The Best Bars in San Diego

Drinking with a view of the Pacific or a Padres game are sort of your basic rights when you go out in San Diego. This sunny Southern California city is set up for margaritas, locally brewed beer, and craft cocktails that use some of the bounty of fruits and herbs that the region is known for. The coffee down here is not too bad, either.

1250 Prospect Street
Given its prime La Jolla location—with a Pacific panorama to match—this stylish, modern bar could get away with serving almost anything. But lucky for spirits enthusiasts, George’s Level2 (one of three venues that make up George’s at the Cove) literally wrote the book on San Diego’s craft cocktail scene: Stephen Kurpinsky, head barman and director of spirits and beer, collaborated with his staff to produce Neighborhoods of San Diego, a beautifully bound compendium of drinks, each representative of—and photographed in—a distinct corner of the city. As you flip through the book, which doubles as the bar’s menu, you’ll get the local lowdown—learning, for example, that around 25,000 pedestrians enter the United States via the San Ysidro border crossing daily. But mostly, you’ll learn that choosing a drink here is nearly impossible. The most popular option is the La Jolla: tequila infused with mango, lime zest, and chili blended with fresh lime juice, agave syrup, and a saline-and-suspended-seaweed ice cube. If you’re looking for something with fizz, the Little Italy—with prosecco and balsamic strawberry shrub, among other treats—is the way to go.
1999 Citracado Parkway, Escondido, CA 92029, USA
Famous for bringing the world the likes of Arrogant Bastard Ale, Stone Brewing is nothing if not cheeky. This is, after all, the first American craft brewer bold enough to open an outpost in Germany, a country steeped in beer-making tradition. But Stone’s audacity is hardly unfounded, as you’ll discover when you visit the company’s headquarters in Escondido—ideally, for a private tour and tasting. If you’re not already a fan of San Diego’s particularly hoppy style of IPAs, there will be at least one beer on tap that makes you a convert. But first, you’ll walk through the brew house—past mash kettles and whirlpools and fermenters—to learn all kinds of fun facts, whether it’s the surprise source of the chocolaty notes in Stone’s porters and stouts (mega-roasted malted barley) or what the upcycling options are for spent grains (cow feed and dog bones). Pro tip: After your tour, bypass the lovely indoor restaurant for the even lovelier outdoor gardens—all bamboo and koi ponds and hummingbirds. Sit back in an Adirondack chair with a beer (try one of the extra-innovative brews on offer only here) and warm pretzels with Stone Ripper Pale Ale beer cheese sauce.
675 W Beech St, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
One of San Diego’s original craft-cocktail spots, this Little Italy establishment reopened in 2016 after a complete makeover. Today, it features 100-year-old taxidermy pieces (a collaboration with the Natural History Museum), shelves lined with classic novels, and even a tiki-themed hidden bar in the back. The excellent cocktails, however, remain blissfully unchanged. At dueling bars, the staff crafts everything from a refreshing Whiskey Smash to the Chilcano, made with yerba maté–infused pisco, ginger, lime, Angostura bitters, and soda. For something different, make reservations at False Idol—the speakeasy, concealed behind a walk-in cooler, features a waterfall, many wood carvings, and cocktails like a mai tai made with the original Trader Vic’s recipe.
2204 Fern St, San Diego, CA 92104, USA
Restaurants don’t get much more cool and kid-friendly than South Park’s Station Tavern. Since its opening in 2009, the spot has won several awards for its environmentally conscious design, which includes rooftop solar panels and furniture made from 100-year-old reclaimed wood. In the outdoor beer garden, adults eat at communal picnic tables while kids entertain themselves in the play area, complete with a chalkboard and mini trolley car. The menu is simple, with burgers, fries, tater tots, and a good selection of local draft beers. Try the spicy black-bean burger with a side of sweet potato fries.
1495 G St, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
When Laura Johnson couldn’t find a position in the spirits industry after she graduated from the University of San Diego, she started putting together a business plan. Apparently she nailed it: You & Yours Distilling Co. launched in 2017 and has been a smashing success ever since. The distillery makes a vodka as well as two different kinds of gin, an American-style gin with fresh citrus and floral notes, and a wintery version. Visitors can tour the distillery, take cocktail classes, or simply belly up to the bar in the tasting room. The light and airy space combines concrete surfaces and plush velvet couches. Order a Flagship Flight or an aromatic cocktail such as the Sage Advice, made with gin, blood orange, burnt sage, lemon, and sea salt.
2335 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92104, USA
Complete with an in-shop florist and white, honeycomb-tiled wall, this light-filled coffee shop is one of San Diego’s most Instagramworthy spaces. Luckily, it offers more than just good looks—the coffee comes from San Francisco’s Sightglass and the menu includes lavender-honey toast, chia pudding, and an assortment of croissants from Wayfarer Bread & Pastry. Owner Jen Byard is also the cofounder of San Diego’s popular Maker’s Arcade, a holiday market that takes place every December, so she has an eye for artisan items. Communal’s retail section is always stocked with tasteful finds like ceramic mugs and Mexican blankets.
400 West Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
One of the West Coast’s most meticulous roasters, Coava chose San Diego for its first venture outside Portland, Oregon, thereby instantly improving the city’s coffee scene. At its light-filled shop in the Gaslamp Quarter, guests can pair coffee, espresso, or cold brew on tap with a selection of locally made pastries. The staff always makes drip coffee with a Chemex and even crafts latte syrups in-house in flavors like vanilla and Cocanú chocolate.
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