The Hot List: Where To Find The Best Cocktail Bars in San Diego Right Now, March 2024

San Diego has always had a reputation as a ‘party’ town, but it now also has some of the best cocktail bars on Earth for those looking for quality over quantity. While we’re grateful for the abundance of five-star cocktail bars in San Diego, sometimes having so many choices can make it difficult to come to a decision.

To help you out, we’ve curated a list of our favorite cocktail bars in San Diego at the moment for those nights when you’re on a hot date and want to impress, celebrate something special, or just feel like something stiff.

This month has several hot newcomers to our list.

Check back often…we’re committed to doing the hard work of tracking down San Diego’s best cocktails on your behalf, and we’ll keep this list updated as new bars open and new menus are released.

It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it 😉

The Lafayette Hotel

A hotel at the top of our list of best cocktail bars in San Diego? It could only be the recently remodeled LaFayette Hotel & Club in North Park.

The Lobby Bar at the LaFayette Hotel & Club

Now a CH Projects project, the LaFayette is the hottest destination in San Diego for an incredible staycation and/or cocktails. The hotel is very much meant just as much for locals as it is for out-of-towners, so you don’t need to do a staycation to go enjoy the cocktails at the hotel’s several bars.

Staying consistent with CH Projects’ reputation, the design is glamorous and gorgeous, and so are the drinks.

Gaslamplighter

Gaslamplighter Cocktail & Karaoke Bar, an upscale cocktail and karaoke bar and sister concept to local nightlife staples, The Lamplighter and Side Bar, opened its doors in the Gaslamp.

Gaslamplighter Cocktail & Karaoke Bar To Light Up San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter

Gaslamplighter pairs classic style with a vintage industrial 1920s flare to curate a feeling of timeless nostalgia. The space’s moody ambiance mimics an extravagant speakeasy, featuring shades of green and navy with accents of gold and rose metals throughout to give it a quintessential Art Deco style.

A stage with a backdrop of high-tech bulb lighting serves as a focal point for karaoke and live performances. Come ready to belt your best Frank Sinatra tunes!

Lou Lou’s

Lou Lou’s is technically a part of the Lafayette Hotel, which is at the top of this list, but it’s its own thing and deserves its own spot on this list.

Enter through the separate entrance on El Cajon, and you’ll find yourself immersed in one of San Diego’s most beautiful bars. The cocktails are fantastic and it’s worth stopping there and spending the night huddled up around the bar, particularly if you are looking to have a conversation with your drink.

Or, continue beyond the bar to the jazz club and dining space; one of the more sophisticated nightlife vibes in San Diego and the perfect place for cocktails and live jazz. You can’t go wrong.

Follow them on Instagram for updates on their live music schedule and reservation information.

Wormwood

We can’t say enough good things about Wormwood. Whether you come for the food, atmosphere, or cocktails – you’ll get the best in San Diego.

But for now, let’s focus on the cocktails!

Grab a seat at their intimate bar if you can find a seat, or sit down for dinner in their restaurant or garden; both feel like they are straight out of Paris. The perfect environment to be treated to some of the best cocktails in San Diego.

For the more adventurous, enjoy absinthe served in slow-drip fountains with a cube of sugar, in the tradition of how it was served in the early 20th century streets of Paris, or take part in revisited absinthe classics including the Sazerac and the A La Louisiane, as well as a selection of non-absinthe choices highlighting other beautiful liquors.

Lala

Lala is the new ‘it girl’ in Little Italy. Sure, you’ll go for Italian food from the Busalacchi family, but we think Lala shines for the cocktail scene.

Lala’s bar program is led by Busalacchi Restaurants’ Antonio Gonzales, a lead bartender whose 27-year career spans notable fine-dining institutions such as Juniper & Ivy and Stake Chophouse & Bar.

The menu centers on nine modern classics infused with Italian influences, such as the Stiletto with housemade Limoncello and cream, Lala’s Martini with vodka, peppadew brine, lime, basil, and pepper oil, or the Sidepiece with tequila, lime, grapefruit, ginger root, and mint.

Young Blood

Young Blood was recently named to a list of the Top 50 Bars in North America…you don’t get much hotter than that!

A true speakeasy is one that is hard to find, and if you don’t have friends that will go on a hunt to find the best cocktails in town, you might not know that Young Blood even exists. Hidden in the back of East Village’s recently updated Neighborhood is Nobel Experiment, one of San Diego’s most famous speakeasies.

But having one legendary speakeasy within Neighborhood’s walls wasn’t enough…oh no…so they recently added a second! Young Blood’s 3-course cocktail experience and intimate 16-seat bar, floor-to-ceiling bar shelves, custom lighting, and Parisian carpet will seemingly transport you to a different time and place for the evening.

For $65 you will get a 90-minute slot to enjoy the cocktails of the night, chosen by the talented crew behind the bar. Reservations well in advance are highly recommended and can be made online.

Polite Provisions

We’ve never had a bad experience at Polite Provisions. To be more accurate, we’ve never had anything other than a great experience at Polite Provisions.

It’s the perfect combination of craft cocktail bar and neighborhood bar that you can hope to find.

They were closed temporarily earlier in 2023 due to some combination of liquor license violations and time for remodeling.

Whatever…we’re just glad they are back open!

Realm of the 52 Remedies

Over the last month, we’ve asked a dozen or so of our favorite bartenders where they would choose to go for the best cocktails in San Diego right now.

