From Motown to Trap Music, San Diego bars offer some great specialty nights each week.
If you’re looking for a night out with a fun theme or genre specific, here are four favorites in San Diego!
Motown Monday at Bar Pink
Bar Pink, located in the center of North Park, offers a great night of Motown music and old dance tracks. The bar is dark and the décor is reminiscent of the drunken elephant dream sequence in Dumbo, so you really can’t go wrong. Pink plastic bubbles adorn the bar area and black booths line one wall. Play pool or dance to the likes of Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, The Jackson 5 and Diana Ross. Songs are both originals and DJ edits of the classics so your feet will be moving and grooving all night long. Heads Up: This is a cash only bar.
If you are a fan of bass heavy Trap music, UK Bass or Dub Step then this is the spot for you! Every Tuesday resident DJ’s with special guests bring Trapped to The Office Bar in North Park. A small dance floor gets packed with fans of hard-hitting 808 drums and hi hat sounds.This night is unlike any other as it is hosted in a moderately sized bar rather than at a festival or large club, which provides a more intimate and engulfing experience. The bass fills the bar so be prepared to feel the music and bob your head to the beats.
A long time favorite of the San Diego locals every first and third Friday of the month, Hickies and Dryhumps, is a 90s only night at El Camino bar & restaurant in Little Italy. This night was aptly named for perhaps some of the behaviors of those who grew up in that era, but I won’t name names! This specialty night originated at another venue and has moved to three different locations because of its popularity. Social media reminds you every afternoon before the event to arrive early and always for good reason. The entry line will regularly be as long as the entire block! Hits from the 90s create a very nostalgic vibe for many of the guests. Everything from N’Sync to Snoop Dogg will be played with a slow jam or two to create the true 90s vibe. Be prepared to sing along. One of the pieces of this bar is the roulette and blackjack. You can either live roll the dice and try your luck, and do it at the Austrian site online roulette
If you prefer a mix of decades, 80s vs 90s at Whistle Stop offers just that. Resident DJ’s Gabe Vega and Saul Q play the best from those decades and create a massively fun night out. Whistle Stop Bar is also cash only so come prepared.
Warm up (or cool down) with a fall/holiday inspired cocktails.
When most people think of holiday weather, they don’t think of temperatures in the mid to high 60s…unless of course, you live in San Diego!
We may not have miles of Maple leaves changing colors on the SoCal coast or blankets of fresh snow covering the roads but we do offer some cocktails that’ll make you feel all warm and cozy inside, without the need to pull out the old leaf blower.
I’ve gathered a few places in the mid-city area that have created exceptional cocktails based on recommendations by friends in the bar industry here in San Diego so if you’re looking for something that reminds you of cozying up near the fireplace (or beachside bonfires here in San Diego), then take a gander at the following suggestions.
Park & Rec’s Tiki Cocktails
Speaking of bonfires, nothing says San Diego winter like a tiki cocktail! I know it’s not your average eggnog, don’t worry we’ll get to those, but it is something you’ll want to try while playing corn hole or shuffleboard at Park & Rec, a bar that let’s you go experience recess all over again only this time with better tater tots! The Tiki Blinders, duly named after a television drama that is ironically set in prohibition-era London, is made with Irish whiskey, spiced rum, pineapple, lime blood orange liqueur and bitters. It is earthy and sweet with a slightly bitter finish. Lucky for us, there is no secret knock or password required for this delight.
Polite Provisions, a cocktail bar reminiscent of the Edwardian era is located in-between the centrally located neighborhoods of Normal Heights and University Heights. It has created a delicious take on the classic holiday favorite for cold weather, Hot Buttered Rum, which is sure to keep you feeling the holiday spirit. It’s light silky texture is very easy to drink if you’re not one for spirit forward cocktails. Several spices including nutmeg and clove make this a drink that will reawaken memories of holidays past. Another notable cocktail is the Blind Date that includes a date infused rum, cream and brown sugar. Trust me, this one is way better than cousin Eddie’s nog!
The final destination that has notable cocktails this holiday season is another Normal Heights mainstay named Sycamore Den. If you grew up in the 70s or 80s walking into Sycamore may give you childhood flashbacks before you even order a drink. Lined in wood and housing it’s own fireplace, Sycamore has an entire menu devoted to the cooler weather for you to enjoy. Another eggnog inspired drink named Noggin Boots, which you may do after a few of these, is creamy and slightly frothy with a touch of nutmeg. The twist to this cocktail is the coffee infused white whiskey, coffee liqueur and cacao rum that adds a slightly bolder coffee flavor.
