How to Tour The Best of San Diego's Beer Scene in 48 Hours
Visiting 10 San Diegan breweries in 48 hours isn't a great idea any way you cut it: at best, you'll only have a brief amount of time to enjoy the magnificent creations of the hardworking craftspeople in one of the greatest beer towns on Earth; at worst, you'll throw up. A lot.
But if you're like me, and have an insatiable thirst for west coast beer with only a limited amount of time to drink, then you don't worry about "bad ideas," "recommendations," or "health." And you'll benefit from my research.
Below is an outline of how I managed to cram 10 breweries into 48 hours, and what I discovered along the way. This isn't the only way to do it, but by following my lead (and this master map), you'll stand a good chance of not dying.
First, a few quick disclaimers:
1) Those familiar with the city's vibrant brewing scene might notice a few omissions, including old school joints like Pizza Port and Karl Strauss, established 2nd wavers like Mike Hess or Mission, or hot newbies such as Saint Archer or Council. But I'm only one man, so I chose my stops based on personal recommendations, online reviews, and geographical convenience.
2) If you can afford it, I highly recommend staying at the US Grant, the only hotel in San Diego with its own cask beer program. Not only does Beverage Director Jeff Josenhans make his own spirits, he curates an incredible craft beer list filled with hard-to-come-by local selections and rarities. Best of all, the downtown hotel is centrally located.
3) Perhaps this goes without saying, but unless you're prepared to spit (and where's the fun in that?), I recommend traveling by Uber, or getting a very understanding friend or significant other with a driver's license to play Hoke Colburn to your Miss Daisy.
Now let's do this!
DAY 1: THE OLD SCHOOL
11:00 AM - AleSmith
Kick off your journey at one of the few San Diegan breweries open at 11AM – which also happens to still offer, in its 22nd year, some of the best beer in town. Like a giant, yet cozy coffee house with 30-foot ceilings, AleSmith's new tasting room provides a "super chill" atmosphere (look, I'm West Coast!) in which one can sip upon their incredibly true-to-style brews. While they do make an excellent IPA, much of the beer is European-influenced and not necessarily representative of the local scene. Start with their malty Nut Brown Ale and hearty Hammerhead Speedway Stout because, hey, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
12:30 PM - Ballast Point
Next, head four minutes down the road to one of the most influential breweries in San Diego county (and the second largest, too). The centerpiece of Ballast Point's new, giant facility in Miramar is an incredibly beautiful taproom -- complete with outdoor space – that not only serves up great eats (grab a flatbread), but all of the amazingly hoppy classics like the Sculpin and Big Eye IPAs that helped to define the West Coast style. Be sure to try some of the more exclusive offerings, like Ballast's Homework series (a homebrew-inspired batch of limited edition beers), or anything pouring from a tap handle labeled "limited." (Drink now, ask later.)
2:00 PM - Green Flash
Founded in 2002, Green Flash is yet another must-visit Grandaddy of the San Diego scene, and only moments away from Ballast Point. Not to mention, these peeps coined the phrase "West Coast IPA" (no, literally...they own the trademark). Though there is no seating, guests are happy to stand in Green Flash's spacious taproom, where the hop juice flows like water. As does Passion Fruit Kicker – my new favorite summer beer, made with passion fruit extract for tartness, and passion fruit black tea for balance. Best of all, you get two breweries in one: since acquiring Alpine Beer Co. in 2014, Green Flash now offers their excellent brews on tap as well.
4:00 PM - Stone
After a 30-minute drive, you'll be psyched to take it easy for a bit and scarf some incredibly tasty food while taking in the beautiful sights of Stone's flagship brewery in Escondido. With sprawling gardens, waterfalls, and plentiful seating, this destination is like a pimped out miniature golf course repurposed solely for drinking. The Disneyland of Beer has all of the joy and magic of the theme park, and none of the creepy costumed characters or crying toddlers. Oh yeah...and the beer! Well-known staples such as Stone IPA or Smoked Porter are undeniable style leaders, but once again, be sure to ask your bartender for the experimental taproom-only stuff.
