San Diego Nightlife: From Luxe Wine Bars to Awesome Dive Bars

Go for a beer, stiff gin and tonic, or perhaps just one amazing glass of wine. Meet friends, make new ones or impress a date. Whatever your craving or reason, San Diego's bar scene specializes in variety.

Topping our list is the unique speakeasy, Noble Experiment, that intimately seats 32 people for mind-blowing cocktails and service. That is... if you can find the secret door and secure a reservation.

The tried and true Aero Club has been a favorite among locals for many years. The famous wall of liquor is a dream come true for whiskey lovers especially as it holds over 800 different types. It looks like a dive bar from the outside and many locals classify it as such, but the drinks are reasonably priced, the service is friendly, and the reviews are positive.

So, let's get down to business. Here's a list of San Diego's 10 best bars. Cheers! 


Vin de Syrah is truly a special place to enjoy charcuterie and a glass of wine (or two). Award-winning, Alice in Wonderland-inspired decor literally takes you down the rabbit hole into a surprising mix of old and new, that invites you to sit down and hang out for a while regardless of what time it is. 50-year-old branches, tall booths, semi private spaces, and greenery on the walls keep your eye wandering as you enjoy spirits, unique beer, and truly unique wines by the glass. Small parties can learn about wine via the incredibly entertaining and edgy in-house sommelier for an hour or so at the 12 foot tasting table. If you like wine, make this a stop.

Shakespeare Pub & Grille

A true British pub in sunny southern California? Yes, indeed. The Shakespeare looks like a pub you might find across the pond, with the drinks, food and festivities to match. Try a plate of bangers and mash, a ploughman's lunch, shepherd's pie or Scotch eggs, and wash it down with a pint of Bass, Newckie, or Fuller's ESB, or follow up with a single malt. Quiz nights and televised football (soccer) add to the fun and authenticity. There's even a monthly trivia night and a shop across the street where San Diegans can stock up on their favorite British food.

Pacific Beach

JRDN is beachfront Tower 23 Hotel's 10,000 square foot contemporary oceanfront steak and seafood restaurant, featuring casually sophisticated cuisine. If you need a hip and trendy place that's less hectic than Gaslamp options, this is also your place to grab a drink. Lounge with your companions, listen to live music and enjoy a specialty cocktail along with ocean breezes. JRDN has indoor/outdoor seating right on the Pacific Beach boardwalk which makes for excellent views and people watching. The clean, simple but modern decor includes color-changing lights and a giant water wall. It's certainly more upscale than neighboring bars but maintains a fun and casual atmosphere.

Pacific Beach

The Grass Skirt is new to the San Diego dining and nightlife scene and already people love it. It's a hidden tiki bar located inside Good Time Poke, a grab-and-go poke spot that is open in the evenings until 2:00 a.m. The goal is to use traditional tiki elements interlaced with seductive details to transport guests to a place of eternal sunset complete with fire pit tables and swings. Yes, expect a variety of tropical cocktails here (including a secret cocktail menu that you may want to ask about). They also have over 150 rums including some very rare and pricey options.

To enter Prohibition, simply show up (no reservations are accepted) and find the door marked Law Office of Eddie O'Hare. It is a speakeasy with a 1920's vibe designed for those who would like to step into the Great Gatsby era for an evening. A dress code is enforced so no shorts, flip flops or sandals, or baseball caps on Fridays and Saturdays. And, they didn't have cell phones back then so using them at the bar. Guest also enjoy the creative and witty cocktail menu such as the "These are not the droids you're looking for" cocktail featuring tequila, lime, allspice, Averna and apple Jarritos soda.

Hamilton's Tavern

A favorite with locals, Hamilton's is well-known for its fantastic beer offerings of over 200 bottled beers and 28 draft selections including an exceptional array of Belgian ales and US microbrews. The food menu includes a couple of very tasty vegetarian options, along with high-quality traditional eats like nachos, brats and burgers. The jukebox plays classic rock and blues, with a smattering of punk and alternative rock for good measure, but when there's a big game you can expect to see it here on one (or all) of three big-screen TVs. Hamilton's is located in the South Park neighborhood of San Diego.

The newly expanded 3,300 square-foot space boldly establishes itself on the bustling corner of Kettner Boulevard and Beech Street–visible by the expanded wrap-around patio lined with built-in fire pit tables, ceiling-high bi-fold windows and a convex brick exterior that proudly displays Craft & Commerce's guiding principal, "Demand Less." The interior resembles that of a dimly-lit, industrial literary cabin with hundreds of hardbound classic novels stacked on ceiling-high bookshelves and handwritten passages from David Foster Wallace scrawled on the walls. Executive Chef Ted Smith's new menu, thanks to a revamped kitchen, aims to foster a communal dining experience, offering a diverse selection of veggie-forward shared plates, housemade pastas and larger entrees. Slow-cooked meats are complemented by a variety of wood fired sides such as Fire-Roasted Eggplant Dip, Grilled Oysters, Bone Marrow and Roasted Carrots to name a few. Craft & Commerce's nationally celebrated cocktail menu is printed on real one-dollar bills.

Park & Rec is an upscale-casual bar focused on a playful assortment of classically driven cocktails as well as recreation like ping pong and other outdoor games played in its courtyard. Sit indoors our outdoors on the gorgeous patio will sipping creative cocktails like the Dos Ojos with cucumber infused tequila, ginger, lime and soda. They even have a special brunch cocktail menu, perfect for a little hair of the dog. You can also bring in outside food, which is fabulous given the number of excellent eateries nearby. A DJ spins tunes on weekend evenings. And, don't forget about happy hour from Monday - Thursday.

Balboa Park

Airplane-and-neon-beer-sign décor aside, this dive bar has a big local following and a number of regulars are here at any given time. There is a gigantic wall of liquors including over 800 whiskeys (yes, you read that right) and 100 vodkas. There are also 20 beers on tap and another 20 or so in bottles. Beyond the booze, you'll find two pool tables, a jukebox, fantastic and friendly staff, and a great mix of people hanging out and having fun. Opened originally in 1947, Aero Club has gone through ownership changes and upgrades, but it's still a well-loved local institution.

People come for the cocktails and say that you'll never drink a better one. This San Diego speakeasy is found via a somewhat secret door near the door to the kitchen at The Neighborhood. Reservations are by text message only and Noble Experiment's 32 seats fill up quickly. Cocktails are made with premium spirits and all natural, sustainable ingredients. There isn't any food for sale so go to The Neighborhood if you're hungry. A wall of gold-plated skulls lines the wall of this speakeasy and service is top notch. There isn't another drinking experience like this in San Diego. It's truly special.


Meet Katie Dillon

Katie Dillon originally moved to the seaside community of La Jolla to attend UC San Diego. When the opportunity presented itself, she and her husband set off for a 7 year stint overseas as...  More About Katie