830 25th Street, Golden Hill
Counterpoint is a perfect destination for that right-after-work stop-by for a quick few drinks on the cheap, with the welcoming option of staying and lingering while sharing scrumptious plates from the starters section of the menu (such as the duck puppies, mac & cheese, and spicy brussels sprouts). From 5 to 6pm every weekday, you can choose from a short list of wines and drafts for only $3 each. Aside from the attractive drink deal, one major thing that makes up for this short, actual-hour-long happy hour during the week is that on Saturdays and Sundays, that happy “hour” is expanded from noon to 6pm.
570 K Street, Downtown San Diego
The martinis are a more reasonable $9 instead of the usual $15, glasses of wine start at $7, and the 4 to 6pm Happy Hour is every day (a nice bonus for those of us who like to get the party started early on Saturday nights), but it’s not just the drink deals that have the most appeal at Donovan’s. It’s also the free food. And we’re not talking pretzels and nuts here, but fresh prime-steak sandwiches and mini filet burritos, for real, at no charge. All that, and the bites are as delicious as you’d expect from a steakhouse king — sautéed peppers, onions, and cheese on the steak sandwiches, and delectable meat and sour cream in the simple but satisfying burritos.
2000 Spindrift Drive, La Jolla
The Marine Room doesn’t just have an “ocean view” — it’s situated right on the shore, where waves lap against the sand, sometimes all the way up to the giant windows of the dining room. A big romantic dinner here can be expensive, but a drink or two and some bites at the bar proffer the same gorgeous views at a slightly more casual fraction of the price. Every day (except for Saturday) from 4 to 6pm, you can stroll into the lounge and order Dan’s Daily Drink, a well cocktail, or a glass of Lisa’s select wine for $8 each. All appetizers, devised by one of the best chefs in town, are a flat $10 (marked down from up to $18).
1549 El Prado, Balboa Park
The Prado at Balboa Park
The only thing better than one Happy Hour is two Happy Hours! At the Prado, you can get happy on Tuesday through Friday from either 4 to 6pm or 8 to 10pm. Or both, if you’re extra adventurous — there’s plenty to do in Balboa Park in the two-hour gap between fun times. During the 8pm Happy Hours — and on Saturdays — the lounge features live music. Let’s talk bevvies: for just $4.50, you have your choice of well drinks, the house margarita, draft pale ale, white or red wine, and, my favorite, the Prado Mule. Happy Hour bites range from $4 to $7.50, all of them perfect snacks for your sips.
1475 University Avenue, Hillcrest
The garden patio at Bamboo Lounge is a zen-tastic place to gather with friends. It’s a tiny oasis hidden within the Hillcrest hubbub, replete with bamboo trees and water features. From 4 to 7pm Tuesday through Saturday, share a bottle of wine at half off, or specialty shots for only $3 each, as well as $4 well drinks and $5 glasses of sangria. As for food, you can get street tacos (3 for $7), crab-and-cream cheese wontons (5 for $6), grilled-cheese panini with dipping sauces (for $5), and a whole lot more. Check for additional daily specials.
7644 Girard Avenue, La Jolla
Finch’s Bistro and Wine Bar
Sample from an eclectic selection of wine from around the world at $2 off per glass between 3 and 6pm every day at this charming bistro nestled between two shops in La Jolla. The bar has a Parisian feel, but the owners are from South Africa, and their well-traveled palates are reflected on the Happy Hour menu. Try small plates, such as Baja shrimp and mushroom pâté ($8 each) or share plates, which include avocado fritters, stuffed squash blossoms, and ahi poke wontons ($10 to $18). Your taste buds will feel like they’ve flown first class.
25 East E Street, Encinitas
Solace and the Moonlight Lounge
Oyster lovers won’t be able to resist the $1.50 oysters served Monday through Friday from 3 to 6pm at the seafood-centric Solace in Encinitas. The drink specials change with the seasons, but the prices are consistently low. For $6, you can choose between the daily selection of white, red, and sparkling wines. Specialty cocktails, such as the Moscow mule or wine and whiskey punch, start at $5. Drafts of local craft beer are made available starting at $2.50. If you’re not into oysters, you might want to opt for the warm cheddar-and-chive biscuits (5 for $4) or steamed black mussels ($8.50). Or go with friends and try it all.
2265 Bacon Street, Ocean Beach
The 3rd Corner Wine Shop and Bistro
897 South Coast Highway 101 #F104, Encinitas
At this wine shop and bistro, you can relax from 3 to 6pm Tuesday through Friday in a comfy-casual seat with a view of rows of wide-ranging wine bottles offered at retail prices. Enjoy local draft beers ($3 each), house red or white wine or red or white sangria ($4 per glass) and well cocktails or martinis ($5 each). The Happy Hour menu (also available late night, from 10pm to 1am) offers some snacks and several entrée-style dishes (such as the beef Bolognese, burger, mac confit, and mussels) for $10 each. Just be sure not to leave without sampling the fresh bread and butter.
400 J Street, Downtown San Diego
The Oceanaire Seafood Room
Oceanaire is another local treasure that offers two Happy Hours — deals at the bar are available between 5 and 6pm, and then again from 9pm to close (8pm to close on Sundays). The bar is always packed, and everyone seems friendly and agreeable when it comes to sharing the space. Discounted drink options are more extensive here: choose from four bottles of beer at $4 each, six types of wine at $5 each, two $6 specialty drinks, and five $7 specialty martinis. Once you have a drink in hand, you can begin deciding what to get from the dozen or so fantastic food options (e.g., fish tacos, truffle fries, oysters, filet mignon sliders) priced at only $5 to $7.