While that type of purposeful drinking is a noble goal, obligatory stops can also take some of the fun out of it. Plus, let’s face it -- not every brewery in San Diego should be at the top of your list. But there are more than a few to keep you occupied, and luckily there are plenty of pub and brewery tours -- some DIY, some luxury group excursions -- specifically designed to help you hit the hot spots and avoid the dud suds. Visitors and locals alike, take note.
North County is a sprawling suburb of industrial parks and beach towns separated by seemingly endless stretches of depressingly drab freeways and strip malls. Sounds great, right? Well, actually, snuggled betwixt Carl’s Jrs. and discount tire stores are some of the best breweries in San Diego (and thus, in the country). Sheer distance between them makes a party bus or other form of guided tour the recommendation here. You might not custom-tailor your tour, but rest assured you’ll end your day with incredible beers sloshing around your belly. And if you get tired of enjoying the comfortable, but often repetitive tasting room architecture, hit up the fried fare at Churchill’s Pub & Grille, a British-style institution in San Marcos.
Must-see breweries: Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens (Escondido), The Lost Abbey/Port Brewing (San Marcos), Toolbox Brewing Company (Vista), Abnormal Beer Company (Rancho Bernardo), and Rip Current Brewing (San Marcos).
If you’re extra thirsty: Karl Strauss Brewing Company (Carlsbad), Bagby Beer Company (Oceanside), Pizza Port Brewing Company and bottle shop (Carlsbad), Mother Earth Brewing Company (Vista), and Belching Beaver Brewing Company (Vista).
Tours & pricing: Starting at $89 per person, Scavengers offers a North County safari-style ride for up to 12 people that includes three breweries, beer samples at each stop, a BBQ lunch, and a tasting glass. You can choose from three pre-planned routes or request a custom route, and they proudly proclaim that every excursion is headed by an “authentic ‘beer geek’ tour guide.” San Diego Brew Tours offers a “North County IPA Brewery Route” and a “Surfrider Brewery Route,” which seems to be the more scenic and slightly more legit set of brewery options, but is limited to groups of eight people.
North Park/South Park
North Park is hands-down the best beer neighborhood in the city. It’s walkable, bikeable, and perfect for the DIY drinker who wants to experience the best of San Diego beer without an itinerary, with plenty of restaurants and small shops for detours.
Known as “The best beer street in America,” 30th St runs from Adams Ave in Normal Heights, through North Park and South Park, and down into Golden Hill. Serious drinkers will want to focus on the 1.5-mile stretch between Adams Ave and Upas St. Stroll from Fall Brewing to Toronado in minutes, or branch off at 30th and University Ave to visit North Park Beer Company for a pint of the award-winning Hop-Fu! IPA.
Must-see breweries & pubs: Fall Brewing Company (North Park), Modern Times (North Park), Toronado (North Park), Hamilton’s Tavern (South Park), North Park Beer Company (North Park), Blind Lady Ale House (Normal Heights), and ChuckAlek Biergarten (North Park).
Tours & pricing: If walking isn’t your style or you have a larger group, Social Cycle is a party bike pub crawl that irritates motorists but seems to delight buzzed riders as they lazily pedal their way from brewery to brewery. The 16-passenger “party on wheels” offers tours in various parts of the city (including North Park) and starts at $185 an hour, with a two-hour minimum.
For more curation, find the third Wednesday San Diego DrinkAbout, a seven-year-strong (free!) guided beer bus tour from 7pm to 11:30pm among a mix of dive bars and taverns that boast some of the city’s best tap lists. For a slightly less sideways experience, the South Park Walkabout is a quarterly tradition that provides a great way for locals and visitors to enjoy South Park’s best restaurants and bars with a late-night camaraderie (also free).
Tijuana/South San Diego
Don’t be scurred to go south of the border -- you’ll be rewarded with some of the most vibrant beers in the region. Plus, southern San Diego and the accompanying border towns of Mexico often blend food and drink excursions, so why settle for just beer? Try SALUD! in Barrio Logan for Mexican/American-style tacos or stop by Telefonica Gastro Park in Tijuana for authentic Mexican sustenance between brewery hopping.
Must-see breweries & pubs: Cervecería Insurgente (Tijuana), Coronado Brewing Company (Imperial Beach), Mamut Brewery (Tijuana), Border X Brewing (Barrio Logan), and Machete Beer House (National City).
Tours & pricing: You like your adventures half-planned, half seat-of-your-pants? Book a tour through Baja California with Turista Libre, starting at $65 a head. You’re guaranteed the stops listed on the tour (which are updated occasionally), but the American expat running the tour group will gauge the group's willingness to stray off the beaten path for extra stops (and thus, extra who-knows-what). Let's Go Clandestino offers similarly guided packages for beer and wine tours with a slightly more elevated feel, as well as customizable private tours across Baja that start at around $100 per person and go up from there.
