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Matsu.
Coursey Photo

The Hottest Cocktail Bars in San Diego, January 2024

The newest drinks in the city can be found at these bars

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Matsu.
| Coursey Photo

With the arrival of the new year, San Diego’s cocktail culture sees a surge of creativity from North County to the South Bay, from Japanese spins on the classics to the reimagining of tiki favorites. And the Michelin Guide continues to spotlight culinary gems, highlighting refined bar programs across the city.

The Eater Cocktail Heatmap will be updated frequently to highlight new openings or fresh menus that are generating serious buzz around town.

Know of a cocktail spot with a decent amount of heat that should be added to the list? Send us a note.

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Eater maps are curated by editors and aim to reflect a diversity of neighborhoods, cuisines, and prices. Learn more about our editorial process. If you buy something or book a reservation from an Eater link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics policy.

Frankie's

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Under the helm of popular local bartender Leigh Lacap, Frankie’s is a favorite of locals and the service industry. With a menu of America’s beloved regional favorites, visit the Mid-Atlantic with vodka, orange juice, triple sec, and Sprite in an Orange Crush or slide into Indianapolis and sip on an Elmo Cola, whiskey sweetened with cherry juice, a vinegar shrub, vanilla, and Coca-Cola syrup.

The Space Pad

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Tucked into the back of Kilowatt Brewing, this kitschy, LED-lit rainbow room serves astro-tiki drinks and poke bowls. The interplanetary cocktail lounge offers earthly pleasures like the Royal Hawaiian with gin, orgeat, lemon, and pineapple, or you can Blast Off with a blend of passionfruit, citrus, and rum.

Moody room with colors lights on wall.
The Space Pad.
The Space Pad / Facebook

While the ten-course Japanese menus at Oceanside’s Matsu steal the spotlight, be sure to make room for the harmonious cocktails. Begin your meal with the smoky Koi, a delicate blend of mezcal, bitter Aperol, and pineapple, or opt for the Tanuki, their twist on an Old Fashioned infused with the deep intensity of Okinawan brown sugar.

Tall pale cocktail getting dusted with matcha.
Matsu.
Coursey photo

Understory Bar

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The Del Mar Highlands Town Center cocktail haven is just one of a handful of Sky Deck tenants participating in an appealing happy hour that includes deals on food and drinks. Understory is featuring 50 percent off its classic cocktails on weekdays between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. and again on Fridays and Saturdays between 10 p.m. and midnight as well as daily specials ranging from discounted mezcal flights on Mondays and $10 dealer’s choice cocktails on Thursdays.

An artful arrangement of cocktails on a bar table.
An array of cocktails at Understory.
Kimberly Motos

Sandpiper Wood Fired Grill & Oysters

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Formerly of East Coast tiki bar Cellar 335 and the Ace Hotel in Brooklyn, new bar manager Andrew Phillips has repositioned Sandpiper’s drink list around California-meets-tropical cocktails. Expect to encounter the Red Baron with Old Forrester 86 bourbon, bitter Amaro Nonino, lemon, and a macerated strawberry oleo. Guests can enjoy happy hour from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m on Fridays and Saturdays and from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays when specialty cocktails, well drinks, draft beer, and wines by the glass are all $4 off.

Star Anise floating in rosy cocktail on wood table.
Sandpiper Wood Fired Grill & Oysters.
Sandpiper Wood Fired Grill & Oysters / Facebook

Marisi brings the sensibilities of the Amalfi Coast to San Diego. Vice President of Bar and Spirits, Beau du Bois, presents a menu of classic cocktails crafted with unexpected techniques, such as the Lemon Drop adorned with lavender sugar. The Cantaloupe Margarita offers an unexpectedly subtle blend of blanco tequila and lacto-fermented cantaloupe juice with a splash of lime.

