San Diego is to craft beer what Napa is to wine. Well-renowned as the Capital of Craft, the sunny coastal town saw its craft beer scene take shape in the 1980s with the pioneering brewpub Pizza Port, followed by a secondary wave of breweries including Stone and Alesmith. As these initial spots flourished, they fostered subsequent generations of brewers who would eventually branch out on their own. Today, the resulting domino effect has fostered more than 150 independent breweries in San Diego county (and the nightlife in San Diego is beer-heavy as a result). Time your visit during the epic San Diego Beer Week in November (look for cheap hotels in San Diego here), and you’ll sample the region’s latest trends and offerings. For every other time of the year, the following list should provide a worthy overview of the best breweries in San Diego’s booming craft beer scene.
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Best breweries in San Diego
What is it? San Diego’s fastest growing brewery is fiercely independent and just as fun.
Why go? West Coast beer lovers will be familiar with this employee-owned brewery whose 16 oz. cans of Space Ways, Fortunate Islands, and Blazing World fill local store shelves. It’s hard to go wrong with any release, yet don’t miss the java-infused brews that incorporate the company’s house-roasted coffee. You can sample them at the brewery’s three playfully, stylish outposts, from the flagship Lomaland Fermentorium to the North Park Flavordome. Join the League of Partygoers and Elegant People, and get preview tastings, first dibs on rare releases including exclusive barrel-aged beers, and a prized invite to a welcome party.
What is it? Local brewery royalty presides over a collection of timeless brews and one of the region’s most impressive taprooms.
Why go? Founded in 1996, Stone has since grown to become San Diego’s largest craft brewery, and one of the largest independent breweries in the nation. These days, Stone offers much more than an arrogant demon. Their Escondido HQ, the World Bistro & Gardens, rivals winery estates for magnitude and beauty. Two bars—one indoor, the other set on an outdoor patio—pour 36 rotating house and guest beers, while a one-acre, creek-lined garden is dotted with seating. Stone’s commitment to pure ingredients in their beer translates to the brewpub’s food menu with locally grown produce informing items such as charred Brussels sprouts and ahi nachos with marinated cucumbers. Pick up a favorite year-round or special release, as well as other merch at the adjacent company store. Find a second World Bistro closer to downtown in Point Loma’s Liberty Station complex.
What is it? Craft beer forefathers dish up killer pizzas and hoppy brews.
Why go? As one of San Diego’s first craft brewers, Pizza Port has amassed inumerable awards since opening its original Carlsbad location in 1987. Its Swami’s IPA—named for a famed local surf break—and Kook double IPA are local staples. At one of their five brewpubs, pair a pint with classic and creative combos such as the Pizza Carlsbad with pesto, grilled chicken, artichoke hearts and feta, and an order of their signature Beer Buddies, garlic knots served dunked in either ranch or marinara.
What is it? Mexican-inspired brewery blends San Diego’s craft beer and Latino cultures.
Why go? Border X goes beyond the ubiquitous Mexican lager with inspired creations such as an Horchata Golden Blonde and hibiscus and agave-fueled Blood Saison. Swing by their street-art adorned taproom in the hip Barrio Logan neighborhood for street tacos and an outdoor patio garden set with the requisite beer garden games such as cornhole and Jenga. Check their Instagram for weekly events including guest DJs, Lotería night, and Latin music jams.
What is it? This favorite small-batch brewery taps delicious, tropical-inspired beers with a strong sustainability ethos.
Why go? Before opening their Miramar brewery, owners Jesse Pine and Mat Robar brewed in the jungles of Costa Rica. At Pure Project, they import their experience with tropical flavors and a commitment to pure, local ingredients. You’ll taste it in brews such as the La Vie en Rosé saison made with organic hibiscus and local honey, the Tropical Mist blonde with organic Valencia oranges, and Milagro stout brewed with Costa Rican shade-grown coffee. Plus, don’t miss their seasonal imperial stout releases including the Maplesaurus Rex with maple syrup and vanilla. Their laid-back Miramar brewery and taproom features tropical touches such as a moss wall and lots of greenery, while a stylish new Bankers Hill locale lends an ideal spot for a cold one after exploring Balboa Park.
What is it? Well-regarded for their IPAs, this Kearny Mesa brewery is equally adept at Old World styles.
Why go? In a region famed for its IPAs, Societe stands out. Founded in 2012, the brewery’s Pupil IPA is already a local standard, and their Coachman session IPA nabbed the gold two years in a row at the Great American Beer Fest. Yet, don’t overlook their Belgian inspired beers including the exceptional Harlot blonde. Their Kearny Mesa brewery and taproom features a sprawling outdoor patio and daily food trucks, plus, you can pair salutations with Sabbath at their monthly Metal Yoga.