Club Tengo Hambre offers the best Tijuana food and beer combo tour that starts at $75; with three food stops, three craft brewery stops, and a mezcal service on your private bus, it’s a pretty incredible deal. Finally, any brewery stop this side of the border -- especially those in Barrio Logan and National City -- are easy Uber/Lyft rides from Downtown (but you probably won’t want to try to hoof it from there).
Miramar and Mid-County
Ah, Beeramar. The heart of San Diego also happens to be the heart of craft beer country. This central region, convenient to virtually everyone in the county, is home to some of the best breweries in the city. You can get a beer bus tour or do it yourself, but a day in Miramar will yield excellent results for the serious beer tourist. A word of caution -- it also happens to be home to some of the controversially owned “sellout” breweries like Saint Archer and Ballast Point, so if you want to stay true to “craft” beer, do your research before embarking on your beer exodus.
Must-see breweries & pubs: AleSmith Brewing Company (Miramar), Mikkeller San Diego (Miramar), Societe Brewing Company (Kearny Mesa), Green Flash /Cellar 3 (Mira Mesa/Poway), O’Brien's Pub (Kearny Mesa), and Council Brewing Company (Kearny Mesa).
Tours & pricing: Starting at $75, Brewery Tours of San Diego has a three-brewery tour option with stops at Ballast Point Scripps Ranch, Green Flash, and AleSmith that includes flights, a behind-the-scenes brewhouse tour, lunch at Green Flash’s Gastro Truck, and a souvenir glass. This is a good option for the aspiring beer enthusiast, but San Diego Brew Tours’ private tours are a better option for those looking to personalize their route with a small group. Starts at $45 per person.
Pretty much anywhere you go in San Diego has at least one craft brewery or taproom to try. Hardcore beer nerds will probably want to make the journey to Alpine Beer Company for a pint of fresh Nelson (don’t bother calling it Gelson -- get over it already) and a plate of BBQ, but there are plenty of places along the coast and Downtown that are worth a visit.
For those looking to get a little wild, head to Pacific Beach or Ocean Beach for a true-blue pub crawl between places like Barrel Republic, Culture Brewing Co., Helm’s Brewing, Amplified Ale Works, and more. Just leave enough juice on your phone to hail a car home afterward.
Downtown is home to plenty of cocktail-forward options: the not-so-secret Noble Experiment, Tiki concept False Idol, whiskey-centric Aero Club, and the painfully hip lounge El Dorado. But there’s no shortage of beer to be had as well. Head to Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery for the best cheesesteak and craft beer combo in town, or flip a coin between Karl Strauss Little Italy and Quad Ale House for a slightly elevated take on San Diego's food and drink pairing scene.
If all of this sounds overwhelming, here’s the easiest tour in town. During baseball season you can head to Petco Park, where beers from at least 15 different breweries will complement your afternoon cheering on the Padres. They’ll sell you a cup of macrobrew as well. But when you’re here, why drink anything less than true, independent, local craft beer?
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1. Churchill's Pub and Grille887 W San Marcos Blvd, San Marcos
2. Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens1999 Citracado Pkwy, Escondido
3. The Lost Abbey155 Mata Way, San Marcos
4. Toolbox Brewing Co.1495 Poinsettia Ave Ste 148, Vista
5. Abnormal Beer Company16990 Via Tazon Ste 124, San Diego
6. Rip Current Brewing1325 Grand Ave, San Marcos
7. Karl Strauss Brewery & Restaurant5801 Armada Dr, Carlsbad
8. Bagby Beer Co601 S Coast Hwy, Oceanside
9. Pizza Port571 Carlsbad Village Dr, Carlsbad
10. Mother Earth Brew Co.206 Main St, Vista
11. Belching Beaver Brewery980 Park Center Dr, Vista
12. Fall Brewing Company4542 30th St, San Diego
13. Modern Times Flavordome3000 Upas St, San Diego
14. Toronado4026 30th St, San Diego
15. Hamilton's Tavern1521 30th St, San Diego
16. North Park Beer Company3038 University Ave, San Diego
17. Blind Lady Ale House3416 Adams Ave, Normal Heights
18. ChuckAlek Biergarten3139 University Ave Ste B, San Diego
19. Tiger!Tiger!3025 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego
20. Mike Hess Brewing3812 Grim Ave, San Diego
21. Bottlecraft Beer Shop3007 University Ave, San Diego
22. South Park Brewing Company1517 30th St, San Diego
23. Salud San Diego2196 Logan Ave, San Diego
24. Telefónica Gastro Park,
25. Cerveceria InsurgentePlaza Fiesta S/N, Tijuana
26. Coronado Brewing Company875 Seacoast Dr, Imperial Beach
27. Mamut Brewing Co.Pasaje Rodriguez, Tijuana
28. Border X Brewing Tasting Room2181 Logan Ave, San Diego
29. Machete Beer House2325 Highland Ave, National City