Realm Of The 52 Remedies

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Bar manager and beverage director Chris Lee’s creations reflect the beauty of Japan, with key ingredients shining in cocktails like the MisoShiru, a warm concoction of miso butter blended with Abasolo whiskey, sherry, and shiitake. Another standout is the Kikufuku, where a tall glass glows green with iconic Midori melon liqueur complemented by red bean, strawberry gin, and Japanese whiskey.

Opaque cocktail in warm light.
Realm Of The 52 Remedies
James Tran

Paradisaea

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This stylish Bird Rock restaurant, recently added to the Michelin Guide’s culinary gems of Californa, features a lively cocktail bar renowned for crafting trendy drinks like the espresso martini. Paradisaea’s rendition infuses smooth cold brew liqueur with cinnamon, accentuating the coffee’s natural chocolate notes with a swirl of smoked salt. Additionally, their happy hour, available on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., offers signature cocktails, beer, and wine and includes 50% off the bar food menu, plus $1 oysters (not on the menu but now you know to ask).

Pale brown martini with a swirl of smoked salt.
Paradisaea
Kelly Bone

Captain's Quarters

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The latest cocktails on deck at this nautical speakeasy next to the Grass Skirt in Pacific Beach include the Sirens Spritz with butterfly pea tea-tinted gin and the Skippers Colada, which blends mezcal, lime, toasted cocktail, Ancho Reyes poblano liqueur, and mirto verde.

Swan Bar

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The $5 draft cocktails at Adam’s Ave’s Swan Bar may be the best happy hour deal in town (4-5pm daily). You’ll want to stay all night to enjoy their small menu and burger and well-balanced drinks like the Deadly Sin #4 with shisito vodka, melon liquor, avocado, honeydew and lime.

Gilly's House of Cocktails

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This neighbor pillar recently came under the ownership of renowned bartenders Erick Castro (Polite Provisions, Raised by Wolves) and Jacob Mentel (Youngblood, Polite Provisions). The duo is blending is their years of experience at high-end cocktail bars with a dive bar atmosphere and reasonable prices, making it the kind of place you’d be just as comfortable ordering a 100-proof bourbon and chocolate bitters Old Fashioned as you would a Miller High Life.

Golden Cocktail on a tile bar.
Gilly’s House of Cocktails.
Kelly Bone

The Lafayette Hotel & Club

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The highly-anticipated Lafayette Hotel has landed, bringing with it a new wave of bars and restaurants that enables choose your own adventure-style drinking. Indulge in a boozy milkshake at the 24-diner, a Pimm’s Cup under the glass atrium of the Lobby Bar, bask in the tropical-meets-Italian vibes of the poolside bar, grab a classic drink at its bowling alley, or sip Oaxacan rum in the dark, church-like setting of Quixote.

A circular bar under a glass roof.
The Lobby Bar.
Kimberly Motos

Tribute Pizza

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Renowned for its food, this North Park pizzeria has an equally stellar cocktail program. From the simplicity of the Paloma with tequila blanco, Stiegl Radler, and lime to the stirred and direct Seven Caves barrel-aged Old Fashioned.

Golden cocktails with lemon peel.
Tribute Pizza
Kelly Bone

Mabel's Gone Fishing

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Awarded Bib Gourmand status by the Michelin guide, this North Park wine bar and restaurant also excels at cocktails. Gin and tonics are the specialties, from the London Dry with grapefruit and jasmine to the Spanish with nordes, lemon grapes, and sage.

Warm bar filled with bottles and painted green below the counter.
Mabel’s Gone Fishing
Kimberly Motos

Books & Records

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Classic cocktails take flight on beverage director Chris D’Apice’s menu for this recent arrival in Bankers Hill. Familiar notes like rum and Carpano vermouth are infused with pimento liqueur in the Dark Side of the Moon, which is presented tableside under a veil of cinnamon smoke.

