San Diego gets regular attention for its beautiful coastline, temperate weather, and famous zoo—and rightfully so. But no discussion of San Diego is complete without a nod to its impressive dining and drinking scene. The city’s neighborhoods are teeming with great bars and restaurants, and over the past decade San Diego has risen to become a tier one cocktail town, with great drinks now available at craft cocktail focused bars and lovable watering holes alike.
Below are 15 of San Diego’s best bars. This isn’t an ordered ranking or a definitive list of every great bar in town, but an alphabetical rundown of our favorite cocktail joints in the city. Basically, it’s where to drink when you’re drinking in San Diego.
To create the list, we partnered with San Diego local Laura Johnson, founder of You & Yours Distilling Co., an East Village distillery and tasting room that makes gin, vodka, and canned cocktails.
2725 State St // thisiscampfire.com
Keeping in line with the chef’s affinity for smoked and wood grilled fare, ultra-talented Bar Manager Leigh Lacap’s cocktail menu at Campfire features several fire-driven ingredients. Roasted corn makes a cameo in their tequila-based Flamin’ Hot, while smoke and roasted grains are put to use in their namesake bourbon-based Campfire. Flavors and presentation shine equally here, but no more so than in the Aloe Black, where tequila, creme de violette, cucumber, and aloe vera combine to create a stunning seafoam green-hued tipple.
830 25th St // counterpointsd.com
Counterpoint is San Diego’s quintessential local watering hole, with a slew of fiercely loyal regulars to prove it. A delicious and extensive menu of pub fare is rounded out by an ever-rotating cocktail selection that includes a progressive in-house barrel-aging program. Saddle up to the tiny six-seat bar for a chance to watch charismatic Bar Manager, Ben, work his magic. Don’t miss this quaint neighborhood cocktail spot.
Craft and Commerce
675 W Beech St // craft-commerce.com
Opened in 2010 by the powerhouse bar and restaurant group, Consortium Holdings, Craft & Commerce has been an integral force in growing San Diego’s cocktail scene. The industrial looking restaurant and bar is laced with woods and mosaic tiles and flanked by well-stocked bookshelves and mounted taxidermy. The menu sports a mix of classics and creative cocktails, plus a slew of local beers and California wines. And in back, there’s another bar ready to serve up a different concept: False Idol (more on that below). It was constructed and opened in 2016 as part of C&C’s redesign.
El Dorado Cocktail Lounge
1030 Broadway // eldoradobar.com
Discreetly tucked away downtown, El Dorado is a San Diego institution that’s housed in one of the city’s oldest licensed drinking establishments. Open since 2009, the bar got a reboot in 2014, scrapping the dance floor for more seating and a greater focus on craft cocktails. But it’s still a casual hangout with good music, generous happy hours, and a giant taxidermy buffalo head that goes by “Otis.” The 25-strong cocktail menu ranges from the easygoing Moscow Mule to more elaborate libations spiked with mezcal and amari.
675 W Beech St // falseidoltiki.com
Walk to the back of Craft & Commerce, and you’ll find a hidden entrance that transports guests into the tropical paradise that is False Idol. It’s a collaboration between rum and cocktail expert Martin Cate (Smuggler’s Cove and Whitechapel, both in San Francisco) and the Consortium Holdings team. With its traditional Polynesian decor accented by a delightfully over-the-top indoor waterfall and flaming volcano, the fun-loving bar churns out a mix of original and classic Tiki cocktails, like the Mai Tai, Three Dots and a Dash, and Doctor Funk, all served in photo-worthy glassware.
910 Grand Ave // thegrassskirt.com
Another Tiki concept, Grass Skirt comes from the team behind Kettner Exchange, the popular Little Italy restaurant. They serve up great drinks and food in a fun, kitchy atmosphere. Sure, you can order a classic cocktail like an Old-Fashioned or Gimlet, but you’re here for festive drinks like the Clarified Painkiller (basically a regular Painkiller, but clear) and the Professor Feathers with multiple rums, pimento dram, lime, pineapple, coconut, banana, cinnamon, and mango. If you’d like to start your weekend morning with some hearty food and a stiff drink, their Tiki Brunch is not to be missed.
2001 Kettner Blvd // kettnerexchange.com
Kettner Exchange is San Diego’s ultimate crowd-pleasing spot to see and be seen. Their open-air rooftop bar is where the magic happens (with live jazz every Wednesday and DJs on weekends), but don’t pass up a chance to take a seat at the cozier, sexier bar downstairs. Newly promoted beverage director Paulina Konja brings a subtle feminine touch to the always on-point cocktail menu, with favorites like the PD Collins, made with gin, Cocchi Rosa, blood orange, cinnamon, and peach bitters and the Spicy Gallagher, made with serrano-infused tequila, Aperol, lemon, and watermelon.
