Sun-kissed, seaside and seamlessly sexy, Gay San Diego has long since shrugged off its reputation as a conservative military town and is today one of the USA’s top LGBT destinations.
As chilled and welcoming as the stereotypical surfer dudes for which San Diego is famed, in this sunny city you will an LGBT community infused with energy, passion and genuine excitement about the future – all this despite the best efforts of this current Trump era politics of hate and discrimination.
While the queer community is welcome across the entire city, the epicenter of gay life here is undoubtedly the Hillcrest gaybourhood fills with farm-to-table eateries, trendy boutique store, fabulous gay bars, what is quite possibly the world’s only gay brewery and a seemingly endless array of gay-orientated events.
Much like the Manchester’s Canal Street, Le Marais in Paris and Toronto’s Church and Wellesley neighborhood, at times it can seem the LGBT community far outnumbers their hetero-counterparts leading to the unusual position of many venues declaring themselves straight-friendly. It’s fair to say we are absolutely living for it and can testify that the queer vibes and come-as-your-fabulous-self spirit here infuses your soul with warmth and tempts you to never leave.
But leave you should! At least to explore the rest of wonderful San Diego, with its wealth of outdoor attractions, miles of gorgeous coastline, bubbling collection of unique villages, a revitalized downtown, and marvelous dining experiences. Everything is so laid-back here it is hard to believe that this is America’s 8th largest city, but with the most perfect weather, a welcoming community, and a thriving cultural scene, what is there to stress about?
Are you relocating? This guide will help travelers discover the queerer side of the city. However, if you are lucky enough to be considering a move here, we recommend reading our article about moving to LGBT San Diego or getting in touch with a local gay realtor. They can happily give you no-obligation advice and all the information you’ll ever need to know about your new city. And if you then want their help to find your dream home, you are guaranteed fair, equal, and honest representation. No surprises or awkward conversations necessary!
Are you relocating? This guide will help travelers discover the queerer side of the city. However, if you are lucky enough to be considering a move here, we recommend getting in touch with a local gay realtor. They can happily give you no-obligation advice and all the information you'll ever need to know about your new city. And if you then want their help to find your dream home, you are guaranteed fair, equal, and honest representation. No surprises or awkward conversations necessary!
Gay San Diego Guide: The Essential Guide To LGBT Travel In San Diego California
In this article we will cover...
- Gay San Diego Guide: The Essential Guide To LGBT Travel In San Diego California
Attractions in San Diego
With more than 300 days of sunshine each year, you can bet there are going to be plenty of outdoor things to do in San Diego and fabulous gay events which take advance of the amazing weather.
Beach days, hiking and cycling is popular, but equally so is laying by the pool, exploring the wonderful arts scene of San Diego or just heading to one of the (seemingly) all-day happy hours. If you plan on getting a lot done then car hire in San Diego is a very affordable option and popular to see more far-flung attractions. This is America after all and the car is king. You can also get creative and join a few destinations for the ultimate gay road trip: Long Beach, Palm Springs, Vegas… maybe even San Fran and Los Angeles.
But if you just want to explore the gaybourhood, downtown and a few other places – public transport and rideshare apps should be sufficient.
Naturally being gay does not define which attractions most of us will want to see in each destination and most queer travelers will simply want to check out the top things to see in San Diego during the day! We found our favorite memories were watching the sunset from a relaxing cocktail bar, dancing till dawn with our queer family, or laying out by the pool in our luxe San Diego hotel.
However, if you’re someone who can’t sit still, we have put together a few of our other things to do in this gay paradise that are sure to keep you busy!
Top Highlights in San Diego
- Diversionary Theatre – The third oldest LGBT theatre in the US founded in 1986 to provide quality theatre for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Performing frequent inspiring and thought-provoking theatrical platform to explore complex and diverse LGBT stories, which influence the larger cultural discussion. If they have an event while you are in Gay San Diego we highly recommend heading along.
- San Diego Old Town – Settled in the second half of the 18th century, San Diego’s Old Town is full of white Spanish-style buildings, mostly centered in the 9-block State Historic Park. This Historic Park includes California’s first ever school house and newspaper office. It’s a bit like walking through a living museum (indeed, many of these buildings have their own exhibitions) and a guided tour only enhances this situation. As well as the historic side, it’s a good place to do some souvenir shopping or grab a cocktail in one of the many patio bars. While the buildings are well-preserved examples of their time, the dining and drinking options are a bit more up-to-date!
