San Diego: After Hours

Activities for Late Night Fun

San Diego's National Comedy Theatre

Photo by National Comedy Theatre

If you have a thirst for darkness and empty highways, your end destination options are probably bars, concerts and clubs—or so people you would think. Sometimes you need something a little quieter to do when it’s dark, because the less noise and light there is, the more you can absorb the essence of the night. We’ve compiled this list of ways for San Diegans to make the most out of the wee hours.

Our favorite thing to do after dark is something we call The Game: go to Kearny Mesa after 9 pm without a trace of a plan. Drive around and choose a restaurant on the fly. This plan works 100% of the time due to the overwhelming number of restaurants open after 9. Tea-N-More, open until 1 am on Friday and Saturday and 12 am otherwise, has boba and an inviting atmosphere filled with people playing inscrutable card games. Up2you is a dessert cafe (a recent trend in Asia) serving insanely cute and intricately designed desserts; they’re open until 1:30 am on Friday and Saturday, and midnight otherwise. Yokohama Yakitori Koubou has a sake bar and sizzling hot kebabs, and they’re open until 2 am. For ramen, see Rakiraki (hours are complicated, but 2 am at the latest) and Tajima Ramen House (10:30 Sun-Wed, 2:30 Thurs-Sat). 

While Kearny Mesa has one of the highest concentrations of late night joints, San Diego is, as expected, home to a lot more. Rose Donuts in Linda Vista, for example, is open forever. Starlite is a tiny, glittery gastropub near the airport open until 1 am. Saigon on Fifth, an elegant Vietnamese restaurant in Hillcrest, is open until 3 am.

If you need some authentic Mexican, Kotija Jr. is open until midnight every day except Sunday, when it’s only open until 10 pm. Be sure to park in an empty parking lot under a streetlamp before eating your burrito. Lil Dipper, an ice cream sandwich retailer, is open until midnight; they run their shop in the Regents area of La Jolla, but they also deliver on bike within a three-mile radius. And if you want to be fancy, The 3rd Corner is a wine shop and tapas restaurant in both Ocean Beach and Encinitas; they’re open until 12:45 am, five days a week.

Movies are a good way to kill a night, but are you taking advantage of the full range of artistic cinema? The Ken Cinema in Hillcrest is known for playing foreign, indie and avant-garde movies. Check their website for a list of their midnight movie offerings, which include cult classics like The Room (a must-see if you haven’t already). There’s also La Paloma in Encinitas, which was built in 1928. It screens Rocky Horror Picture Show on film every Friday at midnight, while people in costumes act out the whole thing beneath the screen. This is a tradition with a serious following, and some audience members there have seen dozens, maybe hundreds, of Rocky Horror reenactments all around the country.

If you’re feeling vintage, Parkway Bowl in El Cajon is open until 3 am. If you’re in the Kearny Mesa area getting Asian food (which you should be), Kearny Mesa Bowl is open until midnight. Skateworld, a roller rink in Linda Vista, is open until 11 pm select days. Poway Ice Arena is open until 11:30, every single night. Coin Op Game Room in North Park is the place to drink cocktails and indulge in a large arcade game selection, including 1981 Frogger and four pinball machines ranked in the top 20 of all time (yes, people care enough about pinball to make rankings).

National Comedy Theater has improv shows every Friday and Saturday night at 9:45 pm (plus 7:30, but not quite as fun). With improv comedy, you’re practically guaranteed one of those uncontrollable stomach laughs as the comedians wing it.

For the artistic, Painting and Vino in Little Italy is open until 11 pm. This place follows the paint-n-sip model, where you buy wine and take a painting lesson. For those who would rather be pampered, Girl on the Go Night Spa is open until 10 pm, designed for beauty queens who have to be at work when all the other spas are open.

And if you just want to be a ghost, Target in Clairemont is open until midnight. Come on, who doesn’t like Target? You could also hit up countless Denny’s locations for people-watching and pancakes at any moment of the day. And if it’s extra late, the Poway Walmart is perpetually open.

If you would rather spend the night in nature rather than bowling or feasting on ramen, take a trip to the beach. Our personal favorite is Torrey Pines: the parking row is totally empty in the later hours, and so is the beach. It’s a good time to climb up on the lifeguard towers with friends and have a philosophical discussion. You also can’t beat a stroll around Mission Bay Beach; the ZLAC Rowing Club is a good starting point. If you want to be closer to the water, Aqua Adventures offers a night kayak ride concluding with SeaWorld fireworks. Scuba San Diego also has an organized night dive. And if you investigate Meetup, you’ll see all the people who get together for their own night dives.

Venturing into nerdier territory, San Diego Astronomy Association has “star parties” where everyone gathers in various nature venues and clusters around their telescopes. If you don’t have one, share someone else’s for a moment.

Well, that should give you enough things to do during the night for a month—now you might never have to go out during the day.

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