San Diego is the “Craft Beer Capital of America.” It’s a well earned title with over 150 craft breweries in the county. Many of these breweries have multiple locations, adding to the endless mission to visit every taproom in San Diego. The city even has a signature beer: the West Coast Style IPA. Full of flavor and hoppy diversity, you can find experimental recipes all of the city. With so many breweries, this list is by no means exhaustive. Rather, it highlights some of the best spots to grab a beer by neighborhood.
How to Make Beer
Beer is essentially grain, water, yeast, and hops. Grain gets heated in water which creates sugar. This sugary water is boiled with hops. Hops are the flowers of a particular vine, which can come in many different varieties such as citra, mosaic, and cascade. This mix is then cooled and yeast is added for fermentation. Yeast is a living organism that digests the sugars and creates alcohol.
Each stage of this process can create unique flavors, giving us the craft of craft brewing. Grains can have grassy, roasted, or sweet flavors. Hops can add the taste of bitter, floral, or citrus. Yeast often creates earthy, bread-like flavor. The amount of alcohol created by the yeast also creates a distinct profile for a beer. This is the basic recipe for creating beer, which is further customized by creative brewers to produce unique beers.
Where to Drink by Neighborhood
If this is your first visit to San Diego, you’ll need to know that the city is divided in numerous neighborhoods. Being a large city, you’ll need a car to get around in most cases. So, be sure to have a designated driver or utilize a ride share app such as Lyft to avoid driving under the influence. In this guide, I’ve picked some of my top recommended local breweries in Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach, Downtown, Barrio Logan, North Park, Miramar, and beyond.
One of my favorite breweries in San Diego also serves up amazing pizza. They have a few locations to explore, one of which is in Ocean Beach. You can also find them in Solana Beach, Carlsbad, and San Clemente. Their original location is Solana Beach, which started out as just a pizza place. Across all their locations, they’ve won nearly 100 awards at Great American Beer Festivals. Their California Honey and Swami’s IPA are among their most popular brews.
The location of OB Brewery makes it a destination of its own. Add in award winning beer and a rooftop terrace, and you’ve got a distinctly San Diego brewery experience. They also have a wide ranging menu for when you get the munchies.
Like many other popular San Diego Breweries, Kilowatt has expanded into a few locations. In addition to Ocean Beach you can find them in Kearny Mesa and Oceanside. Their taprooms feature creative lighting, interactive art, games, and rotating artwork by local artists. Kilowatt is particularly known for their small batch creations. Try the Syrah Barrel Aged Belgian Quintuple (14.6% APV) or the Chocolate Macadamia Nut, a sweet stout. They also offer a variety of entrees at the taproom depending on the day of the week. On the weekend you can score tacos and nachos, whereas on the weekdays you can find assorted sandwiches such as roast beef or veggie.
Alright so this is not a brewery, but rather a craft beer Mecca. This business is a unique bar in Pacific Beach that offers over 40 local and renowned beers on tap. Rather than be served by a bartender, you get a wristlet and a glass and have the opportunity to self pour and sample as many and as much beer you want. The wrist tracks how much beer you pour and you settle your bill at the end. You have the freedom to compare and explore the many amazing local craft brews. It’s a fun, interactive experience. Plus, there’s free popcorn and a self pour wine option if you’re not a beer drinker.
Amplified Ale Works
Starting off first as a restaurant this business has evolved into its newer location in PB specializing in good music, good beer, and a dog friendly environment. Guided by the mission to “amplify” flavors, the decor is influenced by themes of electric music. Try some of their bolder creations such as their flagship Electrocution IPA or one of their best sellers and 2016 World Beer Cup Gold medal-winning Whammy Bar Wheat. Their location has an amazing outdoor patio with long benches of communal seating and really capitalizes on the San Diego location. It’s a great spot to catch a sunset and will have you covered with space heaters should you feel a little chilly from the ocean breeze.
Half Door Brewing Company
Conveniently located a block from Petco Park, Half Door offers a lovely outdoor deck that makes you feel like you’re hanging out on a friend’s back porch. Influenced by Irish ancestors, many of their beers are brewed on site and served fresh. They also have a full menu, serving everything from appetizers under the Irish inspired title “A Wee Taste” to main courses and Banana White Chocolate Bread Pudding for dessert.
Resident Brewing Company
The downtown taproom hosts not only their own brews, but many other guest drafts. If you’re looking to catch a sports game while trying a local spot, this is a great option as they have numerous TVs inside. They also feature delicious snacks prepared in their kitchen such as pretzel balls and rosemary mac n’ cheese.
This location in Little Italy offers weekly events and customized beer flights. Try the Bolt OG IPA, their homage to the West Coast IPA. First brewing 40 years ago, the founder of Bolt established San Diego’s first commercial brewery.
One the oldest craft brewers in San Diego, Karl Strauss is also one of the most popular. In 2016 they won the title Mid-Size Brewer of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival. Their beer is mainly brewed in Pacific Beach, but you can visit them in Downtown San Diego, in addition to several other locations in California.
Border X is a Mexican craft brewery in San Diego. Some of their noteworthy beers are the Abuelita’s Chocolate Stout and the Horchata Golden Stout, which won gold at the Los Angeles International Beer Competition. The brewery has also had a pivotal role in the opening of Mujeres Brew House, a woman-centric, Latina-run beer education group that gives women and people of color the opportunity to learn professional skills in the beer space.