- La Jolla Beaches – A favorite gay spot in San Diego with stunning scenic views, trendy hotels, and fabulous restaurants. Go to see-or-be-seen, this spectacular stretch of coastline reminds us very much of Bondi in Australia with visitors packed in for a day of fun in the sun. Plenty of short walks, scenic views, cute sea lions and a very cool kayaking tour that is not to be missed.
- Little Italy – You’ll have noticed by now that a lot of the best things to do in San Diego are exploring the different areas – this is because each one is so unique that it’s like discovering a different town altogether. It’ll come as no surprise that San Diego’s Little Italy district is a foodie’s delight, with traditional restaurants, hip new spots, and an amazing Food Hall. A 10,000 square foot piazza reminiscent of Rome is the heart of the area and where people tend to start and finish their adventures. Visit the incredible Mercato if you’re there on Saturday (a lively farmers’ market) and stroll up the picturesque streets before eating more at ‘Top Chef Alley’, or head to the Porto Vista Hotel / Glass Doors LGBT drinks on the rooftop every Friday night…
- Black’s Beach – The San Diego gay beach located in a secluded section of beach beneath the bluffs of Torrey Pines, just north of La Jolla. Huge, expansive and rather private – the northern end is gay, then it switches to nude, then questioning then surfers. A great vibe and absolutely pumping on the weekends.
- Bears San Diego – A club for bears and bear fanciers. Club members consist of all types– bears, cubs, and otters and those who have little or no body hair but enjoy the company of hirsute men. Bears San Diego’s purpose is to bring together men of like minds on a social basis, providing events at a local bar, den night at members homes, outings to movies, restaurants, the zoo and parties with other Bear Clubs. These gatherings give participants the opportunity to actually meet other bears and admirers to create new friendships. Curious – head along to their next event…They won’t bite…
- San Diego Museum of Art – As well as its passion for the natural world, San Diego also has a great arts and culture scene. One of its pillars is the San Diego Museum of Art, an imposing building with an intricately carved façade that has been home to works of art since 1926. While its strength and focus is in Spanish art, there is also an old master collection and pieces from 19th and 20th century American artists.
- Hillcrest – The local gaybourhood buzzing with gay bars and gay-owned restaurants, cafes and shops. Wheater you want fabulous coffee, a quiet brunch spot, thrift shopping, farmers markets or wild nightlife you will find it here. Seriously, if you only go to one place in Gay San Diego make sure it is here! A great place to shop for local produce, arts and crafts or enjoy a night – we would need a separate guide to list all of our favorite spots here but some of the clear highlights was the uber-trendy insideOUT, a sexy, chic and refined destination for fine dining, the Wednesday night drag show at Urban MO’s Bar & Grill (often named one of the world’s best gay bars) and the creative Better Buzz Coffee Roasters known for its unique drinks menu and hip, quirky setting.
- Balboa Park – Where culture, science, and nature collide, Balboa Park is home to more than 16 museums, multiple performing arts venues, lovely gardens, trails, and many other creative and recreational attractions, including the San Diego Zoo. With a variety of cultural institutions among its 1,200 beautiful and lushly planted acres, there is something for everyone!
- Harbour Cruise – Spend a few hours relaxing, sunbathing and sightseeing in the placid waters just off San Diego as you take in the skyline views, cruise under Coronado Bridge, take a look at the bustling US Naval fleet and get the chance to spot some of the harbor’s resident sea lions.
- USS Midway – Take a trip through American naval history on this enormous ship, known as the longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century, now offers a range of interactive exhibits, a self-guided audio tour and numerous restored aircraft across its 4-acre (1.6-hectare) flight deck and sections below. It’s an essential piece of San Diego’s, and America’s, military history.
- San Diego Whale Watching Cruise – Go whale-watching from San Diego aboard a replica of a historic sailing schooner that won the world’s first America’s Cup sailing competition in 1851. Learn about the areas gray whales, dolphins and other marine animals in details, along with secrets about the US Navy sites you pass as you head out on the Pacific Ocean. Afterward , why not also hit up the San Diego Maritime Museum, another of the highlights of the area …
- San Diego Zoo – Explore one of the world’s best zoos! Observe over 3,700 animals from more than 650 species including Tasmanian devils, koalas, polar bears, and pandas. All up there are also 700,000 exotic plants and a lot to love here. If you are a fan of all things cute and cuddly, you won’t want to miss the San Diego Zoo: it’s no coincidence it is right next to the gaybourhood…
- Ocean Beach – Another gay-popular beach in San Diego close to Ocean Beach Pier. The miles of endless white-sand beach is perfect for sunbathing, people watching or even surfing if you are interested – and after its just a short work to many of San Diego’s best restaurants.