6:30 PM - Port & Lost Abbey
With two brands under one roof (of a building that looks like your crazy uncle's repurposed art-filled garage), here's another two-fer. Port Brewing covers all of the "aggressive, flavor driven 'West Coast' or 'California' style beers" that you'd expect from a San Diego brewery, while Lost Abbey specializes in Belgian-inspired styles—especially sours. And Lost Abbey does it incredibly well, with their tart and refreshing Red Poppy Ale (a Flanders Red) and Cuvee De Tomme, a wild brown ale aged in bourbon barrels with sour cherries. Sure, Port is great, with beers like Mongo double IPA, and Board Meeting brown ale (brewed with cocoa and coffee from local crafter), but Lost Abbey is an absolute gem.
DAY 2: THE NEW SCHOOL
12:00 PM - Societe
Day two is all about the (relative) newbies, and no new San Diego brewery is name-checked by more insiders than Societe. In a pristine, contemporary space, knowledgeable bartenders serve up impeccably clean IPAs, Belgians, and dark beers, to name a few. This place is all about precision and subtlety, as evidenced by their similar – yet distinctly different – Apprentice IPA (made with American hops) and Pupil IPA (made with hops from New Zealand). This is not to say Societe doesn't do big beer: Widow, for example, is a deliciously raisiny, spicy Belgian Dark Strong Ale clocking in at 9% ABV, while their Butcher imperial stout is a sneaky 9.7% (I honestly couldn't tell...until I started wobbling).
2:00 PM - Fall Brewing
If San Diego beer had a yearbook, Fall's senior superlative would be "Most Badass Brewery." With The Stooges and Misfits blasting quietly in the background, there's an intensity brewing at this modern, post-punk taproom; but with breezy open windows and a laid-back crowd, it's still a great place to unwind. Just like the brewery itself, the beer has lots of flavor but is super clean and easy (you won't find anything here above 9% ABV). Fall has a wide variety of beers with great range and definitely places an emphasis on IPA (go for the Green Hat), but their very best brew is the rich and creamy 2AM Bike Ride Coffee Stout.
3:30 PM - Rip Current(North Park location)
With a '90s surfer vibe (complete with painted beach mural), Rip Current looks more like a joint you'd find in Myrtle Beach, SC, than the hip urban center that is North Park, San Diego. But regardless of how much your Jimmy Buffett-loving dad may love this place, you need to stop by for the beer, which is assertively flavored and often experimental in style. The standards – such as their Lupulin Lust or Impact Zone IPAs – are on point, but it's their barrel-aged, wild, and strong ales that make this a must-visit brewery.
5:30 PM - Modern Times(North Park location)
By this point, you've likely ingested enough beer over the last 30 hours to kill a small horse. But stand strong: to complete the North Park trilogy, you've only got to limp 15 minutes down the road to Modern Times' "Flavordome" (a second taproom which has many of the same trappings and products offered at their original Midway District brewery). With a lampshade mosaic ceiling and a bar made of VHS tapes, the brewery would make any Brooklyn hipster feel at home – and the beer ain't bad, either. Blazing World, for example, is a hoppy amber ale well worth seeking out, and the Black House oatmeal coffee stout is a balanced treat.
8:30 PM - Monkey Paw
After a short dinner break (you've earned it), get your drinking hat back on for the grand finale. In San Diego, there's nothing else like Monkey Paw Brewing—formerly the Jewel Box, a legendary dive bar; now one of the most earnest and authentic craft breweries on earth. Unlike some pretentious contemporaries, these dudes make beer purely for the love of beer, as evidenced by the many other local breweries they also rep on tap. And with their own flavorful beers like Rye You No Call (a dry, spicy rye IPA) and Creamsicle (a nitro pale ale brewed with orange peel and vanilla) served in a warm, boisterous space little changed since its dive bar days, Monkey Paw provides the perfect closing to a San Diego tour.