San Diego nightlife
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San Diego Nightlife: Local Bars by Neighborhood

Call it what you want, but when I’m visiting a new city for the first time, I love checking out the local bars in the area. Bars are the adult playgrounds of the neighborhood where locals go to unwind, meet up with friends, go on dates, and celebrate. Since the majority are locally owned, you can also tell quite a bit about the culture of a neighborhood just by stepping into one of these bars for the first time. I’m all about diving into the culture of a new place, and at San Diego Bars you can experience the very diverse neighborhoods of the Bay area. Choose from dive bars, sports bars, craft bars, and beach bars. With the San Diego nightlife, the options are limitless!

Downtown

In Downtown San Diego, you’ll find that the area is broken up into several different neighborhoods:

Gaslamp Quarter

Barleymash SD
Photo Credit: Barleymash

This is where the majority of people looking for San Diego nightlife come to party and dine. It’s the main dining and nightlife destination of the city with over 150 bars and restaurants in the 16.5 blocks of the historic district! There are so many bars to choose from, but these are some favorites:

  1. Barleymash is in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter and is always busy. The rich wood paired with steel finishes in the décor offer up an industrial sheik vibe. Plus, their beer selection is immense. While the food is fantastic, you can also come here to watch a game or get your groove on.
  2. Prohibition is a tiny underground craft bar. With the secret entrance and carefully costumed bartenders, you’ll feel as though you’ve traveled back in time when you come here. The bartenders take their time crafting the perfect, all-natural cocktail for your drinking pleasure.
  3. La Puerta is a great spot locals have been frequenting for years. They are known for their margaritas and Monday night all-night happy hour, which means ½ off all drinks and appetizers. You also do not want to miss the guacamole. It’s my SD favorite!

East Village

San Diego nightlife
Photo Credit: Basic Bar/Pizza

East Village is an up-and-coming area located east of the Gaslamp Quarter. It is the home of Petco Park stadium and many young professionals, making this a huge local-centric district. My go-to neighborhood bars in this area are:

  1. Basic is known for its amazing pizza and my favorite salad in all of Downtown. The large, historic warehouse building has been modified to house this urban-chic bar where locals come to play pool, dance, drink, eat, and enjoy all that San Diego nightlife has to offer.
  2. Noble Experiment is a hidden gem. This intriguing bar requires reservations, so make sure to text them before you decide to visit. It’s literally hidden behind another bar, has a golden skull wall, and all of the cocktails are created the old-fashioned way. Test the bartenders… they love a challenge!

Little Italy

Craft and Commerce San Diego
Craft and Commerce

While Little Italy is known for its family-owned restaurants offering Italian cuisine, a new breed of hip bars and restaurants are popping up all over. From the historic dive to a craft brewery and winery, and urban chic lounges, you can find it all in Little Italy.

  1. Craft and Commerce is pretentious in that they don’t serve vodka or ketchup, yet people flock from around the globe to enjoy their craft beer and hand-crafted cocktails. Some of my all-time favorite cocktails have been made at this bar.
  2. The Waterfront is a staple in Little Italy and is known as the oldest bar in San Diego. It used to sit on the waterfront before all of the dredging of the Bay. Today, you can enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner starting at 6:00 am until 2:00 am. Their Bloody Mary’s will cure anything!

North Park

True North Tavern
Photo Credit: True North Tavern

Just northeast of Balboa Park, North Park has been blossoming into unique, artistic, urban territory luring residents with passionate visions and culture. Listen to beats by local DJs, and drink freshly crafted beer at one of their many local bars and San Diego nightlife destinations.

  1. Seven Grand Whisky Bar has a nice selection of whiskey, bourbon, and beer. The “old world” vibe of this bar will make you think you’ve stepped into a tavern in the woods. With amazing cocktails and live music most nights, it’s the perfect place to hang out in San Diego.
  2. True North Tavern is a casual neighborhood bar where you can catch a game on Sundays, play pool, or dance the night away on the weekend. They’ve got a great menu, and the best part is that they serve tater tots with their burgers. (What can I say? Tots beat fries any day!)

Pacific Beach

Tavern at the Beach SD
Photo Credit: Tavern at the Beach

Pacific Beach is known for its laid-back California beach vibe, boardwalk, and bars. But, if you want to check out where the locals go for a good time, here are two bars not to be missed:

  1. The Local PB is a local favorite. I’ve been here numerous times to watch the Chargers games, but the two-story venue is known to lend a good time, all the time. Just steps from the boardwalk and beach, it’s an easy choice for San Diego nightlife.
  2. Tavern at the Beach was the first bar I went to on my 21st birthday and it still lures crowds on a regular basis. It’s got a local vibe, friendly staff, and is purely casual.

La Jolla

LaJollaBrewingCompany_r620x349
La Jolla Brewing Company

The jewel of San Diego boasts a gorgeous coastline, but residents still head to the bars to catch up with old friends. Here are some of this La Jolla’s favorite local bars:

  1. The Spot is an oldie but a goodie. Located right in the heart of the Village, it began its reign in the 70’s and is known for its Chicago-style pizza.
  2. La Jolla Brewing Co. has become one of my favorites in La Jolla. They brew their own beer and they feature a dog menu for my favorite girl!

Encinitas

Union Kitchen
Photo Credit: Union Kitchen and Tap

When I think of North County and Encinitas, I think of surfers, cyclists, healthy living, yoga, and meditation. BUT, anywhere you go in San Diego, you’ll find a great local bar to wind down at. Here are my top picks in this area of San Diego:

  1. Union Kitchen and Tap is conveniently located on the 101, just steps away from the Meditation Gardens. Their flatbread pizzas are ah-may-zing and their beer list is top notch.
  2. Shelter is an eclectic, sexy lounge with a retractable roof. They’ve got delicious cocktails and booths that you can reserve for bottle service on the weekends. This is my go-to spot in Encinitas!

Experience San Diego Nightlife

After listing all of these wonderful places to go for a cocktail, I’m starting to feel like I don’t go out enough. Have fun exploring all of the San Diego nightlife options throughout the city!


Bianca is a San Diego native, and prides herself on her knowledge of her city. As a professional tour guide, she offers food and drink tasting tours through her company: So Diego Tours. With 8 years in the tourism industry, she brings you updates on how to make the most out of your time, money and energy in her city.
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