The Best Breweries in San Diego
These beloved San Diego breweries offer classic IPAs and stouts, as well as unexpected flavor combinations like strawberry, chocolate, caramel, and more.
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There are only a few cities that are famous for their craft beer culture, and San Diego is one of them.
Perhaps the best city to grab a pint in California, San Diego has over 100 breweries and loads of amazing bars, according to War on the Rocks. But it wasn’t always a beer destination. In fact, its history of brewmaking is fairly young, compared to other cities in the United States.
After prohibition, San Diego was one of the many cities that struggled to bring back the brewing industry. It wasn’t until 1978 that homebrewing was legalized in the state, according to War on the Rocks. This, in particular, was key for igniting the craft brew scene, not just in the city. And in the 1980s, lots of homebrewers became full-on business owners.
One of the first was Karl Strauss’ Old Columbia Brewery & Grill, which opened in 1989. For San Diego, this company was the first of many to start their business in the metro area. Popular brewpubs like Stone Brewing, Alpine Beer Company, and AleSmith Brewing Company followed in the 1990s.
Each company has its own distinct approach to brewing, but if anything, you can call most SoCal brewers experimental, innovative, and dedicated to good taste. Many of the breweries listed below offer classic IPAs and stouts, but some also provide interesting and unexpected flavor combinations. Plus, California beers are all about sustainable, fresh ingredients.
Take a look at some of the most-loved breweries in San Diego, and plan a pub crawl in the future.
Methodology: We took a sampling of some of the best and most recommended breweries from a number of expert and user-rated sites, including RateBeer, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Beer Connoisseur, and Beervana. We also took into account breweries that have been featured in other publications. While the breweries listed below are not necessarily ranked, each one has a special feature, whether it’s an attached restaurant, awards and honors, tours and tastings, an interesting space, a unique method of brewing, or local-loved brews. All breweries are established or headquartered in San Diego and the San Diego metro area, including San Marcos and Escondido, since some beloved breweries were established in San Diego and have since moved to a location within San Diego County.
Ballast Point Brewing Company
Starting out in 1996, Ballast Point is dedicated to experimenting with techniques and exploring different ingredients in their beers. Their gold-medal-winning IPA is their bread-and-butter, so to speak, but they also have an array of seasonal and experimental brews, like a Brut IPA and a Watermelon Dorado. They frequently host events in their tasting room and are known for having distinctive, artistic bottle labels created by Paul Elder.
AleSmith Brewing Company
This company is proud of its humble beginnings. Starting in a small, single-unit commercial space in San Diego, AleSmith was inspired by European flavors to create its brews. Its newest, modern brewery, oddly enough on AleSmith Court, features the city’s largest tasting room and a brew system that can pump out more than 100,000 barrels per year. The company has enjoyed many accolades and awards over the years, especially for its Barrel-Aged Speedway Stout, which has a whopping 12 percent ABV.
Modern Times Beer
This fairly experimental company is famous for its delicious hybrids, or what they call “Island-of-Doctor-Moreau-style mash-ups.” The entirely employee-owned company is named after a utopian community from the 1800s (now known as Brentwood, Long Island). It has lots of rotating seasonal beers, special session brews, and old favorites that are always on tap. This brewery is also a coffee roaster, so both beer drinkers and coffee lovers can find their own brew to sip on.
Mikkeller Brewing San Diego
This bright and colorful brewery and tasting room can be found in two locations in San Diego: Miramar and Little Italy. The Danish brewing company originally partnered with AleSmith Brewing Company to acquire its brick-and-mortar brewery in San Diego and craft new brews using AleSmith’s 30-barrel brewing system. Besides having its own array of unique brews on the menu, Mikkeller’s tap rooms are both dog- and kid-friendly, so the entire family can enjoy quality time there.
Belching Beaver Brewery
If you can get past the strange name, you’ll find some tasty craft beers (and a lot of beaver puns) here. This quirky brewery is all about “dam good times,” as it says, so all of the company’s beers, from its light blonde ales to barrel-aged stouts, have an extra dose of personality. The company features lots of interesting flavor combinations, like a Mexican Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout, a caramel-flavored Tastes Like Space brew, and a malty lager that apparently has a “mild biscuit” flavor.
Inspired by stories of Nordic Vikings, this brewery specializes in bold, strong, and unique flavors. In fact, many of its brews are named after Norse gods and mythical figures, like Loki’s Wit, Odinson, Asgard Ale, Ragnabock. If you’re a fan of Norse mythology, or the Avengers, you’ll definitely appreciate their tasting room. The company mostly brews classic, thirst-quenching styles of Belgian beer, and it has a popular trivia night on Tuesdays.
North Park Beer Company
The first thing you should know about this company is that its tasting room is big, beautiful, and definitely a place where you’d want to spend an afternoon. The gigantic, 9,000-square-foot space leaves plenty of room to spread out and try this brewery’s award-winning beers, like the Hop-Fu! IPA, the single most award-winning homebrew recipe in history. They also have an adjacent kitchen run by Mastiff Sausage Company, which serves up elevated, classic dishes that are great for lunch, brunch, and dinner — and perfect with a pint.
Dedicated to sustainability and pure, quality ingredients, this brewery was started by a SoCal couple who traveled to Costa Rica before settling back in San Diego. Not only do they craft fine beers, but this brewery also supports local nonprofit organizations. So, you can drink your beer and do good, too. Their tap list has a good mix of classic flavors and experimental options, including beers with strawberries, hibiscus, chocolate, and peppers.
Karl Strauss Brewing Company
When you come to this brewery, you’re not just getting a tasting room — you’re also getting an incredible beer garden that you’ll want to stay in all afternoon. Established in 1989, this beer brewing company exemplifies the Southern California lifestyle with its refreshing brews and laid-back atmosphere. It’s also credited as being one of the first breweries to kick off the craft beer scene in San Diego.
Societe Brewing Company
Many locals will tell you that this place is known for brewing some choice IPAs. And it’s probably their attention to detail and dedication to consistency that makes their brews so good. This brewery has a fully equipped tasting room and brewery tours, and will even fill up a growler for you to take home.
It’s true that Stone Brewing has a new home in Escondido, which is slightly outside of San Diego itself, but the company has another location in Liberty Station within the city. It’s been a destination for beer lovers everywhere after the release of its famous Arrogant Bastard Ale and Imperial Russian Stout. In the past, it has been rated Best California Brewery and Best Place to Grab a Beer by RateBeer, plus it has an impressive restaurant and beautiful gardens attached to its brewery. A tour of the property will not disappoint.
Port Brewing Company/The Lost Abbey
Port Brewing Company is known for making quality, classic California craft beers, but the The Lost Abbey is all about paying homage to traditional Belgian brews — all the way down to the medieval monks who used to make them. This brewery is steeped in church themes, having named one of its locations The Confessional. It’s most popular for its sour Duck Duck Gooze, Framboise de Amorosa, and Deliverance (a blend of brandy and one of their stout brews). It’s technically a San Marcos establishment, but still within San Diego County. Plus, it’s a local favorite.
Alpine Beer Company
Located in Alpine, just east of San Diego, this company is one of the most beloved breweries in the San Diego area. In 2015, RateBeer named this brewery the sixth-best in the world, and the company’s Keene Idea Double IPA is a favorite on BeerAdvocate. In addition to their tasting room, Alpine also has a casual pub, aptly named The Pub, which serves up classic comfort food that pairs well with a pint.