Lana is an aspiring travel writer with a serious case of shutterbug and an insatiable curiosity about the world.
San Diego Is a Bar Heaven
In the city blessed with year-round perfect weather, hypnotic sunsets and incredible beaches, bars and pubs are scattered everywhere, because why not? Having a good time comes with the territory. Whether you're a tequila connoisseur or a craft beer enthusiast, there is something here for everyone.
The following is my version of the best bars in San Diego. After living in this city for 15 years, I have found my own favorite spots that are sure to get you thirsty.
8 of San Diego's Best Bars
- Shakespeare Pub & Grille
- Hamilton's Tavern
- The Tower Bar
- Gallagher's Pub and Grill
- Blind Lady Ale House (BLAH)
- The Office Bar
P.S. I prefer neighborhood hangouts to overpriced, pretentious downtown bars. Of course, once people catch up to the fact that the place is good, it becomes overpriced and overcrowded. Oh, the irony . . .
1. Shakespeare Pub & Grille
Why Go: The ambiance and Union Jack on tap
Any anglophiles here? This authentic British pub is one of the better theme pubs I've seen. It's got good food (this pub proves that English food is actually not terrible), a respectable happy hour (Monday–Friday from 3pm until 7pm) and tons of fun things like trivia and quiz nights, bottled beer of the month, martini and cocktail specials available throughout the day, soccer games on TV, and a great patio.
So if you like your fish and chips (your bangers and mash, your shepherd's pie, your chicken tikka masala) with a side of British accent (no joke, everyone is "British" here), come to Shakespeare Pub. You know you want to.
2. Hamilton’s Tavern
Why Go: 28 types of beer in every brew style imaginable
If you consider yourself a beer aficionado, you've found your paradise. This funky local alehouse holds SD's oldest beer and wine license, and it offers the highest quality ales, real ales and craft beers from around the world.
Whether you're an American Lager kind of a guy/gal, or Chocolate Stout is your thing, or you simply cannot get enough of oak-aged cider, you'll find it all at Hamilton's, along with shuffleboard, pool, Foosball, and a lively crowd of people (the bar is very popular, so it's almost always packed). Oh, and the food is a knockout.
3. The Tower Bar
Why Go: The design and $2 cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon ("man cans")
"The Tower" is one of the most unusual places in San Diego and perhaps all of California. Built in 1932 as part of a theater, this unique Art Deco building houses a bar and a tattoo shop on the second floor. So, if you'd like to get a tattoo and then have a drink to celebrate (but not the other way around!), this establishment is for you.
Another reason to visit the place is if you like dive bars. "The Tower" is the definition of an old-school dive bar with its rugged punk rock charm. Make no mistake: This place is not for the faint-hearted. If you can't tolerate a pool of piss in the bathroom, or softcore biker porn in the background, or a sketchy neighborhood, move along, sir, your bingo game's about to start.
Like a true dive bar, "The Tower" serves something called the Pabst-Smear: 1/2 Guinness and 1/2 Pabst. But what a lot of people don't know is that it has the largest selection of real Absinthe in San Diego, and they prepare it in the traditional French method using an Absinthe water fountain. Whoo-hoo!
They also support the local music scene by giving the stage to underground musicians. Check out their Calendar page for the list of the upcoming shows. Happy Hour is Monday–Friday 4–7pm, and it includes $3 wells and drafts.
4. Gallagher's Pub and Grill
Why Go: The best happy hour and the ocean
Gallagher's is situated in one of the funnest hippiest neighborhoods of San Diego (and my personal favorite) - Ocean Beach. OB is like traveling back to 1969, in case you miss that whole make-love-not-war thing.
Gallagher's is like traveling back to Ireland, if reggae was traditional Irish music. That's right: lots of live reggae music. Assuming you're not terribly put off by this cultural mismatch, you'll find it a very chill place within walking distance to the beach. Nothing fancy, just a truly laid-back local bar.
The drinks are $5 a pint all day until 8 pm, the wells and the beer of the month are only $3.
5. Blind Lady Ale House (BLAH)
Why Go: Great thin-crust pizzas made with local organic ingredients. And beer!
