What's great in wine, beer, fine dining,
places to stay, & places to visit
in California State

Land ho, Matey. After a rigorous journey on the waters of San Francisco Bay, America's Cup competitors and fans are invited to America's premier wine, spa, and coastal destination for a little R&R - Sonoma County style.Bodega Bay boats PicmonkeyCommercial fishing boats at Bodega Bay.

Known for its more than 350 wineries, miles of gorgeous Pacific Ocean coastline, and some of the most fertile earth in California, Sonoma County has been welcoming sailors and landlubbers alike since, well, since Sir Francis Drake landed in Northern California in 1579, beginning a long, rich maritime history.

Bunk down for the night

Reach back into history and experience a military-style R&R at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, in Sonoma Valley. The resort's rich wellness history stretches back hundreds of years, when Native Americans discovered the natural underground hot mineral waters. Developed as a resort in the late 1800s, the property underwent many ups and downs.

During World War II the hotel fell under the control of the Navy. It became an R&R site for sailors and marines until 1945. Various incarnations followed, including the use of the Inn by famous sports teams as a training headquarters.

Why should sailors and sailing fans choose Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn today? Simple - the Inn is the only full-service resort offering Michelin-star dining, an award-winning spa, and championship golf amenities to visitors with discerning tastes.

Details: Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, 100 Boyes Blvd., Sonoma, CA 95476, 707-938-9000, 866-540-4499, www.fairmont.com/sonoma

If you aren't quite ready to leave the sea behind, visit Sonoma County's western border - more than 55 miles of dramatic coastline. Bodega Bay Escapes vacation home rentals offer ocean-front homes.

These homes have some of the best views in the Bodega Bay area, and the proximity to the beach is second to none. Get a front-row seat to the Northern California coast in a cozy beach cottage. Each of the privately owned homes is uniquely appointed and equipped for comfort and leisure. Many homes have private outdoor hot tubs and free wireless internet service. All homes are furnished with full kitchens, linens, and no added cleaning fees. Choose from casual beach cottages along the Sonoma Coast, or distinctive golf course homes at The Links at Bodega Harbour.

Details: Bodega Bay Escapes, 707-875-2600, 877-809-7819, www.bodegabayescapes.com

Yo ho ho and a bottle of . . . red

Dry Creek Vinyd Fume label PicmonkeyVisiting famed wineries in Sonoma County doesn't mean you have to give up nautical ties. Dry Creek Vineyard patriarch, Dave Stare, combines his two passions: winemaking and sailing. Started in 1972, the winery was the first to plant Sauvignon Blanc in the Dry Creek Valley wine region and is renown for its efforts with that grape, bottled in the Fumé Blanc style, as well as when labeled Sauvignon Blanc.

Dry Creek Vineyard also offers a proprietary red blend appropriately named, The Mariner. The 2008 vintage was just released and has garnered numerous awards.

Stare's passion for sailing includes sharing it with others. In fact, Sonoma State University has a sailing team that was founded by Stare.

Details: Dry Creek Vineyard, 3770 Lambert Bridge Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448, 707-433-1000, www.drycreekvineyard.com

Sailors and winemakers share a strong sense of passion to take care of the environment. Helping the ocean, as well as the land, is Iron Horse Vineyards, which runs its Healthy Ocean Project with leading ocean conservation groups.

The winery produces its vintage Blanc de Blancs Ocean Reserve, created in partnership with National Geographic to help save the ocean. Iron Horse contributes $4 from each bottle sold to National Geographic's Ocean Initiative - establishing marine protected areas and reducing overfishing around the world. For more information, visit ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/i-am-the-ocean-wine.

Details: Iron Horse Vineyards, 9786 Ross Station Road, Sebastopol, CA 95472, 707-887-1507, www.ironhorsevineyards.com

While in Sonoma County, visit the home of America's favorite Chardonnay. Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates has been anchored in Sonoma County for nearly 30 years with the understanding that the cold Pacific Ocean allows the winemaking team to make superior quality wines.

Much like sailors on the sea, Kendall-Jackson's staff treasures what the ocean provides. That means the cool, maritime breezes and coastal fog that protect the grapes and coax the most intense and complex varietal flavors. Stop by Kendall-Jackson during your shore leave and experience a unique wine and food pairing adventure that will thrill even the most able-bodied sailor.