The most common answer was Realm of the 52 Remedies.

Who are we to argue?

The speakeasy companion to Common Theory in Convoy serves up some of the most stunning design you’ll ever see to go with their extraordinary cocktails – an experience not to be missed.

Frankie’s

The headline of the website for Frankie’s in Oceanside says ‘Sip something timeless’, which is exactly what we love about this ‘social lounge’.

The “handsome little cocktail bar completely run by bartenders and barbacks” (so you know you’re getting the good stuff!) now offers an abbreviated food menu by Q&A Restaurant and Oyster Bar located next door at The Brick Hotel, but we’ll be heading there for the cocktails.

The “I Hate It Here” cocktail (pictured), includes bourbon, crème de cacao, banana, demerara, lavender, cold brew, and a whole lotta love.

Marisi

We had heard all of the buzz about Marisi coming for the better part of a year; it was worth the wait!

We expected really good, fresh Italian food and wine from Marisi, but we didn’t realize the cocktail bar was going to be such a standout!

Both the bar itself and the classic cocktails that are made there are gorgeous and well-worth the visit even if you aren’t staying for dinner.

The gorgeous Manhattan pictured above is poured with bourbon or rye, Italian vermouth, and bitters.

Botanica

North Park’s relative newcomer, Botanica, is the newest concept from San Diego’s Be Saha Hospitality Group (Tahona, Wormwood).

Located within North Park’s Art Produce building, Botanica brings an immersive drinking and social experience to San Diego through its focus on genever and gin, creative bites, and modern art, including an NFT digital art gallery.

The cocktails are works of art, themselves.

Born and Raised

You really can’t beat a simple martini or the B&R Old Fashioned (our favorite in San Diego!) at Born and Raised for a classy night out that feels more like a steakhouse experience you’d expect to find in New York rather than San Diego.

Most nights we prefer the open air and Little Italy views at their upstairs bar, but there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

The revolving centerpiece after which the bar is named was originally built and immortalized in 1881 by German carousel master carver and builder, Charles I.D. Looff — nicknamed “Wolfie” by friends.

The cocktails are out of this world, the menu is straight from a Parisian bistro, and the revolving centerpiece creates one of the most interesting people-watching opportunities in San Diego!

Madison on Park

Madison has received plenty of well-deserved praise for its beautiful cocktails and stunning architectural design over the years, and it’s a perennial favorite of ours. Whether you take a seat at their intimate bar or grab a table for dinner, you can’t go wrong.

Tahona & Oculto 477

Tahona is a modern Mexican bar known for its Mezcal offerings. This rustic little hacienda aims to honor Mexican culture and its iconic beverage. Here you will find Oaxacan-inspired food along with over 120 various mezcals, hand-selected by their team.

Their cocktail menu ranges from refreshing and creative, to spicy and delicious, to stirred and boozy. We recommend taking part in the tasting experiences; not only is it fun but you also learn a lot and get to sip on rare and delicious mezcal.

Hidden in the back of Tahona is Oculto 477, an intimate speakeasy that sits on the edge of historic El Campo Santo Cemetery, which dates back to 1849 and where 477 bodies are buried (hence Oculto 477’s name).

The drinks are beautiful, unique, and strong…and very much in demand. Plan on making reservations two to three weeks in advance.

Raised by Wolves

You know you live in paradise when you one of the best cocktail bars in the United States is hidden in your mall! The opulence of the design and craftsmanship behind every detail in this bar makes the fact that it’s in a mall seem almost impossible – it’s absolutely stunning. The cocktails are even better.

The holiday shopping menu was fantastic!

Mister A’s

The San Diego institution in Banker’s Hill recently reopened after extensive renovations…and it’s beautiful.

Sitting 12 floors up, the expanded bar and new outdoor lounge seating have the best views in all of San Diego.

This is the place to go when you’re feeling fancy (there is a strictly enforced dress code) and you want a strong, traditional cocktail – we suggest the burnt orange old-fashioned – to match that suit or cocktail dress that’s to die for!

See you there!

Keep this list in mind for your next hot date or important celebration – or the next time you simply want to spend your evening exploring San Diego’s best cocktail bars. We’ll keep it updated for you!

If you see us at the bar, be sure to say hi, and when you visit one of these spots, be sure to tag us on Instagram so we can share with our followers.

Stay healthy, San Diego!

PS – To be safe, plan to use your favorite rideshare service to get home.

The Latest
Bags & Baubles
The 13th annual Bags & Baubles fundraiser, organized by the San Diego-based nonprofit FACE Foundation, is set to take place. This distinctive silent auction will...
Madama Butterfly
Get ready for an unforgettable night at San Diego Civic Theatre, where Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly promises to tug at your heartstrings with its poignant...
Party for the Planet
Are you ready to Party for the Planet? In honor of Earth Day, Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego is...
WILDCOAST Benefit Dinner at Herb and Sea
Herb & Sea invites guests to join them for the 3rd Annual WILDCOAST Benefit Dinner, a family-style seafood soiree on their Moonlight Deck. Herb &...
Birch Aquarium Aza Accreditation
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has announced that Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego was once again granted accreditation...
Bazaar del Mundo
Diane Powers’ Bazaar del Mundo Shops in Old Town will celebrate spring with a tribute to beloved artist, Laurel Burch, and a curated selection of...