Nightlife & the Arts in San Diego

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San Diego Nightlife

A couple of decades ago, San Diego scraped by on its superb daytime offerings. When the city's smattering of neighborhood dives and dance clubs got stale, locals fled town for late-night benders in L.A. or Las Vegas. Those sleepy-after-dark days are over; San Diego now sizzles when the sun goes down. Of particular interest to beer lovers, the city has become internationally acclaimed for dozens of breweries, beer pubs, and festivals.

The most obvious destination for visitors is the Gaslamp Quarter, a 16-block former red-light district gone glam. The debauchery is slightly more modest these days—or at least legal, anyway. Between the Gaslamp and neighboring East Village, there's truly something for everyone, from secretive speakeasies to big, bangin' dance clubs and chic rooftop lounges to grimy dives. If you're staying in the Gaslamp, it's the perfect place to party. Some of the hotels even have their own happening scenes. If you're driving from elsewhere, prepare to pay. Your best options: parking lots (prices start at $20) or valet (at some restaurants and clubs). If you don't mind a long trek—in other words, leave the stilettos at home—you can usually score spots 10 or more blocks from the action. Meters are free after 6 pm.

The epicenter of gay culture is Hillcrest, where you'll find bars and clubs catering primarily to the LGBT crowd—though everyone is welcome. East of Hillcrest is North Park, where hip twenty- and thirtysomethings hang out at edgy scenester hotspots (though locals complain that upscale new arrivals on the nightlife scene are ruining the underground vibe). Nearby South Park and University Heights also have a few cool offerings. A cab from downtown to any of these 'hoods costs about $15.

Pacific Beach tends to draw college kids who don't know when to say when, while Ocean and Mission beaches pull laid-back surfers and their cohort. La Jolla, for the most part, is a snooze if you're in the mood to booze late at night.

Californians love their independent cafés and coffeehouses. San Diego's got plenty, especially in the Hillcrest and North Park neighborhoods in Uptown. Many offer tasty fare (from light pastries to full meals) alongside every possible caffeinated concoction. Some offer terrific live entertainment, too. And, if a coffee buzz isn't the kind you're looking for, a handful also serve wine and beer. Hookah (also known as shisha) lounges are another popular bar alternative.

There are also nightlife destinations outside of town, in North County: Belly Up, in Solana Beach, has a killer sound system and attracts some big national names. The cover can be steep depending on the performer, but the laid-back vibe and strong drinks almost always attract a crowd.

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