war on the rocks

How San Diego Became One Of America’s Craft Beer Destinations

March 1, 2016

There are few things better than great weather and great beer. Thankfully in and around San Diego, CA, there is an abundance of both. The San Diego beer scene is one of the best known in the country, with over 100 breweries and tons of great bars to serve that beer. And for those that travel to the area for work in either its burgeoning engineering sector or one of the region’s several military installations, a good beer is always close at hand.

San Diego hasn’t always been the craft beer destination many regard it as today. In fact, much like the rest of the country, San Diego struggled after prohibition to reclaim the beer scene it once had. That changed after homebrewing was legalized in 1978, and California subsequently became one of the more forward-thinking states — allowing brewpubs to operate as early as 1982. Then in 1989, San Diego opened its Karl Strauss’ Old Columbia Brewery & Grill, creating the catalyst for San Diego’s craft beer rise.

From Karl Strauss, you can trace the San Diego beer scene, with several of the original employees of Strauss opening some of the more well-known breweries in the area, including Pizza Port Brewery (which spawned Port Brewing and Lost Abbey, among others) and the Home Brew Mart, which gave rise to Ballast Point Brewing Company. It’s also said that current Russian River Brewing Company owner Vinnie Cilurzo invented the Double IPA just north of San Diego in Temecula at the now-defunct Blind Pig Brewery in 1994. With the help of Chris White, owner of White Labs (which opened in 1995) one of the world’s preeminent yeast labs was right at the brewer’s doorstep, creating “unprecedented access to world class yeast” and “custom yeast strains.”

Today, entire sections of the city have been revitalized by the craft beer scene, which has “propelled more than $1 billion into the local economy.” Areas such as North Park now have tasting rooms from popular breweries, and some of the most well-known and noteworthy bars in California, Toronado and Coin-Op Game Room.

If you plan to visit San Diego any time soon, any of the aforementioned locations would be great to check out. However, no trip to San Diego is complete without a couple of other stops:

Stone World Bistro and Gardens

Located outside the city in Escondido, Stone’s facility is world-class. Even if you can acquire their IPA and regular releases on the East Coast, a trip to Escondido is a must. Located in a large facility, this location takes “beer garden” to the next level, with a one-acre garden filled with trees, a pond, and ample seating. Take a walk around the pond while drinking world-class beer, or sit on their open-air patio for dinner.

Modern Times Beer

With two locations in Point Loma and North Park, visiting Modern Times is an easy venture, and brings you to some of the best beer San Diego has to offer. Rated one of the “Top 10 New Breweries in the World” by Ratebeer, and named “Brewery of the Year” by beer magazine West Coaster, Modern Times keeps things fresh with continual new releases as well as amazing year-round offerings. Pick up a couple cans of their Fortunate Islands, a hoppy and refreshing wheat beer, and head to the beach. If you’ve had enough alcohol, MT also roasts its own coffee, and serves some delicious iced coffee as well.

Alpine Beer Company

Like Stone, Alpine is now available on the East Coast thanks to a deal with San Diego brewery Green Flash. However, a trip to the original brewery is a must. Located 45 minutes to the east of the city in Alpine, the brewery makes some of the best hoppy beers in the San Diego area. Check out Pure Hoppiness, Duet, Nelson, and if they have it on, Hoppy Birthday.

So the next time you find yourself in San Diego, grab some fish tacos and a cold beer from one of these breweries and enjoy the beautiful weather. And be sure to appreciate how San Diego has created an atmosphere for beer to thrive, from its oldest craft brewery to the newest (and potentially best), and be happy that San Diego’s beer scene isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.


Salvatore Colleluori is a political writer by day and a homebrewer and beer enthusiast by night. He holds a degree in Political Science from the George Washington University and enjoys reading about alcohol, history, and foreign relations. He is also an avid music lover, specifically jazz and the Grateful Dead.


Photo credit: Bignoisybird