8 Must-Visit Beer Spots for Your Next Trip to San Diego
My formative craft beer drinking years were spent living in San Diego, consuming beers like Stone IPA and Green Flash Hop Head Red while getting myself through college. Even though I now live in Ventura, I still tend to get drawn back to San Diego on a pretty regular basis, whether it’s for fun or for work. Either way, beer is a big part of the San Diego experience.
Sure, you could visit just about any neighborhood bar in San Diego and find some great beer, but since you’re reading this blog, I know you’re looking for the best of the best. Lucky for you, I recently took a 4 day beer trip to SD with some buddies, and I did a shitload of research. Now I’m here to give you eight awesome San Diego beer bars and breweries to check out the next time you head down south.
1. Culture Brewing Company
Culture Brewing Company is a chill, small brewery that opened in early 2013 in the upscale beach town of Solana Beach. You’d think that being around the corner from craft beer powerhouse, Pizza Port Brewing Company, would be kind of intimidating. Well, the folks at Culture sure aren’t showing it. Housed in a bright, open, dog-friendly space with local art on the walls, Culture is brewing up some serious beer. You’ll regularly find some great IPAs on tap, but their Sour Grape wild ale was the hit of the trip. Tart, sweet, and tasting a lot like wine, it was full-flavored, refreshing, and delicious all at the same time. Culture Brewing Co. is located in a great spot right off the Solana Beach Amtrak station and next door to the Belly Up Tavern, perfect for a couple of pre-show pints.
2. Rough Draft Brewing Company
With breweries like Green Flash, Alesmith, and Saint Archer, the Mira Mesa area of San Diego is definitely ripe with craft beer. But there’s another up and coming brewery in Mira Mesa that deserves a bit of your attention. Rough Draft Brewing Company is located in a very sleepy and nondescript industrial park like a lot of other small breweries. But as soon as you walk in the doors, you can tell this one’s different. The tasting room is huge and goes right up against the brewery, featuring barrel tables and accents, a cool looking lounge area with old school lockers, and a beer lineup that rivals the local veterans. And pay attention, hop heads! Rough Draft’s Weekday IPA took the top spot for my favorite local IPA during my aforementioned beer trip. Act accordingly.
3. Karl Strauss Brewery Tasting Room
Ok, you know Karl Strauss. You’ve picked up Red Trolley from your local grocery store, you’ve grabbed dinner at one of their nine So Cal brew pubs, and maybe you’ve even downed a Tower 10 IPA during your last trip to Disneyland. But let me tell you about a Karl Strauss you may not know. In Summer 2013, Karl Strauss opened up a brand new tasting room at their main production brewery off the 5 freeway in the Pacific Beach / Bay Park area. Sure it’s a little bit off the beaten path, but the trip is most definitely worth it. The space is awesomely designed with kind of a bare-bones industrial concept with cool lighting and a desert-style beer garden. But what matters most are the 20 taps hosting a handful of your Karl favorites and a bunch of specialty beers curated from the one-off brews that come out of each of their brewpubs. Check out their Facebook page to keep up on their various events, from food trucks to game nights to their B.A.M.! event series featuring local art and live music.
4. The Brew Project at 57 Degrees
In San Diego, you can throw a rock from anywhere and probably hit some bar serving local beers. But it’s surprisingly difficult to find a bar that specializes in ONLY local brews. That is, until early 2013 when The Brew Project came along. Situated within the 57 Degrees wine bar, the Brew Project houses about 30 taps pouring delicious beer only made by local San Diego breweries. While you may come across a rare beer from one of the bigger breweries, the majority of the beers are from smaller San Diego breweries that may not see much action outside of their tasting rooms. With views of downtown and regular visits from food trucks, you should try and hit up San Diego Brew Project early in your trip because they’ll fill you in on everything you need to know about the local beer scene for the rest of your trip.
5. Common Theory Public House
Ok, this is the one place on this list that I haven’t personally visited. But there is a good reason it quickly rose up the ranks on my must-visit list. Opened in early summer 2014 in Kearney Mesa, Common Theory is a newcomer to the San Diego scene, but their tap list sure doesn’t show it. On a recent day, a hop head like myself could have walked in to find a variety of IPA styles like Alpine’s Nelson IPA, Firestone Walker’s Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA, Golden Road’s Wolf Among Weeds Imperial IPA, and Karl Strauss’ new New Zealand Pacifica Session IPA. Their space on Convoy Street is massive and looks super cool from the photos I’ve seen online and the food menu sounds ridiculously good. Will I be stopping by during next week’s Beer Blogger’s Conference in San Diego? You bet I will.
Update: I finally got a chance to check out Common Theory and it more than exceeds the hype. Awesome beer selection, a killer burger, friendly staff, and a really unique, open gastropub vibe. Go there!
6. Ballast Point Tasting Room & Kitchen
Ballast Point strikes again! Opened in Fall 2013, Ballast Point’s newest location in Little Italy features an R&D experimental brewery, a 50 tap tasting room, a walk-up restaurant serving beer and spirit-infused dishes, and one of the bigger open air drinking patios in the Little Italy area. You’ll find most of your Ballast Point favorites on tap here alongside some crazy rare and special brews that you probably won’t see anywhere else. This place can get crowded, but for good reason. It’s awesome. Go here and tell them Hopped LA sent you. They’ll look at you like you’re crazy.
You can ask any beer-loving San Diegan what the best beer bar in the county is and you’ll get a bunch of different answers. Well I’m here to put the debate to rest. Toronado’s San Diego location consistently has the best tap list and bottle selection that you’re going to find in San Diego. The staff is friendly and super knowledgeable without being pretentious, they have a nice-sized patio in the back with picnic table seating, and they regularly attract some of the best beers from the best breweries both locally and beyond. Go here and you won’t leave disappointed.
8. Mike Hess Brewing
Mike Hess Brewing was one of early nanobreweries that bursted on the San Diego scene in 2010. Now with a huge second brewery in the heart of North Park, Hess is right up there with the big boys of San Diego, and their brews are absolutely stepping up to the task. While they brew a style for almost any palate, Hess definitely takes good care of us hop heads. The always awesome Habitus Rye IPA, Grimm Ave Session IPA, Deceptio Black IPA, and their rotating IPA brand, Solis Occasus are just part of the hoppy lineup I enjoyed during my last visit. Besides the beers, the tasting room has an awesome vibe overlooking the brewhouse, with dart boards, plenty of seating, and a food truck serving most nights out back. Mike Hess Brewing has created an awesome beer drinking experience and it’s a must-visit whenever I’m in San Diego.