Cocktail recipes from the best bars in San Diego, California

Domestic travel is on the cusp of a resurgence with states across Australia beginning to relax lockdown measures. International travel? That’s a different story.

With many countries around the world struggling in the fight against COVID-19, we’ve been given conflicting information on when international travel will resume to a sense of normalcy anytime soon. Some people say we will be able to carry on with our wanderlust as early as the end of this year, some are saying it won’t be well into next year. The only sure thing right now is our ability to take ourselves to different destinations without physically crossing borders.

One way we’ve been encouraging that at the AU review is by sourcing food and drink recipes so readers can travel with their taste buds, whether that’s in the kitchen or behind a homemade bar. Now, we’re going to be hopping around some of the world’s most vibrant cocktail cultures and pulling a few drink recipes from the best local spots. Get your mixers out, because you’re about to become the best, most well-travelled home bartender there is.

San Diego, California

Pick any major Californian city and you’re pretty much guaranteed to find a world-class cocktail scene. Venture south to San Diego’s golden tint and when you aren’t busy relaxing on the pristine beaches, you can get amongst what just may be one of the best places for mixology on the west coast. Restaurants and bars here reflect to city’s vibrant culture, so to help you soak up some of that we’ve went and sourced a few cocktail recipes from some of local favourites.

“Smokey Sunrise” from The Smoking Gun

The Smoking Gun is a neighbourhood cocktail bar, specialising in scratch-made, local, sustainable small plates, boilermakers and ping-pong. Situated in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, the bar’s urban setting and southern influenced dishes draws industry friends, restauranteurs, and tourists from all over, all keen to see what award-winning mixologist Eric Johnson has behind the bar at any given time. Here, he supplied his recipe for a signature, Mexican-influenced Smokey Sunrise.

– 1.5 oz (44 ml) Tequila
– .5 oz (14 ml) Mezcal
– .5 oz (14 ml) Lime
– 1 oz (29.5 ml) Orange Juice
– A splash of grenadine

1. Pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker.
2. Shake and strain liquid over ice.
3. Float the grenadine (it will sink to the bottom of glass)
4. Garnish drink with a lime wheel and place pomegranate seeds on top of lime

“Boozy Start” from Toast Gastrobrunch

A popular breakfast and brunch spot isn’t your typical choice for mixology, but downing a well-made cocktail to start your day isn’t exactly unheard of in San Diego. In a city that’s this famous for their life night, you better believe morning institutions have become quite nifty with their alcoholic morning pick-me-ups. Here, Toast Gastrobrunch gives us a buzz-worthy recipe with their Boozy Start.

– 1.5oz (44ml) brandy
– 1/2oz (14.7ml) Grand Marnier
– 1/2oz (14.7ml) Kahlua
– 1.5oz (44ml) simple syrup (recipe here)
– 6oz (177ml) coffee
– Twist of one orange
– Nutmeg

1. Rim a tall wine glass with blue sanding sugar.
2. Add brandy, grand marnier, kahlua, simple syrup and coffee in tin cocktail shaker.
3. Shake well.
4. Add contents to wine glass.
5. Express orange twist over top of drink.
6. Garnish with grated nutmeg.

“Feudal Princess” from Cloak & Petal

Little Italy’s buzzing Japanese fusion concept Cloak & Petal is a thoughtful, innovative restaurant where San Diegans and visitors alike typically enjoy authentic sushi and an assortment of other small share plates paired with bespoke craft cocktails. Under a canopy of faux cherry blossom trees, this popular spot regularly pumps out some of the brightest concoctions in the area, like the Feudal Princess, which uses dry gin, elderflower and creme de violette to twist up the classic martini.

– 2oz (59ml) dry gin
– 1/4oz (7ml) Creme de Violette (here)
– 1/4oz (7ml) Elderflower liqueur (here)
– 1/4oz (7ml) Cherry Blossom Vermouth (here)

1. Stir all ingredients and stir into a coupe.
2. Garnish with lemon zest and orchid.

“Watermelon Mule” from barleymash

This list of recipes wouldn’t be complete without at least one bar from San Diego’s hip Gaslamp Quarter district. Step into the high-energy barleymash, a restaurant and bar where Executive Chef Kevin Templeton has been spearheading progressive bar fare that celebrates the many tastes of Americana. As playful as the food is, they are just as much focused on the drinks, as you’d be able to tell when you master the sweet Watermelon Mule.

– 1.5oz (44ml) Skyy watermelon vodka
– .5oz (14ml) lime juice
– Ginger beer
– Lime wheel

1. Add vodka and lime juice to a cocktail glass.
2. Add ice.
3. Top with ginger beer.
4. Garnish with lime wheel.

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is an Editor-At-Large at the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.