Who doesn’t love San Diego? Temperate climate, cool neighbourhoods and a mecca for beer with over 100 breweries in San Diego County. While the breweries are spaced out all over about 500 freeway exits, you can still hit a good chunk of them by planning your attack with some mapping skills. Speaking of which, here’s my map – breweries, craft bars, restaurants, coffee shops and even a few record stores.
We attended Pizza Port’s Strong Ales Festival while in town – check out our high ABV thoughts over in Beer Festival Land. Now for some San Diego highlights and observations:
Best new discovery
This gem is a must visit. A 1900s-era house transformed into an Irish-inspired brewpub. As they so eloquently put it: “Half Door Brewing Co is a “pub” in the traditional Irish countryside sense of the word – a place where beer is made and served fresh. At one time in the recent past, every hamlet on the Emerald Isle had its own pub, its own brewer, and its own unique brew.”
The bar is at the entrance and the former living areas have become cozy seating areas where one can enjoy some comfort food and well-made craft beer. We didn’t try the food however the ambiance and great beer will have us returning on our next trip. Too bad the cool t-shirts the servers were wearing aren’t for public sale. I may have to go work there so I can score one (and drink my wages in beer).
Most impressive taproom
In yet another industrial park, you walk into the monstrous 25,000 s.f. fortress of shiny pipes and barrels – both to sit at and to drink from. Holy Hannah this place is big. Ok, you can’t really drink from the barrels, but their beautiful BA series are on tap and I suggest you start the day off properly with five different varietals of Speedway Stout. Check out Anvil & Stave in the back room as the tap menu often has some rarities.
Oh heavenly barrels
If someone could cause, oh I don’t know, a distraction of some sort, I could slip into the barrel area and live happily ever after. Lost Abbey is one of my favourite breweries and they never disappoint. Great offerings from both of their breweries – the other being Port Brewing – that have barrel aged goodies (surprise!), IPAs and everything in between. Don’t miss a trip here. If you can’t make it out to the brewery, and you’d better have a really good reason why not, The Confessional is their other location.
Best cheese and beer
A little bit of heaven just opened up and plunked this beauty in the trendy neighbourhood of North Park. A tasting room with a draught list or if you prefer, grab a bottle from the shelf and drink on site. Now about that cheese. They’ve teamed up with Venissimo Cheese to provide a wide assortment of tasty cheese and charcuterie. Dinner sorted!
Best bar that’s a beer store
Bottlecraft (multiple locations)
Oh hey, it’s Bottlecraft again. In addition to North Park, they also have locations in Little Italy and Liberty Station. The tap lists vary in each location and if I lived here, they’d be taking a lot of my money. Think of them as a neighbourhood tap room with a nice selection of bottles to go or for on-site consumption. Not a huge selection but definitely lots of great beers to choose from. Also CHEESE in North Park.
Longest walk to the bathroom
Walk past the bar, turn left at the tanks then take a right past the tanks. Ok, it must be here. No. Keep walking – follow the arrows on the floor. Now walking past equipment that I’m dying to touch. Must resist. Hey, a saw! Must resist. Made it past the work table, hang another right and keep going. So the bathroom excursion is also the brewery tour. Two birds and all that. Cool.
Coolest & Most Educational Concept
Yes, White Labs as in the yeast producer. Plunk yourself down in their tasting room, pick a beer style then try it with different yeast strains. There’s no better way to analyze how yeast changes a beer, all other ingredients being equal. It’s worth the trip whether you’re a homebrewer or not.
Routes that are walkable without killing your Fitbit
Miramar: Division 23 > Ballast Point > Amplified Ale Works > Pure Project > AleSmith > Mikkeller
Downtown: Monkey Paw > Mission Brewing > Half Door > Stone > Resident Brewing
North Park: Tiger!Tiger! > Belching Beaver > Rip Current > Ritual Tavern > Toronado > North Park Beer > Mike Hess > Modern Times > Thorn Street
Best. Damn. Coffee.
I could have said best coffee at a brewery but dang it, their pour over was so freaking delicious I bought two pounds of coffee and when I got home, blew $150 on pour over essentials. Gee, thanks MT. Other great coffee places were Industrial Grind, Communal Coffee, Elixer Coffee
Super duper cool tasting room
Yup, it’s Modern Times again. Their spacious tasting room with a wall of post-it notes monkey are on one side whereas a wall of comics is on the other. Toss in a retail area, coffee and taps of barrel aged beers and boy howdy, I’m sold.
The brewery that makes you forget you’re in an industrial park
Walk down the path lined with beautiful shrubberies. Look up – the walkway has vines and branches encasing it. In the mere moments from the parking lot to inside the restaurant/brewery, you’re transformed. The industrial park you drove up to is now a fading memory. The garden area is really where the magic happens. Concrete bars, tons of patio space, a garden area to toss the kids, and well-stocked koi pond, which could also host the kids. The food menu is well crafted and the draft and bottle list is sublime.
Busiest restaurant on a Tuesday morning
Hey, don’t you people work? This gem was near our Airbnb and was packed. On a Tuesday. Their portions are incredibly generous, meaning we left/wasted half, with items like jurassic pork bacon (get it), breakfast bacon mac ‘n cheese, oreo cookie pancakes and croque monsieur . Alright I guess that’s why you’re so busy.
Hottest new restaurant
Wild mushroom and onion toast, beef carpaccio, buttermilk biscuit with foie gras butter, wagyu short rib and boar ragu (pictured above). We shared, and ate, it all. Sitting where all the action is at the kitchen bar, watching the team carefully orchestrate each plate with precision and grace. Not a detail is missed and each plate comes out ready for its 10 seconds of Instagram fame. Suffice to say, we thoroughly enjoyed our meal, the ambiance and would recommend making a reservation.
And there you have it. San Diego, round two, complete with new bars and breweries visited and we even ate at a real restaurant. Go us. We spent six full days drinking in San Diego (see what I did there? Right. I’ll show myself out). Not all places made this list but that doesn’t mean they’re not worthy and frankly, you really didn’t want to read a 5,000 word post, did you? Use my map and plot out your plan of attack – you can’t go wrong.