30. Third Avenue Alehouse319 3rd Ave, Chula Vista
31. El TigreStreet Paseo de los Heroes # 10001, Zona Rio, Tijuana, Tijuana
32. Iron Fist Brewery Barrio Logan1985 National Ave Ste 1132, San Diego
33. Border Psycho Brewery,
34. AleSmith Brewing Company9990 Alesmith Ct, San Diego
35. Mikkeller Brewing San Diego9366 Cabot Dr, San Diego
36. Societe Brewing8262 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego
37. Green Flash Brewing Company6550 Mira Mesa Blvd, San Diego
38. Cellar 312260 Crosthwaite Cir, Poway
39. O'Brien's Pub4646 Convoy St, San Diego
40. Council Brewing Co.7705 Convoy Ct, San Diego
41. White Labs Tasting Room9495 Candida St, Mira Mesa
42. Common Theory Public House4805 Convoy St, San Diego
43. New English Brewing Company11545 Sorrento Valley Rd, San Diego
44. Alpine Beer Company Pub1347 Tavern Rd, Ste C, Alpine
45. Barrel Republic1261 Garnet Ave, San Diego
46. Culture Brewing Co.4845 Newport Ave, San Diego
47. Helm's Brewing Co. Tasting Room4896 Newport Ave, San Diego
48. Amplified Ale Works4150 Mission Blvd #208, San Diego
49. Noble Experiment777 G St, San Diego
50. False Idol675 W Beech St, San Diego
51. The Aero Club Bar3365 India St, San Diego
52. El Dorado1030 Broadway, San Diego
53. Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery805 16th St, San Diego
54. Karl Strauss Brewing Company1157 Columbia St, San Diego
55. Quad Alehouse868 5th Ave, Level 3, San Diego
56. Petco Park100 Park Blvd, San Diego
North County’s Churchill Pub & Grille is an English pub in the mold of the mother country. Drinkers have their pick of some 30 draft beers, plus rare local and global bottled brews. As if that wasn’t enough to fill you, a dining room with a rustic air serves elevated pub fare at chipped wooden tables. American patriots can still indulge in their chicken wings and Reuben sandwiches, but those with the Queen in their heart will find solace in fish & chips or bangers & mash. Pool and dart games get wobblier with time.
A one-acre beer garden and serene koi ponds make the cold beers all the more enjoyable at Stone Brewing's Escondido location. Stone Brewing's brews are known for their bold and hoppy flavor, while its food stand outs for its local and organic ingredients. Items like tiger shrimp ceviche, rice noodles with spicy lamb and chile oil, and slow-braised duck tinga tacos exemplify the global tone of the bistro.
The Lost Abbey is a haven for beer lovers and anyone fascinated by monastic traditions (bonus points for those who are both). Imagined as part of a crusade in an ongoing battle between “good” and “evil” beers, the Lost Abbey produces a range of beers that nod to austere Belgian brewing traditions. Decorated with ornate crucifixes and fiery, apocalyptic art, this San Marcos tasting room houses two large bars and a 42-tap system that pours up to 24 different Port Brewing, Lost Abbey, and Hop Concept beers made on-site. Opt for 4oz tasters, 64oz growler fills, or limited special release bottles to take home.
The Toolbox Brewing Company might not offer tours of its brew house, but it does maintain an open brewing environment for all to see at its Vista tasting room. On offer at Toolbox Brewing Company are both seasonal sours and wood- and barrel-aged beers that are fermented and aged in either French or American oak barrels for four to 12 months with various wild yeasts. Be sure to order Toolbox’s notorious Purple Drink, which is a fruity mixture of tart wild ale with boysenberries. The tasting room is family-friendly and also welcomes service dogs -- just keep a watchful eye on your drinks.
Perhaps Abnormal Beer Co. is abnormal because it artfully (and successfully) combines three of our favorite things: brewery, winery, and fine dining. The brewery churns out beers that are drinkable, full-flavored, and easily paired with the food that is served in the adjoining open-kitchen restaurant space Cork and Craft. The food program is elevated New American fare, with entrees like black truffle-roasted game hen bookended by starters like wagyu beef tartare with Fresno chilies, Asian pears, miso aioli, pickled mushrooms, and crispy wonton and desserts like gingerbread cheesecake with caramel corn. Favorite house-made wines include No. 04 chardonnay with notes of apple and pear and No. 01 Chocolate Berry port, which is sinfully sweet and deceptively strong.
Rip Current Brewing values variety over volume, meaning exquisitely crafted, creative small-batch brews for your tasting pleasure (courtesy of Master beer judge Paul Sangster and his partner Guy Shobe). On tap at the San Marcos tasting room are bold, expressive beers like the fruity Pearling Pale Ale, refreshing Orange Honey Cream Ale, and malty Black Lagoon Scottish Strong. Food trucks stop by nightly, which proves helpful in weighing all those bubbles down.
