The San Diego beer scene might be old news to some. It’s been the “Craft Beer Capital of America” for so many years with a thriving homebrewing community that spews out new and inventive creations every year, yada, yada, yada. You know it, we know it, and even the tourists do – most of those who visit San Diego almost always have beer tasting in their itinerary.
It’s not unreasonable to think that after decades of self-servingly referring to themselves as America’s craft beer capital, San Diego’s reverence for beer is overhyped, but here we are again, composing a compendium of the best breweries in San Diego, but for all the right reasons.
With new creations and new bars popping up every year, we just can’t help it – the world needs to hear the news; San Diego’s craft beer scene is (still) really one of the best (and most innovative) in the country.
As of 2021, over 150 breweries call sunny San Diego their home, and I took it upon myself to list down only 13 of the best and most popular. What are the best San Diego breweries and how do San Diego breweries work? If you’re heading to San Diego on a craft beer tasting adventure, make sure these establishments are on your list.
Table of Contents
- The history of craft beer in San Diego
- Where to find best breweries in San Diego
- 1. Ballast Point Brewery
- 2. Modern Times Beer
- 3. Stone Brewing
- 4. Burgeon Beer Company
- 5. North Park Beer Co
- 6. Pizza Port Brewery
- 7. Border X Brewing
- 8. Pure Project
- 9. Societe Brewing Company
- 10. Saint Archer Brewing Company
- 11. Resident Brewing
- 12. AleSmith Brewing Company
- 13. Viewpoint Brewing Company
The history of craft beer in San Diego
What is a brewery? A brewery is a place where beer is made (or “brewed” if you will) commercially – but not many who get into the brewing game who hope to make it big do so successfully. This is particularly true of smaller craft breweries, which typically have a fairly short lifespan. San Diego, however, is a place where craft beer dreams are made of.
Contrary to popular opinion, San Diego hasn’t always been the craft beer hotspot that it is today. Before its hoppy success, there were several hurdles along the way. San Diego, like the rest of the country, struggled to regain its former beer culture following prohibition.
That changed once homebrewing became legal in 1978, and California, being one among the more progressive states, allowed brewpubs to open in 1982. Then, in 1989, San Diego’s Karl Strauss’ Old Columbia Brewery & Grill debuted, really kicking off the city’s craft beer boom.
The San Diego beer scene can be traced back to Karl Strauss, with several of his employees founding some of the area’s most popular breweries. This includes Pizza Port Brewery which gave birth to Lost Abbey and Port Brewing, as well as the Home Brew Mart, which gave birth to Ballast Point Brewing Company.
According to some people, Vinnie Cilurzo, the current owner of the Russian River Brewing Company, first developed the Double IPA in 1994 at the now-defunct Blind Pig Brewery in Temecula.
The craft beer scene, which was said to have earned $1 billion into the local economy, has reinvigorated large swaths of the city, including North Park, which now offers tasting rooms for several well-known breweries. Some of the most popular bars in California are in North Park, including Coin-Op Game Room and Toronado.
So, Craft Beer Capital of America it may be, but it’s certainly fair to say San Diego’s economy owes a lot to craft breweries.
Any of these brewhouses would be fantastic to see if you are planning a trip to San Diego in the near future. Let’s check ’em out and start getting thirsty!
Where to find best breweries in San Diego
There’s a good chance you’ve heard of these guys; Jack and Yuseff’s collaboration formed Ballast Point Brewery in 1996.
In his undergraduate years, Jack White developed a liking for brews. He started his home brewing company soon after graduation but lacked the money for equipment and people with whom he could discuss his ideas. It was then, Yuseff, a fellow homebrewer, crossed his way.
Ballas Point Brewery was founded as a result of their mutual love of brews as well as Yuseff’s enthusiasm for fishing. The two collaborated to create a wide range of beers, including IPAs, Wheats, Porters, and Ales, which drew in fellow beer aficionados and community members.
Ballast Point, now one of the country’s largest craft breweries, is known for its colorful beer labels featuring vibrant fish. The brand instantly became a San Diego institution after gaining fame with their Sculpin IPA. If you’re interested in DIY beer, stop by their tasting rooms in Miramar, Little Italy, or their Home Brew Mart.
