Most people already know about San Diego’s wide beaches, world-famous zoo and fantastic burritos, but did you know that this city by the sea also has one of the largest and most vibrant microbrewery scenes in the country? Some say it’s the quality of the water, others say it’s the culture, but whatever the cause, San Diego is now home to over 70 microbreweries. It’s a great place to experiment with different and innovative beer styles and have fun doing it. Check out this guide to the San Diego beer scene and get ready to dive in!
San Diego is a sprawling city, made up of many different neighborhoods and areas. Breweries are spread all around, often in remote office parks, making it impossible to visit most without your own vehicle. It is wise to choose which brewers you want to visit and to map them out ahead of time. You will, of course, need a designated driver. Almost all breweries offer tasting flights, which is the best way to taste a variety of beers without only having to choose just one. Some breweries also offer tours where you can see how the beer is made.
Stone Brewing Company
Stone is one of the biggest breweries in San Diego and the one you are most likely to have heard of outside of the area. The Stone Brewery is a massive space with a beautiful patio, sit down restaurant, brewery tours and a large gift shop. They run 5 or 6 tours a day at $3 a head and include samplings and a souvenir pint glass. Don’t be thrown off by the commercialism because Stone’s beer is the real deal. There are classics like Ruination Double IPA, Stone Smoked Porter and Arrogant Bastard Ale, as well as one-off novelties like a chai spiced imperial Russian stout.
Ballast Point specializes in great German-inspired light summer beers and has recently branched out to distilling spirits. Their signature beer is the Pale Ale, which is hopped like a lager but fermented like ale. The Sculpin IPA and Wahoo White are also popular choices. For something with a bit of a kick, try the limited edition Habanero Sculpin, the brewery’s classic IPA with the heat of habanero peppers brewed in. It will certainly wake up your taste buds! Unlike many other breweries, Ballast Point has a full restaurant with classic beer pairings.
Lost Abbey is beloved among true beer aficionados for the effort and craft they put into their excellent Belgian beers. If beer were a religion, this would be its cathedral. Classic favorites include the golden strong Inferno Ale and the light and hoppy Devotional Ale. There are also unique barrel aged beers and seasonals. This is actually two brewery experiences in one: Lost Abbey shares a home with sporty Port Brewing Company, which means tons of variety and more beers than you can possibly try.
It looks nondescript on the outside, but the spacious bar and fun atmosphere make AleSmith a popular stop for locals. On Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons the parking lot is populated with fun food trucks that cater to the nightlife enthusiasts. For 20 years AleSmith has been producing European-inspired beer with American ingredients. Their classics include Speedway Stout, Anvil ESB and Lil’Devil Belgian Pale Ale.
Tips for Visiting
- Many of the popular breweries can get quite crowded on Saturday afternoons. If you want to avoid the crowds try to tour on a weekday or on a Sunday when the crowd is mostly local.
- There are several tour companies that will take you to a selection of breweries if everyone in the group wants to have a good time.
- If you are working with very limited time, you should consider going to one of San Diego’s best beer bars where you can taste a variety of beers on tap.
- Some great bars in downtown San Diego are Monkey Paw (which brews its own beer), Knotty Barrel and Bottlecraft Beer Shop and Tasting Room.
- Visit Drink Up San Diego for a full updated list of locally operating breweries and a more in-depth guide to the San Diego beer scene.