I’ve been really missing our local bars these last few weeks in lockdown. We’ve been lucky to live in San Diego these past two years and experience so many bars serving up fantastic cocktails. This post initially started as a section of a San Diego travel guide in the works, but I quickly realized I needed to dedicate a whole post to the best bars in San Diego.
The city is also filled with craft breweries and distilleries making our favorite libations onsite. Whether you’re looking for a trendy roof top bar or want to have a beer on the beach, San Diego has something for you.
Tucked away behind Craft & Commerce in Little Italy, False Idol is a (not-so-secret) secret tiki bar serving an array of unique tropical cocktails. With traditional Polynesian decor and a waterfall feature, you won’t feel like you’re in San Diego after a few Singapore Slings.
Polite Provisions is one of the most popular craft cocktail spots in San Diego so expect a line in the evenings. If you’re in town around Christmas, you have to stop in to see the elaborate decorations and equally elaborate holiday themed concoctions.
Bali Hai has been serving cocktails from their massive Tiki temple on Shelter Island since the 1950s. They’re most famous for their flammable Mai Tai, I mean “no juice added” Mai Tai. Apparently they have sold over 2.6 million (don’t take my word for it – their website has a counter!), which is both astonishing and mildly alarming.
Banker’s Hill Bar & Restaurant
With rotating cocktails and seasonal sangria offerings starting at $5, the all important quality to price ratio during happy hour is hard to beat.
Born & Raised
While this steakhouse serves excellent cocktails, Born & Raised is just as much about the scene. The absolutely gorgeous bar on the second level over looks the busy main street of Little Italy with a view of downtown. Aside from the luxury lounge seating and vintage glam, Born & Raised also has a cheeky side with bartenders wearing tuxedo shorts. Look closely at the toilet seat and find “Shit Happens” written in gold.
Located on the top floor of a tall building in Banker’s Hill, Mister A’s undoubtedly has one of the best views of San Diego. The setting and pricing reflect a formal dining atmosphere, but their casual happy hour is reasonably priced and frequently tops “The Best Happy Hour in San Diego” lists.
Ironside Fish & Oyster
Ironside, Born & Raised, Polite Provisions and False Idol are all part of the same restaurant group Consortium Holdings. You might be sensing a theme here: thoughtful branding, quality food and drink, and impeccable interiors. Ironside stands in as their seafood restaurant with crowd drawing happy hour oysters and cocktails.
Ballast Point Brewery
San Diego has quite the craft beer scene. If you’re looking for a causal beer spot in Little Italy, look no further than Ballast Point Brewery. Their outdoor patio is the perfect place to watch the airplanes overhead come in for landing.
You’d never guess what’s behind a deceptive refrigerator door at an unassuming taco shop in Hillcrest. This secret bar instantly brings me back to Europe with an old world vibe and dim chandelier lighting reminiscent of The Red Door in Paris. The tacos aren’t bad either.
Hotel Del Coronado
If you want a cocktail with your toes in the sand, head to the beach and taco stand at the famous Hotel Del in Coronado. While you’re there, be sure to look around this historic hotel where Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe was filmed and many US presidents have stayed. After tax and tip, you’re not getting away with less than $20 per drink. Coronado is known for many things, affordability not being one.
As a former car dealership, Fort Oak boasts a vintage exterior on a corner in Mission Hills. I’ve only had a drink in their stunning bar, but diners visit from near and far to enjoy a 6-course chef’s experience at their exclusive 14 seat counter.
You and Yours
Not only is You and Yours California’s first urban distillery, it’s also founded by a woman. The East Village distillery serves masterful drinks featuring their gin and vodka. If you can’t make it to their bar, you can pick up their canned cocktails at specialty grocers and try their spirts at local bars.
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