Karl Strauss Brewing Company’s Carlsbad location offers the craft beer giant’s signature brews, like the Wreck Alley Imperial Stout, made with darkly kilned malts, cocoa nibs, and Ethiopian coffee beans, and the Red Trolley Ale with caramelized malts, hops, and hints of raisins and currants. Complement your bubbly beverage with some bar bites: Karl Strauss dishes out earthy truffle fries, duck fat pretzel bites, beer-braised smoked pork belly, and the crowd-favorite gooey mac and cheese with large elbow noodles, Gorgonzola, Gruyere, and Cheddar.
An ambitious brewery taphouse can’t simply have one bar, it has to have many: Oceanside’s Bagby Beer Co sports a 20-barrel brewing system and presents multiple bars and dining areas in a former Saab dealership. On the ground floor, you'll find a pub with 40-plus taps and bar food like pizza and burgers, while upstairs offers more of a beer garden vibe, also with a 40-tap bar. Did we mention the separate tasting room? Bagby's mile-long beer list is varied, and before you venture into guest brews, try one of the house beers.
What's better than pizza and beer? Nothing, obviously. This California brewery chain specializes in house-made pizza and beer. The pizza menu includes over-the-top creations like a barbecue bacon cheeseburger pie but the original recipes, like the pepperoni, mushroom, onion, and artichoke-topped Pizza Monterey are must-orders. Meanwhile, Pizza Port's hoppy beers have won countless awards for their uniqueness -- the head brewer at each location dreams up their own beer recipe, so the drafts truly are house exclusives.
Mother Earth Brewing Company develops handcrafted artisanal ales in both year-round and seasonal offerings. Best known for its Cali Creamin, a cream ale flavored by Madagascar vanilla bean, and its Sin Tax, an imperial peanut butter stout, the brewery boasts a large tap room in Downtown Vista that is both family- and pet-friendly. While there are no house-made food offerings, URBN Pizza just across the street will hand-deliver savory bites to your table, making for an ideal pizza-beer arrangement.
Belching Beaver Company crafts seven distinct beers, the gem of which is the Peanut Butter Milk stout enriched with rolled oats and lactose to create a sugary, buttery flavor. Enjoy this and other malty concoctions at the microbrewery, which boasts one of the best outdoor patios in the city, complete with fire pit.
You’ve probably sipped on Ray Astamendi’s Fall Brewing Company beers at local San Diego restaurants and bars, meaning you already have reason to go and visit the tasting room. In typical brewery fashion, Fall Brewing Company is designed with a muted palette of greys and browns, constructed with concrete, and topped with an exposed-beam ceiling. When you stop by, you’ll want to taste favorites like the 2am Bike Ride (a coffee bean and vanilla stout), Green Hat (a hop-forward IPA), and the bourbon barrgel-aged lager Jinxremover. After a few drinks and some food truck snacks, you’ll likely get caught taking a highly embarrassing photo with company mascot and tasting room legend Eggmund (otherwise known as drunk Humpty Dumpty) -- it happens to everyone.
Modern Times' tasting room, the Flavordome, is located in North Park, and like the Point Loma location, this spot has some interesting design elements -- think upside down lampshades covering the ceiling and an epic mosaic mural covering one of the walls. There are 16 Modern Times brews on tap at this location, so hang on the patio and try them all, or get a growler full of your favorite to take home. Modern Times doesn't serve food, but you can bring your own or have snacks delivered straight to your table from Tacos Perla, and if you plan on tasting all 16 beers, that’s probably a good idea.
This San Diego offshoot of the famed San Francisco beer bar boasts over 50 taps, rivaled only by its extensive, delectable food offerings. Pair Russian River’s Pliny the Elder or a Belgian Blaugies D’Arbyste with snacks like jalapeno corn cakes, maple-glazed beet skewers, and sausage sandwiches (there’s an entire menu section devoted to frank varieties like smoked beer and jalapeno Cheddar). Toronado has dive bar deco down to a tee, with sticker- and button-plastered walls illuminated by neon lights and ventilated by antiquated ceiling fans.
Housed in the oldest beer- and wine- licensed location in San Diego, Hamilton’s Tavern is a traditional neighborhood drinkery in the heart of South Park. Named after Marine veteran Herman Hamilton who frequents the bar religiously, Hamilton’s is rooted in a commitment to unparalleled hospitality, making you feel more like a friend than a customer, whether you come in for a beer or a meal. In addition to potato concoctions like garlic truffle tots and Blair-style tots smothered in garlic, green onions, bacon, and Cheddar, snacks include Baja chili dogs, hush puppies, buffalo wings, and banh mi sandwiches. The California-centric beer program features Monkey Paw Brewing Co., Russian River Brewing Co., and other local craft breweries.
North Park Beer is a spacious brewpub that specializes in San Diego-style ales and lagers. Though there’s plenty of seating, the place is often packed at peak dinner hours thanks to above-average bar food. Be sure to order a plate of pig fries, which feature a pile of crispy pork belly, slow-roasted pork, chicharrones, and sausage with spicy aioli. Fatty never tasted so good.