Lowball with blueberry and lemon.
Books & Records.
Books & Records /Facebook

KINDRED

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Celebrating its 8th anniversary this month, the vegan cocktail palace’s recently overhauled menu introduced a slew of concoctions to their occult-tiki line up. Go strong with their Skullstorm, a run and coconut cocktail with banana and makrut lime leaf or stick to the Kult Classics like the rhubarb and strawberry gin Spinal Tap.

Kingfisher

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The acclaimed Golden Hill restaurant continues to excel under a strong culinary team that includes bar manager Stephen Mallory. Standouts on the cocktail menu include the Shiitoki Manhattan, made with shiitake mushroom-infused Suntory Toki Japanese whisky, Amaro Foro, sweet vermouth, and angostura bitters. During the golden hour on Sunday to Thursday between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. find cocktail specials ranging from $9 to $11..

A Manhattan cocktail.
A Manhattan at Kingfisher.
Kimberly Motos

Recently nominated for a James Beard Award, chef Tara Monsod’s acclaimed global dishes pair with high-caliber cocktails like the Upside Down, a smokey mezcal and ume cocktail accented with guava and bitters and the bright lemongrass gin and tonic with shiso leaf.

Youngblood

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The hidden bar behind East Village speakeasy Noble Experiment, named one of the 50 best bars in North America, offers a customizable and interactive cocktail experience featuring hour-and-a-half sessions in which Youngblood’s bartenders will create a series of three drinks tailored to each guest’s palate.

Arlene Ibarra

La Bamba Room

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San Diego-born bar manager Tony Roehr (Mabel’s Gone FishingCH Projects) settles into a new family at Barrio Logan's newest neighborhood bar where the ¡SALUD! Tacos-adjacent listening room offers a hi-fi experience for all the senses. With cocktails named for Salud and La Bamba owner Ernie Becerra’s life and family, the extensive menu is designed to be read slowly while sipping on cocktails like the Since I Fell For You, a gin martini accented with peach and passionfruit.

Thin stemmed glass with clear cocktail and lemon.
La Bamba Room
Kelly Bone

La Nacional

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This modern Mexican cantina offer a cocktail menu curated by Felipe “Pipo” Lopez. Highlights include perfect day drinks like the De Las Flores, a tequila and mezcal spritz with hints of elderflower and jamaica. Or take a break from espresso martinis with La Nacional’s take on the Carajillo with mezcal and local Cafe Moto cold brew with Mr Black, vanilla Licor 43, and a hint of orange.

Three cocktails lined up.
Assorted drinks.
@iydeencaptures

Frankie's

Under the helm of popular local bartender Leigh Lacap, Frankie’s is a favorite of locals and the service industry. With a menu of America’s beloved regional favorites, visit the Mid-Atlantic with vodka, orange juice, triple sec, and Sprite in an Orange Crush or slide into Indianapolis and sip on an Elmo Cola, whiskey sweetened with cherry juice, a vinegar shrub, vanilla, and Coca-Cola syrup.

The Space Pad

Tucked into the back of Kilowatt Brewing, this kitschy, LED-lit rainbow room serves astro-tiki drinks and poke bowls. The interplanetary cocktail lounge offers earthly pleasures like the Royal Hawaiian with gin, orgeat, lemon, and pineapple, or you can Blast Off with a blend of passionfruit, citrus, and rum.

Moody room with colors lights on wall.
The Space Pad.
The Space Pad / Facebook

Matsu

While the ten-course Japanese menus at Oceanside’s Matsu steal the spotlight, be sure to make room for the harmonious cocktails. Begin your meal with the smoky Koi, a delicate blend of mezcal, bitter Aperol, and pineapple, or opt for the Tanuki, their twist on an Old Fashioned infused with the deep intensity of Okinawan brown sugar.

Tall pale cocktail getting dusted with matcha.
Matsu.
Coursey photo

Understory Bar

The Del Mar Highlands Town Center cocktail haven is just one of a handful of Sky Deck tenants participating in an appealing happy hour that includes deals on food and drinks. Understory is featuring 50 percent off its classic cocktails on weekdays between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. and again on Fridays and Saturdays between 10 p.m. and midnight as well as daily specials ranging from discounted mezcal flights on Mondays and $10 dealer’s choice cocktails on Thursdays.