- Baja California Coastal Day Trip – Everything is more fun south of the border, and when you are so close why not take a trip to what is arguably one of the most beautiful parts of Mexico… Admire views of the vibrant blue ocean and craggy coastline as you travel south and across the Mexican border. Stop first in Tijuana for a guided sightseeing tour, covering landmarks like the Tijuana bullring and the shops of Avenida Revolucion. You’ll have lunch in the seaside village of Puerto Nuevo, dining on deep-fried lobster and a margarita, before exploring the historic waterfront city of Rosarito Beach. Easy, safe, simple and oh-so-memorable – plus it is all achievable in one day!
- The San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center – One of the largest and most vibrant LGBT community centers in the nation promoting LGBT health/wellness and human rights. Stop in to get an idea of the incredible work these guys do, to seek help or simply to ask about the local gay scene and get a better idea of all the LGBT events in San Diego taking place while you visit.
- Go San Diego Card – Choose from between 1- to 7-Day Cards and visit as many San Diego attractions and scenic spots as you can. Pick from over 40 available attractions and schedule where you want to go at your own pace. Too easy!
Gay Annual Events in San Diego
As a paradise for the LGBT community, Gay San Diego offers a wonderful line-up of annual events for gays, lesbian and transgenders and – well, anyone who wants to be involved! These signature gay events are just the biggest and best, however no matter when you visit there is sure to be something on (which is why we really recommend locking your San Diego hotel down in advance…)
- Hillcrest Mardi Gras (February) – One of the largest street parties in San Diego and always a wild and scandalous evening, though not quite as good as that in New Orleans or Sydney. With a huge dance stage and open-air beats, live entertainment, costumes and of course, beads, you’ll definitely want to be in town for this annual Fat Tuesday celebration!
- FilmOut San Diego (April) – An annual LGBT film festival bringing a queer little culture to San Diego. FilmOut San Diego seeks to recognize, promote, celebrate and support the important diverse artistic contributions LGBT filmmakers make to their community.
- Pride of Hillcrest Block Party (July) -Kicking off San Diego Pride celebrations with urban style and flare. They shut down the streets, bringing in the dance stages and tempt all members of the LGBT community out for a gigantic Friday night block party. Celebrate the start of Pride with their open-air dance floor, DJ stage, tons of entertainment, and a gigantic Ferris wheel!
- She Fest (July) – A woman-centered event that celebrates and supports the talents and contributions of women while fostering meaningful connections within the LGBT and larger San Diego community.
- San Diego Pride (July) – San Diego’s biggest summer party is calling your name! Celebrate diversity and inclusion in Balboa Park with community resources, booths, and four stages of live entertainment. A three-day LGBT party with everything from inspiring speeches from recognized LGBTQ leaders, to a rally, Pride run, club nights, festival and, of course, a Parade that is among the largest Prides in the United States, attracting over 200,000 cheering supporters of the LGBTQ community. If you are able to plan your trip to Gay San Diego around Pride, you will absolutely not regret doing so!
- Hillcrest CityFest (August) – San Diego’s ultimate summer art and music festival and an annual celebration of community spirit featuring live bands, electric dance music DJs, arts, crafts, and food that attracts over 150,000+ visitors from San Diego and Southern California! This is San Diego’s largest and Best art and music festival– stretching nearly half a mile in size on over 9 city blocks! Known to locals as “Pride-Light,” Hillcrest CityFest is a celebration of the landmark Hillcrest sign, the residents and businesses of Hillcrest– who have been champions for equality, diversity, and inclusion in San Diego and beyond.
- Red Dress Party San Diego (September) – Also taking place in other cities such as Portland, Sacramento and Chicago, this is a night of music and dancing mixed with charity and fun, where all attendees – and we mean everyone – are required to wear a red dress, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. This serves as a powerful sign of solidarity and compassion for those of us affected by HIV/AIDS and a way to unite the crowd in one radiant theme. Red Dress Party San Diego is a unique celebration that invites everyone to be brave, let loose and celebrate impact.
