By Kevin Wilkerson, PubClub.com San Diego Blogger
For the young and young at heart, Pacific Beach is the place to be in San Diego.
This is where the party meets the Pacific, a heavenly hangout of beachside bars, neighborhood pubs and dance spots. In “PB,” as locals call it, there is always something going on any night of the week. And it so compact, most places are within easy walking distance of one another.
In a way, Pacific Beach is like a step back in time, as if the 60s are still with us. It has a Dairy Queen – a Dairy Queen! – and a drive-thru at that. The accommodation choices are mostly run-down cottages and motels. Surfers are still dragging longboards out to challenge the waves (though the boards are now made of fiberglass instead of balsa wood).
Yet there are also high-rise and modern condos, hotels and gleaming new shopping spots.
Regardless of the decade, the main attraction is the beach, as well as the concrete path that slices down its edge. Surfing, sunning, beach volleyball and other activities fill the sand while runners, rollerbladers, bicyclers and pedestrians keep the Strand buzzing (East Coasters refer to it as a boardwalk, but out here it’s the Strand). Along it are restaurants, bars, motels and, a little south of PB, the rollercoaster and arcade games of Mission Beach.
Pacific Beach Bars & Daytime Dives
It’s right on the beach, resembling a lifeguard stand on steroids. But it serves food and drinks, so the only rescue operations it launches are for hungry and thirsty patrons. Lahaina Beach House is a Pacific Beach tradition, true PubClub.com kind of place, a simple bar with a wooden outdoor deck, beer on tap and a simple but good menu. Any sunny afternoon – especially on weekends – people gather to gossip and drink and check out the action directly in front of them on the beach and Strand (well they call it the Boardwalk tho I challenge you to find any boards). It’s what I refer to as a “location bar.”
Around the corner from Lahaina is another “anytime it’s sunny” place called The Open Bar. Across from the Ralph’s shopping plaza, it can get a crowd any afternoon the sun is out. Which is to say, just about any afternoon. Usually by nightfall the crowd moves elsewhere, except for Mondays when it’s THE place to be. The crowd, which thoroughly enjoys the $2.50 mixed drink special, is a mix of beach and borderline hip-hop.
Once a dark dive, the Pacific Beach Shore Club is now a sought-after destination among the sunburned and thirsty. It’s amazing what one does when they put in some windows that open up to a view of the Pacific and Pacific Beach Pier. That plus, make for cheap drinks (specials during the day are particularly inviting) and top it off with PB’s Best Fish Tacos (Mani Mahi, grilled, blackened or fried). It’s even better when your waitress’ name is Breezy.
Next door is Waterbar, a modern and and big double-decker bar and restaurant. The action is upstairs with its expansive area past the bar and enough TVs to show every sport ever created.
And just down from it is a place that’s worth going into just because it has a thatched roof. That plus, it’s right on The Strand. I pulled up a chair at Baja Beach Cafe one sunny afternoon and after ordering a margarita, the waiter said “it’s Happy Hour, so you get two. And if if you don’t want it, I’ll drink it!” That’s someone I relate to; the Happy Hour is 2-4-1 4-7 weekdays and there’s a late-night Happy Hour 10:30-12:30 every night. There’s a small bar at the back where that has some pretty good singles action.
The Local PB is a pub that turns into a club at night. It’s located on Thomas & Mission. Frankly, I need to get in there more.
Still around and thriving is one of Pacific Beach’s best hangouts, the Cass Street Bar and Grill. Located on Cass Street a block from Garnet, this cool-colored bar and mini-restaurant tends to come and go like an ocean surge, but for regulars it’s as steady as a winter surge. It’s a low-key neighborhood bar that is as casual as a pair of sandals. For singles, Cass St. is best between 8-11 p.m.
A good call afterward is Thrusters. On the main street next to the liquor store, Thruster’s is PB’s Great Secret Bar. As thin as a short board, it is a mix between New York hip and dive, where people go when they want to pound down cocktails without the lines and masses around them. “Thrusters,” one patron posted on the bar’s website, “is a cave of glory.” I freely admit to spending a couple of blurry late nights in the place.
Another option is Tavern at the Beach. It’s a basic bar on Garnet, about a dozen blocks inland from the beach. Check it out on other nights, too. Keep going inland and if it’s lunch or dinnertime, stop at Rocky’s Crown Pub for the Best Hamburgers in San Diego. Our worldwide hamburger correspondent rates them #2 in the world (second only to Ercoles in Manhattan Beach, CA). Go for the quarter-pounder and a beer at this relative clean, small somewhat dive neighborhood hangout. It’s good for sports, too.
Duck Dive is an awesome place for an insane weekend brunch – insane because like many places it has bottomless mimosas ($17.50 until 3) but also drinks served in giant clam shells. Called Punch Bowls, the pack a punch ($30) and are consumed at several tables by people who really like to get thier weekend day off to a roaring start (actually, they have brunch during the week, too).
The people that go into the Duck Dive for must be screened at the door not for their age but thier looks, for the place is full of lookers.
For daytime and nighttime, Maverick’s Beach Club (in the former Pacific Beach Bar & Grill location, for you PB historians), takes on both characters. In the front is a casual hangout bar, not at all different from Cass St. Out the door is a large outdoor patio area, somewhat casual and laid-back, while in the back a large dance area is jumping – sometimes literally. Make a note of the large TV screens against the wall; this is an awesome place to watch sports. Sunday afternoons, you had better get there by 3.
Mission Beach Bars
If its Sundays, the place to be is Beachcomber. Located two blocks south of the Mission Beach rollercoaster, it is all things to all people. Go early and it’s the party-never-ends set, people in their 40s 50s, even 60s. With each passing hour the crowd gets progressively younger. By 9, it’s mostly 20s and 30s. It’s a down-and-dirty bar with one of those fun “the more you drink, the better it sounds” bands.
The location and setup of the Beach House Tequila + Taqueria is ideal. It’s a large deck overlooking the beach and action on the, ahem, Boardwalk, right in front of the Mission Beahc rollercoaster and Belmont Park. Like Lahina, it’s a daytime only drinking spot. It’s gone a bit Vegas pool hip from its previous dual tiki-hut beach bar beginning but it’s still an awesome place to party on a sunny afternoon.
I kind of like Miss B’s Coconut Club on Mission Blvd. Enough to mention it here. There’s nothing super special about it, other than it’s a cool little local’s hangout and a good place to plop down for a drink or two, especially for those times when you want to go somewhere but can’t quite where to do it.
Raising A Toast To Cool PB Bars That No Longer Exist
And finally, a salute to a couple of fallen legendary PB bars. Moondoggies, located in a former surf shop and a long-time go-to bar for many locals, is no longer as is the live music venue Blind Melons.
And I’m still pissed about the demise of the Barefoot Bar. This once totally-raging indoor-outdoor replica of Duke’s in Waikiki Beach, named for the igloo-shaped sand-covered dance floor required people to remove their shoes, is now a family-oriented restaurant-bar catering to visitors at the adjacent resort. The management must have got tired of making money because the place is absolutely dead now. It’s a sad passing of a San Diego party landmark.
Next Stop On The San Diego Party Bus: The Best Bars In Gaslamp Quarter!