You’re not officially on vacation until you’re sipping spirits in the Southern California sunshine. It’s practically a fact in this part of town: Cocktails taste better on SoCal time.
The coastal region has plenty of joints to please your tipsy tastes. Whether you’re in the mood for a sleepy Sunday Funday or a Friday night dive, we’ve got the buzz on some of the best bars in Southern California. With expert recommendations from World’s Best Bars, the all-knowing source on everything libations, together we’ve toasted to 15 must-visit watering holes between San Diego and Los Angeles.
Ironside Fish & Oyster, Little Italy
Photo via Yelp/Tina K.
Follow the siren’s song to Ironside, where golden mermaid statues adorn the shelves and fish jaw skulls line the walls. This nautical San Diego joint in Little Italy is known for its masterfully designed seafood dishes, but its 50+ cocktail menu certainly isn’t something to scoff at. Go on and get your sea legs with an order of the scotch-based Hell or High Water and knock back the rum Fog Cutter, served in none other than a killer whale tiki mug. With more than 90 fortified wines and 16 beers to choose from, we hope someone else is steering the ship home.
World’s Best Bars insider tip: “It’s known for its fresh seafood and exceptional cocktails. Sample one of over 50 drinks as well as an oyster shooter!”
Bestia, Art District
Photo via Yelp/Thomas C.
With a name that translates to “beast,” you’ve gotta expect some grit, and LA’s Bestia doesn’t disappoint. In a raw, industrial space, this Italian restaurant uses sturdy design elements, like steel and wood, while the meat-hook chandeliers give it a don’t-mess-with-me attitude. The cocktails, too, come in strong, with an arsenal of concoctions like Cops and Robbers (sherry, amaretto, and scotch) and The Duke Silver (prickly pear spirit, green chartreuse, and pineapple juice). This daring eatery belongs at the top of your things to do in Los Angeles list.
World’s Best Bars insider tip: “Meat is a huge deal at Bestia—make sure you try some food along with your cocktail.”
Bosscat Kitchen and Libations, Newport Beach
Photo via Yelp/Tay T.
Bosscat Kitchen and Libations in Orange County knows comfort food and whiskey go hand in hand. And we’re not just talking about a scotch on the side, the liquor goes straight in the pot—whiskey-glazed okra and bourbon chicken flatbread, anyone? If you’re more of a whiskey-in-your glass-kinda drinker, you’re in luck; there are more than 100 whiskey and bourbon selections, along with cocktails like the Kentucky Orange Blossom and Bacon Maple Fizz. And for those who fancy themselves beer pioneers, Bosscat’s got plenty of craft bottle brews, too.
World’s Best Bars insider tip: “Bosscat Kitchen and Libations also has a special whiskey tasting room. They update their drink menu monthly.”
Sassafras Saloon, Hollywood
Photo via Yelp/Jenson N.
Hollywood’s Sassafras Saloon isn’t just rifting on antebellum style, the home was actually plucked straight from Georgia and plopped in the heart of LA. Venture into this quirky establishment with the vaudeville-like balcony stage, and head straight to the bar where barrel-aged liquors hang from a vintage laundry carousel. “Build a Buck;” by adding your choice of spirit to any of the homemade ginger beers, or pick a rendition of southern-inspired cocktails, like the Pimm’s No. 1933 or Hurricane.
World’s Best Bars insider tip: “Sassafras Saloon has a fully functioning bottle conveyor belt that circles the bar!”
Hinoki & the Bird, Century City
Photo via Yelp/Claudia C.
The sun pours through the open wooden slats and greenery trims the walls at this LA restaurant’s outdoor patio, which proves simplicity can go a long way. While the decor may be simple at Hinoki & the Bird, the cocktail menu is complex. There are zingers, like the Son of a Bee Sting, a mix of gin, ginger, lemon, and rose water, while the Summer Fix, with your choice of liquor, grilled peach, and Thai basil makes dreamy day drinking sound especially appealing.
World’s Best Bars insider tip: “‘Hinoki’ is a kind of Japanese cedar wood and it scents the air as you enter as well as gives flavor to the food.”
Casa, Costa Mesa
Photo via Yelp/Sandy S.
Casa Bar is like that mysterious and moody girl in high school who you secretly wanted to be friends with. Dark and edgy, the Costa Mesa speakeasy gives off a too-cool-for-school vibe, but in a totally unpretentious way: It was born cool. And its cocktail selection? Yeah, that ups its cool factor. For one of the hippest things to do in Orange County, slip into Casa for live music and an order of the rum-drenched Spiced Daiquiri or bourbon-based 747—you’ll fit right in, without even trying.
World’s Best Bars insider tip: “Casa is a brilliant speakeasy. The walls have all been hand painted and the building is one of the oldest in Costa Mesa, built in 1952.”
Fairweather, downtown San Diego
Photo via Yelp/Kathleen D.
One of the best things to do in San Diego is to go on a scavenger hunt for the semi-secret rooftop tiki bar downtown. Enter the downstairs gourmet deli, Rare Form, and look for the door labeled “yes.” Take the stairs up to the roof, and when your pina colada radar goes off, you’ll know you’ve arrived at Fairweather. This airy, open space skips the leis and grass umbrellas, but its cocktail menu is totally tropical with island treats like the Tijuana Sunrise, Mai Tai, and Hemingway Daiquiri.
World’s Best Bars insider tip: “Fairweather has a brilliant view of Padres’ Petco Park stadium.”
Eveleigh, Sunset Boulevard
Photo via Yelp/Wendy A.
