The 26 Most Essential Craft Breweries in San Diego
Welcome to the craft beer capital of America.
The world turns, the tides rise and fall, and new breweries come and go in the city with the best craft brewing scene in the country: San Diego (suck it, Portland). That America’s Finest City loves its craft beer is not exactly news—San Diego's played home to more than 150 operational breweries for a while now—but as the town has matured, so too have the types of breweries popping around town and the tap lists they offer. It's the dawning of a new era in San Diego beer, one marked by fledgling operations and up-and-comers brewing some of the best (and most audacious) beers in the country. It's also marked, unfortunately, by the passing of some of the city’s traditional brewing stalwarts (pour some out for Longship Brewing).
Like the dinner menu at a Cheesecake Factory, though, sometimes 150+ options is a bit more than you bargained for. Sometimes, you’re just dropping by San Diego for a long weekend and want to know the creme de la creme. Sometimes, you don’t want to wade through the not-so-outstanding breweries to find the crown jewels—and, per usual, that’s what we’re here for. We (selflessly) drank lots of local beers and compiled a guide to the best breweries in town, from the well-known to the hidden gems, from the longstanding to the up-and-coming, to help you plan out your next pint. Now go on and get to sippin’.
Originally launching as a tenant in the North Park Brewery Igniter, founder Stephanie Eppig created Eppig Brewing as an homage to her great grandfather, who owned a Brooklyn brewery from the late 1800s until it closed during Prohibition. Along with Eppig’s husband Todd Warshaw and local brewer Clayton LeBlanc, the company expanded to a stunning biergarten along America’s Cup Harbor in Point Loma, as well as their new headquarters, production facility, and bierhalle in Vista. Focusing on artisanal ales and lagers in a family- and pet-friendly environment, the brewery also operates a temporary pop-up venue in the former Waypoint Public space in North Park. Seating is available on a first-come basis. Check the location for days and hours of operation. Order online for pickup or delivery.
Key Beers: Smoked helles oak smoked lager, Beach Beer Mexican-style Vienna lager, Try This! West Coast pale ale.
Puesto Cervecería is the largest in Puesto’s collection of restaurants and features its first craft brewery. Spearheaded by longtime San Diego brewer Doug Hasker, who led Gordon Biersch’s program for more than 20 years, the cervecería specializes in Mexican-style lagers that are also available at Puesto’s nine other California locations. Reservations can be made online and walk-ins are accepted if seating is available. Check the individual location for to go options.
Key Beers: Puesto Mexican Lager, Puesto Mexican Amber, Puesto Mexican Negra Lager
Border X, San Diego's first Latino-owned and operated brewery, is a family affair, founded by brothers David and Marcelino Favela and Marcelino’s two sons, Marcel and Martin. Instead of trying to imitate European beers, they drew inspiration from traditional Latin flavors, first coming up with their flagship Blood Saison, a ruby red beauty rich with tart hibiscus flowers. The brewery soon expanded to Horchata Golden Stout, Abuelita’s Chocolate Stout, and a half-dozen others, earning it a 2020 James Beard Semifinalist nomination along the way. Seating is available on a first-come basis.
Beers to try: Blood Saison, Horchata Golden Stout, Abuelita’s Chocolate Stout
The highly anticipated Mujeres Brew House, San Diego’s first Latina-owned and operated tap room/brewery debuted in the space formerly occupied by Alta Brewing late last year. A partnership between Border X Brewing and Mujeres Brew Club, its mission is to be a welcoming place for women (and anyone!) to learn about, understand, and appreciate craft beer. Headed up by Carmen Favela of Border X and Estela Davila of Mujeres Brew Club, future plans include a behind-the-bar work experience program and a brewing program. The brew house currently serves Border X beer and collaborations between MBC and other local breweries, with plans to add their own beer as it becomes available. Seating is available on a first-come basis. Check Instagram for frequent special events (which may require reservations).
Key Beers: Nuestra Señora Spiced Amber Ale, Cafe Stout, Canción De Sirena Farmhouse Ale
Kairoa is another beautiful ode to a foreign country, designed to evoke the lush scenery, unique cuisine, friendly disposition, and otherworldly hops native to New Zealand—where the owners and head brewer all hail from. Decorated to incorporate aspects from the New Zealand countryside and coasts as well as Maori art into a sleek, modern architecture style, Kairoa specializes in brewing everything from English-style ales to the pale ales San Diegans love, imbued with the hard-to-get New Zealand hop varieties head brewer Joe Peach has direct access to. Seating for under 12 guests is available on a first-come basis. For larger groups, reserve your spot online. Order food, beer and wine for pickup online via Toast.