Details: Kendall-Jackson Wine Center, 5007 Fulton Road, Fulton, CA 95439, 707-571-8100, 866-287-9818, www.kj.com

Become a landlubber for the day: All aboard the Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley. One of the Bay Area's favorite modes of transportation now roams the quaint streets and vineyards of gorgeous Sonoma Valley, offering open-air views that allow guests to experience wine country like they never have before. Built from historic blueprints, the Sonoma Wine Trolley is a motorized replica of a late 1890s San Francisco cable car, the type that still runs on San Francisco's California Street cable car line.

Visitors can now choose from two routes. The new route begins at the historic Sonoma Plaza, meanders into Glen Ellen and Kenwood area, including stops at Benziger Family Winery, Imagery Winery, Paradise Ridge in Kenwood, and Deerfield Ranch Winery. The Trolley's original route includes stops at four boutique wineries located in and around the town of Sonoma. Both tours include a gourmet lunch catered by the acclaimed the girl & the fig restaurant.

The Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley experience begins with a daily passenger pickup at 10:30 a.m. from Sonoma Plaza. Arrangements for pickup at several Sonoma hotel locations can be made prior to 10:30 a.m.

Details: Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley, 707-938-2600, www.sonomavalleywinetrolley.com

Ports of Call

Sonoma County's southern border is San Pablo Bay, which leads into the San Francisco Bay. The influence on the region from the bays, rivers, and oceans can't be overstated, whether it was the possible landing of Sir Francis Drake in Bodega Bay in 1579, the arrival of the Russians from Alaska to establish Fort Ross in 1812, or the rechristening of the Petaluma Slough to the Petaluma River in 1959, making it eligible for federal dredging, and larger ship traffic.

Here are some spots to sail to, or in, Sonoma County:Spud Point Crab Co PicmonikeyThey also make the best clam chowder.

On the Pacific Coast, Spud Point Marina, in Bodega Bay, is located on the scenic Sonoma County coast less than 50 nautical miles from the center span of the Golden Gate Bridge. The quaint town is a perfect home base for sampling all that Sonoma County has to offer, from the rugged coastline to the inland vineyards. Local fishing fleets head out for Dungeness crab and salmon, and fishing boats and pleasure boats use the protected bay as a base for exploring the waters off the Sonoma coast. Insider tip - Spud Point Crab Company, located across the street and run by a long-time fishing famiy, has some of the best chowder in Sonoma County.

Details: Spud Point Marina, 1818 Westshore Road, Bodega Bay, CA 94923, 707-875-3535, www.spudpointmarina.org

Hey, why should the ocean get all the glory? Lake Sonoma, in northern Sonoma County, is a great spot for a sail, or a leisurely day spent exploring. Nestled in the beautiful coastal foothills, Lake Sonoma is surrounded by world-famous vineyards and land that is rich in history. Created by the construction of Warm Springs Dam in 1983, the lake provides for flood control, irrigation, and recreation. When full, the lake has a surface area of more than 2,700 acres and 50 miles of shoreline, forming the perfect setting for a wealth of recreational activities. Visit to hike, swim, ride, boat, camp, fish, or hunt at this beautiful lake.

Details: Lake Sonoma Visitors Center & Fish Hatchery, 3333 Skaggs Springs Road, Geyserville, CA 95441, 707-431-4533, www.spn.usace.army.mil/lake_sonoma/index.html

The waters of the Petaluma Marina are part of the Petaluma River, a channel that runs 14 miles from the north end of Petaluma into San Pablo Bay. With 167 slips, the Petaluma Marina offers many facilities and services to boaters and kayakers on the river including private restrooms and showers, full utilities, security gates, and kayak storage. The river is enjoyed for its excellent boating, fishing, and water skiing.

Details: Harbormaster Office, 781 Baywood Dr., Petaluma, CA 94954, 707-778-4489, cityofpetaluma.net/parksnrec/marina.html.

So, how about it, Sailor, ready to give Sonoma County a try? Located 10 leagues (30 miles for landlubbers) north of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, Sonoma County is America's premier wine, spa and coastal destination, featuring more than 350 wineries, 100-plus organic farms, and 55-plus miles of stunning Pacific coast.