Eveleigh brings the countryside to the city. It’s rustic and charming—two words that don’t usually come to mind when you think of slick and sleek LA. Tangled vines climb around the 1923 Sunset Boulevard residence, which features barn-like structures and an herb garden in the back. While you might half expect to see a pitcher of lemonade waiting for you on the porch, you’ll be much happier with a boozy order of Summer Sangria or a Cyrus Noble whiskey and ginger.
World’s Best Bars insider tip: “The Eveleigh do a delicious rosemary infused Negroni…a must try!”
Anepalcos Cafe, Orange
Photo via Yelp/Anepalco’s Cafe
Anepalcos Café takes a slice out of history when it comes to defining its influences. The fusion of Mexican cuisine with French techniques was a culinary consequence of the French intervention in Mexico during the 1860s, and this Orange restaurant runs with it. While the dishes promise a unique cultural blend, the cocktails walk the Mexican line with spirits like the cilantro-infused rum and coconut liqueur Coco Loco and the Calentura, a zingy tequila concoction with pepper triple sec, lime cordial, hibiscus, and orange. Trust, these drinks give “borracho” a whole new meaning.
World’s Best Bars insider tip: “Recommended: the Chika Sexy, which is apple vodka mixed with pineapple, lemon juice, agave, angostura, and Peychaud’s.”
Babcock & Story Bar, Coronado Island
Photo via Yelp/Christina M.
Babcock & Story Bar is the kind of San Diego lounge where you’d expect to see Ron Burgundy drinking a scotch in the corner. It’s an elegant bar with wood features, ocean views, and the history to match (it opened its doors at the Hotel Del in 1888). The seaside resort’s cocktail menu is equally classy with snazzy sips like the Marilyn Martini and the Crown City Grapefruit Julep. The historical joint also has its fair share of California wines and local brews on tap, so you can get a taste of America’s Finest City on your next San Diego vacation.
World’s Best Bars insider tip: “Babcock Story bar as a 46-foot handcrafted mahogany bar—what else could you want?”
Broadway by Amar Santana, Laguna Beach
Photo via Yelp/Beth S.
At Broadway, Laguna Beach’s New York-esque restaurant, the cuisine may have the leading role, but the spirits steal the show. The Loucette, a whimsical mixture of vodka, lime, grapefruit, honey, and rosemary water will give you the urge to shout, “Bravo!” Meanwhile, A Smile like Silk, with whiskey, French lavender, and lemon is a show stopper. And the wine. Oh, the wine. Broadway’s extensive wine list alone deserves a standing ovation. On your next Orange County vacation, grab a front-row seat, under the Edison light bulbs, and get ready for a Tony Award-worthy experience.
World’s Best Bars insider tip: “New York theaters were the design inspiration for this spot. The food is highly recommended too.”
The Whiskey House, Gaslamp Quarter
Photo via Yelp/Mike C.
Mark Twain supposedly said, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” We think Twain would have gotten along just fine at downtown San Diego’s The Whiskey House, which has a fleet of over a 1,000 bottles that stand like soldiers along the shelves behind the bar. Go the classic route and order a whiskey neat or mix it up with one of the ten variations of Old Fashioneds. The bar also whips up absinthe, rum, cognac, Champagne cocktails—you name it, they’ve probably got it.
World’s Best Bars insider tip: “The Whiskey House has over 1200 varieties of the drink…a favorite for everyone.”
370 Common, Laguna Beach
Photo via Yelp/Jackie B.
There’s nothing common about a restaurant with a Buy Your Friend a Drink Board. At this Laguna Beach joint, you can purchase a cocktail, scribble your friend’s name on the chalkboard, and then your pal can redeem it any time. Surely you’ll get moved up to BBF status when your friend gets ahold of the cocktail list. Dazed + Confused is a rum and citrus delight, while the White Flag with ghost chile tequila is so spicy it comes with a disclaimer. Might as well sample all the drinks for recommendations—at least, that’s what any good friend would do.
World’s Best Bars insider tip: “This bar is a smart phone-free bar! If they catch you with your phone at the bar they warn you—you may be removed
The Well, Sunset Boulevard
Photo via Yelp/Yvette H.
At The Well on Sunset Boulevard, the lights are low, the vibes are chill, and the drinks have a kick. The hum of the jukebox will surely lure you into this unassuming lounge with an ambience reminiscent of Old Hollywood charm. During your Los Angeles vacation, saunter up to the island bar, where martini glasses are artfully stacked in an aquarium centerpiece, and order the signature Brown Sugar Old Fashioned. But if you’re feeling something fruity, you can’t go wrong with the Rumba Punch packed with flavored rum.
World’s Best Bars insider tip: “The Well has an area of communal cushioned seating—chat with everyone!”
Prohibition, Gaslamp Quarter
Photo via Yelp/Prohibition
Knocking back a drink at downtown San Diego’s Prohibition is a cloak-and-dagger affair. And rightfully so—the bar is a 1920s-themed speakeasy with a hush-hush vibe. Look both ways and enter the door with the law office sign, then head down the dark and narrow staircase to the private space. While you won’t score any illicit hooch here, there is the Dealer’s Choice in which the bartender will whip up something based on your preferences. You’ll also find innovative sips like the rum-filled Brazilian Two-Step, along with the Bartender’s Best Friend: a shot of whiskey and a pint of beer.
World’s Best Bars insider tip: “Be careful; No booking! This one is first come, first served.”
What are your picks for the best bars in California?