- Sunbears Weekend (November) – San Diego’s Bear Weekend to benefit the Bears San Diego Charities. A weekend full of activities that are fun and exciting, a price tag that makes it worthwhile, and an opportunity to make new friends and visit with old ones.
Gay-friendly and Gay Hotels in San Diego
In this glorious and extremely beachside city, you will not find any major hotel accommodation that isn’t gay-friendly.
After all being gay-friendly is about providing a non-judgmental and respectful environment in which all people are treated equally. In saying that, elegant design, helpful staff, and excellent value for money never hurt anyone. Some hotels in San Diego have also gone above and beyond in recognizing and marketing to the LGBT community and given their popularity with gay travelers we would say it has paid off!
Everybody likes to be surrounded by people with common interests and as such there are a few hotels in San Diego favored by gay travelers – although to be clear there are no exclusively gay hotels in San Diego sadly.
The Hillcrest gaybourhood is at the forefront of LGBTQ+ inclusiveness in San Diego – and while it is a diverse community brimming with queer nightlife and gay-owned businesses, there are no hotels here. Its proximity to the San Diego downtown, and the many cute surrounding neighborhoods give you a wealth of funky gay-friendly hotel options to consider which are not too far away. Personally, we loved to stay in Little Italy, but if you have a car you could also consider staying at one of San Diego’s many diverse beach neighborhoods.
The following gay-friendly hotels in San Diego are only the most recommended, but there are hundreds of other hotels in San Diego if you don’t find quite find what you are looking for. Whether you want a fun and social hostel, a cheap but private place to crash after a night of partying or a chic luxury option to sip cocktails surrounded by fashionable people, Gay San Diego as something for everyone!
Gay-Popular Hotels in San Diego
- Porto Vista Hotel ☆☆☆ – This distinguished and sleek hotel is opportunely placed in one of San Diego’s most satisfying neighborhoods, Little Italy, close to the airport, downtown, and gaybourhood while tempting you with faithful restaurants, cafés, and gelaterias just step away. The rooms are clean, affordable and spacious – but the clear highlight is the stunning rooftop gastropub- style bar with atmospheric harbor views, taking bar food to the next level with elevated flavorful snacks paired up with infused handcrafted cocktails. We are firm believers that holiday accommodation should be just as captivating and interesting as the city in which it is found – and thankfully our stay at the Porto Vista hotel did not disappoint. With a penchant for vivid hues and activating otherwise mundane spaces through art, the Porto Vista is not only bright, bold and fun – but encourages its guests to explore the property and find as many of their installations as possible. More are being added all the time, supporting local artists from the community artists and inspiring guests with these creative pieces. Of course, there are plenty of other reasons to stay here, including contemporary rooms, a rooftop plunge spa, free airport shuttle, buzzy evening happy hour and complimentary hot breakfast in their chic restaurant with panoramic views for guests who book directly. Oh – and don’t forget the Friday night rooftop LGBT Happy Hour…
- The Westgate Hotel ☆☆☆☆☆ – A peaceful sanctuary on the edge of San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, where you’ll enjoy a world-class combination of friendliness, comfort, and unique heritage elegance. Custom built in 1970 as a peerlessly chic recreation of France’s legendary Palace of Versailles, this gay-friendly hotel prides itself on the distinctively European ambiance conjured by luxe furnishings such as French antiques, Flemish and French tapestries, Baccarat crystal chandeliers, exquisite Persian carpets – all served with warm San Diego friendliness. Besides the elegant rooms, there is also a rooftop pool, fitness center, piano bar, and ornate afternoon tea on weekends. Simply divine.
- Hillcrest House Bed & Breakfast ☆☆☆☆ – There is no gay hotel in San Diego, but this award-winning B&B is the only real accommodation in the Hillcrest gaybourhood and we say: close enough! Enjoy this convenient location close to all San Diego sites at the romantic Hillcrest House Bed & Breakfast, voted one of the world’s best B&Bs with beautiful décor, a Southern California ‘heart healthy’ breakfast, and 7 newly renovated guest rooms. Extremely gay-popular we loved the luxury 5,000 thread count linens, breezy open-air porch, fabulous local recommendations, and walking distance back after a night out!