Try one of their seasonal or exclusive beers, or stick to your favorites like the Grapefruit Sculpin.
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Address: 3725 Greenwood St, San Diego
Looking for the best breweries San Diego has to offer? Since its debut, Modern Times has made a massive impact on the region’s brewing culture. The brewery specializes in session brews and specialty coffee-flavored releases that take advantage of their in-house coffee roasting.
This massively independent establishment knows how to have good fun. This employee-owned brewery from the West Coast is well-known for its 16 oz. Cans of Fruitlands, Fortunate Islands, and Lomaland, which may be found on the shelves of local stores.
It’s difficult to go wrong with any of the establishment’s offerings, but don’t overlook the java-infused beers made with the company’s own house-roasted coffee (try the Black House stout).
You can sip on these innovative creations on any of the brewery’s three establishments: the Far West Lounge in Encinitas, the Lomaland Fermentorium, and the North Park Flavordome.
The Midway site has become a popular hangout for both coffee and beer enthusiasts, while the Encinitas location features fantastic vegan cuisine. Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis at all sites. Tap lists and hours of operation vary in each location, so be sure to check the website before visiting.
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Address: 2816 Historic Decatur Rd, UNIT 116
Because of its prestige, Stone Brewing deserves a spot on this list of the breweries in San Diego. This San Diego craft brewery is one of San Diego’s most famous, with two of the region’s most stunning taprooms and a portfolio of timeless brews.
Stone Brewing was founded by Greg Koch and Steve Wagner on the principle of being wildly bold and independent, and no beer exemplifies this more than its first creation: the Arrogant Bastard Ale. This nationally renowned brew has spawned its own brewing company, Arrogant Brewing.
The San Diego brewing company, founded in 1996, has evolved to become not just San Diego’s largest craft brewery, but also one of the country’s largest independent San Diego breweries.
The brand now provides much more than the Arrogant Bastard Ale. Its Escondido headquarters, the World Bistro & Gardens, matches winemaking estates in size and grandeur.
Stone Brewing has been named the “Best Place to Grab a Beer” and the “Best California Brewery” by RateBeer, and their Russian Imperial Stout is in high demand all over the world. Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis at all sites.
Address: 6350 Yarrow Dr STE C, Carlsbad
Burgeon has three tasting rooms where California’s beer lovers love flocking to Escondido, Little Italy, and Carlsbad.
This artisan beer business, known for its mouthwateringly delectable IPAs, was created by Anthony Tallman, Matthew Zirpolo, and Derek van Leeuwan, a trio of La Costa Canyon High School alumni who all grew up in the Carlsbad and Encinitas areas.
The company’s logo and name pay homage to their homeland, where they have established roots and continue to thrive. The company required three years to develop its business plan and raise finance, as well as acquire a brewing facility and create their tasting room. It was a lifelong ambition of theirs to start a brewery in their hometown.
The brewery is known for its IPAs and charitable endeavors, as seen by its Reclaim the Wild IPA, which was created to support the National Forest Foundation. This San Diego brewing company aims to plant 25,000 trees in a year. The Treevana IPA and a variety of hazy beers, such as the Lost Forest, are also noteworthy.
Address: 3038 University Ave, San Diego
If you’re looking for the best brewery San Diego has to offer, North Park should be on your list of must-visits.
North Park Beer Co., like many other homebrewers in San Diego, began in a garage. At the company’s tasting room in San Diego’s North Park area, you may order his renowned Hop Fu! West Coast IPA, the state’s most award-winning homebrew recipe.
After remodeling a department store facility into an over 8,000 sq ft brewery, this brewery opened its doors and now features a brewery, restaurant, and tasting room. The establishment’s interiors reflect the arts and crafts architectural styles of North Park.
North Park Brewing Company distinguishes itself from other San Diego breweries by producing some of the most exquisite stouts available. Apart from its popular West Coast IPA, you can see how imaginative this brewery is by ordering the Fiesta Antes De Morir, a delicious Mexican chocolate cake stout.
Without bar chow, beer tasting would be incomplete! Fortunately, McNair enlisted the help of Mastiff Sausage Company to serve snacks including Cheeto-Rones, homemade sausages, as well as crispy pork rinds dusted with a handmade cheese powder mix.