For a free visitors guide or information on hotels, wineries, events, spas, attractions, and dining in Sonoma County, visit www.sonomacounty.com or call 800-576-6662 (+001-707-522-5800 for those across the seas...)

Editor's note: If you're planning a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area to attend the America's Cup in 2013 or coming at any other time, you can find a lot of good information at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. In it you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as to the wineries in Sonoma and other nearby wine regions and to craft beer purveyors.

 

As visitors arrive in the quaint coastal Central California enclave of Carmel-by- the-Sea, a collective sigh of relief is carried on the cool ocean air. Park the car. You won’t need it for the next 72 hours. Welcome to the insiders guide to Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA. 

Day 1: Pop the cork and celebrate with a refreshing glass of sparkling wine at Caraccioli Cellars, just the way to ease into your stay. Before checking in to one of the 45+ inns or hotels,  check out the shopping – day 1 begins.

Stop in at the Carmel Plaza and welcome our newest neighbor Kate Spade to the village. A shot of color adds a bright cheery feel to the already flower lined promenade. Across the way visitors will find Blue Lemon, where jewelry-making classes can be scheduled and taken or hand crafted designs can be purchased. If visitors are lucky Pamplemousse on Ocean Avenue may be hosting one of their prominent trunk shows, displaying their eclectic wares. For the eco-conscious, Eco-Carmel on San Carlos between 7th Carmel Beach PickmonkeyCarmel Bay through the Cypress trees.& 8th offers unique, earth friendly products. With many more options lining the streets of Carmel-by-the-Sea, it may be time to stop in for lunch and a quick nip to settle into “vacation mode.”After working up an appetite from shopping, experience the latest expansion of David Fink’s empire, 400°’s Gourmet Burgers & Fries. Burgers, fries, hot dogs, and shakes as well as kids meals are all on the menu. For a more refined lunch, try any of the Firok Shield’s family restaurants (he has three in Carmel), or Portabella on Ocean, located within a quaint Comstock cottage, or Patisserie Boissiere.

Time to walk off lunch and prepare for the remaining hours ahead. Make your next stop the Carmel Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center on San Carlos between 5th & 6th. Here you can pick up the Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea wine tasting passport, which is good all weekend long and can be used at your leisure. Be sure to stop in at the newest tasting room, Manzoni Cellars.

Upon arrival at the hotel, you'll be welcomed by one of the friendly innkeepers in our city. One of the many unique aspects of the square mile of the Carmel-by-Sea is that the innkeepers staff a 24 hour reservation line. If visitors call and there is the proverbial “no room at the inn,” then they will continue down the list of properties until they find a property with a room available. It's not a matter of competition among inns, just a desire to please the guest on the end of the line.

As the evening ensues, be sure to check the schedule for one of the upcoming events in Carmel-by-the-Sea. The Sunset Center (www.sunsetcenter.org) is spectacular and worthy of top national performances with an amazing cast of performers scheduled including Kenny Loggins, Bob Newhart, A Rock Tribute to Led Zeppelin, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Ira Glass and many more. Though you won’t need your electric car for another 48 hours, there are four stations available at the Sunset Center offering free service if you would like to charge it.

And the sun sets on day 1.

Day 2: A morning stroll along Ocean Avenue leads to one of the most pristine beaches in America. If a four-legged friend is your travel companion, this beach is leash-free for dogs. If you would rather not get sand between your toes, turn left on Scenic Avenue for a gentle walk along a guided path. With Point Lobos to the South and Pebble Beach to the north, a more stunning landscape and stretch of coastline would be hard to find.

Stop off for breakfast or coffee at a local eatery. You won’t find any chain restaurants or fast food in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Em Lee’s has been open since 1955, so they have lots of practice serving up a fine breakfast. If coffee and a pastry is more your style, on Ocean Avenue you will find Carmel Bakery, Carmel Valley Roasting Company and Carmel Coffee House. And just off the beaten path, you will find Pastries & Petals.Carmel Courtyard PicmonkeyPath to courtyard has old world feel.

