Nightlife in San Diego: Best Bars, Clubs, & More

Downtown San Diego Gaslamp sign over moving traffic at night
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Though San Diego may be known for its beaches, taco shops, and cotton candy sunsets during the day, after hours, the SoCal beach city turns into a bar-hopping hotspot for tourists and locals alike. It may not have Los Angeles or New York City's status for late night shenanigans, but its Gaslamp Quarter and beachfront bars offer plenty to keep you occupied until the 2 a.m. closing hour.

From craft cocktails in speakeasies to rooftop views of Petco Park, San Diego can be as laid-back or elegant as you make it. As one of the only cities in America that can offer beach, city, and suburban vibes wrapped into one town, San Diego has nightlife options for the 9 p.m. bedtimers, the 2 a.m. foodies and the sunrise Uber riders—just pick your poison.

Bars

It’s no secret that America’s Finest City is great for long days of lounging on the sand and taking in the Pacific coastline, but if you find the sun has not completely drained your energy come nightfall, San Diego’s bar scene is as much of a must-see as its beaches. From rooftops to goldfish races and baseball games to arcade games, the city’s bars highlight some of San Diego’s best views and experiences.

Here are a few of the drinking holes you absolutely must grab a cocktail at while you’re out on the town:

  • Altitude Sky Lounge: Located on the top of the Marriott in downtown San Diego, you can take in a Padres game here from 22 stories above Petco Park.
  • Craft & Commerce: As the name suggests, this specialty bar mixes up some of the best craft cocktails in Little Italy.
  • Maverick’s: You can’t do a trip to San Diego without spending at least one night on an outdoor patio in Pacific Beach—this is the spot for that.
  • Raised By Wolves: This La Jolla speakeasy has a rotating fireplace. Need we say more?
  • Coin Op: Pour yourself a pint and indulge in some pinball or beer pong at this bar and gameroom in North Park.
  • Pacific Beach Shore Club: This PB beachfront dive hosts goldfish races every Wednesday night.

Night Clubs

While San Diego can be a night town, it’s not particularly known for its club scene. There are a few big names—OMNIA, Parq—where you’ll find a rowdier bunch of San Diegans than your typical night owls who just hop from bar to bar in the Gaslamp Quarter. But for the most part, the scene is at the bars, which tend to transition into dance floors as the night progresses.

Some bigtime parties that aren’t necessarily the first on everyone’s radar are the night cruises. Hornblower and Flagship Cruises do an array of booze cruises through the San Diego harbor. You’ll get an Instagram-worthy view of the downtown skyline, an open dance floor and plenty to drink for the cost of your ticket, which will guarantee you a good time. If you’re prone to seasickness though, stick to the clubs shoreside.

Even though the bar scene is most popular, if you’re looking for a guaranteed banger of a night, the club scene is your best bet. Just note, most clubs do charge a cover, so if you want the big dance parties, be prepared to dish out some cash.

Check out some of these popular clubs below:

  • OMNIA Nightclub: Probably the most well-known on the club scene in San Diego, this downtown gem’s disco ball display will have you on your feet all night.
  • PARQ Nightclub: This Gaslamp hotspot doubles as a farm-to-table restaurant, but come the midnight hour, it’s all about the late night beats.
  • Moonshine Beach: For all the cowboys out there, this PB country music destination will have you grinding your boots all night to the latest country hits.
  • Trailer Park After Dark: Though this isn’t your typical “club” per se, it has more of a lounge feel than your average bar—you can rent out a trailer with bottle service inside this unconventional East Village favorite.

Late Night Restaurants

Now here’s something San Diego is great at. The city is located a quick 15 miles from the Mexican border, which makes it a hub for authentic Mexican food. On top of that, the variety of eats in the beachside city is comparable to other foodie destinations like New York City and Chicago.

It’s no shock to anyone that even the worst of food tastes best the closer you get to 3 a.m., but bad food isn’t a concern in San Diego. Wherever you choose to satisfy your late-night cravings, you surely won’t go wrong, but here are a few of the best eateries the city has to offer after a night on the town:

  • Mike’s Taco Club: Authentic Mexican food with a hole-in-the-wall vibe just steps from the water in Ocean Beach.
  • Brian’s 24: This is your classic 24/7 diner, serving up comfort food to all the night owls in downtown San Diego.
  • Werewolf: If you want some classic American bar food in the Gaslamp Quarter, this is a go-to.
  • Soda & Swine: With locations in Liberty Station, North Park, and La Jolla, the specialty meatballs here are the tastiest end to a night out.
  • La Puerta: Right in the heart of Gaslamp, this Mexican joint is a party in and of itself just for the quality of their California burritos, quesadilla, and overflowing shrimp tacos.

Live Music and Performances

Head to The Observatory in North Park to see all the up-and-coming artists passing through San Diego, and hit up downtown’s House of Blues for the same enticements with more of a clubby feel. Music Box is a comparable three-story live music destination in downtown where you can catch some smaller names with a party to match, while Prohibition provides a more upscale, 1930s live music lounge scene.

Festivals

With an unbeatable location, San Diego is one of the biggest hubs for music festivals in California outside of the Coachella Valley. With venues up and down the coastline, many of these festivals utilize the waterfront property to entice festival-goers. Here are a few of the different festivals that come to town each year:

  • Kaaboo: The largest festival to hit San Diego, this Del Mar spectacle features some of today’s biggest names each September.
  • Wonderfront Festival: Featuring both music and art, this downtown festival is new to the scene, but it’s backed by Tony Hawk, so you know it’s good.
  • Boots in the Park: Catering to San Diego’s expansive country music fan base, this downtown country festival features some of country’s biggest stars in an intimate setting on the bay.
  • CRSSD Festival: Another bayfront extravaganza, this festival has been featuring big names like Portugal. The Man for five years and counting.

Tips for Going Out in San Diego

  • The Trolley is one of San Diego’s most popular mass transit systems. The trains run from 5 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. There is select service before 5 a.m. and after midnight on some sections of the trolley’s three lines, but no service anywhere from 2 a.m. to 3:30 a.m.
  • Buses are also a viable option for public transportation, but the schedule times vary. For late night, be sure to check if the line you need is running on the San Diego MTS website before relying on the bus for a ride home.
  • Uber and Lyft are the most popular rides home late at night. If you have either app, you can call a ride share anywhere in the city—your wait shouldn’t be more than about 5 minutes.
  • Though notoriously controversial, San Diegans love Bird scooters, and you can find them on most street corners. If you’ve never used a Bird before, just download the app, and it will set you up with instructions on how to pick up and drop off your scooter anywhere in the city. Be careful though, these scooters aren’t recommended if you’ve had one too many drinks.
  • Avoid the pedicabs in downtown San Diego at all costs—they’re a huge scam.
  • Last call is 2 a.m. across the city.
  • Cover charges for most music venues and popular bars range from $5 to $20. Some are cash only, so have a little cash on hand in case you run across one of those.
  • Tipping is expected at bars and restaurants with 15 percent to 20 percent being the standard.
  • Open containers are not allowed in San Diego (nor is drinking in the backseat of a car), so it’s best to skip the gas station buys and pop into one of the hotspots above for a late night sip.
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