An artful arrangement of cocktails on a bar table.
An array of cocktails at Understory.
Kimberly Motos

Sandpiper Wood Fired Grill & Oysters

Formerly of East Coast tiki bar Cellar 335 and the Ace Hotel in Brooklyn, new bar manager Andrew Phillips has repositioned Sandpiper’s drink list around California-meets-tropical cocktails. Expect to encounter the Red Baron with Old Forrester 86 bourbon, bitter Amaro Nonino, lemon, and a macerated strawberry oleo. Guests can enjoy happy hour from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m on Fridays and Saturdays and from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays when specialty cocktails, well drinks, draft beer, and wines by the glass are all $4 off.

Star Anise floating in rosy cocktail on wood table.
Sandpiper Wood Fired Grill & Oysters.
Sandpiper Wood Fired Grill & Oysters / Facebook

Marisi

Marisi brings the sensibilities of the Amalfi Coast to San Diego. Vice President of Bar and Spirits, Beau du Bois, presents a menu of classic cocktails crafted with unexpected techniques, such as the Lemon Drop adorned with lavender sugar. The Cantaloupe Margarita offers an unexpectedly subtle blend of blanco tequila and lacto-fermented cantaloupe juice with a splash of lime.

Realm Of The 52 Remedies

Bar manager and beverage director Chris Lee’s creations reflect the beauty of Japan, with key ingredients shining in cocktails like the MisoShiru, a warm concoction of miso butter blended with Abasolo whiskey, sherry, and shiitake. Another standout is the Kikufuku, where a tall glass glows green with iconic Midori melon liqueur complemented by red bean, strawberry gin, and Japanese whiskey.

Opaque cocktail in warm light.
Realm Of The 52 Remedies
James Tran

Paradisaea

This stylish Bird Rock restaurant, recently added to the Michelin Guide’s culinary gems of Californa, features a lively cocktail bar renowned for crafting trendy drinks like the espresso martini. Paradisaea’s rendition infuses smooth cold brew liqueur with cinnamon, accentuating the coffee’s natural chocolate notes with a swirl of smoked salt. Additionally, their happy hour, available on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., offers signature cocktails, beer, and wine and includes 50% off the bar food menu, plus $1 oysters (not on the menu but now you know to ask).

Pale brown martini with a swirl of smoked salt.
Paradisaea
Kelly Bone

Captain's Quarters

The latest cocktails on deck at this nautical speakeasy next to the Grass Skirt in Pacific Beach include the Sirens Spritz with butterfly pea tea-tinted gin and the Skippers Colada, which blends mezcal, lime, toasted cocktail, Ancho Reyes poblano liqueur, and mirto verde.

Swan Bar

The $5 draft cocktails at Adam’s Ave’s Swan Bar may be the best happy hour deal in town (4-5pm daily). You’ll want to stay all night to enjoy their small menu and burger and well-balanced drinks like the Deadly Sin #4 with shisito vodka, melon liquor, avocado, honeydew and lime.

Gilly's House of Cocktails

This neighbor pillar recently came under the ownership of renowned bartenders Erick Castro (Polite Provisions, Raised by Wolves) and Jacob Mentel (Youngblood, Polite Provisions). The duo is blending is their years of experience at high-end cocktail bars with a dive bar atmosphere and reasonable prices, making it the kind of place you’d be just as comfortable ordering a 100-proof bourbon and chocolate bitters Old Fashioned as you would a Miller High Life.

Golden Cocktail on a tile bar.
Gilly’s House of Cocktails.
Kelly Bone

The Lafayette Hotel & Club

The highly-anticipated Lafayette Hotel has landed, bringing with it a new wave of bars and restaurants that enables choose your own adventure-style drinking. Indulge in a boozy milkshake at the 24-diner, a Pimm’s Cup under the glass atrium of the Lobby Bar, bask in the tropical-meets-Italian vibes of the poolside bar, grab a classic drink at its bowling alley, or sip Oaxacan rum in the dark, church-like setting of Quixote.

