By Irene Lechowitzky
San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter, once home to gambling halls, saloons and bordellos, can still kick up its heels. Packed with cocktail lounges, restaurants and pulsating nightclubs, it’s a virtual playpen for partying. Best of all, it’s self-contained, and you can easily hopscotch from drinks to dinner to a nightclub. Plus, there’s a revolving door of fresh venues replacing ones that have fallen out of fashion. There are plenty of other activities as well: Padres games at Petco Park, Seaport Village, the bay and waterfront parks, and the ferry to Coronado are just a short walk. (There are homeless as well as partiers; the Gaslamp is very much an urban core.) The tab: My husband and I spent $179 for one night at the Hotel Z and about $120 for dinner and drinks.
The Gaslamp takes its reputation seriously as a party town. Choosing which hot and trendy bars to sample was a tough job, but I was glad to do it. Two that stood out: The tastiest cocktail was at Blush Ice Bar + East-West Kitchen (555 Market St.;  501-9158, sandiego.blushicebar.com), whichspecializes in “blushies.” You choose a spirit (vodka, rum, etc.) and add flavored, crushed ice and fruit purée: Voilà, a fortified slushie! My husband chose banana rum, lemon-lime ice and mixed berries; I had the house Vanilla Sky, which was like a piña colada. The jam-packed open-air lounge at Rustic Root (535 5th Ave.;  232-1747, rusticroot.com) features strong drinks (the Manhattan craft cocktail shot was small but mighty), lamp-post lighting and animal-shaped topiary, and overlooks the action on 5th Avenue.