Help me plan the best San Diego beer trip ever
December 4, 2016 12:05 AM   Subscribe

My husband loves craft beer, so for his birthday next March, I am planning to take him on a surprise trip to San Diego. He loves Stone, so a visit there is definitely on the cards. Does anyone have suggestions of the best places to go for beer, preferably with good IPAs and/or stouts?

Also, where should I be looking at staying? We won't have a car, but are fine with walking, public transport and ubers. Preferably somewhere with good coffee and vegetarian food nearby. Bonus points if there's good live music nearby.
Any other suggestions for must do things in San Diego are also welcome. He likes history based museums, music, movies and books. Our most fun trips usually involve finding a cool neighborhood to wander around rather than ticking off all the tourist destinations.
We will be there for 3 days/4 nights.
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Make sure you stop by Lost Abbey/Port Brewing/Hop Project, for one. (It's the same brewery, split out)
posted by CrystalDave at 12:52 AM on December 4, 2016

I was going to recommend The San Diego Museum of Man because it's a great museum anyways, but they also have an ongoing special exhibit all about beer.
posted by CarolynG at 1:26 AM on December 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Modern Times is pretty good.
posted by ferret branca at 1:52 AM on December 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

San Diego has a wealth of breweries! Fans of West-Coast style IPAs ought to look up AleSmith, Ballast Point, and Green Flash, as well as other the breweries already mentioned.
San Diego breweries has a list with more links and a map.

San Diego also has some lovely oceanfront cycling: hire some cruiser bikes, pedal along the cycle paths, and enjoy tacos!
posted by lasagnaboy at 4:53 AM on December 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Barrel Republic for tasting beers - they have 40-something taps, you get a wristband, and can pick how much or how little of any beer you want to pour yourself. It's really fun, and you get to try a lot of beers without drinking too much.

Staying in Pacific Beach lets you walk to a lot of restaurants, many many of which have good beer selections. But March is spring break, so the hotels and vacation rentals get full early, and their prices are going to be higher than they'd be in February or April.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 6:50 AM on December 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

San Diego is IPAland, so that part won't be a problem.

It is a long haul even with a car, but I recommend if at all possible getting out to Stone's beer garden and bistro in Escondido. They always have veg options but they do a whole Meatless Mondays menu, the food is fantastic and the building and gardens are amazing. They also have a bunch of special events so check their calendar as you get closer. (I am sure their Liberty Station location, much closer to where you'll likely be staying, is also great but I left before they built it.)

You might want to see if you can find an airbnb in Hillcrest or Little Italy, which are hipstery and also pretty central for getting to the other places you'll likely want to go, and should have pretty good access to some stuff on foot. Like others have said, that's Spring Break time, so book early.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:17 AM on December 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding Stone's Escondido location if you can make it there. The Liberty Station one is fine but the Escondido one is something special. Also seconding Ballast Point and Green Flash. One of my other favorites is Societe Brewing Company.
posted by Medw at 8:38 AM on December 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Not known for their IPAs, but as one of the best breweries in the states, and my personal fav, I think you would remiss in not checking out The Bruery. Even if for nothing else than to give yourself a break from IPAs and explore their experimental world.
posted by wile e at 9:03 AM on December 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

If you need to make your trip up to Escondido for the Stone Tour and Tasting (which is only $3/person and very cool and not at Liberty Station) more worthwhile, then I recommend stopping at Queen Califia's Magical Circle, which is a beautiful sculpture garden in south Escondido. It has very limited hours but it is beautiful and pretty off the beaten path for San Diego. Escondido also has other cool stuff going on. There are tons of beer-centric restaurants between San Diego and Escondido. Too many to list here.

If he's interested in home brewing, Escondido also has the Smokin Beaver Brew Shop.

It'll be too cold to swim, but I always recommend going to Coronado, just to see the sand. It is glittery.
posted by meemzi at 11:36 AM on December 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Stone Brewery in Escondido is one of my favorite places on this earth. If you can swing it so you're there at sunset, that's the best time. The garden lights come on in the trees, the fires start, and you can listen to the frogs in the pond and stream, while hanging out in a chair in the beer garden. Tension just melts away.
posted by culfinglin at 1:42 PM on December 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

You might try searching the San Diego subreddit; this question gets asked pretty frequently.

There's something to be said for letting one of the brewery tour companies take you around.
posted by booooooze at 6:37 PM on December 4, 2016

As mentioned above, The Bruery is pretty well loved among the beer folk I know. That, and Stone's Xocoveza (mexican chocolate milk stout) is pretty amazing. If you have the chance, their barrel aged version, Xocoveze Anejo (aged in red wine, then tequila barrels) is very, very good, though a bit spendy.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:03 PM on December 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

There are 3 main concentrations of breweries in San Diego -- around Balboa Park (specifically North Park and Normal Heights), Miramar/Kearny Mesa, and the 78 corridor.

With no car, the North Park/Normal Heights area is going to give you the best combination of walkability and beer tasting, and won't be as crowded with beach-going tourists as PB. It also fits your "cool neighborhood to walk around in" criteria. 30th has a ton of awesome beer bars (Tiger! Tiger! and the world-class Toronado) and satellite tasting rooms (Belching Beaver and Rip Current are two of my favorites, and Modern Times and Thorn Street are well worth a visit too), not to mention some excellent restaurants (though I would just marry the mac n cheese at Rip Current if I could). There's also an Alesmith location a few blocks east. Try to find a place on 30th midway between the park and University to give you the best radius. Balboa Park is close too, and there are a ton of museums there (including the Museum of Man).

