20 Cool Things to Do in San Diego After Dark
From live comedy to al-fresco films, beach parties, and more, here’s where to go in San Diego after the sun sets.
It’s summer in America’s Finest City, with endless blue skies for lazy days at beautiful beaches and cool, starry nights that are ideal for scenic sips at a craft brewery or vibey rooftop bar. San Diego has some of the coolest, most unique spots to spend your summer nights, from buzzy nightclubs to boozy arcades. Whether you want to see some lions and giraffes up close, challenge yourself with extemporaneous storytelling, or laugh your butt off at a great comedy club, we have all your nightlife bases covered. Here’s our favorite things to do in San Diego after dark:
Leave your worries at home and embrace good times and happy vibes at Happy Does Bar, a new, retro indoor-outdoor dance club in the Gaslamp that’s named after the song “Happy Does” by Kenny Chesney. Resident DJ Legend, focuses on 80s, 90s and throwback hits mixed with current pop tracks, as well as karaoke every Thursday and Friday night. There’s a wide range of places to let loose and enjoy the music, including a dance floor, stage, and expansive outdoor patio. Happy Does also offers a selection of fruit-forward drinks, and a chicken tender-focused menu to satisfy late night bar munchies.
Laugh yourself silly at a comedy club
We could all use a good laugh these days and San Diego’s funniest venues are perfect for finding the humor in life. Mic Drop Comedy recently took over the space formerly occupied by the Comedy Palace, continuing its emphasis on diversity and supporting local talent, with 90-minute shows performed Wednesdays through Sundays, a full, scratch-made dinner and cocktail menu, and no drink or food minimums. Don’t Tell Comedy hosts two live performances nearly every weekend somewhere in San Diego—the exact locations and comedians are revealed to ticket holders on the day of the show at noon (hence the name of their show). The events are BYOB, so feel free to bring your own snacks and beverages. Al Gavi, founder of Comedy Heights, and co-producer Maria Herman host San Diego’s premier free comedy showcase every Friday evening at Bay Bridge Brewing in Chula Vista and Saturday night in a community room next to Twiggs Bakery and Coffeehouse in University Heights. The program features a diverse mix of headliners and new talent in a clean show that’s always standing room only. The show is free, but bring some cash; a hat gets passed at the end.
As with many cities around the U.S., lesbian clubs are sadly lacking in San Diego, but the Nicky Award-winning Gossip Grill remains a friendly, all-inclusive meeting spot where the ladies always outnumber the boys. There’s a full patio bar and restaurant for day drinking, brunching, and cozy dinners around the fire pits and after dark they transform into a nightclub where you can dance yourself silly until the wee hours. Check out Bingo Gone Bonkers with Mariam T, San Diego’s crankiest drag queen, on Wednesdays, Double D’s Dinner and Drag on first and third Thursdays, and Finger Me Friday for rotating DJs.
There’s nothing not to love about Flicks—the drinks are strong, the bartenders are friendly, and the music is always jammin’—in other words, it’s just about the perfect gay dance bar.
Located in the heart of Hillcrest, Flicks has been a local favorite for nearly 40 years. Happy hour brings joy every weekday and all day on Tuesdays, while Welfare Wednesdays feature wallet-friendly $5 well drinks from 9 pm on. Live, local DJs spinning your favorite club hits, hot go-go boys, and drink specials get your Thursdays off to a good start and, if you dare, strut your stuff at Saturday night’s regularly scheduled Underwear Show to win $100 and swag from Manfest.
Rooftop Cinema Club provides the ultimate outdoor film experience perched atop the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego’s fourth floor rooftop. Offering weekly showings of cult favorites against a backdrop of stars and panoramic views of downtown San Diego, it’s more than just movies with a view. State-of-the-art wireless headphones and comfy, adjustable deck chairs with ample leg room let you sit back and enjoy the show in style. Upscale concessions include craft brews, movie-themed cocktails, and fare like ahi poke and chips and charcuterie boxes. Upgrade your ticket to include bottomless popcorn for just $3.
