Enjoy Lake Days, Movie Nights, and More Sober Fun in San Diego

We've got some booze-free fun for everyone.

Lakehouse Resort

People choose to participate in Dry January for many reasons, the most common being to reset after a holiday season full of indulgence. But there’s an entire world of folks who don’t drink alcohol with motivations that have nothing to do with excess—medical conditions, pregnancy, better health, spiritual or religious beliefs, some dislike the feeling, and some just don’t like the taste. The upside has been the increased awareness that there’s a growing market for delicious, well-made, zero-proof beverages to sip at a bar or pair with a meal. San Diego’s culinary creatives have taken notice, stepping up with beverage offerings that rival their high-test counterparts without the unpleasant side effects. And if you’re thinking of making Dry January part of a more significant lifestyle change, San Diego has plenty of activities for that, too, from museums and art galleries to camping, standup paddle boarding, and rock climbing. Whether you’re taking a break for an evening, a month, or making a permanent change, here are our favorite ways to have fun without booze in San Diego.

Let’s Frolic Together matcha
Photo courtesy of Let’s Frolic Together

Non-Alcoholic Drinks and Dining in San Diego

Zero-proof cocktails

San Diego may be known as a beer town, but the craft cocktail scene here is equally brilliant, and getting an alcohol-free artisanal cocktail is easier than ever, as nearly every watering hole offers something several steps above club soda and lime. Despite an alcohol-fueled origin story, South Park’s Mothership, the immersive, forbidden-planet bar from Kindred owner Kory Stetina and CH Projects co-founder Arsalun Tafazoli, has a quartet of beautifully crafted zero-proof cocktails, like Mr. Replicator, a frothy blend of cold brew concentrate, coconut cream, sage, oat milk and aquafaba, or X-ray with white cane non-alcoholic spirit, lime, Szechuan peppercorn, spearmint and peppermint oil. Sit in one of the chairs next to the fireplace at Raised by Wolves for access to the opulent bar hidden behind. There are four signature zero-proofers—one standout is Golden Afternoon, a take on a gin sour, combining Lyre’s zero-proof gin, cream, orange, coconut, and ginger, while tiki enthusiasts love Tiki Dream, with house-made lime cordial, pineapple, cream, coconut and a seltzer splash. If those don’t appeal, the bartenders can craft a bespoke mocktail based on your favorite flavor profiles. The 1970s are alive and well at Sycamore Den, a kitschy lounge that’s home to some of San Diego’s best bartenders. They can sub Seedlip non-alcoholic distilled spirits in several of the menu’s cocktails or craft something just for you.

Zero-proof beer

San Diego’s craft breweries are also dipping a tentative toe into the non-alcoholic arena, beginning with Miramar’s Athletic Brewing and its full lineup of non-alcoholic brews and sparkling waters, including Free Wave and Run Wild IPAs, Emerald Cliffs Dark, with coffee, chocolate, and notes of wood, a Belgian-style White and Marionberry Sour. They don’t have a tasting room but can be found in bars, restaurants, and bottle and retail shops throughout San Diego County. Alesmith Brewing Company now boasts two alcohol-free beers, Alesmith N/A IPA and Alesmith Speedway, a take on their flagship Speedway Stout, and Karl Strauss, San Diego’s longest-operating post-Prohibition brewing company, has released its first-ever non-alcoholic beer, Non-Alcoholic Red Trolley, available only in January in 12-ounce cans, exclusively at Karl Strauss’s five San Diego County locations, including the new San Marcos Outpost beer garden.

Dining without alcohol

Bars and breweries aren’t the only places featuring thoughtful zero-proof beverages—San Diego’s restaurants have enhanced beverage programs to include delectable non-alcoholic drinks explicitly created to pair with food. At luxurious Animae, the menu’s mocktails speak to chef Tara Monsod’s Filipino heritage with The Malarkey, made with Thai chili and tamarind syrup, pineapple, and lime, or Romeo Loves Julian, made with galangal green tea, honey, koji, cardamom, and green apple. Rather than just one featured cocktail of the month, Duck Dive, with its famously laid-back beach vibe, features five no-ABV mocktails. Sip on a Coconut Margarita with Fluère Smoked Agave, Coco Lopez, cucumber, and fresh lime, a White Macaw with Fluère Spiced Cane Dark Roast and Bitter liqueur, pineapple, demerara, and fresh lime, or the Spritz with Ritual Aperitif and Lautus Sparkling Brut, and the Raspberry Sour with Fluère Raspberry Blend, raspberry gomme, egg white, fresh lemon, and Spritz, comprised of Ritual Aperitif, Giesen Sparkling Brut, and Topo Chico mineral water.