Before you get back to your inn, be sure to check out a few of the more than 40+ courtyards that grace the village. The newest mayor of Carmel, Jason Burnett, has been seen favoring El Paseo Courtyard, where visitors will see a sculpture done by Jo Mora in 1927, who also did the sarcophagus of Father Junipero Serra at the Carmel Mission. Visitors and locals are often surprised by the public displays of art that are found in side courtyards as a little delight for taking a “road less traveled.” As a side note, it has been over 20 years since “Dirty Harry” was mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, but visitors continue to ask, “Is Clint Eastwood still the mayor?” We are not sure which courtyard is Clint’s favorite, but highly recommend are the Court of the Fountains, Piccadilly Courtyard and Cinderella Lane.

The community has been renowned as a mecca for artists, writers and musicians since the turn of the last century. American Style named Carmel one of its “Top 25 Art Destinations in the U.S.” in 2012. The remarkable artist enclave tucked between Big Sur and Pebble Beach has Bohemian roots reaching back over a hundred years. It has been a retreat for the likes of Salvador Dali and Ansel Adams and some of the over 100+ art galleries in Carmel-by-the-Sea still display their work. The Carmel Art Association (www.carmelart.org), established in 1927, is celebrating an 85 year history. With 200 active members made up of local artists, the association also has the unique distinction of being the oldest gallery in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Perhaps you'll be in town on one of the many days when an event is hosted. The fall lineups at the historic Golden Bough Playhouse, the intimate Circle theaters, and famous outdoor Forest Theater include Beauty & the Beast, Julius Ceasar, and Much Ado About Nothing. (www.pacrep.org). Carmel Authors & Ideas Festival arrives in town September 28-30, (www.carmelauthors.com/festival). The Carmel Chamber of Commerce hosts their 24th Annual Taste of Carmel Masquerade Ball Thursday, October 4th, 6pm-9pm(no mask necessary). (www.carmelcalifornia.org). The Carmel Art & Film Festival, October 10-14, (www.carmelartandfilm.com) was founded in 2008 by fine artist Tom Burns and Erin Clark. The festival gives artists a platform and voice to pursue their creative visions and share them with the world.

Carmel Cheese Shop PicmonkeyChoose cheese for your picnic.Ready to begin Happy Hour? By all means, go where the locals go: Terry’s Lounge (inside the famous Doris Day’s Cypress Inn) offers Yappy Hour and live music for you and well-leashed guests. Il Fornaio has the best deal in town with a $5 menu including select food, wine and cocktails, plus $3 beers. Or, if visitors like an atmosphere of see-and-be-seen, then Vesuvio is open, with expanded Starlight 65 lounge rooftop deck with a great happy hour. It serves an “Adult Happy Meal”—complete with gourmet cheese burger, fries and your choice of a Rum & Coke or Whiskey & Coke. If pubs and cheers for beers is more up your alley, than Brophy’s Tavern is the place for Monday Night Football, and Jack London’s has regular live music and sports TVs. A.W. Shucks on Ocean Avenue remains a locals and visitors favorite oyster bar and grill respite.

After a busy day, grab a picnic basket and a bottle of wine with delectables from Salumeria Luca, The Cheese Shop, Bruno’s Market, or Nielson Brothers Market and walk down to the beach. Watch the sun as it sinks into the Pacific, than cozy up and gaze at the stars while you enjoy your wine, listening to the sound of the surf on the sand.

If you still need something to nosh on after star gazing, Mundaka serves dinner until 11 with house music and old movies shot onto the wall; at Gabe Georis’ restaurant you now are able to get a mixed drink since they acquired the new liquor license. As you belly up to the bar, take note of the reclaimed wood from Big Sur. Demetra Café and the newly expanded Constance lounge are also a fantastic option, with spontaneous singing, and cork popping.When you are at Demetra, you’re part of the family, opa!

Day 3: Greet the morning with a soothing yoga class on the beach offered by Lululemon (www.lululemon.com/carmel). Or if the sirens of the water call your name, then learn to surf with Noah Greenberg of Carmel Surf Lessons (www.carmelsurflessons.com)/ He's been teaching surfing since 1986. Noah provides all the equipment and offers groups or private session. Work out the muscles and stop in at one of Carmel's day spas to primp and pamper yourself before you get on your way. Signature Day Spa (www.signature dayspa.com) is a full service salon ready to work out the kinks.