- Pendry San Diego ☆☆☆☆☆ – Residing in the epicenter of San Diego’s vibrant Gaslamp Quarter, this LGBT-popular hotel strikes a balance between modern and traditional, pairing classic Southern California influence with modern luxury programming and amenities. Seasoned travelers can take refuge in what feels like a home away from home set within a stunning environment, with refined rooms, six bars, a fabulous rooftop pool, and relaxing spa.
- The Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club & Bungalows ☆☆☆☆– Serving retro Palm Springs vibes in the middle the gay-popular North Park neighborhood , we are in love with this standout oasis and iconic San Diego boutique hotel. Welcoming celebrities, travelers and locals with relaxing spacious guestrooms, suites and private bungalows and the quintessential Instagram glamour shot at the long Weissmuller Olympic Pool. Playful and fun, unique and historic, there’s no better place to make your stylish gay escape in San Diego than the Lafayette Hotel. Unleash your inner Hollywood starlet!
- San Diego Marriott Gaslamp Quarter ☆☆☆☆ – Discover the heart of Downtown San Diego at this modern, elegant & upscale hotel – perfect for business travel or those who want to ensure an LGBT-friendly stay without any surprises. Boutique-style service, sleek décor & intuitive amenities come together to add comfort and convenience, and all just steps away from the city’s energetic & inspiring downtown. There is also the LGBT-popular ALTITUDE Sky Lounge here offering custom cocktails & a panoramic 22nd-story view of the city skyline.
- TOWER23 Hotel ☆☆☆☆ – San Diego’s only luxury, lifestyle hotel on the beach is you want a relaxing retreat away from the urban hustle-and-bustle: this is it! Located close to the gay-popular and exclusive resort community of La Jolla, the rooms and suites at Tower 23 offers pristine ocean views, clean and modern design, high-end amenities, and distinguished furnishings creating the perfect balance between luxury and relaxation. There is even a rooftop lounge with fire pits for creating fantastic nighttime memories without heading to the downtown or gaybourhood. What? Sometimes a night in is just what we need…
- The Pearl Hotel ☆☆☆ – This renovated-retro hip hotel in San Diego’s sleepier Point Loma area is perfect for a relaxed stay, if you are not tempted by the funky line up of swoon-worthy events. The Pearl’s carefully renovated lodging accommodations have a modern feel and unique appeal, laced with perfect hints of days gone by. They evoke the mid-century aesthetic of ’60s Palms Springs when the Rat Pack’s glamour thrived; ’70s Los Angeles, when progressive design set new standards; and certainly, they reflect the quiet, contemporary cool of Point Loma and the hip, urban pulse of the nearby downtown San Diego scene. Many accommodations feature poolside views that complement soothing, colorful interiors and on Wednesday there is a ‘dive-in theatre’ with films, food, & fun by the pool.
- Kings Inn ☆☆☆ – Just to the north of Hillcrest, this hotel is recently renovated with a spacious pool and friendly service. Not particularly gay-popular – though our readers have reported great stays – we recommend staying for the very affordable room prices and location.
- ITH Zoo Hostel San Diego ☆ – By no means a designer hostel, but if you are just after a cheap bed to crash in after a night of partying – or to meet new friends – this is a popular option. Located in the gay neighborhood of Hillcrest with very affordable prices, we can understand the appeal (even if we prefer our privacy and stylish surroundings more).
Gay Nightlife in San Diego California
With San Diego being one of the most gay-friendly vacation destinations in the world, you would expect an incredible gay nightlife scene – and luckily San Diego does not disappoint.
Depending on your mood you can find anything here from a relaxed cocktail in an upscale bar to an all-night dance party surrounded by your queer family. There is also plenty of cruise/dive bars, sexy go-go boys, fabulous drag, fun events and – well, something to cater for every taste!
Visitors to Gay San Diego tend to be more focused on the daytime fun-in-the-sun so there is no need to wait until Happy Hour to head to the bars – and many travelers here can be found drinking any time of day on sun-drenched patio’s, at chic cocktail bars, or in LGBT grill restaurants (a hallmark of the San Diego gay scene).
Later at night, most gay bars and clubs are packed from 10 pm until into the early morning, with a mix of tourists and locals. Most the gay scene is centered around the Hillcrest gaybourhood, so if this is a priority, you should try to stay here, but other hotspots include North Park and the San Diego Downtown. Use our Gay San Diego map at the end to help orientate yourself.
