San Diego

The San Diego nightlife scene is much more diverse and innovative than it was just a decade ago. Back then, options were limited to the pricey singles-heavy dance clubs Downtown, the party-hearty atmosphere of Pacific Beach, and a handful of charmingly musty neighborhood dive bars popular with locals. Today options in San Diego have expanded dramatically, boasting more than 90 craft breweries throughout the county, not to mention several stylish cocktail lounges.

The Gaslamp Quarter is still one of the most popular areas to go for a night on the town. Named for actual gaslights that once provided illumination along its once-seedy streets (it housed a number of gambling halls and brothels), the neighborhood bears only a trace of its debauched roots. Between the Gaslamp and nearby East Village, Downtown San Diego mostly comprises chic nightclubs, tourist-heavy pubs, and a handful of live music venues. Even most of the hotels Downtown have a street-level or rooftop bar—so plan on making it a late night if that’s where you intend to bunk. On weekends, parking can be tricky; most lots run about $20, and though there is metered parking (free after 6 pm and all day Sunday), motorists don’t give up those coveted spots so easily. Some restaurants and clubs offer valet, though that can get pricey.

Hillcrest is a popular area for LGBT nightlife and culture, whereas just a little bit east of Hillcrest, ever-expanding North Park features a diverse range of bars and lounges that cater to a twenty- and thirtysomething crowd, bolstering its reputation as the city’s hipster capital. Nearby Normal Heights is a slightly less pretentious alternative, though whichever of these neighborhoods strikes your fancy, a cab from Downtown will run about the same price: $15

Nightlife along the beaches is more of a mixed bag. Where the scene in Pacific Beach might feel like every week is Spring Break, La Jolla veers toward being more cost-prohibitive. And although Point Loma is often seen as a sleeper neighborhood in terms of nightlife, it’s coming into its own with some select destinations.

If your drink involves caffeine and not alcohol, there's no shortage of coffeehouses in San Diego, and some of the better ones in Hillcrest and North Park stay open past midnight. Many of them also serve beer and wine, if the caffeine buzz isn’t enough.

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  • 1. Fairweather

    East Village | Bars/Pubs

    Hidden in plain sight next to PETCO Park, Fairweather is an urban tiki oasis with a top-notch cocktail menu that boasts classics like daiquiris...Read More

  • 2. False Idol

    Little Italy | Bars/Pubs

    A walk-in refrigerator harbors the secret entrance to this tiki-theme speakeasy, which is attached to Craft & Commerce. Beneath fishing...Read More

  • 3. The Casbah

    Middletown | Live Music

    This small club near the airport, the unofficial headquarters of the city's indie music scene, has a national reputation for showcasing up-and...Read More

  • 4. The Grant Grill

    Gaslamp Quarter | Bars/Pubs

    Though the Grant Grill—located on the ground floor of the historic U.S. Grant Hotel—is a full-service restaurant, it's built up a reputation...Read More

  • 5. The Rooftop by STK

    Gaslamp Quarter | Dance Clubs

    At this rooftop bar and lounge atop the Andaz hotel, a fashionable crowd sips cocktails poolside while gazing at gorgeous views of the city...Read More

  • 6. Vin de Syrah

    Gaslamp Quarter | Wine Bars

    This "spirit and wine cellar" sends you down a rabbit hole (or at least down some stairs) to a whimsical spot straight out of Alice in Wonderland...Read More

  • 7. Westgate Hotel Plaza Bar

    Gaslamp Quarter | Piano Bars

    The old-money surroundings, including leather-upholstered seats, marble tabletops, and a grand piano, supply one of the most elegant and romantic...Read More

  • 8. Altitude Sky Lounge

    Gaslamp Quarter | Piano Bars

    Location is everything at this sophisticated lounge on the roof of the 22-floor San Diego Marriott Gaslamp Quarter. The views of the Downtown...Read More

  • 9. American Comedy Co.

    Gaslamp Quarter | Comedy Clubs

    At this underground space modeled after the legendary comedy clubs in New York, there's not a bad seat in the house—which is especially great...Read More

  • 10. Bang Bang

    Gaslamp Quarter | Dance Clubs

    Part sushi bar and part discotheque, Bang Bang offers both a good culinary game as well as a lineup of superstar DJs providing beats and breaks...Read More

  • 11. Bar Basic

    East Village | Bars/Pubs

    This spot is always bustling, in part because it's the place to be seen for Padres fans or anyone else attending events at Petco Park. True...Read More

  • 12. barleymash

    Gaslamp Quarter | Bars/Pubs

    This gigantic space can resemble either a raucous club or a sports bar, depending on what night you're there. But the drinks are strong and...Read More

  • 13. Cat Eye Club

    East Village | Bars/Pubs

    Separated from the hectic hustle of East Village by just a short and dimly lit foyer, Cat Eye Club might as well be in an entirely different...Read More

  • 14. Coin Op

    Gaslamp Quarter | Bars/Pubs

    Step back into the '80s with this kitschy yet vibrant hybrid of bar and video arcade. The room is stocked with vintage arcade cabinet games...Read More

  • 15. East Village Tavern & Bowl

    East Village | Bars/Pubs

    Twelve bowling lanes means no more hauls to the suburbs to channel one's inner Lebowski. Lane rental is pricey during prime times, but reasonable...Read More

  • 16. Fluxx

    Gaslamp Quarter | Dance Clubs

    Arguably the hottest club in the Gaslamp, this Vegas-style, multitheme space is packed to the gills on weekends with pretty people dancing to...Read More

  • 17. Hard Rock Hotel

    Gaslamp Quarter | Dance Clubs

    A-list wannabes (and a few real celebs) gather in two bars, the loungey 207 off the lobby and the rooftop Float. The latter's Intervention and...Read More

  • 18. House of Blues

    Gaslamp Quarter | Live Music

    The local branch of the renowned music chain is decorated floor to ceiling with colorful folk art and features three different areas to hear...Read More

  • 19. Karl Strauss' Brewing Company

    Little Italy | Bars/Pubs

    San Diego's first microbrewery now has multiple locations, but the original one remains a staple. This locale draws an after-work crowd for...Read More

  • 20. Monkey Paw

    East Village | Brewpubs/Beer Gardens

    What was once a notorious dive bar attracts hipsters and grizzled locals alike for a vast selection of craft beers (some brewed on-site),...Read More

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