The San Diego Wild Animal Park’s popular sleepover event gets an R-rated makeover once a month with Adults Only Roar and Snore Safari Night. Like its kid-friendly counterpart, you’ll have guided hikes, campfire chats, plenty of animal viewing, snacks, dinner and breakfast the next morning, plus, unlike the kiddie version, there’s a cash bar serving beer and wine, and the behind-the-scenes info takes a decidedly naughty turn. Tent options range from a basic five-sleeper with pads for your sleeping bags to a deluxe four-sleeper with a queen-sized bed and two cots with sleeping bags, linens and pillows, a fan, and a space heater. 21+ only.
Partying at the beach is a rite of passage in San Diego, and just steps from the waves in Pacific Beach, Mavericks Beach Club is a bar, nightclub, entertainment complex, and outdoor beach party all rolled into one. Their five full bars keep the liquor flowing all days of the week with weekday happy hours, Taco Tuesday, Wednesday Trivia, and Thursday Comedy Nights. In the nightclub, enjoy bottle service and dance the night away, then between songs, roam through their expansive 15,000-square-foot venue with different spaces and vibes for every type of partygoer. With various DJs stationed throughout the venue every weekend night, there’s never a dull moment at PB’s favorite party destination.
Pile the blankets and pillows into the car and head to South Bay Drive-in Theatre for a double-feature screened every day, all year-round, featuring the brightest, state-of-the-art, full digital quality available on three 100-foot screens. They even have email coupons for food discounts at the snack bar, which has a full complement of treats and goodies from popcorn and candy to carne asada nachos. Of course, you’re welcome to bring your own food and drinks, but alcoholic beverages aren’t allowed.
Sure, you’ve snapped a rubber glove and thrown toast at the screen, but Crazed Imaginations gives you a RHPS experience befitting their reputation for being raunchy, offensive, crude, silly, loud, and sexy by shadow casting the film—acting out the parts live while the movie plays in the background. Of course, audience participation is encouraged, and first-timers, or “virgins”, are welcomed beforehand with games and other rites of passage that are only slightly embarrassing. Prior to the show, head to the merch table for a prop bag, then grab some popcorn, a seat near the stage, and get ready to shout at all the appropriate moments. See the show every Friday at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas. Karma note: the live performers are unpaid actors, so be a good egg and throw a nice tip into the golden hat as you leave.
North Park, Oceanside
If yoga and meditation aren’t doing it for you, have a go at a different kind of stress relief and visit AxeVentures in North Park, one of several new axe-throwing venues that have popped up across the city. The idea is pretty straightforward—book a lane online or walk in anytime, learn the ropes from one of the coaches, and spend the next hour or so perfecting your tomahawk technique. Prefer to smash your stress away? Book the North Park Rage Room and use a crowbar or baseball bat to beat, crush, and demolish a bunch of stuff (provided, but you can bring your own objects to trash, subject to approval.) Get your glow on at Dark Light Nights after 6 pm on Mondays in Oceanside and Thursdays at both locations. Safety note: Closed toe shoes are required.
Visit a boozy arcade
Hang out and play arcade games in a grown up environment at Coin Op Game Rooms in North Park and the Gaslamp Quarter. These barcades feature old-school games like Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Mortal Kombat with the added allure of craft cocktails, punch bowls, a dozen or so beer taps, and inventive twists on classic bar bites. Both locations also have vintage pinball, and the Gaslamp venue has Skee-Ball machines and Super Shot Basketball games. At Punch Bowl Social in the East Village you’ll find a 360 bar with craft cocktails and games like bowling, shuffleboard, karaoke and bocce ball, along with a scratch kitchen and a trio of punch bowl cocktails. In the Gaslamp Quarter, head to The Smoking Gun to play classics like air hockey, skee-ball, basketball, driving games, and old-school video games like Pac-Man.
Listen to true stories capturing the essence and absurdities of being human, or tell your own at So Say We All’s Long Story Short monthly open mic showcase held at various locations throughout the city. Each storyteller shares a five-minute theme-based experience without the aid of notes. Future subjects include “That’s Not Funny, It’s Hilarious,” an exploration of those moments when you shouldn't be laughing but just can’t help it, and “You, Me, and Another Makes Three”, a look at whether three is welcome or a crowd. So Say We All also holds a monthly curated storytelling showcase, VAMP, usually held at the Whistle Stop Bar in North Park. Upcoming themes include “Swoon”, “Ride or Die,” “Sweat,” and “Stacks on Stacks on Stacks.” So Say We All is a nonprofit organization supporting literary and performing arts whose stated mission is “to create opportunities for individuals to tell their stories, and tell them better, through three core priorities: publishing, performance, and education.”