On a more tart note, the Chapman’s Fix is served over crushed ice with “hints of apples, baking spices and America”. I’m not exactly sure what’s more American than apple pie but this just might be it. This rye cocktail also has hints of lemon, honey and cinnamon for the warmer San Diego days.
As a native San Diegan, I know it’s summer when temperatures reach slightly above our daily 73 degrees and I get another year older.
It’s a little hard to tell where the spring season ends and the summer begins, but to help you out I’ve decided to do some research and list where some of the best parties are this summer season!
Whether you choose a relaxing jazz concert, a Vegas style pool party or a nighttime dance music festival, I have gathered the crème de la crème in hopes that you will enjoy all that a San Diego summer has to offer.
Sunset Poolside Jazz Series
Let’s start out with something smooth and sexy shall we? Jazz is the quintessential music for easy listening while sipping wine at dusk poolside with your friends and loved ones. Beginning on June 4th and running until August 27th, The Westgate Hotel in downtown San Diego is hosting the Sunset Poolside Jazz Series that will showcase some of the best local talent for your live listening pleasure. Craft cocktails, beer, wine, fine whiskey and an array of tapas will be available as well.
If dance music is what you want, then may I suggest two different events that will keep your bodies moving.
Dive Day Club
The first is Dive Day Club, San Diego’s summer pool party at Harrah’s Resort. Every Sunday, Dive brings in world renowned DJ’s to play to hundreds of guests. This 21+ party mixes a Vegas ambiance with a Southern California crowd. Groups can reserve cabanas and day beds with bottle service, or you can float in the lazy river before heading to the main pool to dance or play in the water and sit at the swim up bar. Hotel packages are also available if you don’t want to make the drive or would like to enjoy the weekend at the resort.
The next on the list is the OASIS FSTVL, which kicks off their inaugural summer series this June. The festival will take place at Silo in Maker’s Quarter, a new outdoor venue located at the Northeast area of downtown. The monthly gathering will include art, music, spirits, food vendors and, of course, local craft beer. Local and internationally known DJ’s and bands will perform at the event. Musical styles include various genres of house music and rock.
If watching an event is more your speed, then Industry Boxing at Fluxx Nightclub may be just what you’re searching for. When the nightclub is transformed into a professionally regulated boxing arena, you can gather to watch local service industry professionals duke it out for charity. The fighters have trained and give their all in the ring. There is nothing like it in San Diego and it has quickly become a hugely popular event for adults looking for something entertaining and unique. Happening on Monday, June 29th, this event will be sure to sell out so give back to the community and grab your tickets today.
How many of these San Diego dive bars have you visited?
San Diego may be known for its near perfect weather year round, but what many do not know is that the nightlife in this 75 degree city stretches from the Mexico border to the North County and there is something to do almost every night of the week.
But San Diego’s nightlife isn’t just about clubs! If large-scale clubs aren’t your thing, there are plenty of dive bars and lounges sprinkled throughout the county.
Here are the some of best dive bars you want to visit while in San Diego.
Dive Bars in Encinitas
Starting in the North County, you can find not one but two bars side by side. The Saloon and Shelter in Encinitas that are popular among residents of the North. Both located on South Coast Highway 101, each offers a variety of events including live music and DJ’s playing both top 40, dance music and classics. The Saloon also has a jukebox for your listening pleasure. Shelter launched a casual dining menu in late 2014 so if you’re hungry after one too many shots, hop on over there.
Classy Dive Bars in La Jolla
Moving towards the south we find ourselves heading farther west towards the coast and into the area of La Jolla. This neighborhood is known for its high-end cars, stars and bars. In other words, it’s fancy! You can take a nice stroll down Prospect St. and have some cocktails at La Valencia Hotel before heading to Prospect Bar & Grill. On Sundays you’ll get a great view from the rooftop and during the summer they have guest DJ’s so you can sip a martini and dance to house/dance music as you watch that gorgeous sunset in those fancy pants.