Sometimes known as BLAH, this Normal Heights beer bar and pizza-centric restaurant is anything but. It’s a fine go-to for vegetarians, neighborhood locals with kids, and anyone who appreciates a great thin-crust pie. Pizza varieties run the gamut from margherita and four-cheese to the heavy-loaded egg & bacon, decked out with Swiss chard, caramelized onion, and truffle oil. Pizza and beer, works every time.
North Park’s ChuckAlek Biergarten is an outdoor-seating-only, community-conscious biergarten that shares its space with a children’s playground, an urban garden, and a workshop area for the non-profit organization Art Produce. With an emphasis on reviving old school styles of beer, ChuckAlek focuses on German-style lagers, original era porters and stouts, and funky sours. Complement your brews with bites from Tostadas, the adjacent Mexican restaurant where ceviche-topped tostadas offer a fresh take on seafood small bites.
Tiger!Tiger! Tavern, Blind Lady Ale House’s sister venue, purveys draught beer and bar fare in North Park, dishing out clam chowder, curry fries, hamburgers, and other hearty soups, salads, sandwiches, and sides in a rustic yet industrial environment. Peel your eyes away from the gravity-defying, how-are-they-hanging-upside-down-I-don’t-get-it bicycles affixed to the ceiling, take a seat at a communal mahogany picnic table or barstool, and embark upon the journey of choosing a beer from Tiger!Tiger!’s varied beverage list. Take advantage of the Sunday brunch menu, which offers both sweet and savory dishes like house-made doughnuts and a fried chicken biscuit sandwich.
What was once an Evangelical bible store is now the home of Hess Brewing Company’s North Park production facility and tasting room, where tasting flights, beer by the glass, packaged beer, and 32oz canned “Purrowlers” are on offer. The industrial space is illuminated throughout by accents of Hess’s signature cerulean blue, creating a welcoming atmosphere to savor flagship beers like the 8 West, brewed with local orange peel and orange-blossom honey, and the hop-forward Solis IPA.
While Bottlecraft Beer Shop North Park serves mainly as a retail spot for brews, cheese, charcuterie, paninis, chocolates, and other gourmet goodies, a nook within the shop is dedicated as a cozy tasting area for pints and flights of beer. On draft are selections from cities across the US, including Anchorage’s Midnight Sun Berserker, Boulder’s Avery Lilikoi Kepolo, Freeport’s Maine Peeper, and finally San Diego’s AleSmith Speedway Stout, all to be enjoyed in the rustic, pleasant space that is topped with an exposed-beam ceiling.
South Park Brewing Company is a seafood-centric casual eatery whose limited menu focuses on thoughtfully prepared snacks, like ceviche, poke, tacos in shrimp, white fish, and grilled opah varieties. If you’re craving something heartier, opt for a sandwich, like the Tony Montana Cubano with ham, Swiss, pulled pork, pickles, and house-made beer mustard served hot and melty or the shrimp and bacon grilled cheese on buttered Texas toast. The taps pour house-made South Park Brewing Co. beers, like the Know For Sure Pale Ale and the Poor But Kind IPA.
This compact taco shop in Barrio Logan serves a small but diverse selection of tacos topped with tangy dips from the lauded salsa bar and paired with craft beer. The move here is to order at least three tacos, ensuring that one is the Taco de Barrio, which features stewed beef, black beans, and cactus in a handmade flour tortilla. Sides like fire-roasted corn with lime, queso fresca, crema, and chile complete Salud's Mexican street food-inspired menu.
Tijuana is known for its stall-based food courts, commonly known as colectivos, where diners choose from a variety of bites and beverages, mixing and matching to suit their tastes. Tijuana’s Telefónica Gastro Park, named for its location near the telephone company on Ocampo Boulevard in Zona Centro is a colectivo hub for food trucks, like HUMO, where Chef Giovanni Brassera smokes his own sausages, employing a barrel smoker affixed to his trailer, and Otto’s Grill, where Chef Otto Spahn dishes out smoked marlin stuffed chilies drizzled with crème fraiche. Have a seat at one of the cedar picnic benches and sip on a craft brew; they flow generously at Telefónica.
Tijuana’s Plaza Fiesta is known for being a dizzying bazar of tasting rooms. Simultaneously the most illustrious and minimalist of them all is the Cerveceria Insurgente Tap Room, whose doors are made from the siding of repurposed shipping container and whose only décor is an austere white neon light in the shape of the brewery’s owl logo. This simplicity belies the complexity of Insurgente’s beer program, though; the draft list includes La Nocturna, a bitter black IPA, La Lupulosa, a West Coast-style IPA, Tiniebla, a Belgian wit, and rotating specialty releases, all of which have demonstrated Insurgente’s brewing prowess and made it one of the biggest and best craft breweries in the city.
