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Pull Up a Seat at 22 of San Diego’s Classic Dive Bars

These low-key spots specialize in stiff drinks and dim lighting

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Craft cocktails and bespoke interiors can easily charm, but dive bars also serve an important role in the drinking landscape. Beloved by their communities of regulars, these dependable haunts don’t depend on flashy designs to attract customers. The draw is the promise of stiff drinks, some camaraderie, and maybe a soundtrack provided by clacking pool balls and a jukebox blaring through a dark room.

Here are 22 of San Diego’s best dive bars, from North County to the South Bay, that are worth a shot or five.

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Haunted Head Saloon

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Dollar bills and Jolly Roger flags line the ceiling at Oceanside’s pirate-themed bar. It’s the perfect spot to say ahoy to a shot of tequila after strolling through the Sunset Market.

North Bar

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A staple in Escondido with live music and karaoke. Enjoy a bucket of beer, a well-made cocktail, or, if you are lucky, buy a beer for just a quarter on Flip Off Mondays.

Taps and mixers with a Jack Daniel’s flag.
North Bar.
North Bar / Yelp

Captain Keno's Restaurant

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From afar it looks like a roadside restaurant, but this wood-clad Leucadia dive is better known for its drinking environment than its food. Crawl in and enjoy cheap drinks in red leatherette booths or at the fire table under a round shingled roof. Look for the hand-painted sign advertising the $2.99 spaghetti dinner and happy hour from 6 a.m. to midnight to find the bar entrance.

Indoor Campfire pit.

Instant Replay

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Loaded with pool tables, dart boards, and unpretentious well cocktails and bottles, this strip mall bar is the perfect stop after Thai food at Charm Thai Kitchen or a pedicure from one of the neighboring businesses.

The Kraken

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Try as it might, the Kraken can’t keep all the ocean air and shimmering sunlight out of its dark, wood-clad interior. The beaches of Cardiff attract crowds, with the most intrepid sun-seekers taking refuge here to chill out with an ice cold beer and to bask in the live music.

Wooden interior.

West End

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At the top of the street into Tourmaline Surf Park, the West End Pub has been a home for locals and surfers since 1979 with solid daily specials, TVs,  pool, darts, and weekly food pop-ups. The kind bartenders and regulars will treat you like family unless you prove you are not.

The Silver Fox Lounge

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Pacific Beach is no stranger to bars but the Silver Fox Lounge is one of its OG stars. A requisite pool table and 6 a.m. opening time seal its place in the dive bar hall of fame. Be the first to walk in at opening time and nab a coveted “6:00 am Club” bracelet.

Pool tables.

Pal Joey's

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This is the kind of bar you love or hate. With atmospheric sound provided by local bands and karaoke, the vibe is amplified by strong specialty shots and classic cocktails poured by sassy bartenders.

Lancers

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Though the exterior has been majorly overhauled, inside it’s still the same old Lancers. The wood paneling and drop ceiling were painstakingly preserved at the still cash-only bar, so grab a stool and crack open a bottled beer while waiting your turn at one of the legendary pool tables.

Til-Two Club

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This City Heights hotspot is serving some of the finest cocktails made by some of the liveliest bartenders on El Cajon Boulevard. Seek out live music and its seriously good happy hour deals including all-day $4 well and $3 shots on Mondays from opening until 2 a.m.

Jean jacket and cocktails. Til Two

Live Wire

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This is the ultimate local dive. But don’t let the interior’s low red glow fool you into thinking this is not a serious bar. Its bartenders make solid drinks and its admirable lineup of craft beer is served through some of the best-maintained lines in town.

Outside sign.

Wong's Dragon Room

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This East County spot is a lively dive bar featuring theme nights, live music, and karaoke. While they offer food if you need it, the real draw is their selection of strong drinks, plus the friendly staff and happy regulars. 