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Address: 1956 Bacon St, San Diego
As its name suggests, Pizza Port Brewery serves up both pizza and beer – and both are insanely delicious. Gina and Vince Marsaglia, two siblings in their twenties, acquired a failing pizza shop in Solana Beach, a small coastal town just north of San Diego, in March 1987.
Vince experimented with home brewing early on, taking advantage of vacant space in the restaurant’s storage room.
Soon after practicing his hobby, Vince and Gina decided to open a brewery on the advice of friends and fans of their food. In 1992, Pizza Port began serving craft-brewed beers to customers and soon established a name in San Diego’s burgeoning craft beer industry.
Since launching its initial Carlsbad site in 1987, Pizza Port has retained its spot in being one of the best San Diego breweries, winning several accolades as one of the first San Diego brewing companies. Swami’s IPA, named after a popular local surf spot, and Kook double IPA are local favorites.
Pair a pint with traditional and inventive pairings like the Pizza Carlsbad at one of their four brewpubs, and never leave without trying the famous Beer Buddies: pizza crust pieces dipped in marinara or ranch sauce.
Address: 2181 Logan Ave, San Diego
David Favela, his brother, and his two nephews launched Border X Brewing in 2013. The objective was to build a Latino brewery that provided culturally influenced products inspired by their Mexican ancestry.
Border X’s inspired innovations include the Horchata Golden Stout and the hibiscus and agave-infused Blood Saison, both of which go beyond the typical Mexican lager.
Other noteworthy offerings include an Agua de Jamaica-inspired beer, a Pepino Sour, and the delicate Abuelita’s Chocolate Stout. Thanks to these inspired creations, the flagship site in Barrio Logan struck a chord with the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood.
A visit to their Barrio Logan taproom promises loads of fun. Munch on authentic street tacos, hang out in the outdoor patio garden or play beer garden activities like cornhole and Jenga. This San Diego brewery company was a semifinalist in the hallowed James Beard Foundation Awards in the Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Producer category in 2020.
The James Beard Foundation Awards honors culinary experts in the United States on an annual basis and it’s a huge deal among the culinary world to even be considered. According to sources, no brewer, restaurant, or San Diego chef has ever received the honor in its 30-year existence.
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Address: 9030 Kenamar Dr #308, San Diego
Jesse and Agi Pine, together with buddy Mat Robar, founded Pure Project Brewing in 2014, officially starting their first brewery named Manuel Antonio Brewing in the Costa Rican rainforest. They started with creating small-batch artisanal beers using materials available at small local farmers’ markets, even during strong tropical storms.
This small-batch brewery produces tasty tropical-inspired beers while adhering to a strict environmental policy. The business partners at Pure Project concentrated on tropical flavors and a commitment to using only natural and local products.
You’ll taste this brewing philosophy in creations such as the Tropical Mist blonde (infused with Valencia oranges), or the delicious Milagro stout brewed with Costa Rican coffee. Also, keep an eye out for their seasonal imperial stouts, like the playfully-named Maplesaurus Rex with vanilla and maple syrup.
Pure Project’s tasting area is designed to embody its values in its design. Repurposed wood is used for bar stools, and walls are adorned with sustainable materials, natural wood, and a variety of tropical plants such as Sword Fern, Dracaena, and Devil’s Ivy.
Address: 8262 Clairemont Mesa Blvd
Doug Constantiner, a University of Arizona alumnus, and brewmaster Travis Smith met while working at The Bruery in Orange County, and launched Societe Brewing Company in 2012.
Over the course of its seven-year history, Societe has received multiple awards, including gold medals at the 2018 World Beer Cup and the 2018 Great American Beer Festival.
The brewery’s Pupil IPA has become a local favorite, and its Coachman session IPA has won gold at the Great American Beer Fest twice. But don’t miss their Belgian-inspired brews, especially the outstanding Harlot blonde ale.
For the majority of its eight-year existence, Societe Brewing Company’s Kearny Mesa tasting facility has been a busy hub of San Diego’s best beer. If you want to spend more time at their brewery and taproom, they have a large outside patio as well as a taco truck.
