San Diego: Beyond the Pale (Ales)

Destinations by | Jul 2007 | Issue #7

A bustling, booming metropolis perched just above the Mexican border, San Diego has, in recent years, made a serious run at establishing itself as the epicenter of the American brewing industry. The city’s brewers played an integral role in the resurgence of India Pale Ales in America, and they practically invented the Double IPA. There are few other American cities where good beer is so easy to find. Here, we’ve put together a list of the best of the best stops to make when in town, as rated by the readers of Grab a rental car, brave the sprawl, and you shall be rewarded.

The city is oriented around the yawning San Diego Bay. Point Loma shelters the bay from the Pacific and offers stunning skyline views. Downtown San Diego, the historic Gaslamp Quarter and Balboa Park (home to the San Diego Zoo and several museums) lie directly across the bay.

Sitting on the bay, the Coronado Brewing Company is a must-visit—and not just for the stunning drive over the curving, iconic bridge to Coronado Island that drops visitors at the brewpub’s doorstep. Once there, indulge in upscale pub food and fine ales. CBC shares the island with one of San Diego’s numerous military installations.

Back on the mainland, hug the coastline and head toward the beach. The laid-back neighborhoods of Ocean Beach, Mission Beach and Pacific Beach are home to some of the city’s best beer bars (The Vine [closed], The Liars’ Club [closed] and the Tap Room, respectively).

San Diego’s two world-class breweries, Stone Brewing Company and Port Brewing/Lost Abbey, lie a 30 minutes up I-15. Don’t bother coming to the area without making a pilgrimage to each. Pizza Port’s two area brewpubs, Port Carlsbad and Port Solana Beach, dot the beaches north of town; just make sure to leave an hour between drinking and surfing sessions. And don’t miss the Alpine Beer Company (brewers of the much-sought-after Pure Hoppiness Double IPA), half an hour east of town along I-8.

AleSmith and Ballast Point Brewing, two phenomenal regional breweries, stand closer to town—they’re both on the northern edges of the Marines’ Miramar Air Station. As with any other brewery in town, try the IPA.


Stone Brewing Company
There probably aren’t enough superlatives in the English language to spread around Stone, one of the country’s most brash, daring and consistently excellent breweries. They’re also proud owners of a new on-site organic bistro.

The Lost Abbey/Port Brewing
This little building has a monstrous reach—it’s home to the prolific Great American Beer Festival gold-medal-winning Port Brewing, as well as Port’s new line of experimental Belgians, Lost Abbey.

This artisanal brewery handcrafts beers in the homebrewing tradition. Unencumbered by tradition, their Grand Cru, Barleywine, IPA and Wee Heavy are some of the finest around.

Alpine Beer Company
For a tiny brewery in the foothills, Alpine cranks out some heavy-hitting beer. Huge IPAs are the name of the game here, and the game is brutal indeed.

Ballast Point Brewing Company
When the homebrewers at San Diego’s Home Brew Mart couldn’t constrain their passion and ambition, Ballast Point Brewing was born; today, both locations serve up monster IPAs.


Pizza Port Carlsbad
Pizza Port Solana Beach
Both Pizza Ports employ their own brewstaff, and curate their own slates of killer, award-winning beers. There’s some cross-pollination, but just to be safe, you’d better hit both locations.

Coronado Brewing Co.
The focus is as much on the food—and the stunning atmosphere—as it is on Coronado’s solid house brews. Their IPA, Pale and Dunkel rank among BA reader favorites.

San Diego Brewing Co.
This unassuming oasis of a brewpub (it’s buried in a Mission Valley strip mall) isn’t too proud to share tap space with several dozen guest beers from the area’s finest breweries.

Beer Bars

O’Brien’s Pub
Twenty-plus taps devoted to fresh local offerings and a mammoth bottle list full of hard-to-find Belgians easily make O’Brien’s the best beer bar in town.

The Liars’ Club [closed]
A must-visit Mission Beach bar pouring local beers on tap and cask, serving up creative, afford- able regional food and rocking the city’s best jukebox.

The Vine [closed]
The Vine sports white tablecloths, an extensive wine list and an upscale small plate menu. But they also love beer, and they’ve got a sizable, Belgian-heavy beer menu to prove it.

The Tap Room
Don’t be scared by the roaring crowd and the banks of TVs—this isn’t a macro-heavy sports bar. It’s a bar that nicely marries noise, TVs and pub grub with excellent pints.

The Field
A relatively authentic Irish pub in the middle of San Diego’s Gaslamp District, the Field serves fantastic Irish cui- sine and provides a welcome refuge from the crush of the surrounding neighborhood’s touristy clubs.

Hamilton’s Tavern
Once a dive bar, Hamilton’s has become a neighborhood beer bar boasting 25 quality local tap handles, and over 130 bottles. Cheers to progress.

To check out more regional readers’ picks, go to