The 13 Best Breweries in San Francisco Right Now
From ales and lagers to IPAs, stouts, and more.
First, let’s start with some fun facts from the California Craft Brewers Association: 1. Nearly 95 % of California residents live within ten miles of a brewery. 2. There are more than 1,100 craft breweries in operation across the state, more than any other state in the nation. And 3. The San Francisco Bay Area was the birthplace of craft beer in the US. Okay, so maybe that last one’s only fun if you actually live here, but we’re into it!
However, even though there are over 300 breweries in Northern California and over 1,100 in the entire state, SF went a really, really long time with only a handful of places that served up beer directly from the source. Now, thanks to the craft beer boom from a few years ago, breweries in the city are thriving more than ever. In fact, there are over 30 breweries in SF proper that belong to the San Francisco Brewers Guild, and of those members, these are our 13 favorites. Drink up!
If you like to really nerd out about beer, Black Hammer Brewing is your spot. The beer is made by two guys, one who earned awards for his home brews and one who was a chemical engineer. Together, they create all kinds of ales and lagers using a mix of traditional methods and science experiments. The brewery–which doubles as a great spot to work from since it has outlets everywhere to encourage just that—has 14 fermenters and the beers change daily as inspiration strikes. Though not a brewery, Black Hammer is also behind Willkommen in the Castro, a “Beer Garden & Sausage Haus” where you can get, well… beer and sausage.
When you think of New Belgian Brewing, you probably think of Fat Tire and Colorado, but now you can also think of SF as the home of its first flagship restaurant and taproom. Located in Mission Bay, close to both the Giants and the Warriors, New Belgian’s full-service spot can handle the crowds indoors and on the waterfront patio (canal, not Bay). You can order a bunch of the New Belgium classics, but what you should do instead is try the small-batch releases brewed on-site, like the Cali Wit, a wheat beer with a twist of lime that goes down easy.
Local Brewing truly keeps it local with a slew of beers made by head brewer and co-founder Regan Long who holds degrees in physics and oceanography, has tons of experience in science, and is just an all-around badass, but especially when it comes to her approachable beers with clever and often Bay Area-based names. The taproom has a dozen rotating beers, all brewed on-site, and a stellar food situation complete with pizzettes, sandwiches, and sausages. A great stop pre-Giants game or just any time at all.
Ocean Beach/Golden Gate Park
Park Chalet’s biggest draw may be its expansive dog-friendly lawn where one can often find live music, but the hand-crafted ales and lagers are all plenty of reason for a visit to the beach. The beers are pretty traditional: honey wheat, West Coast IPA, Kolsch, etc., but that just means there’s something for almost every kind of beer drinker. You can’t get the beers anywhere else, but you can take them home in a growler. (And fine, you can also find them at their sister restaurant, Beach Chalet, which is the beer’s namesake, but those in the know understand that Beach Chalet is for tourists and Park Chalet is for the rest of us.)
21st Amendment moved most of its beer production to a sprawling brewery in San Leandro, but the brewers at the SF location still produce a couple of new small-batch one-off releases every week, which means it qualifies for this list. The brewery—named after the amendment that ended prohibition—has a couple of year-round beers (the Brew Free or Die IPA is probably the most popular) but is also known for its seasonal beers, specifically Hell or High Watermelon wheat beer.
Sapporo may have bought this historic brewery responsible for the first craft beer in America in 2017, but it still is—and always will be—a favorite staple of the San Francisco beer scene, as proven by the fact that it’s been around for 125 years. The brewery offers public tours and tasting (re-opening soon), but if you want to just drink your beer without 45-minutes of walking and learning beforehand, head to Public Taps (an indoor/outdoor space across the street from the brewery), where you can get beers exclusively brewed for the space. Definitely try some of those, but don’t shy away from ordering the classic Anchor Steam Beer as well. Yes, we know you can get it at pretty much any grocery store in the Bay Area, but it 100% tastes different—and better—fresh from the keg.
