North Park is a thriving residential neighborhood with tons of bars and restaurants and now breweries. I am going to list all of the breweries and also highlight some of my favorites. There are really two smaller clusters of breweries, one along El Cajon Boulevard and one along University Avenue.
Furthest South in North Park area is Modern Times’ satellite tasting room nestled among various restaurants. They focus on hazy IPAs, barrel aged stouts, and sours and you can pick up limited amounts of their cans from this location. If you want their barrel aged sours, the selection is wider at the main brewery. Thorn Street is not far down the road, easily walkable with their brewery location where they largely stick to traditional styles. Neither of these locations has food.
On your way up to University Avenue, you will pass Mike Hess brewing, a large tasting room that is usually crowded. I haven’t visited them in years and suggest you stick to other nearby stops instead. My fellow beer blogger Craft Beer in San Diego considers Hess one of his favorites so perhaps I am just missing something. Check their tap list first to see if the beers interest you. Also on University is North Park Brewing, a young brewery that partnered with Mastiff Sausages for their kitchen. They have excellent food and vegan options (including vegan sausage). This is one of my favorite places to visit in the area because they have excellent IPAs and also brew the occasional flavorful low alcohol beer, sometimes an English mild or dark lager. I end up drinking their mild beers so often I forget to order the IPAs. Lately they have started brewing the occasional hazy IPA and some have turned out quite good.
A short walk north from there, you will pass Toronado bar on your way to Rip Current’s North Park tasting room, Belching Beaver’s north park tasting room, and Second Chance’s small neighborhood spot. Toronado is a local favorite featuring a variety of beers on tap. Rip Current is known for excellent IPAs, but they also brew fantastic German styles, stouts, and barrel-aged stouts. Belching Beaver is mostly known for their IPAs. They recently started making some hazy IPAs and also have a young sour beer program with the original brewer and blender behind the now closed Toolbox brewing. Second Chance makes excellent beers to style and is one of the few local breweries that makes an excellent Irish red that is available year round.
Once you reach Belching Beaver you are fully into the El Cajon Blvd part of town where you can find Tiger Tiger, Pariah, Eppig, A hard Kombucha brewer, Home Brewing, Barn Brewing. Further North you will find Fall Brewing, Poor House. Of these my favorite is Fall but Pariah and Eppig are great too. Tiger Tiger is connected with Blind Lady Ale House and serves their house beers from Automatic Brewing on draft along with a variety of local beers. All pints there are served in imperial pint glasses, giving you a full half liter.
Pariah and Eppig opened around the same time and both have excellent beers. Pariah I visit mostly for IPAs though they have a variety of styles available. Eppig I mostly visit for lagers including one of the best dark lagers in town. I haven’t yet visited their neighboring hard kombucha spot and don’t plan to because I drink kombucha as an alternative to beer and prefer my home brew.
Home Brewing is a quirky spot connected to a home brew mart but they have been doing quite a few interesting collaborations and can releases lately that tend to be good. It is a good spot to visit if you want to learn about some more obscure styles. I haven’t been to Barn brewing yet and don’t expect to anytime soon. Nobody talks about them in my circles and I assume they have a more local following. They are owned by the same people who opened Poor House.
Fall Brewing is a local staple both for excellent IPAs and lagers. They also brew a variety of other styles reliably well. I tend to order their English Pale Ale there simply because nobody else does a beer like that around town like they do. Poor House is a quirky neighborhood brewery that I haven’t been to in many years. They are similar to Barn in that nobody really talks about them but they are still around so I assume they have a following as well.
Further East along Adams you will find Kensington Brewing and Blind Lady Ale House home of Automatic Brewing. Kensington Brewing I have been to only once and don’t expect to return. They have a similar neighborhood feel and lack the excellence of others in the area. Blind Lady Ale House is a restaurant focusing on pizza and serves their house beers from Automatic Brewing along with a variety of other guest beers. They also serve all their pints in imperial pint glasses giving you a full half liter. If you haven’t heard of Automatic Brewing don’t be surprised. They hardly market themselves as a brewery online. But they do make some great beer.
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.