I’ve been exploring San Diego’s craft beer scene for a few years now and it just keeps getting better. Since I don’t live in San Diego, but instead a couple of hours north, my endeavor to sample all of these unique brews is going to take a while, but it is well worth the effort. According to the local tourism board there are more than 150 breweries throughout the region making this a hotbed of craft brewing that will keep me busy for years to come.
Breweries in San Diego range from small, family-owned businesses to large scale operations with multiple tasting rooms and restaurants. What I love are the stories of homebrewers that started in their garage and today have made it big — many are now distributed around the country. In my travels around the U.S., I’m always excited to see one of San Diego’s brews on tap in restaurants and bars.
This list isn’t very scientific, but instead includes my favorite beers in and around San Diego. The list just scratches the surface of all the creativity that can be found when it comes to brewing in the region.
1. Stone Brewing
I first discovered Stone Brewing at one of their flagship restaurants in Liberty Station, a former Naval Station turned shopping and entertainment destination. Called Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, this expansive restaurant features indoor and outdoor dining and bars as well as a bocce ball court, outdoor cinema space, and gardens. My husband, Jason, and I found this to be a relaxing spot to sip a beer on the weekend. We’ve never tried the food though it gets great online reviews.
Founded in San Diego by Greg Koch and Steve Wagner in 1996, Stone Brewing is now the ninth largest craft brewer in the U.S. Their beer is produced both in San Diego and Richmond, Virginia. But don’t worry if you can’t get to San Diego, their beer is sold in all 50 states.
IPA’s take the lead at Stone and they pioneered the West Coast style IPA. Over time they’ve produced dozens of styles of beers including lagers, stouts, and sours. I recently enjoyed their Delicious IPA which has a subtle citrus flavor.
Pro Tip: If you visit Stone Brewing World at Liberty Station, be sure to explore the Liberty Public Market as well. This large food hall has some excellent international cuisine for very reasonable prices.
2. Modern Times
Modern Times has charted its own course in the craft brewing world. Founded in 2013 and named for a utopian community built on Long Island in 1850, it’s California’s first employee-owned brewery. It’s also the only brewery I know of that serves an entirely plant-based menu at all of its restaurants — something I appreciate as a vegetarian. In addition to selling really good beer, it also sells its own line of coffee.
What Modern Times has become known for are their hazy IPAs, a type of beer increasingly popular among craft brewers. The beer names represent the fun and wacky spirit of Modern Times with monikers like Teleportation Sweater, Getaway Dinosaur, and Shark Saddle. Year-round you’ll find five regular beers in rotation: a pale ale, a hazy, a sour, and an IPA. A dozen seasonal beers round out the offerings including several hazys, a stout, and an amber.
At Modern Times, I’d recommend either their Sparkle Wolf West Coast-Style IPA or the Space Ways Hazy Nelson IPA.
3. Ballast Brewing
What started as Home Brew Mart — a store selling brewing ingredients and equipment to fledgling brewers — grew into one of southern California’s favorite craft breweries. Ballast Point now offers four tasting rooms and restaurants throughout the region and will be expanding to northern California later this year.
Founder, Jack White, began brewing beer in his college apartment at UCLA. In 1992, he started Home Brew Mart, and just 2 years later opened Ballast Brewing, now the second largest brewer in San Diego County.
I’ve enjoyed Ballast beers many times, but recently made a visit to their restaurant at Downtown Disney in Anaheim. We opted to sit on the upper level, outdoor patio to enjoy our dinner. Food can be ordered online and is delivered to your table.
But the best part is the opportunity to sample beers before choosing one for a pint. After sampling a few, I opted for their seasonal Pumpkin Down and California Amber — both were delicious. Jason ordered one of their seltzers. The on-tap selection is large and includes lagers, IPAs, and porters. They offer some pretty unique beers including Habanero Sculpin and Chai Victory.
4. View Point Brewing
Just north of San Diego is Del Mar, a community known for its beautiful beaches and seaside race track. Across the street from the track is View Point Brewing offering some of the best views I’ve ever enjoyed while drinking beer. Opened in 2017 by Charles Koll, the city’s first brewery has become well known for its prime location on the San Dieguito Lagoon.
Jason and I recently enjoyed lunch at View Point on their large outdoor patio that seems to blend seamlessly with the surrounding environment. The menu features salads, sandwiches, and flatbread. But the real star is the beer. And with twenty on tap, there are plenty of brews to choose from. I opted for the Del Martian Amber Ale and Cool Kids Hazy and I’d recommend both. Their hazy was especially creamy. Other options include IPA’s, lagers, pale ales, and porters.
I appreciated how child and pet friendly View Point is. Many of the tables around us had kids and dogs and the serving staff seemed comfortable with both.
Pro Tip: View Point is very popular on the weekends, so if you’re coming on a Saturday or Sunday, be sure to make a reservation.
5. Pizza Port
There’s nothing better than the combination of pizza and beer, so Pizza Port has long been one of my favorite restaurants and bars. They began selling craft beer long before it was trendy. Co-founder, Vince Marsaglia, began dabbling in home brewing in the storage area of a pizza joint he owned along with his sister, Gina. They began selling the beer to patrons in 1992 and a loyal following has grown over the past 30 years.
At each of their six restaurants, you’ll find up to 25 beers on tap ranging from IPAs and porters to lagers and stouts. One of my favorites is Bigg Redd, but it’s not found at all locations. My son, Ryan, is a big fan of their Open Itinerary IPA. Pizza Port is commonly found at bars and liquor stores throughout southern California, so don’t worry if you can’t get to one of their stores.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the quality of their pizza. This isn’t the place to come if you’re on a diet. The pizza crust is thick and the toppings are generous. I’d encourage everyone to order a pizza from their “Anti-Wimpy” category that includes barbecue bacon cheeseburger pizza and “Meet Extreme Meat.”
Pro Tip: Pizza Port restaurants are very casual and perfect for a group or family. On the weekends, you may wait a while for your pizza, but it will be worth it.
6. Coronado Brewing Company
Coronado Island is an iconic destination in San Diego known for its white sand beaches and the world famous Hotel Del. But it’s also home to one of the pioneers in craft brewing, Coronado Brewing Company. Brothers Ron and Rick Chapman opened their brewpub in 1996 as a neighborhood joint offering good food and beer. Now their beer is sold in 22 states and 6 countries.
To taste their beer on tap, head to the original location on the island, or their two other restaurants in San Diego County. All serve tasty food to accompany their beers, seltzers, or ciders.
Salty Crew is probably their best known brew which they describe as a “boat beer” perfect for a day at sea or sitting on the sand. In southern California, you’ll often see people wearing Salty Crew t-shirts. This is a blonde ale that I enjoy on a hot day. But one of their most unique beers is Orange Ave. Wit, their take on a traditional witbier with flavors of orange zest.
Pro Tip: Coronado Island is a great day trip from many places in southern California. So head to Coronado Brewing for a meal and then go shopping on Main Street, check out Hotel Del, or relax on one of the beaches.
If you’re a craft beer lover wanting to try a variety of brews from San Diego and beyond, head to Bottlecraft. With three locations in San Diego County — and a few others in central and northern California — this is the mecca of craft beer. The staff are very knowledgeable about beer, so don’t hesitate to ask for a recommendation. Enjoy your drink on site or take it home. And if you’re visiting with a non-beer drinker, don’t worry, they carry a variety of wines, ciders, and kombuchas.