Cellarmaker is quite possibly SF’s most popular brewery and it’s not because they make an awesome flagship beer. It’s the exact opposite. The owners/brewers at Cellarmaker say they’d be bored making the same couple of beers all of the time, so instead, they’re constantly producing small batches of experimental beers. There are 12 beers on tap in the cozy tasting room, and although you can’t count on drinking whatever it is you loved the last time you were in, you can count on three to four of the taps pouring some of the best hoppy IPAs you’ll ever drink. Pro-tips: 1. Bring your growler if you want to take some home. 2. If you would like some of SF’s best Detroit-style pizza with your beer (which you do), head to Cellarmaker House of Pizza in the Mission, where there are nine beers on tap.
Fort Point came onto the SF beer scene in 2014 and found instant popularity. The secret to its success is found in its approachability. It’s kind of like that kid in high school who is genuinely nice to everyone—thoughtful, balanced, and easy to be around. The main brewery is in a historic Crissy Field building that was once used as an Army motor pool but isn’t allowed to serve the public. But there’s also a much smaller brewing operation in the Lower Haight, and at that one, you can also get six kinds of hot dogs and even a few cocktails. Fort Point also has a “flagship beer hall” in the Mission (temporarily closed because of COVID) and a cozy kiosk in the Ferry Building.
Thirsty Bear is San Francisco’s first and only certified organic brewery, so if you want to drink organic beer brewed in SF (and eat Spanish tapas), this is the place to go. The brewmaster uses a “singular German-influenced West Coast style of brewing” (he studied Brewing Technology in Munich) and emphasizes pilsners, IPAs, stouts, Belgian-inspired ales, session beers, and barrel-aged beers. So, basically, if you can’t find something you like on the list, it might mean you actually don’t like beer. If you’re not sure what you want, get the sampler—three ounces of all of the nine beers on draft for $15.
This industrial-style small-batch brewery is popular because of its inventive California-meets-Belgian style beer, but also because there’s almost always something fun going on there, like trivia, pinball, collabs with other breweries, food trucks, and lots of employees who love to talk about beer. There are 16 rotating taps in the 1,000-square foot tasting room (there’s also a parklet), and if the Rhubarbra Strawsand Sour (a sour ale with a focus on rhubarb and accents of strawberry) is available, definitely get that one.
Dogpatch and Upper Haight
Brewmaster Dave McLean started brewing balanced, sessionable beers in a seven-barrel brewery in the basement of the Haight Street brewpub in 1997. Today, Magnolia brews dozens of beers that run the gamut of flavors and styles, so you can always find whatever you’re craving. McLean is no longer a part of Magnolia, but the beer remains as interesting and innovative as ever. The Haight Street location still has a couple of beers on tap along with some tasty pub fare, but if you’re looking to sample it all, eat food from a Michelin-starred chef, or watch the game, the spacious Dogpatch location—brewery, restaurant, and beer garden—is the spot. It’s also the spot if you have friends who aren’t into beer since it has a full bar as well.
Mission Bay and Outer Sunset
Seven Stills (a play on the seven hills of SF) makes craft beer and craft whiskey distilled from craft beer, which means it is automatically one of our favorites in the city. The thing to do is taste a beer AND the whiskey made from that beer side-by-side. The main location has a pretty good menu of “bar” food (as much as one can find actual “bar” food in SF), as does the Outer Sunset Taproom, a “no-frills” experience (compared to the one in Mission Bay), but with a view of the ocean.
“You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” was never more true than when Speakeasy suddenly shut down in 2017. Maybe most San Franciscans hadn’t had a Big Daddy IPA or Prohibition Ale in years, but to not even have the option to drink Speakeasy’s bold, complex beers was too much to handle. Luckily, it was brought back to life a few months later, and we’ll never take it for granted again. The prohibition era-themed taproom has 17 beers on draft, including the aforementioned two usual suspects, but the move is to try a limited release.