You’ve worked up an appetite now, and rest assured it can be assuaged with Carmel Food Tours. This newest tour in town offers tastings of foods and wines that help visitors become acquainted with the unique history and culture of Carmel-by-the-Sea. The food tour takes visitors through passageways and alleys before arrival at each culinary destination. A favorite stop among guests is La Bicyclette Restaurant. Walter Georis is best known for his famous Casanova Restaurant, but La Bicyclette is another of his success stories. All of the tour restaurants, tasting rooms and shops are pleased to spend time with the tourists and can explain in detail what they will be tasting.

Since you have enjoyed your stay and now are an insider, you shouldn't go without knowing some quirky laws to share with your friends when you get back home. By now you’ve become aware that there are no addresses on businesses or cottages. Carmel’s founding fathers rejected the practice of house-to-house mail delivery in favor of a central post office to encourage neighborly visits in town. Visitors will not find parking meters, streetlights, or sidewalks outside of Carmel’s downtown commercial area and permits are required for high heels. No hot dog stands are allowed and you can thank Former Mayor Clint Eastwood for repealing the law originally on the books for no ice cream eating permitted on city streets.

Carmel-by- the-Sea lives up to its reputation as one of America's top travel destinations with a host of exciting fall events during the best weather of the season.

Carmel-by-the-Sea's official travel website is www.carmelcalifornia.com.

TravMedia sources contributed to this article.

Editor's Note: If you are thinking about a visit to the Central Coast, visit the Resource Directory of Taste California Travel. There you will find links to the websites of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to nearby wineries and beer-centric establishments.

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 innovators like Karl Strauss and Stone Brewing make their homes in San Diego, and the region boasts an enviable number of award-winning breweries and a wide variety of pubs and restaurants catering to those who enjoy unique, locally crafted beers.

The following are some of the outstanding places where visitors can discover for themselves why beer lovers are flocking to the region's burgeoning craft brew scene.

The Great American Beer City

Blind Lady Ale House PicmonkeyBlind Lady Ale House photo by Rob TardiSan Diego breweries have repeatedly brought home major awards at the annual Great American Beer Festival. In the past five years, San Diego's AleSmith Brewing Company and Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey have been named Best Small Brewing Company, while Carlsbad's Pizza Port has taken home the Brewpub of the Year award on more than one occasion.

At the World Beer Cup, an event that only happens every two years, San Diego breweries dominate. Ballast Point was named the "Champion Small Brewery" in 2010 above stiff competition from around the world. Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey won the same honor in 2008. In 2010, San Diego-area breweries earned more medals at the World Beer Cup than breweries in the traditional beer countries of England, Germany and Belgium combined.

Cited as "a sunny heaven for suds lovers," the New York Times named San Diego as a top travel destination for 2012 for its craft beer culture. In the October 2009 issue of Men's Journal magazine, San Diego was named the "#1 Beer Town in America" and the 30th Street Corridor in North Park was lauded as "easily the nation's best beer boulevard."

In the January/February 2012 issue of DRAFT magazine, San Diego's O'Brien's, Hamilton's Tavern, O'Brien's American Pub and Blind Lady Ale House all nabbed spots on the magazine's list of the "Best Beer Bars in America." In January 2012, RateBeer.com's "Best of 2012" reviewer's lists placed San Diego breweries in two of the top 10 spots on the "Best Brewers" list - AleSmith at #4 and Stone Brewing at #7.

Brewery Tasting RoomsMany San Diego breweries offer tasting rooms and tours that allow visitors to meet the brewers and sample their wares. The following are just a few of the many options:

The award-winning AleSmith Brewing Company in Miramar is an artisan microbrewery specializing in handcrafted brews. Visitors can find fresh flavors inspired by Great Britain's and Belgium's high alcohol content and strongly hopped beers; AleSmith tours are available Fridays and Saturdays. www.alesmith.com

Alpine Beer Company, located in the East County community of Alpine, opened in 2002 and offers a tasting room with six to eight of their signature beers like Pure Hoppiness, a San Diego style IPA, and Captain Stout, a chocolate oatmeal dry stout, on tap. The tasting room is open from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. www.alpinebeerco.com