Coronado Brewing Company at Imperial Beach is a family-owned seaside brewpub with gorgeous views, American comfort food, and a selection of IPAs, ales, and Pilsners. Priding itself on a “chill” atmosphere, the brewery serves a range of seafood, burgers, tacos, and snacks in a casual counter-serve space. Favorites include the calamari strips, garlic fries, and blackened ahi tuna sandwich. Come hungry but not hangry, as lines can get long and seating can be limited.
Mamut Brewery embraces the notion that craft beer should be accessible to everyone, meaning delightfully affordable prices for delectable beers. Mamut, whose name comes from the Spanish word for wooly mammoth, offers amber, brown, dry stout, American pale, and India pale ales to be enjoyed with a menu of bar fare, like hamburgers, bratwurst, wings, and grilled chicken breast. The Pasajé Rodríguez space is small and, therefore, gets packed easily, but chances are the drinkers you’re rubbing elbows with are artists or musicians, so strike up some stimulating conversation and bond over your burgeoning appreciation for Mamut’s mission.
Located in Barrio Logan, the Border X Brewing tasting room infuses its selection of brews with traditional Mexican flavors. This nanobrewery’s Blood Saison is a cult favorite, brewed with hibiscus, agave, and crystal malts, while the beloved Horchata Golden Stout is made with vanilla bean and whole cinnamon sticks. With multiple food trucks on rotation curated to pair perfectly with Border X’s brews, you’ll come thirsty and hungry and leave happy.
Machete Beer House is a treasure trove of intriguing beers helmed by craft brew enthusiasts Eddie Trejo and JoAnn Cornejo. On tap are craft beers from local breweries and international brews both from Mexico and Belgium, striking a balance between beer styles and tastes throughout the 30 tap handles. Industrial-chic elements comprise the majority of Machete’s aesthetic, punctuated by pops of color thanks to Mexican sugar skulls and streamers that span the ceiling above the bar.
Third Avenue Alehouse has upped Chula Vista’s craft beer game, providing locals with an extensive selection of local craft brews that flow from a stainless steel back wall displaying 29 taps. Try tasters of AleSmith Pale Ale, Green Flash Comet Hopper, Modern Times Imperial Porter, and Stone Xocoveza Mocha Stout, and pair them with snacks from nearby food trucks or local restaurants. Grab a couple of board games, park yourself in front of one of the televisions, and let the hours pass you and your friends by.
El Tigre, situated in Plaza Fiesta, is partly responsible for transforming the Tijuana open-air mall into a craft beer galleria. An early craft beer supporter, punk bar El Tigre was the first in the mall to put local craft beer on tap, vending varieties like Silenus Cerveza Artesanal and Cerveceria Zesde to its crowd of alternative partiers. El Tigre maintains a rogue, unconventional style in its décor: its walls are plastered with posters, magazine clippings, and articles from the old local music scene, and the absence of lighting injects an appropriate level of angst. The snacks on offer are decidedly less complex; hot wings and burgers provide just enough fuel to keep you dancing all night long.
With views of the Coronado Bridge, Iron First Brewing Company is a family-owned craft brewery in Vista that offers outdoor patio seating and is steps away from local dining and entertainment destinations. Year-round releases include hoppy, citrusy Counter Strike IPA, caramel and chocolate Dubbel Fisted, and malty Hired Hand Saison, among others. The industrial chic interior aesthetic is brightened by light blue wooden accents throughout the taproom.
While Tijuana is known for beverage halls like Plaza Fiesta, a wild, booze-filled den, the nearby Border Psycho Brewery inside takes debauchery to the next level. Border Psycho identifies itself as a missionary bringing moments of ecstasy, passion, depression, lust, optimism and the like through their “cynical” beers, and while it’s quite a tall order for a brewery, with unrelentingly delicious brews like Imperial Psycho Ale, English Brown Ale, and Brutal Imperial Stout, we’re in no position to doubt.
AleSmith has quite a history with award-winning beers, having produced more than 15 Great American Beer Festival medal winners since 1998. Though the San Diego brewery has expanded distribution across the country, it keeps its home base proud with the .394 Pale Ale, a tribute ale named after San Diego Padres right-fielder Tony Gwynn's batting average. A Tony Gwynn museum lives on-site at the brewery, which also boasts a large taproom with a rotating selection of seasonal and speciality beers. Bring your own food or pray that food trucks are parked outside (they often are).
Mikkeller Brewing Company seeks to merge the craft beer traditions of Europe and Southern California under one facility. The San Diego taproom serves close to 20 beers on draft and two rotating casks in a bright blue space with colorful murals adorning the walls. The Beer Geek Breakfast Stout is exceptional, but opt for flights to taste the full spectrum of what Mikkeller has to offer.
Societe Brewing Company aims to create an inclusive community of beer-lovers, both novice and expert. In an effort to advance beer’s reputation in the US, Societe remains true to many European brewing traditions. The tasting room is equipped with an oak-finished, eight-tap bar that pours out brews from Societe’s four taxonomic beer categories: Out West (hop-forward), Old World (ales), Stygian (malt-heavy), and Feral (barrel-aged and blended). Check the weekly schedule to determine when your favorite food trucks are making rounds here.
