Home to the MLB’s Padres, the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, Balboa Park, rich U.S. naval history, and miles of coastline with spectacular Pacific sunsets, San Diego draws waves of visitors from both near and far.
With the city’s continued growth of a world-class craft beer and spirits scene, travelers and foodies now have even more reasons to stay awhile for a better taste of this Southern California destination city by the Pacific. The city’s 140 craft breweries means plenty for beer connoisseurs to tap into this beer-centric and spirited destination. Here are four top recommendations from local experts (and embraced by Texans) to get you started. Plus lodging recs as a bonus!
One of the city’s most popular breweries is Ballast Point Brewing, opened by a group of home brewers in 1996 in the back of a local brewing supply store called Home Brew Mart. Well-known for their year-round Sculpin IPA, Ballast makes a limited selection of lagers and pilsners. The nautical theme is reflected through distinctive artwork by Paul Elder, who brings Ballast’s memorable cans to life with the many colors of the sea. Events run from trivia nights to home brew-making classes paying homage to Ballast’s earliest days as a business. In addition to locations in San Diego’s Miramar and Little Italy neighborhoods, Ballast now has tasting rooms in both Anaheim and Long Beach.
Purchased in 1893 by James Monroe Hartley to be a lemon orchard, The original 40 (acres) land is now home to the North Park area of San Diego just northeast of Balboa Park. This trendy neighborhood is filled with cafes, microbreweries, and a weekly farmer’s market with live music. The Original 40 Brewing Company retains a vintage atmosphere while running the gamut of various beer styles. From IPAs and stouts to even a few sours and seltzers. The full menu includes burgers, flatbreads, the OG40 homemade chili, and our favorite. . . the giant freshly-baked Bavarian pretzel with beer cheese and spicy mustard dipping sauces clearly meant for sharing. Consider a visit to nearby North Park Beer Co. for additional interesting selections like their popular Hop Fu! West Coast IPA.
Viewpoint Brewing Co.
For superior beer, top notch full-service dining, and a view of the San Dieguito Lagoon, hop in the car and head (20 miles) up to Del Mar’s Viewpoint Brewing Co. Del Mar’s first brewery may present as a warehouse at the door, but don’t be fooled. This 7,000 square foot food and beer wonderland boasts a collection of 20 IPAs, Ambers, pilsners (and much more) on tap. Bring your appetite for Viewpoint’s eclectic menu of culinary treats created by Executive Chef Mike Patula. This top dog establishment welcomes furry friends and provides cozy patio heaters for those cooler coastal weather. Summer brings the annual Del Mar Horse Races hosted at the local track through early September, with a second meet each November. We think Del Mar is worth the trip for the beer alone, but this is clearly more than a one-horse town. Pro-tip: Stop into Viewpoint between 10 am and 3 pm on weekends for a memorable brunch to pair with your beer. Crowlers (32 oz), Growlers (64 oz), or select six-packs are available to-go for enjoyment later around the fire pit.
Still Having Fun. . . at Cutwater
Not only one of the country’s top cities for craft beer, San Diego is also home to a few well-respected distilleries. Only a ten-minute Uber or Lyft ride from downtown, Cutwater is a unique bar and eatery that’s easily reached. Founded in 2015 by the talented Yuseff Cherney and former head brewer at Ballast Point, Cutwater Spirits has made its mark as one of the pioneers in the canned cocktail industry. In addition to products including canned margaritas, bloody marys, pina coladas and whiskey mules, Cutwater sells frozen versions called “cocktail pops,” along with mixers and pure spirits. The beautiful bar is adjacent to Cutwater’s full-service restaurant serving flavorful soups, salads, sandwiches, and mouth-watering burgers. The seasonal cocktail menu showcases Cutwater products in creatively presented, cleverly named drinks (like the tropical Jungle Bells) that stand alone or pair well with menu items.
Before diving into all the great adult beverage offerings of the city, you will need a central location to call home base. In 1953 Town and Country (T&C) Resort opened as the very first lodging establishment in San Diego’s Mission Valley. After 65 years in operation, the 671-room establishment underwent its latest multi-million renovation in 2018. T&C has evolved into a modern mecca of fun, while preserving the original fifties retro vibe for groups of just about any size to stay and play. Two new pristine heated swimming pools, a children’s pool, and a 4-story water slide called the Twister (seasonally open) make a splash with kids, while the poolside fire pits and cabana rentals appeal to adults seeking to relax. Guests can join resort-sponsored group activities ranging from scenic hikes, to morning yoga, or kayaking tours of La Jolla Cove.
Town and Country Resort offers several dining options, including the grand lobby’s full service Monkey Bar with a scaled-down menu (don’t miss the Happy Hour Pizza) and daily drink specials. Appropriately named for its poolside location, the Lapper is ideal to “come as you are” for casual bites the entire family can enjoy. The MRKT offers gourmet coffees, pastries, and grab-and-go items that are picnic-perfect to enjoy the resort’s 3-acre river park. For a more subdued and formal dining experience at T&C, raise the bar by sitting down at Arlo, recently named the Best New Restaurant in San Diego by Thrilist. This chef-driven restaurant features the freshest ingredients from the land to sea, as selected by Chef Josh Mouzakes, formerly of the esteemed Thomas Keller’s French Laundry of Napa Valley. With a wine, beer and cocktail list (and service) also rivaling the best in town, foodies should mark Arlo as “high priority.”
Vehicles can be conveniently rented onsite (Avis & Budget) at T&C for day trips to nearby points of interest including the Sunset Cliffs, Torrey Pines State Park, Coronado Island and Cabrillo National Monument where the entry fee is waived when showing a National Parks Pass. With Uber, Lyft, taxi service, and a neighboring train station, so much of the city is reachable in minutes without ever having to get behind the wheel… a definite advantage, with so many adult beverages to sample. Those wanting to explore the nearby wine country should consider venturing up to Temecula, only an hour to the north, yet worlds away.
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Cover photo courtesy Brian Maass
Brian and Dana Maass are married and live with their dog Chester in Round Rock, Texas. When not working their day jobs, they can be found traveling, writing, capturing scenic photos, exploring the Hill Country, and serving the community. Follow them on Instagram at @Dana_Maass_Adventures and @Brian_Maass_Adventures.