Blind Lady Ale House is another San Diego gem. Known to locals as "BLAH", it is anything but blah, believe me.
This is my favorite place to go to with friends - they have long wooden tables to accommodate large groups, and it just feels like that perfect neighborhood hangout. Sure it's a little loud and insanely crowded on weekends, but it has great atmosphere, great selection of artisan beers and great pizza. What more could you possibly ask for?
As their homepage says, "It's all about the food." It certainly is. Drop by for a slice of chorizo & avocado pizza and a glass of cold Pilsner. Your experience at this establishment will not be soon forgotten.
Why Go: The view and the fire pit
At "Cannonball" you can have good sushi with a refreshing cocktail while enjoying the best view in San Diego.
"Cannonball" is one of San Diego's largest oceanfront rooftop bar restaurants boasting incredible views of Mission Beach from literally every seat in the place. It has fire pits, conceptual poolside terrace, and large communal tables to accommodate parties of up to 40 people.
Their bar menu has some interesting cocktails (like "FUJI APPLE PIE" served hot with whipped cream) and decent selection of Japanese whiskeys and sakes. Given the location, it's a bit pricey so maybe come for a happy hour (weekdays 4-6pm). Little tip: ask for the C booth for best views.
Why Go: Sunday brunch
Beer with a side of doughnuts? This is blasphemy! No. It's Tiger!Tiger!'s Sunday morning special. House-made, coconut glazed doughnuts with beer. Mmmm...
Another Sunday brunch favorite is fried chicken on a biscuit sandwich that comes with sweet pickles, butter lettuce and a fresh-made cream cheese, toppled with gravy. This isn't a sandwich, it's an experience.
Of course, Sunday brunch is not the only cool thing about Tiger!Tiger! There's the cool name, for example. Not to mention whimsical tiger-themed décor, Parmesan truffle fries, outdoor patio and long communal tables that invite casual conversation between strangers. A bar this awesome could only be in San Diego.
8. The Office Bar
Why Go: Strong Mad Men–inspired cocktails
When you're at a bar drinking with your buddies and your wife calls, you need a good cover.
Hey, where are you?
I'm stuck at the office, honey. Don't wait up.
Located in the heart of North Park, one of San Diego's hipster neighborhoods, "The Office" is the only place where you can say that to your wife and not lie. Plus, at this "office" you're always the boss.
Happy hour is from 4 to 7pm with half-off EVERYTHING, and from 7 to 9pm you can order $5 signature cocktails. This is the best time to visit the bar as it gets overcrowded after 9 and on weekends, when it turns into a dance club.
They don't have food but you can bring in outside food and eat it there, while sipping on "The Don Draper" (Gentleman Jack whiskey, Disarono amaretto, Lillet red, and Luxardo maraschino cherries). "The Office" is dark, slick and retro. Not unlike Don Draper himself.
© 2014 Lana Adler
Lana Adler (author) from California on May 13, 2020:
Thanks!! You should come visit San Diego some time!
Marcy Bialeschki from Cerro Gordo, IL on May 10, 2020:
Cool article. I have a real fascination with bars and pubs and what makes them different. Your article was great.
Lana Adler (author) from California on August 29, 2019:
PB bubble can be nice and comfortable but there's definitely more to SD bar scene )) Happy exploring!
Allison from San Diego, CA on August 28, 2019:
This is a great list - I'm excited to try a few of these out. I have never seen or heard of The Tower, which is surprising as it's obviously an unusual spot. I'm stuck in the PB bubble, but reading through these gives me inspiration to spread my wings a bit!
Lana Adler (author) from California on June 21, 2014:
I have not... I should check it out, sounds amazing! Thank you for commenting, it's definitely comforting that there are still undiscovered gems in SD.
Johnny Caito from SAN DIEGO on June 20, 2014:
Have you ever gone up to O'Brien's on Convoy? Very easily one of the best beer bars in the whole city (despite it's odd location, tucked into a strip mall surrounded by all Asian restaurants). They almost always have Alpine beers on tap. Amazing place.