2230 Shelter Island Drive, Shelter Island
Bali Hai Restaurant
Five-dollar Progressive Mai Tais — add $1 every hour. Best of luck finding a better view of the San Diego skyline. You’ll sit next to yachters, boat builders, and tourists while slowly sipping the strongest Mai Tai around. (It’s pretty much all rum.) New rule: only two Mai Tais per person. Good rule.
$4 Wasabi Fries / $5 Crispy Vegetable Spring Rolls, Edamame Hummus, Edamame / $6 Crispy Calamari / $7 Island Beef Skewers, Flash Fried Shishito Peppers / $8 Fire Cracker Ribs / $9 Coconut Shrimp / $11 Hawaiian Tuna Poke. 3–6pm Monday-Friday.
8758 La Mesa Boulevard, La Mesa
Comfortable, upscale pubs are hard to come by in La Mesa, so when the Hills opened a few years back you could almost feel the vibe change in this East County suburb. Friendly servers greet you almost immediately and ask you to sit “wherever,” in the casual indoor space with garage-door windows. Happy hour offers 24 local or craft brews at $2 off and $2 tacos and sliders. There’s a patio in the back with heaters . If you can’t find parking on the street, drive down the alley and you’ll find a spot. 2–5pm Monday–Friday.
1933 San Elijo Avenue, Cardiff-by-the-Sea
This place makes me feel welcome. It could be because my friend Diane used to live in the space, or the fun Italian servers who smile and flirt. Either way, the happy hour here is better than you might expect from a high-end restaurant on the coast in North County.
Four-dollar house wines, $5.00 mixed drinks, and discounted beers and specialty drinks. Happy hour plates at $5.00 and $6.00 are a great value, but the $1.00 fresh Blue Point oysters they serve are delizioso. 4:30-6:30pm Monday-Thursday, 3-6pm Friday and Saturday.
3773 Willow Glen Drive, El Cajon
Nicky Rottens Bar & Burger Joint
This joint out in the burbs of El Cajon, surrounded by fast-food places is a much-needed oasis. The parking lot is usually jammed, so if you can brave the traffic, park in a shopping center and run across the street. The place is fun, the bar is big and filled with what seems like at least a dozen bartenders mixing drinks and schmoozing with the customers. It’s a real bar, but when you look past the bottles, you’ll see families, couples and lots of singles enjoying the vibe. The discounted menu is vast, but includes discounts on pretty much all the booze and an assortment of food. 3–6pm Monday–Friday, 9–11am Saturday–Sunday.
1347 Tavern Road #34, Alpine
You’ll enjoy the eclectic atmosphere and forget that you’re in a strip mall in Alpine. The drinks are discounted — $3 domestic draft beer and $5 house wine. The appetizers are not run-of-the-mill. This menu is Old World classy: Bill and Diane Shrimp Cocktail $9, Fried Calamari $7, Pear Salad $6, and quite a bit more. It’s worth the trip. Monday–Sunday from 4–6:30pm.
211 Mission Avenue, Oceanside
Hello Betty Fish House
This happy hour is all about the booze, with 24 beers on tap and great cocktails discounted when sitting at bar tables at this year-old restaurant. The food is regular price, but with the outstanding view of the Oceanside Pier and the Pacific, ordering a fresh Mahi Mahi sandwich for less than ten bucks will make you very happy for more than an hour. 4–6pm Monday–Sunday at bar-tops only.
345 S. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas
(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)
The Vista location boasts one of the largest collections of tequila bottles in the world, and it’s hard to doubt them when you see them lined up behind the crowded bar. The bartenders are friendly and knowledgeable about the tequila and they can school you while serving you house margaritas and well drinks for $4.25 draft beer and imported $3.50 domestic $3. House wine $4. Good prices on bar food such as street tacos and flautas as well. Arrive early because while Vista is a brew boomtown, the hip local places for happy hour are few and far between. 3–7pm Monday-Friday.