What is it? A rollicking downtown brewpub pouring beers from a homebrewing champ.
Why go? Before opening Resident, Robert Masterson was a fixture at local homebrew contests, racking up awards with creations such as a pina-colada inspired coconut IPA (which was released by Stone Brewing after Masterson took first in an American Homebrewers Association competition). In 2013, Masterson opened up his first commercial brewery inside downtown hotspot, The Local. At the boisterous, warehouse-like spot, sample Masterson’s handiwork including his famed Vacation Coconut IPA alongside brew-friendly grub including lobster tacos and the Local’s signature Big Ass Nachos.
What is it? Venerable brewery features San Diego’s largest tasting room and a legendary stout.
Why go? Founded in 1995, AleSmith is a household name in the San Diego brew scene. Each of their year-round brews drink like an archetype of their respective style, from the simply titled IPA to the Wee Heavy Scotch Ale. Yet, it’s the rich and robust Speedway Stout that’s garnered the most acclaim and spawned countless variations including a Vietnamese coffee and bourbon barrel-aged rendition. Check out their cavernous tasting room which hosts regular food trucks and includes a mini museum to Padre Hall of Famer, Tony Gwynn.
What is it? Homebrew star Kelsey McNair’s 9,000-square-foot showcase for his award-winning brews.
Why go? Like other successful homebrew stories, North Park Beer Co. was born in a garage. Yet, founder Kelsey McNair had the honorary distinction of creating the most award-winning home brew recipe in history. Today, find his famed Hop Fu! IPA at a convivial, cavernous space in San Diego’s North Park ‘hood. McNair also tapped the crew at Mastiff Sausage Company to sling beer-friendly bites such as housemade sausages and Cheeto-Rones, crispy pork rinds tossed in a housemade cheese powder.
What is it? Drink in the views at this picturesque Del Mar brewery.
Why go? Overlooking the expansive, wild preserve of San Dieguito Lagoon, the aptly named Viewpoint—Del Mar’s first brewery—features what are likely the most striking surroundings of any local brewery. Nab a seat on the shaded patio, and enjoy a Mandarina Pale Ale or Galaxy IPA paired with refined fare including pork belly bites and smoked gouda mac n’ cheese with chorizo.
What is it? Come as you are at this laid-back North Park brewery that eschews chic trappings for chill vibes.
Why go? An outdoor mural featuring artists such as Iggy Pop and Joey Ramone is your first hint of the punk rock ethos that pervade this downhome, neighborhood hang. It’s kid and dog-friendly, you can bring in your own food, and pints are reasonably priced. Most glasses are filled with their Green Hat IPA, but don’t overlook the Euro-style brews such as the Jinxremover schwarzbier. Just get there early as the taproom fills up fast.
What is it? Carlsbad newcomer draws a crowd with tasty IPAs.
Why go? Hidden behind a boxy, corporate park facade, you’ll discover an airy, industrial-chic interior constructed with recycled materials including recycled wood from the devastating Cedar Fire, and a bar fashioned from a repurposed, shipping container. The brewery is noted for its IPAs and philanthropic efforts, both evidenced in their Reclaim the Wild IPA which benefits the National Forest Foundation, part of Burgeon’s pledge to plant 25,000 trees over the next year. Other notable brews include the Treevana IPA and a host of hazy brews such as the Nug-O-War, a collab with Pizza Port. There’s a rotating line up of food trucks usually parked out front, and pups are welcome.
What is it? North County brewery is a mecca for kettle sours.
Why go? While the San Marcos brewery features a lineup of the usual West Coast styles, it’s primarily known for its tart kettle sours. Their popular Vice series features numerous Berliner Weisse-style releases brewed with fruit such as pink guavas, Montmorency cherries, and black currants. The brewery is located next to a popular axe throwing venue which you probably want to visit before ordering your first flight of beer.
If you'd rather sip a craft beer or share a flaming cocktail bowl than dance until 4am, you'll love the laidback nightlife in San Diego. The craft beer mecca of California seemingly sports one brewery for every hundred residents, and its flourishing cocktail scene has hipsters sipping labored concoctions on rootops, in arcades and even in donut shops. Plus, the city’s tropical environs have inspired a reinvigorated tiki scene that’s lured the world’s largest gathering of Mai Tai worshippers, Tiki Oasis. After catching the sunset, stroll San Diego’s varied neighborhoods, and you’ll discover the laid-back beach town keeps humming long after the surfboards have been stowed and the kids have gone to bed. RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in San Diego