Ballast Point Brewing Company offers tours and tastings at both their main brewery in Scripps Ranch and home brew store/brewery in Linda Vista. Guests can tour behind the barrels for tastings of specialty citrus hops, scotch ales and German Klosch-style beer; they can also purchase a selection of "do-it-yourself" beer making supplies ranging from starter kits to advanced brewing systems. In Scripps Ranch, public tours are offered at noon, 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and the tasting room is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. www.ballastpoint.com

Guests can find great ales brewed with recipes from the pre-Prohibition era at the Firehouse Brewing Company in Miramar. A behind-the-scenes tour takes visitors inside the custom-made brew house where the brewery's American Pale Ale and Hefeweizen are created. www.firehousebrew.com

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 insure each glass is of the freshest and purest quality. The brewery is features an on-site tasting room and offers tours on the weekends. www.greenflashbrew.com

Lightning Brewery in Poway offers fine, hand-crafted European style beers with a distinctively crisp, clean aroma, pronounced maltiness and prolonged, slightly bitter finish known as the "Lightning Finish." Unique to San Diego, Lighting Brewery uses the labor intensive "step mashing" brewing process that furthers flavors and enhances the body of beer by releasing starches. Guest tours are available Fridays and Saturdays. www.lightningbrewery.com

Oceanside's first brewery, Oceanside Ale Works, produces an award-winning combination of ales inspired by European brewing traditions and innovative flavors inspired by West Coast brewers. One of the few manual brew houses in the United States, Oceanside Ale Works produces ales true to its Southern California setting like Surfer Stout and Buccaneer Blonde. Guests can sample brews on location daily. www.oceansidealeworks.com

Located in San Marcos, Port Brewing is the home of The Lost Abbey, a niche label focused on brewing beers that follow the monastic and artistic Belgian brewing traditions. Brewed in very small batches, these exquisite beers have won awards - and fans - the world over. www.portbrewing.com; www.lostabbey.com

 

Brewpubs

In addition to creating outstanding craft beer on-site, the following breweries boast great restaurants where beer tourists can fuel up for further exploration.

Stone Brewing Company in Escondido is recognized as one of the best breweries in the United States by the two largest beer enthusiast websites, Ratebeer.com and BeerAdvocate.com. Brewing more than 150,000 barrels of beer annually, it is also one of the fastest growing breweries in the nation. Guests can enjoy big character beers like Arrogant Bastard Ale with its high quality ingredients and high alcohol contents. The Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, a restaurant with a large outdoor patio and one-acre garden, serves a rotating organic menu. www.stonebrew.com

With multiple San Diego settings and brews served and sold in over 2,000 Southern California locations, Karl Strauss Brewing Company is the largest craft brewery in San Diego. The brewery offers a core lineup of seven delicious beers, plus a variety of specialty seasonal beers, each perfectly paired with the restaurant's menu of Southern 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 and Carlsbad. www.karlstrauss.com

Pizza Port, a favorite San Diego North County restaurant with locations in Solana Beach and Carlsbad and Ocean Beach. At Pizza Port locations, guests can enjoy hoppy Pizza Port beers and more than 15 different pizzas served on the Port's signature wholegrain beer crust. www.pizzaport.com

La Jolla Brew House is a casual establishment in La Jolla featuring high-quality, moderately priced classic cuisine and a distinctive selection of craft-brewed and specialty beers. Its private party room and bar are perfect for hosting events and parties, and the outdoor patio and fire pit are pet-friendly. Guests enjoy weekly beer specials and events while watching their favorite sports teams on over 20 flat-screen TVs. www.lajollabrewhouse.com

Family-owned Coronado Brewing Company in Coronado is located just minutes from downtown San Diego. The brewpub features quality handcrafted beers and delicious food like woodfired pizzas and fresh seafood. Eight signature beers are brewed on-site including the popular Coronado Golden, the unfiltered Idiot IPA and the full-bodied Outlet Stout. www.coronadobrewingcompany.com

