I’m so sick of paying $15 for a ‘craft’ cocktail. I really don’t want to wear heels tonight. Where can we go that doesn’t play dubstep? What’s a girl got to do to find a hot surfer in this town?
Friends, when you need a break from the downtown scene, cruise up the coast and discover refreshingly chill North County bars. Check out a few of our no-frills favorites, from Solana Beach to Encinitas.
Union Kitchen & Tap
A new kid on the block, Union is a warehouse-style bar and resto increasingly known for the post-dinner scene. From 101, garage door walls open to reveal reclaimed wood and steel décor, communal tables, and oversized vintage photography. Local craft brew is on tap, from Stone to Green Flash and Ballast Point. The bar also specializes in craft cocktails, including house made sangria and ‘skinny’ spirits for the calorie-conscious. Union attracts a nice crowd, varying in age, all seeking a scene with the latest trends. Tip: Union is brought to you by the crew behind Pacific Beach AleHouse. Social Hour: $4 all draft beer, $6 select wines, $2 off craft cocktails, Monday-Friday, 3-6pm. Read more (pictured above)
Union -- 1108 S. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas
No legit North County night is complete without a stumble into The Saloon. The dim dive dates back to 1934, but has seen a series of upgrades with ownership changes over the years. Well, except for maybe the bathroom. If you can, avoid it. For years, The Saloon was known for straight-up cheap, stiff cocktails, the old school jukebox, and the #1 regular Cowboy Don who would drink you under the table every night of the week. Today, The Saloon is the El Dorado of the north -- a progressive hipster hangout with electro dance parties taking over the scene. DJs Gabe Vega and Adam Salter are on the weekly roster, and ‘Dirty Monday’ is a hot spot for the industry crowd. Tip: Top choice for indie-EDM fans too lazy to drive downtown for their fix.
Saloon -- 546 S. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas
The Saddle Bar
Surf & Saddle is back, baby. Well, almost. When McCaffrey’s closed its doors, four local guys jumped on the property, paving the way for S&S 2.0. (Lost? Surf & Saddle ruled the scene for nearly two decades.) Now dubbed The Saddle Bar, the venue shows off an interior upgrade, with new bar tops and flooring, a live music stage, industrial chandeliers, and a new sound and lighting system. But don’t be fooled by the pretty face, it’s the same old Saddle, attracting a chill crowd of locals. And they’re even bringing back goldfish racing! Perk: Open 8am to 2am. Happy Hour: $1 off drinks and draft beer, Monday-Friday, 4-7pm.
Saddle -- 123 West Plaza Street, Solana Beach
Although this mighty craft brewery now boasts four restaurant locales, from Ocean Beach to San Clemente, our heart is still rooted at the original Solana Beach pub. Grab a seat on the outdoor mini-patio with a pint of Grandview Golden Ale and watch the world go by. Inside, the beachy bar and resto is covered with surfboards, stickers and surfing memorabilia, plus arcade games in the back. Relaxed picnic tables (there long before ‘communal’ tables were cool) seat patrons sipping Port brew and noshing on pizza, Beer Buddies and other munchies. 25 years strong, Pizza Port is a staple of the Solana Beach community. Tip: Beers are named after several North County surf spots, including Swamis IPA and Ponto Pale Ale.
Pizza Port 135 N. Coast Highway 101, Solana Beach
This no-frills dive isn’t messing around. Tucked away on Chesterfield, just off the 101, The Shanty remains true to its retro roots. What I mean is, Shanty attracts the hipsters who don’t refer to themselves as hipsters, and the self-proclaimed hipsters who want a night out of the spotlight. People of all ages gravitate to Shanty to let loose and throw back a few short ones. No bells, whistles or trendy DJs at this boxy yellow bar. You’ll get served a stiff, cheap drink, and find plenty of activities to keep your hands busy, from foosball to multiple billiards tables. Tip: Bring your bills; this old school spot is cash only.
Shanty -- 126 Chesterfield Dr., Cardiff
Beachside Bar & Grill
We choose Beachside for its big outdoor patio hidden in the back, complete with a fire pit and plenty of seating. Some nights, the fresh air sure beats a crowded dance floor. Inside, the spacious sports bar is packed with booths and tall tables that look out at 11 hi-def TVs spread throughout multiple rooms. You won’t find any hip DJs spinning here, but live music showcases rotate through the month. There’s nothing fancy about the booze, but if you want to go out with a group and actually get a seat at 11pm, Beachside is your bar. Happy Hour: Monday Friday 4-6pm, plus half-priced bottles of wine on Tuesdays.
Beachside -- 806 S. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas
More North County San Diego bars to check out:
Music: Belly Up Tavern – Solana Beach
Lumberyard Tavern & Grill – Encinitas
3rd Corner – Encinitas
Wine Steals – Cardiff
Jimmy O’s – Del Mar
Flying Elephant Pub & Grill – Oceanside
1st Street Bar – Encinitas
En Fuego Cantina & Grill – Del Mar
The Office – Cardiff
D Street Bar & Grill – Encinitas
Beer: Encinitas Ale House – Encinitas
Beer: Sublime Ale House – San Marcos
Beer: Urge Gastropub – Rancho Bernardo
Upscale: Burlap – Del Mar
Upscale: Ignite Bistro & Wine Spot – Carlsbad
Upscale: Flavor – Del Mar
Upscale: Brigantine – Del Mar
Upscale: Solace & The Moonlight Lounge – Encinitas
What is your favorite North County hot spot? Leave a comment below!