Dive Bars by the Beach
Just south are the more casual beach communities of Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and Ocean Beach. Each neighborhood has its own very unique character so whether you’re interested in watching buskers in OB, surfers and college students party in PB or families ride the rollercoaster in MB, you’ll be able to find a sweet watering hole somewhere. In PB, there are plenty of clubs for the college age demographic, but a favorite spot for those straying from Rhianna remixes is the Silver Fox Lounge on Garnet Ave. A classic dive bar with pool tables, darts and all.
A Bit More Urban Dive Bars
The center of the county soon becomes dense with many eclectic and vibrant neighborhoods including Hillcrest, Bankers Hill, Golden Hill, Normal Heights, North Park and South Park among many others. Being a native of Golden Hill and North Park myself, I have an affinity for these and surrounding neighborhoods. One of the older dive bars located in North Park is Livewire on El Cajon Blvd. This is where you’ll often find bartenders on their nights off, listening to great music in the near dark. They even have guest DJ’s come in that tend bar, or are regulars there. In South Park, Whistle Stop Bar is a cash only staple of the neighborhood that has been around since the late 70s. You can hang at the bar or on certain nights you can listen to anything from 80s vs 90s, to New Wave or live music and dance. Warning, it gets warm in there.
For those searching for some craft cocktails made by gentlemen in bowties and beards or ladies that know whiskey like the back of their hand, head over to Polite Provisions on Adams Ave. in Normal Heights. You may feel like you’re in the bar of the Titanic, but that is one of the reasons this spot is so awesome. The details of the décor compliment the details put into each cocktail. Both are exquisite. This is a great place to try drinks you’ve never heard of. You can walk across the street afterwards to dance at AC Lounge, a lounge/club that won’t overwhelm your senses. They even have a small VIP room with the only LED dance floor in San Diego. If you preferred camping over disco in the 70s, head over to Sycamore Den, more great craft cocktails and you’ll feel like you’re in a cabin with the fireplace, 70s rock playing and orange & brown tones of the décor. Very campy indeed!
Dive into these Bars in Hillcrest and Banker’s Hill
Heading closer to downtown we enter Hillcrest and Banker’s Hill. Hillcrest is known worldwide for being a neighborhood that supports the LGBT community and there is always a party around. There are several places to grab drinks here but some favorites are The Alibi, Urban Mo’s and Uptown Tavern. All are within walking distance on University Avenue. Banker’s Hill is in a curious space in between Hillcrest and downtown San Diego and there are some gems to be found here. Nunu’s is a bar straight out of the 70s as well (think Three’s Company), Cherry Bomb is another bartender/service industry favorite dive with some of the stiffest pours around and The Balboa Bar & Grill has some great local bands.
Finally – Dive Bars in Downtown San Diego
After naming so many bars…you’re probably already buzzed just thinking about them. But Wait! There’s More! We have arrived to Downtown San Diego, the heart of the city and where crowds flock every single weekend (and some weeknights) to drink and dance. I understand, you’re not into the Vegas style clubs and that’s ok. You want a smaller, quainter place to order one of 3,875 craft beers on tap or maybe just an Old Fashioned. I get it and I like it! First stop is El Dorado, located on the edge of downtown. Ryan Kuntz is usually behind the bar and will be sure to offer you some great suggestions for cocktails. There is a great selection of oldies and rock and roll on the jukebox and if you feel like killin’ some game they have a sweet Buck Hunter video game console there. Another hidden gem, literally, is Noble Experiment, found behind a fake wall inside Neighborhood on 8th and G St. They house award-winning bartenders, Trevor Easterman (GM) and Adele Stratton and have been named one of the best craft cocktail bars in America by several publications including Esquire and Playboy Magazine. It’s a very small place so be sure to make a reservation or plan on waiting.
Speaking of small bars, how about visiting the smallest bar in San Diego? Pop’s Liquor Cabinet is named appropriately as it only has 4 seats in the 157sq foot space. JJ Licari, a owning partner of the preciously petite place, helped opened this spot on F St. in between large clubs so if you blink you may miss it! I recommend popping in for a drink before you wander around the Gaslamp Quarter. There will be more bottles of booze than people fit in there so the ratio is ideal. If you happen to enjoy cash only spots where the only things served are well drinks and beer then you will love Star Bar located on E St. between 4th and 5th Avenues. You are not allowed to say you live in San Diego until you have a Star Bar story. If jet lag has you wide awake at 6:00 AM you’re in luck…because that’s when they open! If you’re there that late (or early?) then you will definitely have a story to take home.