If Stone's his favorite, then I think you do need to dedicate a day to doing some of the breweries along the 78 -- Stone, Lost Abbey/Port, Mother Earth, Iron First, the aforementioned Belching Beaver and Rip Current. I've used the DD Van for smaller groups and been very pleased with them. I'm not sure what the best option would be for 2 people.

lasagnaboy already covered some of the best breweries around Miramar and Kearny Mesa. Those are all solid recommendations. If you go to Green Flash, I especially recommend the Alpine beers for your hop-head husband.

The Bruery IS excellent, but it's a long drive from San Diego to Anaheim. When my friends and I go up there, we usually make a day of it and hit Bottle Logic as well.

I mostly drink stouts and IPAs as well. Here are some of my local favorites:
Rip Current - Lupulin Lust (IPA)
Rip Current - Hazardous Hazelnut Porter
Belching Beaver - Peanut Butter Milk Stout
Alesmith - Speedway Stout
Ballast Point - Grapefruit Sculpin (IPA)
Thorn Street -- most of their IPAs are pretty good, but I'm not as familiar with them
Modern Times - Monster's Park (stout)
Modern Times - Black House (stout)

You might also think about planning your trip for the first week of November, which is San Diego Beer Week, and just presenting him with the itinerary for his birthday. Beer week runs for 10 days (Friday through the next Sunday), and all the breweries and beer-centered restaurants do special events throughout. It's definitely worth the trip, plus it's not really tourist season.

I'm obviously a huge San Diego beer nerd -- feel free to ask me here or MeMail me for more specifics if you want.
posted by natabat at 10:53 AM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Good advice above, especially from natabat. If I were planning a beer trip back to San Diego (I just moved away a few months ago), and based on your question, I would definitely include the following (in no particular order, and separated between breweries and pubs - from recollection they're all award-winning):


- Stone Brewery in Escondido. HUGE selection, great food (though a little bit pricey) and a fantastic outdoor area to sit/lounge/enjoy. It can get crowded on weekend nights, but not overly so. People here are usually friendly and easy to talk to.
- Ballast Point Brewery in Little Italy - great selection, helpful staff, good food. Near the airport. They just opened a new addition to the outdoor area about a year ago and it's very comfortable.
- Monkey Paw - great award-winning low-key brewery in East Village. They also have a food window with a bunch of cheesesteak sandwiches, among other options.
- Mission Brewery - another low-key brewery with a tasting room in the East Village. They have fantastic IPAs and a number of great stouts also.
- Societe - recently updated award-winning brewery in Kearny Mesa, very social. There's a piano in the big tasting room. There's usually a food truck.


- Panama 66 - in the middle of the museum district in Balboa Park, great outdoor beer cafe with a range of local micros. So much to see and do in Balboa Park, especially on a nice day, and the zoo is right there also.
- Toronado - fantastic low-key bar in North Park. Usually at least a couple dozen local brews on tap, including rarer non-local brews, very knowledgeable staff and the food is good too.
- Tiger Tiger - another great bar in North Park, owned by the same folks who own Panama 66. Lots of communal-style seating, and can definitely get crowded at times.
- Hamilton's Tavern - small alehouse with a HUGE selection. Kind of a hipster joint. Good jukebox and pool table.
- Common Theory - a bit more of an upscale bar in Kearny Mesa with an extensive selection. Great appetizers, especially the flatbreads.
posted by hootenatty at 11:44 AM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, another good place to check out in Kearny Mesa is O'Brien's on Convoy. Old school Irish Pub, legendary beer menu. Especially good if you want to get away from the hipsters in North Park.

The food at Stone is pretty good, but if you're looking for other north county/78 recommendations, I like the Urges (there are a couple different locations, and one also has a whiskey bar if you're interested) and Sublime in San Marcos (they run the kitchen at the Rip Current tasting room on 30th and make my affianced mac n cheese). Churchill's in San Marcos has both good food and awesome beer.

If he's never been on a brewery tour, I definitely recommend that (though once you've seen one, they're all pretty much the same). Most of the bigger ones that have a tasting room in their production facility do them on the hour (I know Stone, Ballast Point in Miramar, and Green Flash do for sure, and I think Alesmith in Miramar does too). For Stone's, you'll want to get there early and reserve your spot on the tour. I don't know if it still comes with a tasting or not. A lot of the smaller breweries just have the brewery surrounding the tasting room (maybe roped off), so if you're there during the day you might get to watch them actually make beer.

Oh! One more -- go to White Labs off Miramar. They make the yeast for a huge proportion of brewers and home brewers, and they have a neat science-themed tasting room. The beer's mediocre, but the cool thing is that they will brew a single batch of wort (the unfermented beer) and then ferment it with a bunch of different yeast varieties, so you can taste them side-by-side. I actually like to taste in both directions -- what difference does the yeast make on the same wort, and what's similar when you're using the same yeast on different worts. Seriously -- if he's at all interested in the process of making beer, this is a must do.
posted by natabat at 5:06 PM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

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