In my travels I have learned that not everyone has the time or inclination to venture outside of the downtown area. Thankfully Downtown San Diego has seen a lot of new spots opening in the last few years making that a good option while still giving you a good taste of what San Diego has to offer.
Without even leaving the downtown area, you can easily access three of San Diego’s biggest and most established breweries, Ballast Point, Stone, and Karl Strauss. Stone’s tasting room is a bit more difficult to notice as you walk by but once you are inside you won’t want to leave. I suggest visiting Stone’s smaller company store locations anyway over their restaurants because the beers are slightly cheaper and you can still try most of the beers.
Some people may have written off Ballast Point after their sale to the wine distributor Constellation but if that doesn’t bother you, their Little Italy location is large and serves food. Not far from there is Bolt’s satellite tasting room though I suggest you skip that as there are better options. There is also a Mikkeller tasting room somewhere around here but I have not managed to visit yet.
Karl Strauss’ original location is in the heart of Downtown and is a spot I go to regularly for lunch. The food is excellent including vegan options and the beers have evolved nicely with the times. They still brew their standard Red Trolley and delicious Heffeweizen along with a lineup of hoppy beers. They are a brewery tourists tend to overlook for the more shiny spots but you can’t go wrong with their beer.
Other spots you can visit downtown include Resident Brewing, The Bell Marker, Half Door Brewing, and the newly opened 10 Barrel Brewing and Melvin Brewing. Resident is located inside the neighborhood bar called The Local. They have a wide variety of house beers along with a full bar and guest taps. The food is excellent and while it is not listed on the menu they have a few vegan options.
Half Door has not impressed me as much with their food but they have a good variety of hazy IPAs and also some excellent Belgian styles and stouts. They will finally be able to sell growlers and crowlers sometime in January 2019 with a new change to the law. Mission Brewery is near Half Door but I haven’t visited in years and don’t recommend it. Stone also has a small company store location near the ball park if you are in that area. I have never visited.
The Bell Marker recently opened with beers made by an ex- Pizza Port brewer and featuring an excellent variety of food including tons of vegan options. I have only ordered their hummus plate, which is an amazing deal during happy hour. I found their IPAs too bitter for my tastes but I quite enjoy their brown ale and other traditional styles.
I have not yet made it out to 10 Barrel and just stopped by Melvin for the first time recently but they both have brew houses so I included them in the list. 10 Barrel is owned by AB inBev (aka Budweiser’s parent company) and faced fierce opposition from locals, which is why I have never visited and don’t plan to. But if that doesn’t bother you, I hear the beer is solid. Melvin is a new location for a Wyoming brewery with a kung-fu and hip-hop vibe. Expect hip hop playing at high volume when you visit. Their founding brewer got his start in San Diego and they added a brew house at this location making them a San Diego brewery. They are so new that I just visited there a few days ago my first time. They focus on hoppy beers and serve Asian Fusion style food. Not far from these East Village location there are rumors that Little Miss plans to open a satellite tasting room as well sometime next year. Bay City has a new location in the works as well.
If you don’t mind taking an uber, it is not too far to head over to North Park, where you can visit 10 different breweries or Point Loma where you can visit Modern Times’ main location, Stone’s massive Liberty Station restaurant and Eppig’s waterfront beer hall. Those whose family drag them to visit the Hotel Del in Coronado should stop by Coronado brewing, one of the established breweries that I have not yet managed to visit. You could also venture down into Barrio Logan and visit Border X and Iron Fist.
I will do a separate post on North Park breweries later but most of them are excellent and the staff at any of them will happily point you to the best ones nearby. I didn’t include any mention of the numerous bars in the Gaslamp area mostly because I haven’t visited them. I also haven’t mentioned Monkey Paw because it is still unclear if they will re-open in some form after recent troubles. Rumors suggest that they will become a new location for South Norte, a brewery connected to Coronado brewing.
I also missed a few newer spots that I hadn’t even noticed had opened that you can read about on my fellow beer blogger’s site Craft Beer in San Diego Contrary to his suggestions, I would personally avoid East Village all together and focus on Resident, Karl Strauss, and Stone, though Half Door is certainly worth a visit. Both Amplified and Duck Foot make good beer but I want to send you to places that make excellent beer. It also depends heavily on what styles you like to drink.