Key beers: A trio of blondes that includes Sneaky Buggah, (blonde), Cheeky Buggah (Belgian blonde), and Tweaky Buggah, (Yipao coffee-infused blonde) or Rye and Dry, regular or tropical-style with passionfruit, Thai cherry and apricot
BattleMage takes its name from Dungeons and Dragons, the ubiquitous RPG board game that co-founders Ryan Sather and Chris Barry have enjoyed playing for the last 20 years. It’s one thing to have a theme a brewery is passionate about, but to really stand out you have to brew great beer, and BattleMage definitely delivers on the latter front. Like any good wizard, they know the value of experimenting with their potions. Brewers are always willing to add cocoa nibs to a hefeweizen, but as luck would have it, some of their finest brews are the ones that adhere to traditions, like their Shroud of Mist. Seating is available on a first-come basis. Order beer and merch online for pickup or delivery within California.
Key beers: Shroud of Mist hazy IPA, Perception Czech pilsner, Verses of Victory brown ale
Viewpoint Brewing has an unbeatable view that overlooks the San Dieguito Lagoon, and we’d wager that there might be no brewery with a better view in San Diego, plus its outdoor patio is always lively. There's some truly delicious food on the menu (like smoky brisket and an outstanding burger), as well as a constantly rotating tap list that indulges head brewer Moe Katomski’s experimental side. Make reservations for indoor dining via SpotOn, walk-ins will be accepted if seating is available. Order pickup and delivery via DoorDash.
Key beers: San Dieguito Saison, Dias Largos Mexican lager, Moe'saic Pale Ale
The road to Resident Brewing opening its doors was a purely San Diegan one. Head brewer and co-founder Robert Masterson established himself as a master homebrewer in the local circuit, as a side gig from his full-time job as an IT consultant. He won contests hosted by Pizza Port, Karl Strauss, and Stone—the latter of which resulted in the brewing giant releasing his Coconut IPA to the masses. Eventually he decided to make his passion his work, and today, Resident slings wonderfully Americanized versions of English beers and still brews its signature, Vacation Coconut IPA, in a welcoming environment inside The Local downtown. Seating is available on a first-come basis. Order online for pickup.
Key beers: Golden Kiss Saison, Hall Pass Pale Ale, Vacation Coconut IPA
Burgeon, which helped to pioneer Carlsbad’s craft brewing scene, has since opened The Oasis beer garden in Escondido, which is open seven days and hosts a food truck Wednesdays through Sundays; The Arbor in Little Italy, featuring their first scratch kitchen; and The Greenhouse, a gorgeous private event space in Carlsbad. Seating at all locations is on a first-come basis. For menus and to-go options, visit the individual locations page.
Key beers: Juice Press hazy IPA, Invita Mexican lager, Mixed Greens double whirlpooled, double dry hopped West Coast DIPA
Homebrewer extraordinaire Kelsey McNair’s pet project was born in 2016 after a three-year wait, but that anticipation proved to be worth it. Located right in the heart of North Park, the 9,000-square-foot tasting room is huge and ornately decorated, and offers the perfect locale for anyone looking to grab a pint before a night on the town. McNair’s iconic Hop Fu! IPA is the single most award-winning homebrew in history, and is always a safe bet at the brewery. Seating is on a first-come basis. Order online for pickup, delivery or shipping within California.
Key beers: Hop-Fu! West Coast IPA, Art Is Hard hazy IPA, Tikicito Painkiller Sour
Pure Project’s entire oeuvre is unique. It was started in part by a Californian couple who returned to the Golden State after spending years in the Costa Rican jungle and felt inspired to imbue the spirit of the country into a brewery. As a result, many of the beers feature floral and tropical notes like hibiscus you might not expect. But that doesn’t mean Pure Project’s success is based on gimmicks: before finishing its first year of operations, Pure Project had brought home a bronze medal from the Great American Beer Festival for its Roses Red beer. Seating is available on a first-come basis. Dine in and to go hours vary by location, and beer can be shipped within California and Nevada. Check their webpage for new releases and special events.
Key beers: Roses Red oak barrel-aged Flanders red ale, Gaia Belgian golden strong ale, Rain unfiltered pilsner
Bay City has scored multiple awards for its beers and developed a devoted following for their amazing array of juicy, tropical IPAs.The Midway location hosts a fantastic rotating array of food trucks, while East Village has an in-house kitchen slinging wings, pretzels and pizza. Both locations are dog- and kid-friendly. Seating is on a first-come basis.