A circular bar under a glass roof.
The Lobby Bar.
Kimberly Motos

Tribute Pizza

Renowned for its food, this North Park pizzeria has an equally stellar cocktail program. From the simplicity of the Paloma with tequila blanco, Stiegl Radler, and lime to the stirred and direct Seven Caves barrel-aged Old Fashioned.

Golden cocktails with lemon peel.
Tribute Pizza
Kelly Bone

Mabel's Gone Fishing

Awarded Bib Gourmand status by the Michelin guide, this North Park wine bar and restaurant also excels at cocktails. Gin and tonics are the specialties, from the London Dry with grapefruit and jasmine to the Spanish with nordes, lemon grapes, and sage.

Warm bar filled with bottles and painted green below the counter.
Mabel’s Gone Fishing
Kimberly Motos

Books & Records

Classic cocktails take flight on beverage director Chris D’Apice’s menu for this recent arrival in Bankers Hill. Familiar notes like rum and Carpano vermouth are infused with pimento liqueur in the Dark Side of the Moon, which is presented tableside under a veil of cinnamon smoke.

Lowball with blueberry and lemon.
Books & Records.
Books & Records /Facebook

Related Maps

KINDRED

Celebrating its 8th anniversary this month, the vegan cocktail palace’s recently overhauled menu introduced a slew of concoctions to their occult-tiki line up. Go strong with their Skullstorm, a run and coconut cocktail with banana and makrut lime leaf or stick to the Kult Classics like the rhubarb and strawberry gin Spinal Tap.

Kingfisher

The acclaimed Golden Hill restaurant continues to excel under a strong culinary team that includes bar manager Stephen Mallory. Standouts on the cocktail menu include the Shiitoki Manhattan, made with shiitake mushroom-infused Suntory Toki Japanese whisky, Amaro Foro, sweet vermouth, and angostura bitters. During the golden hour on Sunday to Thursday between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. find cocktail specials ranging from $9 to $11..

A Manhattan cocktail.
A Manhattan at Kingfisher.
Kimberly Motos

Animae

Recently nominated for a James Beard Award, chef Tara Monsod’s acclaimed global dishes pair with high-caliber cocktails like the Upside Down, a smokey mezcal and ume cocktail accented with guava and bitters and the bright lemongrass gin and tonic with shiso leaf.

Youngblood

The hidden bar behind East Village speakeasy Noble Experiment, named one of the 50 best bars in North America, offers a customizable and interactive cocktail experience featuring hour-and-a-half sessions in which Youngblood’s bartenders will create a series of three drinks tailored to each guest’s palate.

Arlene Ibarra

La Bamba Room

San Diego-born bar manager Tony Roehr (Mabel’s Gone FishingCH Projects) settles into a new family at Barrio Logan's newest neighborhood bar where the ¡SALUD! Tacos-adjacent listening room offers a hi-fi experience for all the senses. With cocktails named for Salud and La Bamba owner Ernie Becerra’s life and family, the extensive menu is designed to be read slowly while sipping on cocktails like the Since I Fell For You, a gin martini accented with peach and passionfruit.

Thin stemmed glass with clear cocktail and lemon.
La Bamba Room
Kelly Bone

La Nacional

This modern Mexican cantina offer a cocktail menu curated by Felipe “Pipo” Lopez. Highlights include perfect day drinks like the De Las Flores, a tequila and mezcal spritz with hints of elderflower and jamaica. Or take a break from espresso martinis with La Nacional’s take on the Carajillo with mezcal and local Cafe Moto cold brew with Mr Black, vanilla Licor 43, and a hint of orange.

Three cocktails lined up.
Assorted drinks.
@iydeencaptures

Related Maps