is THE day to celebrate Mexican culture, food, and traditions -- oh, and it's also a great excuse to enjoy Mexican drinks. In case you’re not up for a trip down to Tijuana this weekend, we’re honoring our neighbors to the south with a list of our favorite places to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.
Pacific Beach Get your fiesta on early with day drinking from 3-7pm; specials include $4 wells, $6 house margaritas, two-for-one Buena Cerveza, $3 off specialty cocktails/buckets, and half-off all appetizers. If you’re planning on starting later, enjoy the weekend power hour from 7-9pm, featuring $3 drink specials and $2 appetizers. After drinking, guests can move to Moonshine Beach and enjoy live music from Chris Bandi.
La Jolla/Seaport Village Enjoy Casa Noble tequila specials on Cinco, as well as shareable plates like guac and taquitos. From 3-5pm, enjoy happy hour specials including $3.50 tacos and $6 Puesto Perfect margaritas -- and if you’re at The Headquarters location, you’ll get to shake your moneymaker with DJ Mention spinning tunes from 5-10pm.
Oceanside Make a beeline for the rooftop deck and enjoy a Sugar Skull Margarita: a sunset-gorgeous blend of Milagro silver tequila, Cointreau, crème de violette, and Prickly Pear liqueur, rimmed with black salt. Chow down on SoCal favorites like oyster shooters spiked with bloody mary sauce, grilled or fried fish tacos, and sliders with salmon, short rib, or beef burgers. On the main floor, happy hour goes from 3-5pm on Friday and features $1 off all margaritas, along with cocktail, beer, and food specials.
Gaslamp Quarter Soak in the panoramic views of the bay and Downtown San Diego at this rooftop craft cocktail bar located on the 14th floor of the Courtyard San Diego. Celebrate with a spicy margarita or blood orange michelada ($9); food deals include $12 short rib tacos and carnitas flatbreads.
Rancho Santa Fe Celebrate Cinco at The Pony Room with margaritas, Mexican craft beer specials, and bites including a build-your-own-taco bar. Signature cocktails ($4-$8) include La Piñata with charred pineapple mezcal and serrano tequila, and the Juan Y Appleseed with Kimo Sabe Joven mezcal. It’s all available on Friday from 11am-10pm (the build your own taco bar opens at 5:30pm).
Valley Center With handcrafted margarita options that include pepper melon, blackberry, cucumber, and blood orange, this watering hole inside Harrah’s is sure to have something for everyone. Guests can also indulge in ‘Ritas' salsa verde, chipotle, roasted chile de árbol, and the ultra-spicy roasted habanero-ghost pepper salsas, made in-house and served with a colorful variety of tortilla chips. Cinco de Mayo happy hour runs from 3 to 6 pm.
Little Italy On May 5, Kettner Exchange will transform its regular cocktail menu into a Cinco de Mayo-themed one with $10 cocktails. Options include the three-ingredient Classic margarita, Es Una Fresa (a smoky, refreshing mezcal drink topped with Jarritos Strawberry soda), and the wonderfully balanced El Matador (a reposado tequila old fashioned with a touch of amaro for sweetness and chocolatey flavors).
Gaslamp Quarter Known for having some of the most innovative Mexican cuisine and cocktails in San Diego, Gaslamp favorite Don Chido will be celebrating Cinco de Mayo the best way possible: with tequila! On Friday, guests can look forward to $6 Dos Equis beers, $6 house margaritas and $6 Sauza tequila shots, along with half-price entradas and drinks during the 4-7pm happy hour.
La Jolla Swap your tequila and tacos for Mexico-inspired pizza and beer at Regents Pizzeria. The La Jolla spot will be tapping two brews from Tijuana-based Cervecería Insurgente, available for $5. Foodwise, expect a spicy Shrimp Diablo New York-style pizza and General Zaragoza’s Chorizo, a zesty deep-dish number that lives up to the glory of its namesake.
Pacific Beach On Cinco de Mayo, your $10 donation includes access to the VIP lounge, a welcome cocktail, tequila tasting, a swag bag, photo booth access, and extended happy hour. One hundred percent of the proceeds go to MANA, a nonprofit organization that empowers Latina women through education, leadership development, community service, and advocacy.
Mission Bay Navigate the sparkling water of Mission Bay aboard the William D. Evans sternwheeler (it’s a kind of boat) while enjoying live DJ entertainment and sipping $5 Patrón shots and $4 Coronas. Tickets are $15 at the door, and complimentary parking is available in Ventura Cove.
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park This free, three-day fiesta starts the weekend off with restaurant specials on Friday and continues through Sunday. Saturday and Sunday, stop by Lowrider Lane on Harney St to vote for the finest tricked-out ride, then cheer on your favorite lucha libre wrestler. There’s live music all day and a kid’s area with activities from 11-5pm. Pro tip: Park at the Caltrans offices on Taylor and Juan Streets, or take the trolley or Coaster to the Old Town station, just a short walk from the festivities.
Spreckels Organ Pavilion Celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Balboa Park with a free concert inside the Spreckels Organ Pavilion starting at 6pm. The SDSU Jazz Ensemble and Wind Symphony will perform contemporary and classic Latin music with Jarabe Mexicano. Pre-concert festivities begin at 4pm in the Plaza de Panama, with the City Heights Mariachi Ensemble performing from 4:30pm. A variety of San Diego’s best food trucks will be parked in the Plaza.
Chicano Park This festival takes place on Saturday from 10am to 5pm, and is alcohol- and tobacco-free -- but don’t let that dissuade you. More than 10,000 people are expected at Chicano Park to celebrate the Cinco de Mayo con Orgullo Festival & Impalas Car Club Classic Car Show with food, live entertainment, health and cultural pavilions, and more. In addition, Susan G. Komen San Diego, San Ysidro Health Center, and the Outlets at the Border are hosting free clinical breast exams and mammograms for qualified men and women.
Vista If Friday’s festivities haven’t done you in, head up to Vista on Saturday for the Sixth Annual Rhythm & Brews Music and Craft Beer Festival. You’ll have the opportunity to sample more than 100 beers from over 50 award-winning breweries while grooving to live musical performances and enjoying delicious eats from local food trucks. San Diego's own Grammy-nominated rock band, P.O.D., is headlining the festival this year along with music by Ashley Hollander and The Tighten Ups. The event kicks off at 1pm.
Chula Vista The Cinco de Mayo Music Festival finally returns to Chula Vista on Sunday after a four-year absence. Free and family-friendly, this cultural event welcomes attendees to enjoy delicious food, live bands, DJs, mariachi bands, baile folklórico (traditional dances), and a Taste of Taco and Beer Fest with a taquero showcase. The festival runs from 11am to 6pm.
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Mary Beth Abate is a San Diego-based freelance writer by way of Chicago, Cleveland, and Baltimore. Her hobbies include yoga, pickling and fermenting various vegetables and beverages, reading cookbooks and traveling through Mexico. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.