At Jeune et Jolie in Carlsbad, beverage director Andrew Cordero has created San Diego’s first spirit-free beverage pairing menu to combine perfectly with chef Eric Bost’s four-course tasting menu; each drink was developed specifically for the dish it accompanies. Fleur De Sureau was inspired by Riesling and Gewürztraminer wines and features Verjus Sémillon made from unripe Sémillon white wine grapes, quince, marigold, elderflower and myoga, a type of ginger native to Japan; Fruit De La Passion is a passion fruit milk punch with lacto fermented bell peppers from the kitchen, passionfruit, timut peppercorn from Nepal, fresh grapefruit juice and clarified milk, and Café is a zero proof riff on the Espresso Martini, made with Lyre’s coffee, Steady State cold brew, roasted kabocha squash, koji and a float of whipped cream.

Head to Collins & Coupe in North Park to level up your home bar with zero-proof spirits from Lyre’s non-alcoholic spirits and booze-free canned cocktails from San Diego’s own !MPROV, alcohol-free wines from Surely, Spiritless Kentucky 74, and Jalisco 55 bourbon and agave subs, alcohol-free bitters, and books with recipes for mocktails and lightly spirited cocktails, plus fun barware, garnishes, syrups, and glasses in every imaginable shape and size. There’s even beautiful, crystal-clear ice in pebbles, roses, cubes, spears, diamonds, spheres, and slabs to glam up your beverages. Bottlecraft’s multiple locations have rotating selections of n/a beer, wine, kombucha, and seltzers, and Clos Wine Shop has an excellent selection of wines and spritzes.

Tea & Coffee

Dry January at Communal is a cozy affair, with coffees, teas, and more transformed into handcrafted brews in the warm, inviting atmosphere of creatively designed spaces. Sip on sparkling lavender lemonade, savor an iced matcha latte, or enjoy the refreshing cold brew. Point Loma Tea, part of ARTS DISTRICT in Liberty Station since 2012, has over 100 organic, hand-picked teas of all different styles and flavors and no artificial ingredients, with every single one going through rigorous taste testing by staff before it’s allowed to be part of their collection. They offer a variety of tea experiences, including Tea Tastings and an Afternoon Tea Service. Bohemian Alchemist in Del Mar boasts San Diego’s first and only sand-brewing system for making Turkish coffee, the base of their drinks. Also available are French press, pour over, and cold brew options, along with coffee and tea blends, herbal beverages, and seasonal iced teas in an inspiring space with a low Turkish seating area under a colorful silky tent roof and handmade Art Nouveau tables. Saigon Coffee founder Tu Duong has finally opened a brick-and-mortar cafe in North Park after years as a pop-up at the Hillcrest and Poway farmers markets. Regular iced coffee comes black, traditional, and coconut vegan, but there are also a half dozen specialty brews, including Hanoi egg coffee, Tu’s double strong Saigon-style, matcha iced, and a trio of fruity iced teas. Grab it by the bottle, bean, or kit to reproduce your own Vietnamese coffee at home.

Lakehouse Resort
Photo by Marina Diana Sciacca, courtesy of Lakehouse Resort

Wellness and Physical Activity in San Diego

Get outside and explore the outdoors at Lakehouse Resort in San Marcos. The resort’s wellness schedule is full of activities, including yoga and workout classes that are open to the public. Book a tee time or practice your swing on the driving range at the newly updated 18-hole Links at Lakehouse. If water sports are your thing, jump on a SUP or take out a Duffy Boat to explore Lake San Marcos.