Gordon Biersch Brewing Company is an upscale brewpub where guests find authentic German-style lagers and creative cuisine. Located in Mission Valley, the Gordon Biersch menu consists of appetizers and entrees influenced by a variety of cultures and ingredients, all designed to complement the signature lager beers. Gordon Biersch brews are available in a wide variety of bars and restaurants throughout California. www.gordonbiersch.com

Oggi's Pizza & Brewing Company serves stuffed pizza and signature beers ranging from a refreshing cream ale like California Gold to the dark, full-bodied Black Magic Stout. Six of Oggi's eight year-round brews are winners of the Great American Beer Festival including Left Coast Hop Juice, in which hops are added to each step of the brewing process, and the Torrey Pines IPA. Guests can find Oggi's in Carmel Mountain Ranch, Mission Valley and Vista. www.oggis.com

Located just steps from the Pacific Ocean, Pacific Beach Alehouse serves up handcrafted beer and great food in a casual beach setting. Favorite brews like the Shipwreck Stout, PB Porter, Crystal Pier Ale and Amber Wave can be sipped on an outdoor deck overlooking the ocean or next to a fire pit on the patio. On the menu, handcrafted burgers and upscale casual items like lobster mac 'n cheese provide a culinary counterpoint. www.pbalehouse.com

Rock Bottom Brewery offers fresh, handcrafted beers and a diverse menu in two San Diego locations, La Jolla and downtown San Diego. The La Jolla brewpub was awarded the "Beer Excellence Award" by the Southern California Restaurant Writers Association and boasts a variety of mouthwatering items on its innovative menu. Rock Bottom's downtown location is a casual dining experience with a $5 happy hour and late-night menu offerings. www.rockbottom.com

Located just east of Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley, the San Diego Brewing Company has one of the largest draft selections in the county with more than 50 beers on tap daily. Weekly specials and sports packages cater to a diverse group of visitingsports fans and locals alike. The hefty menu of burgers, soups, salads, sandwiches and pizza complements the ever-changing selection of homemade beers and out-of-town taps. www.sandiegobrewing.com

San Marcos Brewery & Grill in San Marcos specializes in "American Grill" classics and fine, handcrafted ales from an on-site microbrewery; it also offers a full list of California produced wines. Special features at the brewpub are the Old English Ale and Oatmeal Stout that are dispensed through a traditional hand pump to create a distinct similarity to authentic English Ales. www.sanmarcosbrewery.com

Beer-Centric Bars and RestaurantsBeer Cheers at The LinkeryCheers at The Linkery.  photo: Erik Isacson

San Diego also offers a diverse range of bars and restaurants that truly specialize in rare beers from local brewers and others from around the globe.

At Blind Lady Ale House, located in Normal Heights near Balboa Park, 20 taps pour local, regional and hard-to-find Belgian brews from a list carefully curated by owner Lee Chase, former head brewer of San Diego's own Stone Brewing Company. Future plans include brewing on-site, but in the interim Chase is brewing Blind Lady Ales at the nearby Mission Brewery facility. The restaurant also specializes in hand-crafted Neapolitan-style pizzas with fresh mozzarella, house-made sausages, local produce and sustainable meats. www.blindladyalehouse.com

The Yard House in downtown San Diego's historic Gaslamp Quarter is an upscale, casual eatery known for its extensive menu and self-proclaimed "world's largest selection of draft beer." Guests can find a wide range of brews including classic lagers and obscure ales and stouts served in authentic goblets, pints and half-yard glasses. The Yard House features a transparent keg room containing more than 600 barrels and a fleet of over 130 tap handles. www.yardhouse.com

The laid-back Downtown Johnny Brown's, located in downtown San Diego, has an excellent selection of hard-to-find, specialty local brews from Green Flash, Stone Brewing, AleSmith and Ballast Point. Other selections are also available from top-notch craft brewers from around the country. www.downtownjohnnybrowns.com

Located in downtown San Diego's East Village, Neighborhood offers more than 27 local craft brews on tap and a creative, upscale take on classic American dishes like burgers. Tasting flights of San Diego beers and international selections are also available. www.neighborhoodsd.com

Toronado San Diego, located in North Park, is a sibling of San Francisco's famous beer outpost. At Toronado San Diego, the focus is clearly on craft beer with 50 beers on tap featuring the best from local, domestic and international breweries. Bottled offerings number more than 230 and focus on Belgian, French,German and English brews. www.toronadosd.com

With more than 75 years of service, Hamilton's Tavern in South Park is the oldest beer and wine licensed establishment in San Diego. It offers high quality ales and craft beers from around the world and boasts oneof the most diverse bottle selections in San Diego.

