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
San 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 Rooms
Many 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
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 Restaurants
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 Rail
Sampling 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.
From May 1 - 5, 2012, San Diego's reputation for inspired beers will take center stage as the city prepares to host the 2012 World Beer Cup. Started in 1996, the global competition presented by the Brewers Association is the most prestigious beer competition in the world and often referred to as "The Olympics of Beer Competition." Held every two years, a professional panel of beer judges honors the top three beers in 91 categories with gold, silver, and bronze awards.
Celebrating its sixth year and fast becoming one of the largest beer festivals in the country, the San Diego International Beer Festival will return June 22 - 24, 2012 to the San Diego County Fair with unlimited tastings of more than 350 beers from around the world. In addition to the huge selection of beers, the event will also feature seminars on home brewing, food and beer pairing, a Meet the Brewers event and much more. Four different beer tasting sessions will be offered: 4-8 p.m. on Friday, June 25; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4-8 p.m. on Saturday, June 26, and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday, June 27. Tickets for each session are $37 if purchased in advance and $43 at the gate; prices include admission to the 2012 San Diego County Fair. www.sdfair.com/beer
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 feature also appears in the beer category of Taste California Travel's Drink section)
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.
The Orange County Great Park (OCGP) in Irvine is becoming a popular year-round destination for enjoying free entertainment, sports, recreation, arts and culture.
Visitors can get a birds' eye view of Orange County aboard the iconic Great Park Balloon as it rises 400 feet above ground; take a ride on the hand-painted Carousel, play on Kids Rock, and stroll a Walkable Timeline that highlights 31 of the most significant events of the 1940s. In addition, the Palm Court Arts Complex features an art gallery and artists' studios.
The Flights & Sounds Summer Festival (August-September) offers world beat dance parties on Fridays and Saturdays feature main stage concert performances.
Additional events at the Park include Sundays Farmers Market; the Farm + Food Lab, a hands-on gardening experience; Movies on the Lawn; a Pumpkin Harvest; the annual "Growing the Park" anniversary celebration; a Family New Year's Eve Party, and numerous recreational and sports programs. Soccer fields will be added later this year.
The OCGP is a park for people of every generation, culture and interest. Nearly a million people have visited the Great Park and that number is growing daily.
The park is open seven days a week. All activities are free, with some requiring a parking fee.
About the Great ParkThe Orange County Great Park, with its more than 1,300-acre master plan, is the focal point of the redevelopment of the publicly-owned portion of the 4,700-acre former Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro. The Great Park features an iconic tethered helium balloon that rises 400 feet in the air, providing an aerial view of Park development. Other features include the Carousel, Farm + Food Lab, Kids Rock Playground, Walkable Timeline, Palm Court Arts Complex, North Lawn recreation area and historic Hangar 244. The South Lawn lighted soccer fields and Community Garden will be added in 2012. For more information go to www.ocgp.org
Sources at TravMedia.com contributed to this article.
Planning a visit to Orange County? Taste California Travel's Resource Directory has links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to the many craft beer pubs in the area.
While there are always celebrities and stars visiting Santa Rosa and Sonoma Wine Country, the next 30 days are a great time to meet them up close and personal. Who knows, you maybe even be able to ask them a question or get a personal picture with some of the stars.
If you consider yourself a foodie or just love watching The Food Network, you will have a chance not only to meet Mario Batali but also Santa Rosa's own Guy Fieri. On Friday, September 14th Guy and Mario will be hosting Chef's Tables in the Vineyard. The event is in conjunction with 16th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival and benefits the Cooking with Kids Foundation. A limited number of extra special VIP tickets are available with assigned seating at the head table, hosted by Guy Fieri and Mario Batali. If you prefer to dine with other Celebrity Chefs, also sponsoring tables are John Ash, Douglas Keane, Top Chef Season 6 contestant Eli Kirshtein and Top Chef Season 3 contestant Casey Thompson, just to name a few. While the Tomato Festival tickets are sold out, you can still dine with celebrity chefs. Tickets are available at www.kj.com/chef-tables-in-the-vineyard.
Basketball fans will want to know that Phil Jackson and Chris Mullin will be speaking on September 16th. Jackson is widely considered one of the greatest coaches in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA). As head coach of the Chicago Bulls and the Lwww.innergame.us.os Angeles Lakers, he won a total 11 NBA titles as a coach, the most ever. Mullin is an NBA Hall of Famer and Bay Area and New York City basketball legend; he is recognized as one of the best shooters of all time. Winner of the 1985 John Wooden Award, 2 Gold medals and was a member of the "Dream Team.", as a professional Mullin was named to the All Star Team 5 times. Phil and Chris will be discussing the spiritual nature of sports, overcoming challenges, and the essence of teamwork. Following their presentations Phil and Chris will answer questions about their philosophy and experiences. Tickets are available at
If cycling, the Amgen Tour of California and the Tour de France are more your style then you can come ride with Levi Leipheimer's Gran Fondo on September 29th. Levi was the overall winner of the Amgen Tour of California in 2007, 2008 and 2009. He also has four top ten finishes in the Tour de France along with third overall in 2007 and a bronze medal from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Cyclists have a chance not only to ride with Levi on the 29th, they also have a chance to purchase VIP tickets for an up close and personal chance to share dinner with Levi at the Fiesta del Fondo on the 27th. Tickets are available for the Fiesta and the Piccolo Fondo at www.levisgranfondo.com.
If politics is your specialty, on October 15th you can hear Washington D.C.'s "odd couple," Mary Matalin—staunch Republican and Bush advisor—and James "The Ragin' Cajun" Carville—steadfast Democrat and Clinton campaign strategist. The couple will give audiences an enlightening and entertaining look at today's most important political issues, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at politics inside Washington and how today's headlines are playing out around the country. Matalin and Carville are key players on the national political stage—they each have over 30 years of experience in politics and have individually worked for Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. VIP tickets include a meet and greet reception before the performance with both James Carville and Mary Matalin. Patrons will have the opportunity for autographs and pictures. Tickets are available from www.wellsfargocenterarts.org.
Of course if you do not want to meet your celebrities at dinner or one on one, you can still visit Santa Rosa and enjoy shows from such performers as Lang Lang (September 29), Alison Krauss (September 30) and Bill Maher (October 20) at the Green Music Center www.gmc.sonoma.edu or Trombone Shorty (September 19), Anjelah Johnson (October 19) and Loretta Lynn (October 22) at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts.
TravMedia sources contributed to this article.
Editor's note: Thinking of visiting the Santa Rosa area? You'll find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options in the area, as well as links to area wineries and beer-centric pubs and restaurants, in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.