Key beers: 72 & Hoppy session IPA, Jucci Gang hazy DIPA, Murky Machado hazy IPA
Modern Times has turned the brewing world upside down since its inception. Simply put, they don’t make any bad beers—hell, they make very few that aren’t absolutely fantastic. With a cheeky, fun-above-all mindset highlighted by their membership-based League of Partygoers and Elegant People the brewery specializes in session beers and specialty coffee-flavored releases that capitalize on their in-house coffee roasting. The Midway location has become a destination for beer and coffee lovers alike, while the Encinitas location boasts an outstanding vegan menu. Seating at all locations is on a first-come basis. Tap lists and hours of operation vary, so check your location’s website before heading out.
Key beers: Wizard Nebula hazy IPA, Black House coffee stout, Dungeon Map West Coast IPA
Thorn has made one hell of a name for itself since its initial location opened in 2012. Beyond a sterling reputation for IPAs and a willingness to experiment with their flavors (they famously have a cannabis-flavored session IPA), co-founders Dan Carrico, Dennis O’Connor, and Eric O’Connor founded the initial location on Thorn Street with the goal of becoming a true neighborhood staple. They succeeded, and today the original, homey North Park location is integral to the fabric of the community; it's a place where you’re likely to run into some of the most interesting locals you’ll ever meet (and a handful of dogs) over pints of perfectly brewed pale ales. Indoor dining and patio seating is available on a first-come basis. Tap lists, days and hours of operation vary by location, and beer can be delivered by the keg or case (check out their subscriptions).
Key beers: Relay West Coast IPA, Hopster Pot New England-style hazy IPA, Barrio Lager Baja-style lager
Belching Beaver has made waves in the San Diego beer scene since its start in 2012, and has found massive success. The brewery now ships to eight states outside California, and has five locations in the city. While the names of the brews produced by Belching Beaver might seem a bit sophomoric, their craftsmanship is anything but. Head brewer Thomas Peters has won the renowned Alpha King award twice in his career (most recently in 2017), and seemingly can’t go wrong when it comes to trying out innovative flavors. Seating at all locations is on a first-come basis. Check the individual location for days and hours of operation, as well as pickup and delivery options.
Key beers: Peanut Butter Milk Stout, Hop Highway IPA, Deftones Phantom Bride IPA
Societe Brewing Company doesn’t have the decades-long history of an Alpine or an AleSmith, but it has had a meteoric rise to prominence since opening its doors in 2012, winning West Coaster’s Best Brewery award in 2014 and 2016. The brainchild of brewmaster Travis Smith and brewery curator Douglas Constantiner, Societe makes a bevy of the best damn IPAs you’ll ever have, most notably The Pupil—another one of Beer Advocate’s top beers—and The Coachman, the 2015 gold medal winner at the Great American Beer Festival for session IPAs. Seating is available on a first-come basis. Order online for pick up, delivery and shipping services.
Key beers: The Pupil San Diego IPA, The Coachman session IPA, The Debutant Belgian amber ale
With rooftops overlooking Pacific Beach and Petco Park, Amplified Ale Works is another ideal option for pairing a great beer with a view. The brewery's decorated with a collection of music memorabilia, there's always good tunes playing, and head brewer Cy Henley even gives musically inspired names to his brews. On top of all that, the kitchen makes some of the best kebabs you’ll find anywhere in San Diego, which can make it feel next to impossible to actually leave the brewery. Seating at all locations is on a first-come basis. Check the individual location for days and hours of operation, as well as pickup and delivery options.
Key beers: Black is Beautiful imperial stout, Rare Form bourbon barrel aged Belgian quad, Stratacaster! hazy IPA
Lost Abbey was spawned in 2006 when, as we told you earlier, Tomme Arthur left Pizza Port to start Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey. Port Brewing retained its West Coast beer style, but The Lost Abbey went about brewing a Belgian-inspired line of beers, and we're all the better for it. No other brewery on this list offers the type of specialty beers that The Lost Abbey does, and if you want to try one of the most original brews in the city, go for the Duck Duck Gooze—or, if you're not one for sour beers, go for the Lost and Found Dubbel. Seating at all locations is on a first-come basis, but check your location for days and hours of operation.
Key beers: Duck Duck Gooze, Lost and Found Dubbel, Red Barn farmhouse ale
When the craft beer explosion of the mid-2000s happened, Green Flash was at the forefront of the movement, led by San Diego brewing legend (and former brewmaster) Chuck Silva, who brewed a handful of the hop-heavy IPAs. The beauty of Green Flash’s IPAs, though, was how they balanced their intense hop notes, and perhaps no beer better embodied that than the legendary West Coast IPA, with its tropical grapefruit and floral body. That innovative spirit lives on with original beers like Green Flash’s Hop Head Red, and the new Soul Style IPA. Seating in the beer garden is on a first-come basis.