1503 30th St // barkindred.com
You’re familiar with vegan food. Well, Kindred serves that. But in addition to a creative and eye-catching food menu, they also serve an impressive selection of cocktails that wouldn’t be out of place at a high-end cocktail bar, with sections for Refreshing, Direct, and Non-Alcoholic. The vegan concept comes into play occasionally in the drinks, too—for example, using aquafaba (chickpea water) in place of egg whites in a mezcal-and-aloe sour.
629 Kettner Blvd // lionssharesd.com
This swanky spot in downtown boasts cozy interiors adorned with taxidermy and funky faux vintage portraits. The latter even inspired a recently debuted concept menu, from which patrons can order a cocktail created after their favorite piece. Amari and whiskey selections are thorough and well-curated, as is the extensive cocktail menu. That said, all the staff at Lion’s Share are extremely knowledgeable, so if you’re craving a lesser-known classic or want to play bartender’s choice, don’t be afraid to ask.
4622 Park Blvd // madisononpark.com
Madison on Park is the ultimate combination of sophistication and charm. Nestled on the quaint main drag of University Heights, this restaurant and bar offers an exceptional cocktail program. Bar Manager Danny Kuehner runs the ship, turning out everything from perfected classics to one-of-a-kind creations. Stand outs include the East Barnet, made with gin, Yellow Chartreuse, basil, lemon, and black pepper, and the Mr. Nice Guy, crafted with hemp-infused vodka, mezcal, matcha, lime, coconut milk, and pineapple. Those who prefer their craft cocktails with a side of Insta-worthy interiors will also be satisfied. Upon entering, one is immediately transported by the chic indoor/outdoor space, complete with high-vaulted ceilings and colorful geometric elements. This funky yet minimalistic spot is a must for date nights or cocktails with friends.
4696 30th St // politeprovisions.com
Located in San Diego’s North Park area, Polite Provisions is a handsome take on the neighborhood drug store/soda fountain. It was created in partnership with renowned barman Erick Castro, who returned home from San Francisco to open this concept in 2013. In building the menu, Castro reviewed vintage pharmaceutical books and concocted house-made bitters, sodas, tinctures, and syrups as a nod to their original medicinal uses. The extensive menu includes several draft cocktails and communal punch bowls.
5921 Valencia Circle // ranchovalencia.com
The Pony Room acts as luxury resort and spa Rancho Valencia’s lobby bar of sorts, but to call it such would be a gross understatement. Perhaps one of the most underrated cocktail bars in San Diego, the Pony Room offers not only a thoughtful and unique cocktail menu but a beautiful space complete with live acoustic performances, the comfiest leather chairs and bar stools, and a pair of outdoor lounge areas where you can perch with a cocktail by the bonfire. Beverage Director Ted Gibson crafts delicious drinks for all hours of the day and night. Don’t miss the brunch cocktail favorite that is their Sunday, Bubbly Sunday featuring local citrus-forward gin, St. Germain, lemon, mint, and sparkling wine.
548 Fifth Ave // prohibitionsd.com
To enter San Diego’s original speakeasy, head for the Gaslamp District and look for the law office door on 5th Avenue. Once inside, you’ll find a 1920s-themed bar that channels Gatsby, complete with exposed brick, low-lit lamps, and bands playing live jazz and blues. Fortunately, Prohibition’s fun vibe carries over into legitimately good drinks, with an extensive cocktail menu broken into categories like Heavy, Light, Complex, and Basic and featuring plenty of whiskey, rum, and gin.
Raised by Wolves
4301 La Jolla Village Dr, #2030 // raisedxwolves.com
Opened in 2018, Raised by Wolves is another Consortium Holdings + Erick Castro project and an opulent ode to refined drinking. But the show starts before you even get inside: the entrance is a rotating platform that spins you from an apothecary-style bottle shop into the confines of the bar, where you’ll find stained glass, fountains, colorful banquettes, and a circular bar. The menu is a conversation starter, and includes sections for Boilermakers, Timeless Classics, Stirred and Direct, Cool and Refreshing, and more, plus an inspired selection of zero-proof cocktails. If you really want to go for it, try something from the Reserve Cocktail List, which features drinks made with vintage bottles, like the $790 Old-Fashioned constructed with 1960s Very Old Fitzgerald 8-Year… until it runs out.
Realm of the 52 Remedies
4805 Convoy St // 52remedies.com
Hidden speakeasy Realm of the 52 Remedies may be off the beaten path, but this place is so special, we almost hesitate to tell anyone else about it. At less than a year old, it’s still somewhat of a hidden gem, and boy is it a gem. Every aspect, from the entrance—which is quite the event—to the hospitality, decor, and ambiance is next level, but the cocktail list still somehow manages to upstage them all. Not only is the menu cohesive and thoughtful, but the bar boasts perhaps one of the most meticulously curated selections of local spirits you’ll find.