Green Flash Brewing's “beer-first” philosophy has earned the San Diego-based team a reputation for being draught trailblazers. The 30 beers on tap at this massive tasting room in Sorrento Valley include a variety of flagship beers as well as seasonal, rare, and special release selections. Clink your glasses outside in the beer garden and order bites like truffle mac & cheese, tater tots, and wasabi deviled eggs from the on-site Green Flash food truck.
Cellar 3 dedicates its 12,000 square feet of space to the art of craft beer innovation and experimentation with barrel aging and bottle conditioning, with a large tasting room reserved for you to enjoy up to 30 unique Green Flash and Cellar 3 beers on tap. With beers in hand, you can take a tour of the facilities and pause for bites at the onsite food truck, which rotates frequently among local vendors.
While the atmosphere at O’Brien’s Pub is not necessarily something to write home about (though the white plastic patio chairs and Formica tables inside are endearing in their own way), the bar’s curation of craft beers is exceptional. On pour are an intriguing rotation of unique casks, seasonal favorites, and imports, some of which are so rare that beer-lovers will queue up out the door and around the block in hopes of snagging a glass. Barstools are usually occupied by the bar’s most loyal regulars, so head there early if you wish secure one of these coveted seats.
The verdict is in on Council Brewing, a court-themed brewery in Kearny Mesa, and the decision is unsurprising: Council brews beers that are bold, expressive, and flavorful. With a focus on ales from American, Belgian, and English origins, the Council tasting room’s 31 taps (with gavel-topped handles) pour up craft darlings like Beatitude Apricot Tart Saison, a mixed-fermentation sour beer, Pirate’s Breakfast, an imperial oatmeal stout, and Sunrise Highway, a dry and tart spontaneous ale.
Are you a beer nerd who spends your time pondering the impact yeast has on the flavor profile of your favorite draught? If so (or if not), visit the 32-tap tasting room at Miramar’s White Labs Pure Yeast and Fermentation -- an organization helmed by biochemists who work to advance brewing through science, education, and craft -- where you’ll sip flights of beers brewed using the same recipe with different yeast bases, affecting flavor, aroma, cloudiness, and alcohol production. At the very least, you’ll leave with enough knowledge to one-up that beer-snob friend of yours the next time you drink together.
The kitchen at Common Theory Public House revolves around the theory of simplicity, offering a menu of ingredient-driven California dishes that focus on enhancing elements’ natural flavors using contemporary cooking sensibilities of Korean, Chinese, Mexican, and American cuisines. Hearty bar food creations include bacon-wrapped garlic corn dogs, hanger steak & IPA chimichurri, and blackened salmon steak with black beans, quinoa, corn, red bell peppers, poblano peppers, and Cajun sauce. The rotating draft list of 30-34 beers generally encompasses varieties from San Diego and up and down the coast of California.
New English Brewing Company is a highly acclaimed, yet relatively obscure brewery that takes the best of traditional English ales and imbues them with inventive (read: hoppy) West Coast styles. Stop by and order pints, flights, or bottles of award-winning brews like Zumbar, the smooth and buttery chocolate-coffee imperial stout, or hoppier varieties like Humbly Legit IPA and Pure and Simple IPA. The family- and pet-friendly tasting room is light and bright, bedecked fittingly with interlocking American and British flags.
The family-run Alpine Beer Company Pub takes customer experience seriously, meaning meats are smoked daily with handpicked hickory and mesquite wood, fish is served fresh, and dressings and sauces are made from scratch. Pair house-made brews with spinach artichoke dip, shrimp ceviche, smoked grilled cheese, or opt for a pulled pork or beef brisket sandwich. The space is dog-friendly and has an expansive patio with an outdoor bar.
Embracing its role as a democratic institution, Barrel Republic believes in your freedom to pour, your freedom to compare brews, and your freedom to be among other likeminded craft beer enthusiasts. Gifted with a mighty wristband linked to your credit card that you’ll scan before each drink, you can flutter from tap to tap, try tasters and pints of the whopping 44 craft beers available at any given time. Granite countertops and studded leather seats make for the bar’s sleek and tasteful aesthetic.
Culture Brewing Co. emphasizes a commitment to simple beer styles like the award-winning Brown Ale with malty and nutty flavors, the Black IPA with a floral aroma and rich hoppy finish, and the La Cerveza Lager. The Ocean Beach tasting room features up to 18 beers on tap and boasts a rustic, open atmosphere with high ceilings, a raw steel bar, and local artwork displayed throughout. Culture Brewing Co. encourages to bring along your whole family and even your furry canine friend.
Anchored in San Diego, Helm’s Brewing Co. is the brainchild of four former shipbuilders who hand-built their brewery in the much the same way that they constructed their ships. The Ocean Beach tasting room includes 16 taps in a nautical-themed, industrial-chic space flooded with bright natural light thanks to large bay windows. Helm’s Brewing Co.’s beer selection rivals that of larger breweries, featuring Captains Pale Ale, Batten Down Brown, and Goosefoot Ginger.