Mujeres Brew House
Where you spend your money matters. Despite being the Craft Beer Capital of America, not a single brewery in San Diego is solely owned by a woman of any race or ethnicity. Mujeres Brew House aims to change this. It is an initiative offering training to women interested in craft beer, an industry heavily dominated by white European-American men. It is San Diego’s first and only women-led community brewing space, educational facility, and taproom dedicated to empowering people of all backgrounds, specifically focusing on women of color in the craft beer industry. Unlike the other businesses on this list, this taproom is a nonprofit.
One of the reasons this brewery stands out is for their craft of their own hard seltzer line, Black Paw, in addition to beer. They also offer a low carb 4.5% IPA beer at 104 calories per 12 ounces. Though they began in North Park, you can find Thorn in two other locations, Mission Hills and Barrio Logan.
One of the top brewers in San Diego, Modern Times continues to grow and expand. They have opened restaurants and tasting rooms in cities across the west coast. One of the unique aspects of Modern Times is that in addition to beer, they also do coffee. They source and roast single origin and blends, which you can sample at the Fermentorium Cafe in Point Loma or the Invigatorium Cafe in San Diego’s East Village. They also offer a coffee subscription. In case speciality in coffee and beer hasn’t convinced you yet, Modern Times also became California’s very first employee-owned brewery in 2017.
Launched in 2012, Belching Beaver aims to make great beer and have a “Dam Good Time” while doing it. Their Me So Honey Blonde Ale is one of their best sellers, but their claim to fame is their Peanut Butter Milk Stout. This dark beer not only tastes like peanut butter, but also smells like roasted peanuts. This beer is definitely at least worth a try, but don’t just take this San Diegan’s word for it. The dozen or so international and domestic awards it has earned can also speak to its quality.
You can enjoy your beer close to the action here. A portion of their large warehouse has been converted to a tasting room, meaning you can see, smell, and hear the brewing happening just beyond the bar. They also have a great patio space for enjoying the San Diego weather. You can bring outside food to the tasting room or order delivery on site from wherever you are craving.
Founded in 2014, Pure Project began in the emerging craft beer scene of Costa Rica. With limited infrastructure to support the enterprise at the time, they moved to San Diego, but have kept many of the same elements and ethos that guided them in Costa Rica. Among other efforts, Pure Project donates 1% of all sales to environmental non-profit organizations. At their tasting room you can find a wide selection of Murky IPAs and sours. The Murklands Pale Ale is their crowd pleaser, but they also have a unique Romeo and Julius Cream Ale designed to evoke flavors of orange cream soda.
With both a large warehouse and a stylish outdoor patio with a food truck, Green Flash is a local favorite for catching up with friends after work. Moreover, their West Coast IPA helped establish San Diego as the home of the super-hoppy brew style. Their tasting room also features brews from Alpine Beer Company, another leading brewery found just outside San Diego. While you have to try the West Coast IPA, other noteworthy options are the GFB (American Blonde Ale) and the Le Freak (Belgian IPA).
If you like coconut, you might find your new favorite beer here at Duck Foot. They serve a limited edition Toasted Coconut IPA that is truly delicious. Their Duckzilla, an Imperial Double IPA, is one their best sellers. Duck Foot also has an award winning Honey Beer named Drink This Or The Bees Die. In addition, the co-founder of Duck Foot said, “Go Duck Yourself” to gluten when he learned he had Celiac Disease. Now, the beer lover makes his beers “gluten reduced,” a process that enables him to both make and drink quality, creative beer.
One of the largest breweries in San Diego, their Miramar brewery and restaurant do not disappoint. It is a popular spot for visitors and local’s alike. They offer one of the most visited brewery tours in San Diego. In addition, they have both a full menu and drinks. This makes it a great choice if you have a group with a variety of tastes. Their most well known beer is the Sculpin IPA, which can be found in most grocery stores in California and throughout the country. Ballast Point also has a good merchandise store at this location if you are looking to take home a souvenir.
Other San Diego Spots
Coronoado’s Islander IPA is known as one of the best IPAs in the city. Flavors of apricot, mango and grapefruit give this beer an explosive taste that makes it a favorite of many.
Stone Brewery may be the most out of the way if you’re in central San Diego, but it is worth the trip. It may also be the most nationally and internationally recognized beer on this list. In 2018, it was the county’s largest beer producer and the ninth largest in the entire country.
From the people that brought the city Saint Archer, Harland is a recent new enterprise. This tasting room and brewing facility located in Scripps Ranch offers visitors a chance to try their malty Nitro Pub Ale and crisp Japanese Lager. The brewery is described by the founder as a beer embodying what he grew up around, “blue-collar work ethic and culture.”
Chula Vista Brewery
The only black owned brewery in San Diego, they took bronze at the San Diego International Beer Competition. This pet friendly spot aims to create a welcoming space for the community. The goal of the brewery has also been to create jobs and further grow the city of Chula Vista. The owner is also a Navy veteran, influencing some of the decor and beer can art.
- Duck Foot Brewing Company
- Kilowatt Brewing Tasting Room
- Pizza Port Brewing Company
- O.B. Brewery
- Barrel Republic
- Amplified Ale Works Backstage – Pacific Beach
- Half Door Brewing Company
- Resident Brewing
- Bolt Brewery
- Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens
- Coronado Brewing Company
- Thorn Street Brewery
- Ballast Point
- Border X Brewing
- Saint Archer Brewing Company
- Karl Strauss Brewery & Restaurant
- Mujeres Brew House
- Chula Vista Brewery
- Harland Brewing Co.