Learn climbing basics or show off your skills and get a great workout in the process on Grotto Climbing and Yoga’s 7000 square feet of wall space in Grantville. Its state-of-the-art indoor bouldering terrain includes more than 13,000 handmade holds, a campus board, a peg board, an illuminated moon board, fingerboards, and a 60-degree training board, guaranteeing climbers of all skill levels an exhilarating experience. In addition, there’s a yoga studio teaching all-level Vinyasa, Power, Yin, Hatha, and Sound Healing flow classes and a fitness area with a Rogue fitness rack, weights, and rings. The Intro to Bouldering class is an excellent choice for first-timers and includes shoe rental, 30 minutes of instruction, and a day pass, so afterward, you can hit the weights or stretch out any sore muscles in a yoga class.

Spend quality time with your best furry friend and learn how to stand up paddle board at West Coast Paddle Board Rental’s SUP Pups San Diego. Led by certified SUP instructor Samantha and her dog, Captain Dingo Jack, your one-hour lesson includes the basics, terminology, and technique of how to stand up paddle board, paddle board rental, human and pup life vests, and GoPro action photos. The launch point is the sandy beach right behind the Courtyard Marriott Hotel in Liberty Station.

San Diego Fly Fishers, one of the few fishing clubs in the country to offer free fly casting clinics, meets at Lake Murray in La Mesa every Sunday from 9 am until noon to show you the ins and outs of casting a nearly weightless fly. You can bring your own equipment or borrow club equipment from one of the certified instructors. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks Lake Murray with rainbow trout, but you can also catch largemouth bass, blue catfish, bluegill, channel catfish, red-ear sunfish, and black crappie. A fishing license isn’t necessary for the fly casting clinic, but if you’re 16 or over, you’ll need one to catch fish.

San Diego Mineral & Gem Society Museum
Photo courtesy of the San Diego Mineral & Gem Society Museum

Other Things to Do in San Diego

Chula Vista
Pile everyone into the car and head for an old-fashioned drive-in movie. You can see a current double-feature every day, year-round, at South Bay Drive-in Theatre on three 100-foot screens that are entirely digital and present the brightest picture quality available. It’s a bargain at $10 for adults and just $1 for kids 5-9 years old—they even have email coupons for food discounts at the snack bar. Credit cards are accepted for admission, but the snack bar is cash only.

Visit a museum

San Diego County boasts nearly 100 museums, ranging from musical endeavors and artistic creations to preserving the culture of Indigenous communities and documenting our long maritime history. Some of our favorite, must-visit museums are in Balboa Park, including the San Diego Natural History Museum, the oldest scientific institution in Southern California; the Fleet Science Center and planetarium that’s home to the world’s first IMAX Dome Theater; and Centro Cultural de la Raza, a nonprofit center that promotes, preserves, and educates around Chicano, Mexican, Indigenous, and Latinx art and culture. San Diego residents can take advantage of free days, and the Timken Museum of Art and the San Diego Mineral & Gem Society Museum are always free. The WNDR Museum in the Gaslamp Quarter is an immersive art and technology experience that invites guests to fully engage with local and international artists, collectives, technologists, designers, and makers in a completely new museum experience. The Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad is the only museum of its kind in the world, celebrating the achievements and significance of those who craft, sell, and use musical goods and instruments through unique rotating exhibitions, live music performances, and cutting-edge educational programs. Lakeside’s Barona Cultural Center & Museum is dedicated to preserving the Native American culture and history of San Diego County and is the county’s only museum on an Indian reservation. It houses more than 3,000 artifacts, along with listening nooks, photographs, and archives that tell the compelling stories of the Kumeyaay tribes, with some objects dating back more than 10,000 years.

Check out a new neighborhood

Sometimes, a change of scenery is just what you need to boost your spirits, so if you’re feeling like you’re in a bit of a rut, get out of your old stomping grounds and visit someplace new. Celebrate surf, sand, and sixties vibes in Encinitas, or explore art galleries and boutiques before stuffing yourself with pasta and gelato in Little Italy. Liberty Station was initially dedicated in 1923 as a Naval Training Center, and today, it houses businesses, museums, galleries, restaurants, and retail shops in its Spanish Colonial Revival buildings. Shop in a park-like setting filled with art and nature, then stop for coffee or lunch at the Liberty Public Market. Visit North Park for some of the city’s best coffee shops and bakeries, plus Verbatim Books, the largest bookstore in San Diego and the place to go for gently used and curated antique books, local authors, classics, and works from micro-publishers.

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Mary Beth Abate is a San Diego-based freelance writer.