13 LGBTQ-owned businesses that help San Diego stay classy and sassy

San Diego Hillcrest LGBTQ-owned Urban Mo's
Drag Mural, photo from Urban Mo’s Facebook

Set on the Pacific coast, and known for its sunny weather, beaches, and parks, it’s no wonder San Diego is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the United States. In addition, the city is an art and culture powerhouse steeped in a rich Indigenous American and Spanish colonial history.

Having grown into such a large city, San Diego has, of course, created unique neighborhoods. The widely renowned “gayborhood” Hillcrest has become home to many businesses that not only cater to the LGBTQ+ community but are owned by queer individuals.

Finding these spots can be hard without a guide. On your visit, take a cruise across the city and discover the LGBTQ+ business owners that make their homes among the mesas and canyons of the city. Here are some of our favorites:

Catch the ultimate drag show at Lips

Owned by Mark Zschiesche, who also goes by the drag moniker Yvonne Lame, Lips was opened in 1999. Made to be the West Coast Companion to the NYC drag restaurant, Lips has the best of both worlds.

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Lips Restaurant

The ultimate drag dining

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Hungry visitors can expect favorites like Atlantic Salmon, Curried Vegetables, and Sirloin Steak. Their menu is a tier above the rest, but it’s the servers that attract all the attention. Strolling around in 5-inch heels, the drag waitresses work both the serving floor and the stage. On top of that, their cocktails will keep you in the party mood—we recommend the Hot Wed Pussy, a sweet and sour fruity drink spiked with Bacardi 151.

Gossip Grill says “welcome home, beautiful”

Owner Moe Girton opened Gossip Grill in 2009 with a mission in mind. She wanted to provide a safe space for women and queer folx by showing people what it feels like to “have a seat and a voice at the table.” Today, it’s one of the only women’s bar in SoCal and so an important part of the social landscape for many.

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Gossip Grill

For the ladies who love to munch!

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The spot is bathed in the velveteen sun that shines on Hillcrest during the day. However, at night, the neon lights and disco ball paint the bar with a pink glow. On a street full of boy bars, the ambiance of Gossip Grill provides a much-needed reprieve from the testosterone that dominates University Avenue.

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Baja Betty’s is “home sweet homo”

Stefan Chilcot along with restauranteur power couple Chris Shaw and Doug Snyder are the main names behind Baja Betty’s. The restaurant has been serving Cal-Mex food to the LGBTQ+ community since 2004.

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Baja Betty’s

Gayborhood favorite

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This isn’t like your favorite taco stand or beloved fast-food spot. While the food is exactly what you would expect—tacos, fajitas, and loaded steak fries—the drinks are something else. Their signature margarita will take you on a citrus-induced trip to Mexico. It’s no wonder they’ve perfected the craft—upon walking in, you’ll see the 100+ bottles of tequila they carry.

Cozy up at Harley Gray

A few blocks west of Hillcrest, on the corner of Washington and Goldfinch St, you’ll find Harley Gray. When owner John Ealy opened the restaurant, he wanted to make a space that has a small, family feel.

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Harley Gray Kitchen & Bar

Home on the Hill

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The corner restaurant’s expansive windows allow sunlight to flood the dining area, where it bounces off the white walls and countertops. We recommend stopping by for their brunch service when an abundance of people and plenty of mimosas bring the diner to life.

Hillcrest Brewing Company pours friendship by the pint

Hillcrest Brewing Company is one of several companies owned by MO’s Universe, which in turn is owned by the aforementioned Chris Shaw and Doug Snyder. The managing partner at HBC is Joey Arruda who has been involved with SoCal’s bar scene since 2004.

San Diego

Hillcrest Brewing Company

World’s First Gay Brewery

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Walking into HBC, you’re met with hardwood finishings, exposed stainless steel beer barrels, and a tall ceiling. Tall, wide windows and a fifteen-foot chandelier made of beer bottles make this spacious spot rustic charm. Known for being the first LGBTQ+ brewing company, HBC has become a landmark in Hillcrest.

Pride is celebrated every day at Urban MO’s

Doug Snyder and Chris Shaw had been together and active in the San Diego LGBTQ+ community for over ten years when they decided to open Urban MO’s in 1992. Since then, it has been a staple in the community.

San Diego

Urban MO’s Bar & Grill

Fun in the heart of SD

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Urban MO’s is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s a restaurant, a bar, a nightclub, and the heart of Hillcrest. During the day, the many windows allow the sun to filter in and light the broad dining area. However, at night, the tables are pushed aside to make room for the neon-lit dancers and party-goers.

NEXT PAGE: More LGBTQ-owned businesses in San Diego