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California’s Best Bars

Nov. 21, 2018

California is home to innovative craft cocktails created by amazing mixologists; what might be a simple drink in another destination becomes an experience in the Golden State. We’ve rounded up the best bars throughout the state to enjoy the view, the décor, or even the art of the drink itself. From rooftop and beachside bars to hidden speakeasies, there’s a variety of experiences for a fun, memorable night out in California.

Bars with the Best Rooftop Views

Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar located in Archer Hotel in the city of Napa offers locals and visitors breathtaking panoramic views of the vineyards just beyond downtown. A reverse happy hour is offered nightly from 9:00 p.m. to close. 

Guests can relax in comfy chairs by the fire pits and enjoy a bird’s-eye view of a seaside village at Vesuvio’s Starlight Rooftop Lounge. This charming venue is Monterey County’s only rooftop lounge, and happy hour erupts from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. every day of the week with deals on drinks and small bites including meatball lollipops, fried calamari and wood-fired pizzas. 

Adjacent to the rooftop pool with unparalleled views of the desert, High Bar at The Rowan Palm Springs offers transcendent views alongside impeccable drinks and cool, classy furnishings. With a lush backdrop and a color palette of blues, grays, whites and warm wood tones, the vibe is refreshing and playful by day, and swank and seductive once the sun sets and the stars emerge overhead.

Best Bars for a Speakeasy Experience

Although speakeasies were illegal during Prohibition, they still flourished and are now an iconic part of American culture. While drinking is no longer illegal, there are still many speakeasies throughout California where you can experience the atmosphere and cocktails of the 1920s.

Don’t be fooled by the stack of kegs in the back hallway of Neighborhood, one of San Diego East Village’s bustling neighborhood eateries. The kegs are a ruse, and offer access through a hidden door into Noble Experiment, a speakeasy so popular that guests need to reserve a spot several days in advance. With a scholarly approach to drink-making, Noble Experiment’s bartenders convert more than 100 spirits, house-made syrups and fresh, local fruit into 700 specialty cocktails.

Housed in the Anaheim Packing House, you'll find the Blind Rabbit concealed under a wall of Japanese kegs. To enter, pull the small rabbit statue to open the door. Once inside, watch out – they literally set their cocktails on fire!

Hidden up a flight of stairs above a lively poolhall in Fresno's historic Tower District is The Library at Detention. Reservations are required to get the nightly password to this quiet, dimly lit, small, unmarked bar. Remember.... Mum’s the word.

After walking down a cobblestone alley and descending a darkened stairwell, visitors will find themselves at The Speakeasy – a decadent 1920s jazz nightclub located in San Francisco’s historic North Beach. Here, guests are immersed in the throes of Prohibition and pulled into unique storylines with over 35 different characters.  

Bars with The Best Water Views

Put your feet in the sand and a drink in your hand at the Descanso Beach Club on Catalina Island. This is Catalina’s only seaside restaurant and bar, and offers high-end touches like private cabanas, chaise lounges and a gracious and attentive staff.

There’s just something special about a surf shack: maybe it’s the cool breeze kicking up off the ocean, the sunset views, or the comfort of being among friends after a day on the waves. Pacific Hideaway, tucked inside the Kimpton Shorebreak Beach Resort, is the ideal upscale surf shack in Huntington Beach. Visit this bar for some seriously innovative cocktails and the perfect view of the Pacific Coast.

Who needs an ocean to have water views? Hidden in landlocked Sacramento, the cleverly named Dive Bar is actually a haven of cool and class in the middle of one of the nation's capital. The huge aquarium above the bar has a beautiful live mermaid or merman swimming among the fish, making you feel like you’re under the sea. 

Bars That Will Make You Come Back for The Drinks

Recognized by patrons as a “mixologist extraordinaire,” co-owner and bar manager of South Lake Tahoe’s Truckee Tavern & Grill, Ryan Dierks is known for his creative cocktails. He finds inspiration in using seasonal ingredients to create perfectly balanced libations. The bar uses handcrafted ice blocks designed specifically to complement the fine whiskey and other cocktails offered. You can’t go wrong with the “Bangkok Punch,” but if you’re feeling risky and you’re willing to turn control over to Ryan, the “Dealer’s Choice” is most definitely the way to go.

End your Santa Monica evening with a nightcap at Copa d’Oro just off the iconic Third Street Promenade. Resident mixologist Vincenzo Marianella, known as the “Godfather of Cocktails,” whips up drinks that pair liquor with organic, local and seasonal ingredients. Order the celebrated Campanula Sour, a mix of grapefruit vodka, red bell pepper, mint, St. Germain and fresh lemon juice.

Apothecary-inspired, The Drawing Board in historic downtown Petaluma celebrates the medicinal history of cocktails with libations created with the addition of teas, herbs, tinctures, or small-batch bitters by resident alchemist Jenn Moonbrick. Describe the mood you’re in and a favorite book or childhood memory and, voilà; the mixologist whips up your perfect drink.

Founded in 1934 in Mendocino, Dick’s Place opened just after the end of Prohibition, and today locals and tourists alike find familiarity and great drinks. Each bartender has their own style and specialty, but there is one consistency: the award-winning Bloody Mary. Visitors come back for the drink, and locals know to order it regularly. 

Best Bar Décor

The décor and design of a watering hole is just as important as the food and drinks. These establishments wow visitors with great ambiance and amazing beverages.

Country meets modern American style at The Gate in The Murieta Inn and Spa. This restaurant and bar perfectly reflects the atmosphere of Rancho Murieta's equine community through its interior design, while delivering a unique "farm-to-fork" dining experience. Craft and classic cocktails feature premium spirits enhanced with fruit, flowers and other botanicals from Angel Wing Farm, located on property.

Conjure up an evening of delicious drinks and pub-style bites at the 17th century witch-themed bar, The Cauldron Spirits & Brews in Buena Park. Visitors are transported back in time through a French-inspired pub adorned with antique furniture, a spellbinding cauldron and secrets hidden around every corner. The menu includes familiar bites with a wicked twist, and themed beverages including the Knotty Kid and the Grey Witch.

Originally established in 1958 by the Gunari family, Redding’s Squire Room lounge and restaurant was beloved by locals and visitors for generations. No expense was spared in its original mid-century modern design, and after over 50 years in operation, the Gunari family sold the Squire Room to new owners who set out to lovingly restore the property to its original beauty. They reopened with a focus on classic, quality cocktails and an impressive selection of spirits.