Join the fun at one of Hillcrest’s most popular gay bars, Urban Mo’s, for Showtunes Spaghetti Tuesdays. For just $7.50 you get all-you-can-eat spaghetti, along with a sing-along to musical treasures from your favorite TV, movie, and stage productions from 5-10 pm. Add Mo’s meatballs for $2.50 each and wash it all down with $6.50 Blackout Lemonades and Skyy Vodka Cocktails. Dine in only.
A walk through Liberty Station’s Arts District on the first Friday of the month might turn up spontaneous music, dance or theater performances, outdoor movies, or special gallery showings. For a map and monthly program, check online or stop by the Dick Laub NTC Command Center’s information desk, then wander through the various galleries, museums, and open spaces. Afterwards, stop for cocktails and dinner at the Liberty Public Market, Stone Brewing, Buona Forchetta, Go Go Amigo, Solare, or several other solid choices within easy walking distance.
Get competitive at trivia night
Everyone loves playing trivia, and lucky for us, San Diegans have options for basically every night of the week. The San Diego Tap Room in Pacific Beach hosts trivia on Mondays, The Regal Seagull in Leucadia is a popular spot on Tuesday nights, while its older sister, The Regal Beagle in Mission Hills has Wednesdays covered. The East Village’s Knotty Barrel Gastropub combines trivia with half-price bottles of wine every Thursday night.
The Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park hosts two planetarium shows, one at 7 pm and again at 8:15 pm on the first Wednesday of each month. Called The Sky Tonight, the program is narrated by one of the Fleet’s astronomers. Each hour-long program focuses on a different topic, such as “Worlds of Wonder,” a search for real counterparts to our favorite fictional worlds like the twin suns like Tatooine or a red sun like Krypton. Free telescope viewing with the San Diego Astronomy Association is available outside after the shows, weather permitting.
Dinner and a show takes on a whole new meaning at San Diego’s favorite drag club, Lips in North Park, where the servers are also the performers. Each night at Lips has a different theme, from Divas Night on Tuesdays to Bitchy Bingo Wednesdays and Glitz & Glam Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets include dinner and entertainment. Reservations are required for all shows; call the reservation office at 619-295-7900.
Martinis, Hillcrest’s brand new cabaret (located in the former Martinis Above Fourth space but not affiliated), features an impressive array of specialty martinis and cocktails shaken, stirred, or served with a twist, plus an eclectic, Pacific Rim-influenced menu, and incredible cabaret-style entertainment. From music to comedy to celebrity impersonations, there’s great no-cover entertainment and ticketed shows with headliners like Tim Murray and Michael Henry.
Rock out to live music
Nothing beats seeing a live band, but tickets for the big names can get expensive. Fortunately, San Diego’s live music scene is as exciting and diverse as the venues that provide them. The Belly Up in Solana Beach welcomes acts ranging from Saharan folk music to alt-reggae, with a good sprinkling of legendary early rockers from the ‘60s and ‘70s. The Music Box’s three tiers of seating include opera booths with bottle service, two outdoor patios, bars on two levels, and a private VIP skybox overlooking the stage, as well as a menu that includes kobe sliders, charcuterie, flatbreads, and cocktails on tap. See up-and-coming underground alt-rock at the famously divey Casbah, where past guests have included Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins or hit Winston’s Beach Club in Ocean Beach for a jam band/reggae vibe.
One of the very best ways to end a day at the beach is with a gorgeous sunset and a cozy bonfire. While bonfires are only allowed in designated fire pits, there are over a dozen beaches that supply them from North County to the southern border. Different beaches operate by different rules, even within the San Diego Park System, so be sure to read all the signage when you enter the beach or parking lot. Once you’re done making s’mores and telling ghost stories, be sure that your fire is out before leaving. Never dump hot coals in the sand—even if you cover them, they can still be red-hot hours later for some poor unsuspecting soul to step on. Lastly, the Golden Rule of Beachgoing—leave things cleaner than you found them!