The Linkery in North Park offers gourmet local food that earned it national recognition as one of the "Best Farm-to-Table Restaurants in America" by Gourmet magazine. Guests can find an extensive list of beer made by true artisans, many of them local and regional; rare cask ales are always on tap. www.thelinkery.com

Ritual Tavern in North Park, a dark cozy pub with a modern medieval atmosphere, serves eight local beers on tap and boasts an extensive list of bottled beer that leans heavily toward European imports, with Belgium and Germany well represented. Its menu favors sustainably and humanely raised meats and locally sourced produce with a nod to classic pub fare. www.ritualtavern.com

The 25 taps and extensive bottle list at O'Brien's American Pub in Kearny Mesa features rare brews and local San Diego drafts. Known 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 Even Keel, along with an authentic, tasty tavern menu. www.obrienspub.net

Pub Crawls: On Foot and by RailSampling San Diego's beer culture can be done on foot by visiting the brewpubs, restaurants and bars in downtown San Diego and the North Park and Normal Heights neighborhoods.

In downtown San Diego, there are several options for beer lovers to map out their perfect pub crawl. Breweries within easy walking distance include Karl Strauss' downtown location and Rock Bottom Brewery in the Gaslamp Quarter. Local beers can also be sampled at downtown pubs and restaurants like Downtown Johnny Brown's, The Yard House and Neighborhood.

The North Park neighborhood is bisected by 30th Street which locals like to call "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, The Linkery and Ritual Tavern. Just a short walk east 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 Trolley and Coaster commuter train also enable visitors to ride the rails to their next great pint.

The San Diego Brewer's Guild offers itineraries with detailed directions by rail for visiting local breweries and brew pubs. A Central San Diego route stops at Ballast Point, Gordon Biersch, Oggi's and San Diego Brewing Company; a North County tour begins at Ballast Point and visits both Pizza Port locations in Solana Beach and Carlsbad www.sandiegobrewersguild.org

 

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 5-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. www.brewhop.com

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. www.brewerytoursofsandiego.com

 

Exciting Beer Events

Throughout the year, the San Diego community turns out in droves for festivals and celebrations of the region's exciting craft beer scene.

This summer, guests can sample craft beer with a backdrop of exciting horseracing action and live music during three special beer events at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. During Beer Fest in August, more than 75 different beers from Ballast, Coronado, Firestone, Full Sail, Gordon Biersch, Green Flash, Left Coast, Lagunitas, New Belgium, Pyramid, Palm and more will be poured from noon to 6 p.m. with live music on the race track's in-field afterwards. Later in August, a Craft Microbrew Festival will feature over 150 locally brewed beers followed by a showcase of local bands. During all three events, guests can purchase $15 wristbands, each good for five 7 oz. sample size beers. Admission is included in the $6 price for Stretch Run general race admission, but additional fees like $10 for parking and $20 for admission will be charged for those attending after the races end at 6:30 p.m. Dates for 2012 are TBD. www.dmtc.com

San Diego has recently 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. San Diego Beer Week returns November 2 - 12, 2012 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 inaugural San Diego Beer Week boasted more than 300 events, ranging from beer dinners to meet and greats with local brewers, with an estimated 20,000 attendees.2012 San Diego Beer Week events will be posted online at www.SDBW.org

 

For more information on San Diego's offerings, including exciting vacation packages and valuable coupons for attractions, restaurants and more, visit the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau's websiteat www.sandiego.org or call 619-236-1212.

 

(This article also appears in Drives and Destinations)

TravMedia sources contributed to this article.

Editor's note: If you're planning a visit to San Diego, you'll find links to hundreds Lodging and Dining options at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. Also in the directory is a list wineries in the nearby Temecula region. Recognizing the great interest in craft beers, we have also created a section in our Resource Directory for brewpubs, restaurants and bars that specialize in a broad offering of high quality brews.