San Diego’s Oldest Tavern
The last bar I will stumble upon is none other than Waterfront Bar on Kettner Blvd. in Little Italy. Proudly known as San Diego’s oldest tavern, Waterfront also opens up at 6:00 AM and has a menu for those late night or early morning hunger pains. This is truly a classic place to visit in San Diego as it has outdoor seating to people watch, solid food and it gets packed on weekends and weeknights often. I have a video of my buddies and I there one morning and after one too many mimosas and beers we turned the jukebox on and decided we should all sing at the top of our lungs. I have it on video if anyone is interested in seeing the worst version of Bohemian Rhapsody ever filmed.
The holidays are all about indulging yourself and experiencing great times with the ones you love. As a San Diego native (yes we do exist!), I can tell you that I am spoiled when it comes to good weather and a cold craft beer. If you have decided that spending this season vacationing in the warm San Diego sun is your forte you have made a wise choice my friends! “Chilly” nights here dip into the 50s so you can still head out on the town without wearing five layers of clothing!
With the ever-expanding nightlife and bar scene in San Diego you will never get bored or not find something that suits your style. We are, after all, America’s finest city. Good tunes, good cocktails and good times are around every corner from Encinitas to South Bay.
My top choices for nightlife and things to do include attractions for every type of visitor, from the low-key whiskey bar in the middle of town to the seasonal beachside ice skating rink at the famous Hotel Del Coronado.
Holiday Wonderland in Petco Park
Let the kids run around Holiday Wonderland at Petco Park while you enjoy a warm cocktail in the VIP Lounge
If you want to fully experience holiday cheer, be sure to visit Holiday Wonderland at Petco Park in the East Village neighborhood of downtown San Diego. Petco Park Events has truly done an outstanding job of transforming the home of the San Diego Padres into a holiday spectacle to behold! Fun for the whole family includes a snow hill for sledding, live reindeer, face painting, train rides, holiday treats for sale, a VIP lounge to relax, live entertainment, adult cocktails for sale and several themed areas each with their own holiday vibe. Try the Roast Beast sandwich, the Grinch approves.
If you’re looking for something more romantic or beach vibe with a holiday twist, head to Hotel Del Coronado for a nice stroll along the beach at sunset, hold hands while trying out the ice skating rink set up between the sand and the hotel, then mosey over to the hotel bar for a glass of champagne and watch the sunset. The hotel is lit top to bottom in holiday lights, which makes for some amazing photos your friends back home will be sure to admire. You can also head to Coronado Brewing Company for a pint or two and see across the bay towards the twinkling lights of downtown from the island.
Jingle bell rock your socks off at Side Bar in Downtown San Diego. Photo courtesy of Arlene Ibarra
If you are ready to shed the gloves and parka and jingle bell rock your socks off, be sure to check out Side Bar. Wednesday nights, also known as “Industry Night”, is known to get wild. You’ll probably end up seeing someone dancing on the bar at least once by nights end and the stunning go-go dancers are decked out in outfits that match the theme of the any given night. I also hear that they’re giving away gifts including Michael Kors watches, MAC makeup gift cards and more weekly to make things more festive this holiday season! Talk about a party with perks!
This holiday season, say Cheers to Jay the British Bar Manager of Seven Grand
Want to chill out at a bar and sip a nice glass of whiskey instead? Head over to Seven Grand located in North Park (one of America’s best hipster neighborhoods as voted by Forbes magazine). Located just six minutes from downtown SD in the center of the city, Seven Grand is a dark and inviting neighborhood bar staffed by some of the most charming people around. Whiskeys line the large wall in the main room and the bartenders can pick one that suits your taste or make you one of their delicious cocktails. Try either a whiskey sour, aviation or, my personal favorite, a simple glass of Buffalo Trace Bourbon served neat. Warms me up just thinking about it! Sitting in a dimly lit bar with folks playing pool in one room and live jazz in the back bar sets a nice mood for a little holiday cheer. Take friends and make friends there. Wear an ugly Christmas sweater for a good conversation starter and say “cheers” to Jay the British bar manager.