San Diego Celebrates Craft Beer
Made of repurposed beer bottles, the chandelier at Hilcrest Brewing Company casts a warm glow. © GTH & Nathan DePetris
With a casual, relaxed atmosphere and locals who take good beer seriously without taking themselves too seriously, San Diego is the perfect place to escape for a libation vacation. Industry leaders like Karl Strauss and Stone Brewing Co. make their homes in San Diego, and the region boasts more than 70 craft breweries with 15 facilities located within one mile of San Diego’s 70-mile stretch of coastline.
In recent years, innovative San Diego breweries have brought home major awards at international competitions, including the World Beer Cup, beating out traditional brewing destinations like Germany and Belgium. Cited as “a sunny heaven for suds lovers,” The New York Times named San Diego as a top travel destination in 2012 for its craft beer culture.
This November, San Diego will celebrate the maturing of its vibrant craft beer culture with the 5th anniversary of San Diego Beer Week. The following are some of the many ways that visitors during Beer Week – or any time of year – can discover San Diego’s dynamic craft brew scene.
EXCITING BEER EVENTS
Every November, San Diego hosts San Diego Beer Week, an annual 10-day craft beer celebration throughout the county. Smaller beer celebrations and tasting events are also held in San Diego neighborhoods throughout the year:
- San Diego Beer Week returns Nov. 1-10, 2013 for a 10-day celebration of local craft beer and San Diego’s thriving brewing culture. Festivities kick off with a Brewers Guild Festival and conclude with a Chef Celebration of San Diego Beer, a gourmet beer and food pairing event. Last year’s San Diego Beer Week boasted more than 400 events, ranging from beer dinners to meet-and-greets with local brewers, with an estimated 20,000 attendees.
- On Friday, Sept. 20 during 6-11 p.m., the San Diego Festival of Beer returns to downtown San Diego. More than 5,000 beer lovers gather annually for the festival which features 60-plus brewers offering samples and tastings alongside live musical performances, vendors and food booths.
See more beer events happening this summer and fall in San Diego.
BREWERY TASTING ROOMS
San Diego has gained an international reputation for inspired beers with area breweries earning more medals at the 2010 World Beer Cup than breweries in the traditional beer countries of England, Germany and Belgium combined. Many of San Diego’s 70-plus breweries offer tasting rooms and tours that allow visitors to sample these award-winning brews and meet the brewmasters in person:
- Considered a “nano-brewery” due to their small size when they first opened in 2010, Mike Hess Brewing Co. recently opened a state-of-the-art 12,500-sq. ft. brewery in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood. The new location offers the public a unique tour perspective, allowing guests to access the tasting room and view the brewhouse from raised catwalks above the tanks. The brewery’s tasting room is now open and the brewery will begin offering tours this August.
- Originally opened in 1915, Mission Brewery would be San Diego’s oldest brewery if it wasn’t shut down during Prohibition. Reestablished in 2007, the new Mission Brewery is steps away from downtown’s ballpark, Petco Park, in the East Village, making it the perfect spot for a pre- or post-game beer tasting. In the tasting room, guests can play shuffle board while sampling Mission’s wide variety of beer styles. Tours of the brewing facility are offered hourly on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
- Green Flash Brewing Company in Mira Mesa showcases the use of fine, all natural ingredients in their award-winning beers that are brewed in small batches to ensure each glass is of the freshest and purest quality. Their bottled beer selection includes a line of beers named for San Diego neighborhoods. The brewery features an on-site tasting room with 30 taps and offers public tours Wednesdays through Sundays.
View more of San Diego’s many breweries offering on-site tasting rooms.
In addition to creating outstanding craft beer on-site, the following breweries boast great restaurants where beer tourists can fuel up for further exploration:
- Brewing more than 200,000 barrels of beer annually, Stone Brewing Co. is one of the fastest growing breweries in the nation. Guests can enjoy big character beers like Arrogant Bastard Ale at their breweries in Escondido and Point Loma. Both locations also feature the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, an expansive on-site bistro serving high quality food made from organic ingredients, many of which are grown on Stone Farms, the brewery’s proprietary farm. Opened in 2013, the new Point Loma location also features a bocce ball court, and both sites include lawns for al fresco movie screenings.
- With multiple San Diego settings and brews served and sold in more than 3,000 Southern California locations, Karl Strauss Brewing Company is one of the largest craft breweries in the country. The brewery offers a core lineup of five delicious beers, plus a variety of seasonal beers and special releases, each perfectly paired with the restaurant’s menu of West Coast-inspired cuisine. Karl Strauss also hosts monthly “firkin” parties in which kegs are tapped in the traditional way, by driving a spigot through the front of the keg with a wooden mallet. Guests can find locations in Sorrento Mesa, La Jolla, downtown San Diego, Carlsbad and 4S Ranch. Karl Strauss’ main brewery in San Diego is open for public tours offered Wednesdays through Sundays.
- Opened in 2012 in San Diego’s LGBT-friendly Hillcrest neighborhood, Hillcrest Brewing Co. claims to be the world’s first “Out and Proud LGBT Brewery.” The lively and lighthearted brewery serves nine in-house craft brews with suggestive names like the “Banana Hammock” Scotch ale and “Crotch Rocket” Irish red ale. The fun continues on the restaurant menu with pizzas named the “Meatpacker” and the “BBQueer Chicken.”
BEER-CENTRIC BARS AND RESTAURANTS
A wide variety of San Diego pubs and restaurants cater to those who enjoy unique, locally crafted beers. In January 2013, DRAFT magazine’s annual list of the “100 Best Beer Bars in America” featured seven regional bars, making San Diego one of the most represented destinations on the list:
- The craft beer experience begins at the San Diego International Airport for visitors flying into America’s hoppiest city. As part of a major airport redevelopment, Terminal 1 now features a new craft beer-centric restaurant. Inspired by the many local beer bars that line 30th Street in the North Park neighborhood, the new airport restaurant, called Craft Beer on 30th Street, features 12 taps pouring beers from small local producers and a rotation of seasonal beers, as well as tried and true favorites.