With a vibrant – and diverse – local LGBT community and a wonderfully gay-friendly liberal populace, you can imagine distinguishing ‘gay bars’ can something difficult, which is fabulous since you know you will be welcomed as you are basically everywhere here. For the following gay venues, however, we were looking for rainbow events, exceptional recommendations, and spots specifically marketed towards gays.
We are sure you will not be disappointed.
Gay Clubs & Bars in San Diego
- Top Of The Bay @ Glass Doors – The hottest gay happy hour in SD every Friday from 5pm-10pm with incredible drink specials, gorgeous bodies, and a rooftop position not to beat. Established in 2014, Top Of The Bay San Diego is the original LGBT Happy Hour with an entirely new point of view found in Little Italy’s Porto Vista Hotel. Five floors up with awesome harbor views, enjoy refined dining before or after – and if you feel like more dancing then there is a shuttle pick up available to the Loft and The Caliph in Hillcrest every 30 minutes. Just fabulous!
- Lips – The ultimate in drag dining with fabulous nightly live acts, a funky gospel brunch & outrageous decor. More straight than gay-popular, but if you want to enjoy a camp and kitschy meal out with fabulous divas (or just a few laughs over cocktails), Lips is a great option.
- Rich’s – San Diego’s largest gay nightclub, and one of the most popular located in the Hillcrest Gaybourhood. With two sizeable rooms each with their own bar and dance floor with DJs spinning for the energetic crowds, what’s not to love? There is Hip-hop out front and techno in the back, VIP booths, an outdoor patio, and fun events most nights including drag shows, underwear contests and lesbian nights every Thursday. Go-go dancers and beautiful people are also a given as is a vibe that just makes you want to dance! Open 10 pm to 2 am Wednesday through Sunday.
- Cheers – A unpretentious and friendly neighborhood gay bar located in Historic University Heights. With open hearts for open minds, Cheers has continued to flourish for over 35 years with a loyal following of regulars and daily drink specials.
- The Rail – Considered San Diego’s first gay bar, The Rail opened for business in the 1930s in Downtown’s historic Orpheum Theatre building but relocated to Hillcrest in the early 60s. Today, the rail is still a landmark destination of the San Diego gay scene known for its enticing lounge-style atmosphere, post-Prohibition-era décor, artisanal cocktails, and inviting indoor/outdoor patio areas. Both a nightlife hotspot and daytime social experience, this storied venue still manages to deliver time-and-time again with a variety of events, including deviants fetish nights on the 2nd Friday of every month and sexy, smoldering, high-energy Latin dance nights with go-go dancers every Saturday. The food is also surprisingly delicious, and the service – during the day at least – is always spot on!
- Chee-Chee Club – A landmark San Diego mixed/gay dive bar with a long history, old-school vibes, chilled bartenders, pool and good music. Fun, cheap-and-cheerful plus you get a little mix of everything here which is great. Located in the San Diego Downtown.
- Gossip Grill – San Diego’s best lesbian bar opened in 2009 with a full patio bar and fab restaurant. After dark, Gossip Grill transforms into a dance nightclub for the ladies – but don’t worry, they play nice with boys and everything in between. Everyone is welcome here! The perfect combination of ambiance and tastes will have you crawling back for more. Gossip is decked out with feminine inspired art, fabulous chandeliers and a foliage facade outdoor patio bar with two fire pits, that allows everyone to enjoy Hillcrest the way it was supposed to be enjoyed – outdoors. Pair that with modern American comfort food, Tickle My Taco Tuesday and Drag Brunches and you’ve got yourself a one of a kind five-star lesbian bar. Trust us ladies, these sort of venues are rarity globally so go out and use it!
- Urban MO’s Bar & Grill – A hetero-friendly gay restaurant in San Diego serving magnificent burgers, fun (and strong) cocktails and one of the best Happy Hours in Hillcrest. Colorful, fun and always welcoming, Urban Mo’s is always a great option whether you want to relax out on their sunny patio or upper deck during the day or head out for their amusing events at night like Broke A$$ Mondays, Showtune Tuesday or Gaymer nights. You can catch a ‘Dreamgirls Revue’, featuring Chad Michaels, the world’s most famous Cher impersonator,, every Wednesday night at MO’s. Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race will also enjoy an appearance by many of the shows past winners, – just be sure to take your drag queen merch to show the girls love! One of the best gay bars in San Diego, a trip to Urban MO’s Bar & Grill is always a good idea!