Key beers: West Coast IPA, Wild is the Wind Belgian-style wild ale, Saturhaze hazy session IPA
San Diego is sprawling, and as tempting as it is for a casual beer fan to not venture past the breweries in the more central locations of the city, sometimes you need to make a hike, namely to Alpine Beer Company. If you're the type to put stock in beer rankings (and really, why wouldn't you?), here's where we tell you that BeerAdvocate lists the brewery’s Keene Idea Double IPA as one of the 120 best beers in the world. Seating is available on a first-come basis.
Key beers: Duet West Coast IPA, Nelson golden rye IPA, Smoke on the Lager smoked helles
Founded by Greg Koch and Steve Wagner, Stone made its name by being boldly unapologetic, and no beer embodies that more than its flagship Arrogant Bastard Ale: a beer so renowned it birthed its own separate brewing company, Arrogant Brewing. Stone never backed away from its ideals, and the results speak for themselves: It's been voted as RateBeer’s “Best California Brewery” and “Best Place to Grab a Beer,” and its Russian Imperial Stout is sought after across the globe. Seating at all locations is on a first-come basis. Order online for pickup or delivery within California.
Key beers: Scorpion Bowl IPA, Neverending Haze IPA, Dayfall Belgian White
Of all the staple beers made by San Diego breweries—the Red Trolley Ales, the Speedway Stouts, the Arrogant Bastard Ales—none are as nationally ubiquitous and uniformly delicious as Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA. And yet, while Sculpin consistently ranks among the best beers in the country, the brewery hasn’t rested on its laurels: Of its three current locations, Ballast Point uses its spot in Little Italy purely for experimentation in the hopes of creating San Diego’s next truly iconic beer. Seating at all locations is on a first-come basis. Order from your location for pickup or delivery.
Key beers: Sculpin IPA, Victory at Sea imperial porter, Longfin lager
Whereas many of the city’s best breweries came out of the industrial sprawl that is Miramar, Ron and Rick Chapman picked their hometown of Coronado to put down roots in 1996. Twenty-plus years later, they’re still staying true to their mission statement of staying coastal by brewing beers inspired by beaches across the globe, with citrus and tropical notes like orange and guava to match. Seating at all locations is on a first-come basis. Order from your location for pickup or delivery.
Key beers: Weekend Vibes IPA, Salty Crew blonde ale, Never Better DIPA
Having taken home the Champion Brewery award at a few San Diego International Beer Festivals, AleSmith clearly doesn’t need any more recognition in this town. That said, if you're reading this and you're somehow unfamiliar with this brewery, go out to its sprawling, state-of-the-art headquarters and get acquainted. AleSmith’s offerings are incredibly well-balanced and universally excellent, from its IPAs to its Anvil ESB, though none is as legendary as the Speedway Stout and all of its varietals, which has achieved almost mythic status in the national beer scene. Seating is available on a first-come basis. Order online for delivery within California and Nevada.
Key beers: Speedway Stout Russian imperial stout, AleSmith IPA, Horny Devil Belgian strong golden ale
The beauty of Karl Strauss is that it brews a multitude of different beer types, all exceptionally well, the most well-known of which is the inimitable Red Trolley Ale. Karl’s take on an Irish Red has won a slew of gold medals at the World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival, and it rose to international renown at a time when the city was primarily known for its extremely hoppy IPAs. Red Trolley aside, Karl also makes award-winning brews across the spectrum including its Mosaic Session IPA and its Windansea Wheat. Seating at all locations is on a first-come basis. Check the location for days and hours of operation.
Key beers: Frank the Dank DIPA, Wreck Alley imperial stout, Aurora Hoppyalis IPA
Pizza Port is as San Diegan as a sunburn in January, or being completely incapable of merging onto a freeway at an acceptable speed. Since its founding in 1987, it’s expanded to include five locations, and has birthed two offshoot breweries (Lost Abbey and Port Brewing Company), but the original is still king in our eyes. Pizza Port has collected over 90 medals at the Great American Beer Festival, and has an absolutely stunning range of brews that rotate through its five locations. Try the Kook DIPA or the Swami’s IPA, two of the many staple beers of the Pizza Port empire. Seating at all locations is on a first-come basis. Check the location for days and hours of operation, pickup and delivery options. The Carlsbad bottle shop is temporarily closed.
Key beers: Swami’s IPA, Ponto Session IPA, Kook DIPA