- Located directly above the waters of San Diego Bay on the Shelter Island Fishing Pier, Fathom Bistro, Bait & Tackle offers breathtaking views complemented by 15 varieties of craft beer on tap. Hungry visitors can enjoy sausages, hot dogs and sandwiches from Fathom’s kitchen, or catch their own dinner utilizing the supplies from a neighboring bait shop.
- With more than 75 years of service, Hamilton’s Tavern in South Park is the oldest beer and wine licensed establishment in San Diego. The local landmark offers high quality ales and craft beers from around the world, boasts one of the most diverse bottle selections in San Diego and offers weekly “Firkin Friday” tastings of special releases.
- The 25 taps and extensive bottle list at O’Brien’s American Pub in Kearny Mesa features local San Diego drafts and rare brews. Known locally as the “hoppiest place on earth,” guests can find an extensive selection of the pub’s specialty, hoppy beers, including Alpine Beer Company’s Pure Hoppiness, AleSmith’s Speedway Stout and Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA, along with a tasty, traditional tavern menu.
View more must-visit bars and restaurants for craft beer lovers.
PUB CRAWLS: BY FOOT AND BY RAIL
- Locals call 30th Street in San Diego’s uptown neighborhood of North Park “the best street in the world for craft beer.” More than a dozen restaurants and bars located along 30th Street proudly serve local craft brews including beer-havens like Hamilton’s Tavern, Toronado San Diego, Sea Rocket Bistro and Ritual Tavern. Just a short walk away on Adam’s Avenue in neighboring Normal Heights, Blind Lady Ale House serves a top-notch selection including their own craft beers.
- The San Diego Brewers Guild offers itineraries with detailed directions by rail for visiting local breweries and brew pubs. Riding the light-rail San Diego Trolley and local Coaster commuter train, a Central San Diego route stops at Ballast Point, Gordon Biersch, Oggi’s and the San Diego Brewing Company; a North County tour begins at Ballast Point and visits both Pizza Port locations in Solana Beach and Carlsbad.
- Offered by San Diego Beer & Wine Tours, the “Beer Train Tour of San Diego” allows guests to hop on the Coaster train along the beach and ride to breweries within walking distance of the stops. In addition to beautiful views of the coastal scenery, the tour offers tastes of local craft beers, food parings, guided brewery tours, games and prizes.
GUIDED BREWERY TOURS
For those who want to experience San Diego’s beer culture, meet the brewers and leave the driving to someone else, guided brewery tours are an excellent option:
- Brew Hop offers custom-designed private brewery tours of San Diego. Visitors can relax in luxury as they are chauffeured to their choice of local breweries. The five-hour “Beer Connoisseur” tour includes samples, behind-the-scenes tours at four breweries and a meal. The 2.5-hour “Beer Tasters” tour stops at two or three breweries and includes samples and tours.
- Brewery Tours of San Diego offers regularly scheduled tours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Each tour visits three breweries and includes transportation, tastings and lunch.
SAN DIEGO MUSEUMS TAP INTO BEER CULTURE
- Now through January 20, 2014, the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park is offering a new exhibition, Bottled & Kegged: San Diego’s Craft Brew Culture. Visitors can learn about craft beer and its brewing process; San Diego’s brewing history before, during and after Prohibition, and why San Diego County has become a nationwide leader in craft beer production and innovation. Bottled & Kegged also features numerous hands-on and interactive components including a 500-gallon brew house and a hop smelling and touching station.
- Opening Aug. 24, 2013, the San Diego Museum of Man in Balboa Park presents BEERology, an exhibition that explores the connections between agriculture, cities, writing and religion with craft brewing. Ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, Chinese and others each perfected the brewing arts in interesting, and even strange, ways. The exhibition highlights fascinating stories and phenomenal artifacts that reveal the links between beer and culture, such as the solid gold beer cup of an Inca king. Local craft brewers including Green Flash, Port Brewing/Lost Abbey, Ballast Point and more will offer special tastings and parties throughout the exhibition’s run.
BEST BEER HOTELS
From budget-friendly hotels to luxury resorts, San Diego offers a range of accommodation options that cater to craft beer lovers:
- With half a dozen breweries located within 10 miles from the resort, the Rancho Bernardo Inn provides an ideal home base for exploring San Diego breweries. The resort’s “Look What’s Brewing” package includes one night of accommodations, two beer tasting tickets to four local breweries and breakfast. Transportation can be added to and from the breweries for an additional fee. Rates start at $233 per night, plus tax.
- The Pearl Hotel in the bayfront neighborhood of Point Loma is located just minutes from the new Modern Times Brewing Co. and Stone Brewing Co.’s World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station. The chic, mid-century boutique hotel offers high style on a budget and features nine San Diego craft beers on tap at their restaurant, EAT at the Pearl.
- At the Lodge at Torrey Pines in picturesque La Jolla, craft beer aficionados have the opportunity to raise a glass of local beer while sampling dishes created exclusively for the Lodge’s signature Craft Beer Dinners. Held seasonally at The Grill at Torrey Pines, award-winning Executive Chef Daniel Boling partners with a different San Diego brewery for the popular culinary event. Beers range from Belgian favorites to bold IPAs, and seasonal brews are paired with culinary creations that complement each beer selection. The cost is $75 per person and includes dinner, valet parking, tax and gratuity.
If You Go:
This news bulletin is based largely on information created or provide courtesy of the San Diego Tourism Authority.