- The Caliph – A awesome little gay neighborhood bar just south of Hillcrest with friendly bartenders and live music or karaoke most nights. A bit of a hidden gem, perfect for meeting locals or just having a catch-up on their quiet patio.
- Hillcrest Brewing Company – Quite possibly the only gay brewery in the entire world, or at least the only one we have come across, this LGBT hangout brags of its fabulous pints, growlers & kegs of house-brewed beer – and rightfully so, they are delicious! There is also delicious stone-fired pizzas, spicy wings, and fun Happy Hour specials. Check their website for a crazy range of events, including unique parties such as a drag show fundraising for LGBT Asylum seekers and a Red Ribbon beer launch with proceeds going to the HIV Collective San Diego. Weekly there is also a bottomless Saturday special is featuring, well, an unlimited supply of bloody beers or BeerMosas from 11am-2pm, and breakfast pizzas…
- insideOUT – Hillcrest’s newest LGBT restaurant and lounge offering a sexy, chic and refined destination for those who want to enjoy fine dining, craft cocktails and relax in an urban oasis. This place is so cool it hurts, so you are going to want to make a reservation in advance to avoid missing out. Perfect for starting the night strong, or just enjoying a trendy evening surrounded by your queer family.
- Fiesta Cantina – A bouncing gay hangout in Hillcrest serving us strong beachy vibes ala Cancun or Puerto Vallarta with great Mexican to match. Originally from West Hollywood and famous for its Happy Hours where they serve 2-4-1 ‘double the fun’ on drinks from 4 to 8 pm and again from 10:30 pm to 12: 30 am every day! Go for the Mega Margaritas, eccentric atmosphere, Taco Tuesdays or to take advantage of the extra large HD flat screens for the big game or (as we prefer) Drag Race viewing parties.
- SRO Lounge – A busy gay lounge bar in Prado Terrace with mood-setting red walls and chandeliers. Serving strong, inexpensive pours for more than 35 years, the entire block is up for redevelopment so SRO Lounge will have to move in the near future, so check they are still open before heading out. With a daily happy hour from 2-7, SRO is also a popular lesbian bar in San Diego with Friday and Saturday being “Gurlz Nite Out”. Saturdays after 10 pm is also when many of the local trans community comes together here. A great place with a real sense of community welcoming a diverse cross-section of LGBT+ people and their allies.
- Pecs Bar – A true neighborhood dive bar that welcomes everyone to enjoy the relaxed vibe and the diverse scene. Located just to the east of the Hillcrest gaybourhood, we loved the outdoor bar, chilled crowd watching, frequent gay cruise and bear nights. Inexpensive, high-octane drinks and sassy bartenders complete the appeal.
- The San Diego Eagle – The only gay leather Bar in San Diego and open every night of the week to boot! Intimate vibes, low-key atmosphere with a pool table, masculine energy and plenty of nighttime events. Not an S&M (Stand & Model) bar, but a friendly neighborhood haunt in North Park that attracts regulars and those curious about exploring their kinks. There is no enforced dress code but leather or fetish wear is strongly encouraged every night of the week. Uniforms, rubber, latex, chaps, harness, any leather – You know the drill.
- Flicks – One of the original gay video bars in the United States where people of all ages and backgrounds can make new friends, play pool, share common interests, and just…well…hang out, have a drink, and have fun! Flicks have been in business over 33 years and is located right in the heart of San Diego’s gay district, offering nightly events including karaoke earlier in the week, Student night on Wednesdays, go-go dancers and DJs on Thursday night and a sexy Saturday underwear contest. So make sure to wear your favorite LGBT underwear brand, just in case. Fun, festive and fabulously frivolous, Flicks is always a fantastic choice every night of the week.
- The Loft – A hetero-friendly, open-fronted bar in San Diego, with social bar-seating, pool table, and jukebox. Popular with an older crowd, and boasting some of the most personable bartenders in the San Diego gaybourhood who are always willing to chat and provide local advice. At busier times the Loft is very popular and you will struggle to get a seat.
- Redwing – Probably the best dive bar in North Park, this gay bar draws in large crowds with pool, darts, buzztime trivia and karaoke seven nights a week. There is a full outdoor smoking patio, outgoing bartenders, delicious pub-grub food and a relaxed laid back atmosphere.
