Love beer but sick of drinking Tiger Beer or Carlsberg? Turn your suds sipping to San Diego, California, nicknamed the Capital of Craft, where you’ll find some of the best boutique beers in the United States. One thing’s for sure, with the sheer number of breweries, brewpubs and restaurants throughout the region serving up the local libations, you won’t go home thirsty!
San Diego’s Brewing Background
The Prohibition Era
San Diego’s beer-brewing history dates back to 1868, when the region’s first brewery – San Diego Brewery – began producing about 200 barrels annually. Beer production throughout the US later ground to a halt from 1919 to 1933, when Prohibition, which made it illegal to manufacture or sell alcohol, was in effect. In San Diego, brewing saw a renaissance in 1935, but craft brewing soon took a backseat as the large national breweries began to dominate the industry. Then, in 1982, California law legalised the brewpub, once again igniting interest in boutique beers.
What Ales You?
Things haven’t slowed since. Today, San Diego County boasts more than 90 craft breweries, where you can take a tour, talk to the brewers about the beer-making process and, of course, taste the local draughts. The region’s specialties run the gamut – pale ales, Belgian ales, sour beers, porters, stouts, pilsners, lagers, wheat beers and even some low-alcohol options.
As there are way too many great breweries to name in a humble blog post, I’ve highlighted a handful of favourites here across each of the five regions within San Diego County. But if you’re really serious about beer-hopping your way through San Diego, The San Diego Brewers Guild produces a comprehensive list and map you can download, or another map from the San Diego Tourism Authority divides this enthusiastic beer region into three handy sections you can easily tackle on your holiday.
If you don’t want to go it alone, or you want to leave the driving to someone else, there are also a number of tour companies specialising in the region’s enthusiasm for craft beer. Check out Brew Hop, Brewery Tours of San Diego and San Diego Beer and Wine Tours.
1. Central San Diego – Downtown and the Gaslamp Quarter
Gaslamp Quarter, the historic heart of San Diego
A giant and a pioneer in San Diego brewing, Karl Strauss Downtown is a must-visit. When it opened in 1989, it was the first brewery to do so in the city in over 50 years. While you’re here, take a tour, chat with the beer-loving and beer-knowledgeable staff and sample the 10 craft beers they have on tap, such as the award-winning Red Trolley Ale.
2. East County – El Cajon
What’s better than pizza and beer? Pair your craft draught – you can choose from more than 40! – with an equally crafty coal-fired pizza at Urbn St. Brewing Co’s in-house brewery and restaurant. The place features about nine of its own creations alongside more than 30 ‘guest’ beers.
3. North Coastal – La Jolla and Carlsbad
Relax and enjoy a brew or two at La Jolla Brewing Company in lovely La Jolla. Choose from one of the breweries own concoctions – such as Sunny Jim’s IPA, Neptune’s Nitro, Glider Port Pale, Cove Side Stout or Bird Rock Brown – or try a sampling from the 24-tap rotating selection of other San Diego County craft beers.
In nearby Carlsbad, stop in to ArcanaBrewing, where you’ll find a beer menu divided between ‘The Usual Suspects’, such as Honey Pale Ale, Headbasher IPA and Voyager English Ale, and seasonal specials, from summery Belle’s Berry Ale to the hearty Dark Xmas Ale.
4. North Inland – Poway
Get a true taste of the area’s craft-beer culture with a visit to the Lightning Brewery Tasting Room in Poway. Work your way through six sample sizes of Lightning’s boutique beers while you have a chat and even learn a few bits and pieces from head brewer James Crute and his knowledgeable brew crew.
5. South Bay – Coronado
Quench your thirst and get comfortable at the Coronado Brewing Company’s Brew Pub, where you can pair your handcrafted pint with delicious brewpub fare. Whether you’re a beer novice or an aficionado, you’re sure to find a sip to satisfy from the brewery’s Core Series, Crown Series, Coronado Collection or Brewer’s Series.
Best Time to Visit San Diego
Weather in San Francisco: From a weather perspective, visit any time – San Diego is blessed with an enviable year-round climate. The area rarely experiences extreme heat or cold, humidity is low and there’s minimal yearly rainfall.
Best Time of Year: The busiest time to visit is from late May to early September, when American kids are out of school and people are flocking to the coast. Beer lovers may want to visit in November, when San Diego Beer Week takes place.
Where to Stay
Getting To San Diego
San Diego is also just a two-hour drive south of Los Angeles.
San Diego Tours
Image Credits: Getty Images