The team at Amplified Ale Works focuses on super-fresh West Coast-style hop-bombs piped straight from the holding tanks to your pint. In true SoCal fashion, no style is safe from the bitter hop beast. Take Amplified's beachy Citravesa, a 5.8% ABV American pale lager dosed with a heap of tangy, grapefruit-like Citra hops. The twist? All the beers are brewed with Clarity Ferm, an enzyme that breaks up protein during fermentation, rendering the entire fleet totally gluten-free. So put down that cider, Mr. Celiac, and treat yourself to a God’s honest brewski -- you deserve it.
Noble Experiment calls itself a speakeasy, but it's not much of a secret. The popular drinking den inside Gaslamp Quarter's Neighborhood is so popular that you won't be able to get in without reserving a spot a few days in advance. Trust us though, it's worth it. What looks like a stack of kegs by the restaurant's bathroom is a door that'll lead you to a bar that's best described as vampire's lair meets French catacombs. Order from a simple menu of handcrafted cocktails or take a chance with the Dealer's Choice -- a bartender will concoct something for you based on your personal tastes, and they almost always nail it. Don't let the wall of gilded skulls freak you out, it's all part of the charm.
At False Idol, the saying "secrets secrets are no fun" couldn't be farther from the truth. This hidden Tiki bar is found through a stainless steel door next to the main bar at Craft & Commerce, and once you pass crates of pineapples and citrus fruit, you'll find a Polynesian oasis brimming with tropical drinks and wood-carved decor. The bar slings a mix of classic and modern Tiki drinks, including the citrusy Demerara Dry Float and the Pearl Diver with a spiced butter syrup. There's no food here, so if you're looking for something to eat, head back to Craft & Commerce.
The first thing you’ll notice after landing at Lindbergh Field is a pink neon sign glittering in the distance. Let it guide you to this San Diego drinking den that's been serving whiskey aficionados since 1947. The Aero Club boasts some 800 bottles of whiskey stacked like glass bottle-shaped Legos behind the bar; more than a sight to behold, this infamous liquor wall is one of the largest whiskey collections in the country.
El Dorado Cocktail Lounge is perhaps as infamous for its cocktails as it is for its rustic aesthetic. Celebrating Western saloons from days of yore, El Dorado bedecks its deep burgundy walls with vintage cowboy scenes in wooden frames and draws your attention to a massive taxidermied white buffalo head (who goes by Otis) suspended above the dance floor. Signature cocktails include the Fetch Me a Cot and the Basic Bitch, but for something even more unusual (but equally delicious), opt for one of El Dorado’s seasonal cocktails.
Monkey see, monkey brew at Monkey Paw Brewing, where craft beer is elevated by creative and deliciously greasy bar food. Many of the beers on tap are brewed just steps away in Monkey Paw's lab, but the bar leaves room for other local breweries like AleSmith and Benchmark. There are plenty of highlights on the food menu, especially the Stoner Fries, a nacho-meets-poutine load of crispy fries with your choice of melted cheese, meats, and sautéed veggies. Though far from Philly, Monkey Paw specializes in over-the-top cheesesteaks like the Naughty Monkey with pepper jack, spicy Serrano, onion slaw, and a special house sauce.
Karl Strauss Brewing Company’s Little Italy location offers the craft beer giant’s signature brews, like the Wreck Alley Imperial Stout, made with darkly kilned malts, cocoa nibs, and Ethiopian coffee beans, and the Red Trolley Ale with caramelized malts, hops, and hints of raisins and currants. Complement your boozy beverage with some equally beer-y bar bites: Karl Strauss food favorites include The Big Beer Burger, basted with Columbia Street Amber and topped with Red Trolley Ale onions, IPA mushrooms, beer-brined bacon, Gruyere, tomato, and lettuce. Or, opt for earthy truffle fries, duck fat pretzel bites, beer-braised smoked pork belly, or the gooey crowd-favorite mac and cheese.
You probably would have studied harder in college had your quad study hall doubled as craft beer hall. But better late than never; Quad Alehouse in Downtown has all the trappings of a campus study hall, including a warm wooden interior and the institution’s signature burgundy seal adorning the walls, with the added beer bonus of 28 brews on tap. Chef Ben Miller’s menu is a California take on BBQ bar snacks, juxtaposing seared ahi sashimi with a hickory smoked pulled pork sandwich that’s accompanied by candied roasted tomato and garlic chive aioli. While the beer list is dominated by the stuff of craft West Coast breweries, European draughts are also available.
Perhaps the best place to drink beer during baseball season, especially if you're a Padres fan, is at the team's home turf: Petco Park. Sure, macrobrews are on offer, but in a city so saturated by craft breweries, what better to drink than a local brew while you cheer on your home team?