Gay-Popular Bars in San Diego
- Fairweather Bar – A designer rooftop delicatessen with intimate vibes serving drinks from sunny places. Try their signature Singapore Sling, almost a good as those in Gay Singapore, or the Austrian Muscle Relaxer (strong tones of Butterscotch, Cherry, Pineapple, and Coconut come together to create a cocktail that is equally decadent, boozy, and smooth as silk) that was better than anything we tried in Vienna.
- Sacha’s Supper Club – A all-inclusive monthly dining, dancing, social and musical experience revisiting the elegance of a bygone era in intimate and historic venues around San Diego. A much-needed breath of life for the local Jazz scene, step back in time to the glitzy glory days of old Hollywood where mystery and romance linger long after the music ends as you delight in a glamorous soiree of sultry performances and wonderful company.
- The Hole In The Wall – A gay-popular bar in the quiet San Diego coastal community of Loma Portal where you can feel instantly at home, with friendly staff and the largest outdoor smoking patio in San Diego. Insanely sociable and very popular later at night with large, young crowds.
- Analog Bar – Positioned in the historic Gaslamp District, this sleek downtown lounge offers inspired design amalgamating elements of wood clad 1970’s recording studios and an eclectic New York City dive bar. The end result is an award-winning classic American neighborhood bar and popular foodie-destination, admired by hipsters, gays, fashionistas and everyone in between. Comprised of two rooms separated by glass doors; one side is decorated like a recording booth with vinyl hits handing off the walls but after 10 pm the doors open to make one room where light reflects off the disco balls and DJs pump out lively dance-driven music.
- Altitude Sky Lounge @ Gaslamp Marriott – Perched 22 stories above the historic Gaslamp District, ALTITUDE Sky Lounge is an elite rooftop bar in San Diego, pairing stunning panoramic views with a sleek, modern atmosphere complete with a blazing fire pit and can’t-miss happy hour. Be mesmerized by the glittering skyline, watch the sunset over the harbor, or catch a Padres game from a sleek new vantage point, all while enjoying specials on well cocktails, beers, and small plates.
- Raised by Wolves – After a hot day exploring the La Jolla gay beaches, take a short trip to the nearby Westfield mall – yes, you read that right – to this uber-cool speakeasy hidden behind a rotating fireplace platform in a liquor shop. The cocktails served up here are as imaginative as they are eclectic, and prices are not as outrageous as we had thought they would be.
Cruising, Gay Saunas & Bath Houses in San Diego
Even though San Diego is a wildly popular gay vacation destination there is now only one gay bathhouse in San Diego following the regrettable closure of Vulcan Sauna in Little Italy.
If your visiting from outside of the USA you should know that the gay sauna culture is not very prevalent in the USA and in no way as popular or as high-quality as you might find in international destinations such as Vienna, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Lisbon or Paris. Still, we never said there was no naughty fun to be had in Gay San Diego…
With such a high LGBT+ population, you just know there has to be pretty of action going down here – and you can join in by either downloading a gay hook up app, going to the last San Diego bathhouse, checking out one of the gay cruise bars or just trying your luck at the San Diego gay beaches. However, if you’re are planning a trip up the coast, you’ll find many, many more options for hot, steamy fun in the City of Angels.
- Club San Diego – San Diego’s only gay bathhouse offering a discreet and relaxing atmosphere to enjoy the company of other men. Gay, straight, bi or anything else – It doesn’t matter how you identify as long as you are a male aged over 18 this club is open to you. Amongst the facilities are shared open bunk rooms (each with 2 bunks -4 beds) available at no extra charge, a communal TV room and two separate XXX theatre areas, a sauna, jacuzzi, and a communal steam room. Lockers are readily available, as are private rooms at an additional cost. If this is your first time in a gay sauna, don’t expect everything to be 100% clean or functioning – but we were generally pretty happy with the results, and meet a few hot marines out of uniform thanks to the proximity to the San Diego Military Bases. There is a small membership fee to enter, which is waived for active or retired military with ID. For easy, hot fun with a nice range of guys, there is no better place to go in San Diego.
- Black Beach – The unofficial nude beach of San Diego attracting plenty of gay men. A small hike is required to get here, but the reclusive spot is worth it for some clothing-optional sunbathing and the beautiful stretch of beach. We noticed a few guys pairing off throughout the day, but should note sexual activity is always illegal on public beaches in the USA. Close to the UC San Diego campus.