IPA is a kind of beer that the brewery will exclusively offer on tap, despite plans to purchase a bottling facility in the future. Societe is also expanding its fermentation capacity, with a large portion of the extra tank space dedicated to hop-forward brews that will be served directly from the tap.
Address: 9550 Distribution Avenue, San Diego
Saint Archer Brewery has a history that’s as intriguing as its beer offerings: the company is owned solely by snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing athletes, as well as filmmakers, and photographers.
Saint Archer’s founder and CEO Josh Landan took it upon himself to create his own craft brewery while taking advantage of his connections after noticing that top athletes are constantly being sponsored by beer companies and offered huge endorsement deals by energy-drink brands.
Saint Archer, which has tasting rooms in Miramar and Leucadia, is recognized for its reliable classics including the Tropical IPA, Pale Ale, Blonde Ale, and Hazy IPA. Seasonal brews like the Mozy 7 IPA and the Blackberry Gose stand out among the regulars.
Their Miramar tasting room is located in front of their brewery facility and features a big outdoor deck and food trucks, open from Thursday through Sunday.
The Tasting Room is available seven days a week and is designed to give you an up-close look at the company’s beers. The Tasting Room’s 750 square foot terrace is ideal for people who want to take advantage of San Diego’s wonderful weather all year.
11. Resident Brewing
Address: 1065 Fourth Ave, San Diego
Robert Masterson, Resident Brewing’s head honcho, began as a homebrewer. His sister and brother-in-law gave him a homebrew kit for Christmas in 2009. He learned from a friend and then joined homebrew clubs believing it was a great way to meet like-minded people.
The hobby turned into a passion as he brewed frequently. In 2013, he entered a Stone Brewing homebrewing competition with a couple of brew buddies – a bold cannonball into the pool of competitive homebrewing.
Masterson continued to enter tournaments and was more successful each time. Seeing his potential, his brother-in-law encouraged him to sell his beer, especially after earning first place for a double IPA and third place for an English-style barley wine at a homebrewing competition at Karl Strauss Brewery.
Finally, Masterson established his first commercial brewery at downtown’s The Local Eatery & Drinking Hole in 2013. Sample Masterson’s work, including his legendary Vacation Coconut IPA, with delicious bar chow like shrimp diablo tacos and the Local’s iconic Big Ass Nachos, at the lively, warehouse-like location.
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Address: 9990 AleSmith Ct, San Diego
AleSmith is a microbrewery in the United States that specializes in a wide range of handmade beers. Skip Virgilio and Ted Newcomb launched AleSmith Brewery in San Diego in 1995.
AleSmith beers are noted for their rich, complex tastes, high alcohol level, and intense hoppy flavors. Their strong devotion to beer and knack for innovation has allowed them to appeal to a wide range of beer and microbrew enthusiasts.
AleSmith has received several recognitions from various national and international contests throughout the years. Currently, the AleSmith brewing firm is managed by Peter Zien, a successful home brewer. AleSmith produces more than 15 different varieties of beer both domestically and abroad.
The San Diego brewery has one of the largest core beer lineups of any craft brewery, with 11 kinds made year-round. They also have a large selection of seasonal beers such as Double Red, Evil Dead Red, and Double IPA, as well as special releases like their highly popular Speedway Stout and My Bloody Valentine.
Address: 2201 San Dieguito Dr Suite D, Del Mar
Located in the coastal town of Del Mar, CA, Viewpoint is the city’s first brewery, bringing together the diverse perspectives of a collaborative group of longtime members of the culinary and craft brewing communities.
Founded by Charles Koll, the 7,000 square-foot breweries and restaurant features a full-service dining experience helmed by Executive Chef Mike Patula, serving familiar dishes reinterpreted. Head brewer Moe Katomski provides Viewpoint’s 20 taps with a mix of eclectic house-brewed styles.
All beers are brewed on sight by Brewmaster Moe and brewer Brian Scanlon, and every so often they invite their brewer friends to make amazing collaborations.
The expansive indoor/outdoor space offers pristine views of the San Dieguito Lagoon from all vantage points, providing the ideal gathering landscape.
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