Located about two hours south of Claremont, San Diego is not just a location for Senior Week or Spring Break, but also serves as a weekend getaway from the Inland Empire. While I’m sure this article will provoke the ire of San Diego locals as I am an East Coaster claiming to know their city, San Diego, apart from perhaps Denver or Portland, is one of the best beer cities in America. Closer than Northern California, San Diego essentially functions as the Napa for California craft beer. Especially since we live in the Southern California area, our liquor store and grocery beer aisle shelves are laden with amazing craft beers, many of which come from San Diego. Scattered throughout the city, these craft breweries offer a range of beers that can satisfy anyone from a stout-lover to a hefeweizen fanatic. Whereas East Coast beers generally stick to the more classic lineups, West Coast brews go a bit crazier, adding in obscure fruits or seemingly inedible ingredients such as jackfruit or pine. I know I may sound pretentious, but few things excite me more than talking about craft beer.
One of the most famous and prolific craft breweries in America, Stone is known best for its IPAs. Although Stone has many seasonals, including some stouts, porters, and saisons, its specialty in IPAs may not be for everyone due to the increased hoppiness. However, their wide variety of flavors including a mocha IPA, citrus Ripper, and sweet tangerine IPA appeal to all different tastebuds. Headquartered in Escondido (40 minutes from Mission Beach), Stone also offers brewery tours. If you’re looking for an option closer to the city, Stone has a garden outpost and tap rooms around San Diego. The “World Bistro and Gardens” has a sprawling patio with ample outdoor seating and a majestic pond structure in the center. From pork belly buns to Brussels sprouts to brownie sundaes, the wide array of bar snacks and more filling courses are sure to please if you get hungry. There’s even a company store in Pasadena!
You are probably familiar with the neat sketches of assorted tropical fish on the cans or have tried a Grapefruit Sculpin. Aside from their core group of IPAs, amber ales, and Kolsch’s, Ballast Point’s tap rooms offer a wide array of beers ranging from a dark gose with yuzu and peppercorns to a golden ale with apricots and honey. There are six locations around SD with their biggest in Miramar (about a 25-minute drive from Mission Beach) with a full restaurant and a regular tap room. Festooned with clever decorative items like a beer keg fountain, this airy and modern space offers a full range of beer, food, and wine. For an adventure, try the Home Brew Mart which features food trucks as well as smaller batch brews.
Relatively new, Modern Times emerged on the craft brew scene in 2013, yet has gained properly deserved recognition for its fantastic canned beers and speciality bombers. From its perennial Lomaland saison that offers a crisp refreshing spice to its Fruitlands gose that provides a sour tropical flavor, Modern Times runs the full gamut of beer types. This brewery has two tasting room: one in Point Loma and the other in North Park, which are quick drives from Mission Beach. Sleepless City, a brown ale with coffee, is not to be missed. The Fruitlands blood orange and hibiscus gose is also worth a taste. The artful, modern mosaics add an Instagram-worthy vibe to the brewery, albeit a little more outwardly bougie than the others. Tacos Perla is offered in house so you don’t have to step outside to nosh.
Also one of the Miramar breweries, AleSmith offers a diverse range of high ABV beers. Nut Brown, for example, is an especially delicious English-style ale with subtle notes of malty chocolate. The Belgian Grand Cru is also a must-try. With four-ounce drafts starting at $1 and pints running up to $7.50, these more traditional beers are worth it for those sick of fruit-tinged IPAs, peppered goses, or barrel-aged everything. The reclaimed barrel tables add a kitschy vibe that doesn’t make the spot feel too pretentious, which works well with the classic brew styles. A rotating series of food trucks that range from BBQ to grilled cheese offers satiable eats.
San Diego-based with an outpost in Virginia Beach, Green Flash celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. Sticking to IPAs and wheats with one porter for good measure, Green Flash gives off a “drinking beer on a sunny SoCal beach vibe.” The Passion Fruit Kicker, a wheat ale infused with passion fruit, provides a smooth yet tart beer that’s perfect after a day at the beach. Following suit is the Soul Style IPA, which hits similarly tropical and fruity notes with a burst of hops. The on-sight “gastro,” seemingly an abbreviation for a gastropub, has bar staples like a burger and buffalo chicken sandwich. It jazzes up your typical pub menu with hummus, seasonal pickles, and other zeitgeisty foods like “blue” mac and cheese or artisanal sausages. The punchy, bright interior with lots of airy space makes the space feel less intimate. A bit further in Miramar as with AleSmith Saint Archer, consider just picking up a six-pack instead of making the trek, or perhaps make a day of touring the Miramar breweries.
Offering a solid lineup of five beers, Saint Archer’s Blonde Ale is a smooth, light Kölsch beer that can be enjoyed by nearly anyone. The brewery tasting room is open seven days a week with a deck full of San Diego vistas. Aside from its core, the tap room offers around 15 other brews ranging from the Coffee Cream Porter Nitro to specialty barrel-aged stouts. Similarly to other breweries, Saint Archer also has food trucks that serve foods like the ever-trendy poke, crepes, and just plain old sandwiches. As with the other Miramar breweries, Saint Archer’s removed distance offers a more local vibe than those closer to Pacific Beach or Mission Beach do. Though it offers great beers, Saint Archer may be a little off-putting to some because of its location as it is about 25 minutes away from Mission Beach.