Vintage Chinese sign under a rainbow.
Wong’s Dragon Room.
Wong’s Dragon Room / Facebook

The Lamplighter

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Warm up your pipes and head to karaoke night at the Lamplighter or take your cocktails to the patio for a bit of fresh air. 

The Tower Bar

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With its colorful facade, Tower Bar is the easiest to spot dive bar in town. Grab a stool at this live music venue and bar in City Heights and play it safe with a beer or be a hero and order the bar a round of Hello Kitty Farts.

Colorful tower.

Naugahyde abounds at this 60’s-era watering hole, a longtime industry favorite. Cozy up in a booth with strong drinks and bar bites like burgers, wings, and breakfast all-day.

Whistle Stop

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With its train-themed details, narrow patio, and new parklet, Whistle Stop is a South Park gem with a solid crew of regular patrons and hot bartenders. Live events have recently returned so check the calendar if you want to catch or avoid them. 

Shooters Cocktails

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This is the destination in Spring Valley for good times, dive bar-style. Under the new owners the space enjoyed a lovely clean while maintaining good drinks, karaoke, pool tables, and a solid lineup of friendly bartenders.

Cherry Bomb

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Can’t stay at home, can’t stay in school? Sounds like the heavy pours at Cherry Bomb are for you.

Red felt pool table.

Club Marina

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The remodeled game room, decked in wood paneling and pinball, pairs perfectly with a cocktail from the well-stocked bar. It’s like being in your cool neighbor’s 1970s basement if you lived somewhere that had basements.

Wood paneled room and games. Club Marina / Facebook

Chee-Chee Club

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Dimly lit and cash-only, the East Village’s Chee-Chee Club serves bottled beer and well drinks with splash of kindness and shot of attitude. Order anything else at your own risk.

Neon sign.

Star Bar

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Offering a respite from the tourist-filled Gaslamp bars that surround it, Star Bar remains a favorite on the dive bar circuit with the vibe still intact under new ownership. You can still enjoy $5 happy hour well drinks or step up to cocktails like Topo Chico ranch water or Japanese whisky and ginger.

Star Bar interior.
Star Bar
Kelly Bone

Manhattan Bar

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A South Bay favorite, the Manhattan Bar offers cold drafts from their 18-tap bar (or order from the ample bottle list), pool, and signature Jell-O shots.

Lively interior.

Haunted Head Saloon

Dollar bills and Jolly Roger flags line the ceiling at Oceanside’s pirate-themed bar. It’s the perfect spot to say ahoy to a shot of tequila after strolling through the Sunset Market.

North Bar

A staple in Escondido with live music and karaoke. Enjoy a bucket of beer, a well-made cocktail, or, if you are lucky, buy a beer for just a quarter on Flip Off Mondays.

Taps and mixers with a Jack Daniel’s flag.
North Bar.
North Bar / Yelp

Captain Keno's Restaurant

From afar it looks like a roadside restaurant, but this wood-clad Leucadia dive is better known for its drinking environment than its food. Crawl in and enjoy cheap drinks in red leatherette booths or at the fire table under a round shingled roof. Look for the hand-painted sign advertising the $2.99 spaghetti dinner and happy hour from 6 a.m. to midnight to find the bar entrance.

Indoor Campfire pit.

Instant Replay

Loaded with pool tables, dart boards, and unpretentious well cocktails and bottles, this strip mall bar is the perfect stop after Thai food at Charm Thai Kitchen or a pedicure from one of the neighboring businesses.

The Kraken

Try as it might, the Kraken can’t keep all the ocean air and shimmering sunlight out of its dark, wood-clad interior. The beaches of Cardiff attract crowds, with the most intrepid sun-seekers taking refuge here to chill out with an ice cold beer and to bask in the live music.

Wooden interior.

West End

At the top of the street into Tourmaline Surf Park, the West End Pub has been a home for locals and surfers since 1979 with solid daily specials, TVs,  pool, darts, and weekly food pop-ups. The kind bartenders and regulars will treat you like family unless you prove you are not.

