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San Diego Gay Bars Guide - Best San Diego Gay Nightlife

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San Diego gay nightlife scene manages that rare balance between being remarkably friendly and also rife with beautiful guys and tanned and toned lesbians - it's pretty much a reflection of this sunny Southern California city. Gay bars have also been pretty stable here over the years, with the most popular hangouts having been going strong for a decade or two. Most gay bars are in the trendy Hillcrest neighborhood, just northeast of Balboa Park and a short drive or cab ride from downtown - several others are in the districts just to the east of Hillcrest, University Heights and Normal Heights. For details on the city's gay adult scene, check out the San Diego Gay Bathhouses and Sex Clubs guide.

San Diego Gay Bar Guide - continued on Page 2

Baja Betty's - restaurant/gay bar

photo by Andrew Collins
Run by the team behind lively Urban Mo's and, just across the street, Gossip Grill restaurant, Baja Betty's (1421 University Ave., 619-269-8510) exudes personality and camp: it's a fun spot for foofy cocktails (note the huge tequila list), weekend-afternoon people-watching, and consistently good Southwestern and Latin American fare: Mexi-Queen cheese dip, battered-cod fish tacos, carne asada tacos, and chicken poblano in mole sauce. It's as much, if not more, about the food than the drinking here, but Baja Betty's definitely qualifies as a bar option - and a fun spot before hitting Flick's, Rich's, or one of the other gay clubs in the area.

Bourbon Street - gay bar

photo by Andrew Collins
It's one of the best gay bars San Diego, and yet the loosely French Quarter-themed Bourbon Street nightclub (4612 Park Blvd., 619-291-4043) isn't in Hillcrest and doesn't generally draw big crowds to its dance floor. So what's so fun about this place? First, Bourbon Street has a friendly, welcoming staff and attitude, which tends to rub off on the diverse clientele. It's somewhat more of a guys hangout most nights, and it can get mighty cruise-y when go-go dancers perform, but women are extremely welcome, and on Sundays, it's Bourbon Street holds one of the city's better-attended women's nights (also, early on Fridays - during happy hour - the crowd is mostly lesbian). In fact, the festive theme nights are a big draw - wet-underwear contests, karaoke, and popular nightly happy hours. Bourbon Street delights regulars with its "never a cover charge" policy, and its accessible location along Park Boulevard in University Heights, a charmingly eclectic neighborhood just a short drive north of Hillcrest (it's pretty easy to find parking up here, too).

The Brass Rail - gay bar

photo by Andrew Collins
The longest-running gay bar in San Diego, the Brass Rail (3796 5th Ave., 619-298-2233) deserves credit for always finding new ways to reinvent itself for the current times. This Hillcrest landmark has undergone a natty makeover, complete with a refurbishment of the bars vintage chandelier. Popularity varies according to the night, with the weekly Manic Monday parties (80-cent drinks!), Wednesday drag shows, '80s Fridays, and Latin tunes on Saturdays all with pretty strong followings. Additionally, on pretty much any afternoon, there's usually a crowd of regulars hanging out and chatting...sometimes very early in the afternoon, for that matter. The staff is easygoing and friendly, and the all-ages clientele is among the more diverse in San Diego - mostly male but with plenty of women (and mostly women on the "ladies nights"), and usually there's more of a black, white, and Latino mix here than in many other gay bars around the city. It's pretty easy to have fun in this place.

Caliph Lounge - gay bar

Several blocks south of the main Hillcrest gay-bar strip in Banker's Hill (very near northwestern Balboa Park, and also close to Top of the Park), Caliph (3100 5th Ave., 619-298-9495) is a bit of a dive, a fun place to sing, chat, and people-watch - just don't expect huge crowds, as this is a somewhat quite spot. Crowd tends toward the over-40s set.

Cheers - gay bar

photo by Andrew Collins
A cozy, slightly off-the-beaten-path neighborhood spot in charming University Heights, Cheers (1839 Adams Ave., 619-298-3269) is exactly what its name suggests: a laid-back spot where everybody knows your name, or, at the very least, even outsiders tend to be treated as friends. Like a lot of locals' hangouts in San Diego, Cheers has fun karaoke nights and plenty of good drink specials.

Club Fusion (in Tijuana, Mexico), aka Club Extasis - gay bar

On the U.S. border at the southern end of metro San Diego, the sprawling city of Tijuana (population 1.3 million) has several gay bars, with Club Fusion/Extasis (Calle Larroque 213, 526-646-8283) by far the most popular with American visitors. Partly this is because it's been around a long time, employs a huge stable of sexy male strippers, has fun drag shows in the adjacent showroom, and offers the enticement of "dark rooms." But this large complex is also popular because you can reach it quite easily and cheaply from downtown San Diego without a car: just take the San Diego Trolley blue line to San Ysidro Transit Center, walk across the border, and you'll find Fusion/Extasis a few minutes' stroll away (here's the location on Google Maps). Be warned that the last San Diego trolley back to downtown San Diego leaves at 12:59 am - if you miss that, cab fare back into town is around $55. Another fairly easy option is driving your own car and parking on the California side of the border crossing - Border Station Parking is a safe and reliable place to leave your car.

Flicks - gay bar

photo by Andrew Collins
Along a strip of gay-oriented businesses on University Avenue in San Diego's Hillcrest neighborhood, Flicks gay video bar has long been a hub of gay schmoozing and socializing in this sunny and scenic city by the ocean. Flicks (1017 University Ave., 619-297-2056) is a cozy space with the usual array of video monitors, a nice little patio seating area overlooking the busy sidewalk, and a variety of fun theme nights (comedy videos on Tuesdays, South Park showings on Wednesdays, the "dating game" on Thursdays, a wet booty contest on Saturdays, karaoke on Sundays). The crowd is mostly male, although plenty of female friends stop by, too, and it skews pretty, preppy, and youthful.

The Hole - gay bar

photo by Andrew Collins
The Hole (2820 Lytton St., 619-226-9019) is famously popular with Navy and other military personnel, as it's right in the heart of Point Loma and is also the closest San Diego gay bar to Mission Beach (and the other lower beach communities), and San Diego International Airport. Renowned for its huge, atmospheric patio and legendary Sunday beer blasts, it's also great fun because of the eclectic crowd, where everybody from bears to hipsters to regular joes comes to cruise. You'll see the occasional twink in here, but this rough-and-ready cruise bar definitely cultivates a vibe that's counter to the stand-and-model scene in Hillcrest. Whatever your style, you can be yourself here.

The Loft - gay bar

photo by Andrew Collins
The laid-back locals bar feels a bit more like the no-nonsense neighborhood bars over in North Park than it does most of its fellow Hillcrest hangouts. The Loft (3610 5th Ave., 619-296-6407) is a fun place to shoot pool, listen to tunes on the jukebox, and nurse affordable, well-poured cocktails. Many regulars stop by for happy hour before heading out to dinner or some of the neighborhood's larger clubs.

Martinis Above Fourth - gay bar

San Diego's favorite gay cabaret, Martinis (3940 4th Ave., 619-400-4500) is just a block off of busy University Avenue, in the heart of Hillcrest. Entertainment here runs the gamut and features some tremendously talented performers - not just piano and singing but comedy, magic, and more. The space is attractive, nicely lighted, and comfortable, and a full menu of upscale, contemporary American fare is served (grilled Pacific swordfish with lemon-thyme gremolata, bacon-wrapped and blue-cheese stuffed filet mignon), making this a top choice for gay dates and special occasions. There's a good beer and wine selection, but martinis are - of course - the libation of choice. You'll find an extensive menu of these.

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