First off, let’s be honest: Our usual beer reviewer, Baxter, has never been to San Diego. I, on the other hand, have been to San Diego many times, especially recently. Baxter decided it would be okay if I took the reigns for this one, as I have spent many a day and night exploring the majesty that is the San Diego craft beer scene.
This won’t be an exhaustive list of places to visit, and I apologize for its lateness. This will be a list of places that I love and places that I’ve wanted to check out but haven’t yet found the time. (Anyone want to split a Lyft to Miramar?)
There will be breweries and beer bars, as well as brewery tasting rooms—a popular San Diego thing—in here. There may be some big names missing, and that’s because I’m just too damned hipstery (you should see my beard at the moment).
Anyway, let’s get on with it, broken down by area of the city/county. The logical place to start is downtown, which is where I will bundle the Gaslamp District and Little Italy. I’m not going to list all the hours and addresses, but I will gladly link to the proper websites to find that info. I don’t feel like doing all the dang work for you.
The downtown core is certainly not the best place to find great craft beer, but there are some gems if you look hard enough and aren’t tempted by all the bars that say “60 taps or whatever.” Those taplists are usually boring. Don’t go to those, go to these:
At night, the back of this place turns into a speakeasy with classy craft cocktails. The rest of the time, the front of the bar is serving one of the best taplists you will find in downtown San Diego. They also have a delicious fried chicken sandwich.
I randomly found this place while wandering around looking for a good meal to expense on one particular business trip in San Diego. It serves up good beer (it’s own), especially its “New England style IPAs” as well as a nice food menu.
There are three Bottlecraft locations in San Diego, but this one is likely to be the closest to your hotel. Bottlecraft carries around 20 taps, which are expertly curated, along with a nice selection of to-go beers that can also be consumed on premise. Staff is super knowledgeable and friendly. Go here and take me with you. Ballast Point also has a tasting room right across the street, so you can do a little bar-hopping.
This might be my favorite neighborhood in the whole entire world. The main drag, 30th Street, is simply one of the most craft beer-soaked areas you will find anywhere. It started as a collection of craft beer bars, but now breweries have moved in as well. If you only have one night to drink craft beer, go to this neighborhood and to these places (or others, it’s really hard to not find good beer in North Park).
This might technically be in “South Park” and would likely be your first or last stop on a North Park beer tour. At any given time, Hamilton’s is likely to have the best taplist in the city, along with a nice collection of bottles. I’ve spent many a long session here. Also, I talked to the owner once because he was wearing a Seattle Supersonics hat and we bonded over a longing for the days of Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton.
Modern Times is my favorite San Diego brewery. This location is a satellite taproom, and a great place to try out many of their beers. The decor is very interesting, the staff is friendly, and there is a taco place next door that delivers.
If you are from Seattle, you may have heard of Toronado—there is a location in the Emerald City. The San Diego version was the second iteration of the legendary bar that started on Haight Street in San Francisco. It also might consistently have the best taplist of the three. This is my favorite beer bar in San Diego, or it is tied with Hamilton’s. I dunno, stop making me rank things.
Blind Lady Ale House, Tiger! Tiger!, etc...
There are so many more good beer bars in North Park. I gave three, and that barely scratches the surface.
Ocean Beach/Point Loma-ish
If you get in a car and head west, there are excellent spots to find. Here are three to check out:
There are many Stone locations in San Diego. So far, this is my favorite. Liberty Station is a great spot with a market (and another Bottlecraft location). You’ll find Stone beers here that you won’t see up north. There is a cool outdoor bar, and an indoor bar (better beer at that one). If you are wanting to go to a craft beer place with people who don’t care about craft beer and still keep them happy, this is a good bet.
This is where Modern Times actually makes its beer. You’ll find rarer taps and bottles here, and a fun, open atmosphere. I’m going there after I finish this post.
You like pizza, right? You like craft beer, right? Go here. Then walk to the beach if you want.
Further North but Not Quite Miramar
I’m not from San Diego and I don’t know what every neighborhood is called. These two breweries are really close to each other, so you can hit them up at the same time.
Societe seems to do a lot of things to style—meaning there isn’t a lot of weird stuff in the beers. Typically solid across the board, and The Pupil is a must-try IPA.
Council came by its most popular beer—Beatitute Tart Saison—by accident. It now makes many variants which are tasty if you like tart and sour stuff.
There are approximately one billion breweries in Miramar, an industrial district about 15 miles or so north of downtown San Diego. I haven’t been up there yet, but these are two spots I would visit if I were to hop in a Lyft and make the trek.
You have probably seen AleSmith in the northwest. The taproom offers a good range of brews. However, what I am most intrigued by is AleSmith’s barrel room, where you are encouraged to blend their large assortment of barrel-aged beers to make your own “cuvée.”
Mikkeller originated in Denmark and has traditionally been described as a “gypsy” brewery—meaning its beers are brewed at other breweries and it doesn’t have a home of its own. This Miramar location is Mikkeller’s first foray into its own production facility. It also just so happens to be AleSmith’s old location. If you want to get something weird, Mikkeller is always a good bet.
If you want to see pretty beaches, head out to Pacific Beach and Mission Beach. If you want to drink good beer while you are out there, check out these places.
Nice taplist, nice bottle list. Good food. Not a bad place to wind down and shake the sand off.
This place is most interesting because it cuts out the middle man—you can pour the beer yourself. I haven’t tried it, but I walked by and it looked like the people inside were having a lot of fun.
What Say You?
Did I miss your favorite San Diego craft beer spot? Leave it in the comments. Happy drinking!