The Silver Fox Lounge

Pacific Beach is no stranger to bars but the Silver Fox Lounge is one of its OG stars. A requisite pool table and 6 a.m. opening time seal its place in the dive bar hall of fame. Be the first to walk in at opening time and nab a coveted “6:00 am Club” bracelet.

Pool tables.

Pal Joey's

This is the kind of bar you love or hate. With atmospheric sound provided by local bands and karaoke, the vibe is amplified by strong specialty shots and classic cocktails poured by sassy bartenders.

Lancers

Though the exterior has been majorly overhauled, inside it’s still the same old Lancers. The wood paneling and drop ceiling were painstakingly preserved at the still cash-only bar, so grab a stool and crack open a bottled beer while waiting your turn at one of the legendary pool tables.

Til-Two Club

This City Heights hotspot is serving some of the finest cocktails made by some of the liveliest bartenders on El Cajon Boulevard. Seek out live music and its seriously good happy hour deals including all-day $4 well and $3 shots on Mondays from opening until 2 a.m.

Jean jacket and cocktails. Til Two

Live Wire

This is the ultimate local dive. But don’t let the interior’s low red glow fool you into thinking this is not a serious bar. Its bartenders make solid drinks and its admirable lineup of craft beer is served through some of the best-maintained lines in town.

Outside sign.

Wong's Dragon Room

This East County spot is a lively dive bar featuring theme nights, live music, and karaoke. While they offer food if you need it, the real draw is their selection of strong drinks, plus the friendly staff and happy regulars. 

Vintage Chinese sign under a rainbow.
Wong’s Dragon Room.
Wong’s Dragon Room / Facebook

The Lamplighter

Warm up your pipes and head to karaoke night at the Lamplighter or take your cocktails to the patio for a bit of fresh air. 

The Tower Bar

With its colorful facade, Tower Bar is the easiest to spot dive bar in town. Grab a stool at this live music venue and bar in City Heights and play it safe with a beer or be a hero and order the bar a round of Hello Kitty Farts.

Colorful tower.

Nunu's

Naugahyde abounds at this 60’s-era watering hole, a longtime industry favorite. Cozy up in a booth with strong drinks and bar bites like burgers, wings, and breakfast all-day.

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Whistle Stop

With its train-themed details, narrow patio, and new parklet, Whistle Stop is a South Park gem with a solid crew of regular patrons and hot bartenders. Live events have recently returned so check the calendar if you want to catch or avoid them. 

Shooters Cocktails

This is the destination in Spring Valley for good times, dive bar-style. Under the new owners the space enjoyed a lovely clean while maintaining good drinks, karaoke, pool tables, and a solid lineup of friendly bartenders.

Cherry Bomb

Can’t stay at home, can’t stay in school? Sounds like the heavy pours at Cherry Bomb are for you.

Red felt pool table.

Club Marina

The remodeled game room, decked in wood paneling and pinball, pairs perfectly with a cocktail from the well-stocked bar. It’s like being in your cool neighbor’s 1970s basement if you lived somewhere that had basements.

Wood paneled room and games. Club Marina / Facebook

Chee-Chee Club

Dimly lit and cash-only, the East Village’s Chee-Chee Club serves bottled beer and well drinks with splash of kindness and shot of attitude. Order anything else at your own risk.

Neon sign.

Star Bar

Offering a respite from the tourist-filled Gaslamp bars that surround it, Star Bar remains a favorite on the dive bar circuit with the vibe still intact under new ownership. You can still enjoy $5 happy hour well drinks or step up to cocktails like Topo Chico ranch water or Japanese whisky and ginger.

Star Bar interior.
Star Bar
Kelly Bone

Manhattan Bar

A South Bay favorite, the Manhattan Bar offers cold drafts from their 18-tap bar (or order from the ample bottle list), pool, and signature Jell-O shots.

Lively interior.

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