San Diego is a capital of America’s craft brew revolution, but a wine scene is also simmering in this seaside metropolis. Roughly 120 wineries call the county home, tasting rooms and wine bars are popping up from downtown to the outer ’burbs and restaurants serve cult bottles from far-flung regions. And don’t forget the cocktails: From tiki to ice cube art, the mixology scene is equally ablaze.
Sips in the City
More than 400 wine bottles line the shelves at Vino Carta, a wine shop and bar in the Little Italy neighborhood, where the crowd breaks free from the Cab and Chard routine. “We struggle with selling Chardonnay,” says Co-proprietor Patrick Ballow. “People want more Grüner Veltliner.” In the South Park neighborhood, The Rose Wine Bar serves Hungarian Furmint and carbonic Mendocino Carignan in addition to carnitas and kabocha flatbread and gravlax toast. Carruth Cellars Wine Garden brings Sonoma to Little Italy, while Pali Wine Co. pairs Santa Barbara Pinot Noirs with salty ocean air. In North Park is Négociant Urban Winery, which serves up big, bold reds made with grapes from around the state.
You’d be silly to hit San Diego and not explore the beer scene. Might as well chow down on vegan comfort food while you’re at it. That’s the formula at Modern Times Far West Lounge in Encinitas, where you can rinse down kimchi mayo corn and green papaya salad with hazy IPAs.
False Idol, a speakeasy through a walk-in cooler in Craft & Commerce restaurant, revives the city’s golden era of tiki drinks. Closer to La Jolla is Raised By Wolves, another speakeasy that’s behind a bookcase, where The Addams Family-evoking decor showcases a deep menu of boozy classics.
Restaurant Lists to Love
The Fishery is the restaurant arm of a 41-year-old wholesale seafood company, so the food’s always fresh. Today’s wine list is equally zesty: Burgundy and Beaujolais, of course, but now Corsican Sciacarello, rosé of Sicilian Nerello Mascalese and a small selection from Switzerland.
Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe wine region is a couple of hours away, and Puesto at the Headquarters offers bottles and pours from there. Try a flight or a bottle of Chenin Blanc by Bodegas Henri Lurton alongside ceviche verde and pomegranate-flecked guacamole.
At Cucina Urbana, a bottle shop-meets-trattoria with five outposts, you’ll find chicken liver pâté with Barolo-soaked figs, lemon ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms and guanciale-laced bucatini. Choose a well-priced bottle from the shop to accompany.
Escondido’s Enological Entrepreneurs
About 40 minutes from downtown San Diego, Escondido is the county’s winemaking hub. Make a reservation to visit J. Brix Wines, where Emily Towe and Jody Brix Towe make San Diego and Central Coast bottles like Riesling pét-nat, skin-contact Pinot Gris and Stay in Bed Red. In the same facility is Vesper Vineyards, where Chris Broomell and Alysha Stehly produce Carignan, Picardan and a Marsanne-Cinsault blend.
Hungry Hawk Vineyards & Winery offers a more traditional estate experience, as does Orfila Vineyards and Winery, whose Italian varieties do well; try Central Coast-sourced Pinot Noir while you’re there.
The nightlife-peppered Gaslamp Quarter went luxe when Pendry San Diego opened. Use a gold coin for a split of Moët & Chandon from the vending machine, then saddle up to Provisional for a brunch like breakfast pizza or an ostrich egg omelet washed down with a mezcal-strawberry Bloody Mary.
At Rendezvous, a Francophile cocktail bar inside The U.S. Grant, a Luxury Collection Hotel, San Diego, sip the French thyme and rosemary liqueur-flavored Le Coq that’s chilled with expertly carved ice. Sample the menu at the Grant Grill, where classics like Loire bubbly and Mosel Riesling accompany rich fare.
Wine director Chris Russo offers sage advice on wines to accompany Jason Knibb’s cuisine at Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar inside the La Jolla’s Grande Colonial hotel, where the sound of the sea mixes with the buzz of village shopping.
Last Updated: May 5, 2023