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. Seven Grand

    North Park | Piano Bars/Lounges

    This whiskey lounge is a swanky addition to an already thriving North Park nightlife scene and a welcome alternative to the neighboring dives...Read More

  • 2. 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

  • 3. Westgate Hotel Plaza Bar

    Gaslamp Quarter | Piano Bars/Lounges

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

  • 4. Altitude Sky Lounge

    Gaslamp Quarter | Piano Bars/Lounges

    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

  • 5. Charles and Dinorah

    Point Loma | Piano Bars/Lounges

    Paying tribute to Charles and Dinorah, the property’s original owners, this hotel bar is like stepping back into late ’60s Palm Springs, with...Read More

  • 6. 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

  • 7. Manhattan of La Jolla

    Piano Bars/Lounges

    Lovingly referred to as the "Manhattan Lounge" by locals, this underrated and largely undiscovered bar neighbors the Italian steak house inside...Read More

  • 8. Prohibition

    Gaslamp Quarter | Piano Bars/Lounges

    This underground jazz lounge lives up to its name with a slinky speakeasy style. Red lighting, dark wood, and leather tufted couches provide...Read More

  • 9. The Lion's Share

    Embarcadero | Piano Bars/Lounges

    Hemingway would have loved this exquisitely designed brick-and-wood bar that serves up equally exquisite craft cocktails that, while pricey...Read More

  • 10. Top of the Hyatt

    Embarcadero | Piano Bars/Lounges

    This lounge at the Manchester Grand Hyatt crowns the tallest waterfront building in California, affording great views of San Diego Bay, including...Read More

  • 11. Upper East

    Gaslamp Quarter | Piano Bars/Lounges

    The trendy poolside bar on the fourth floor of the swank Hotel Solamar is a sexy spot to people-watch while sipping sangria or chili-mango margaritas...Read More

  • 12. Bar West

    Pacific Beach | Dance Clubs

    Bar West brings downtown flavor to style-starved PB. Though clean-lined and attractive, the bar is packed with the usual suspects (collegiates...Read More

  • 13. SummerSalt Rooftop Lounge @ Hotel Palomar

    Gaslamp Quarter | Piano Bars/Lounges

    The fourth-floor rooftop of the Hotel Palomar remains a go-to spot for posh party people who don't mind dropping big money for a poolside cabana...Read More

  • 14. W Hotel

    Downtown | Piano Bars/Lounges

    Continuously reinventing itself, The W Hotel continues to lure the young barhopping set. The ground-level Living Room encourages relaxing with...Read More

  • 15. Red Fox Steak House

    North Park | Piano Bars/Lounges

    Referred to as Red Fox Room by those in the know, this dimly lit lounge is dearly loved by locals, and not just the seniors who flock here to...Read More

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