Last year I took a little beercation to San Diego in June (and which I blogged about here), which consisted of extending my work trip just a few days after I had already been working there for my real job. We decided to repeat a visit this year to visit other breweries we had on our list that we didn’t have time to get to. This time, rather than staying by the trendy Gas Lamp district with all the bars and restaurants and night life, we stayed by Old Town so I could all the margaritas I wanted (of F and I, only I have a driver’s license). You know, priorities.
Here’s a little peek at some of the breweries and beer in San Diego during our long weekend.
Our first stop (we did 3 our first afternoon/evening after arriving just after lunch on Saturday) was Alesmith Brewing. It was very crowded inside. This was our first time learning that there are companies that do brewery tours to various breweries. So, even though a place may be extremely packed, at one point it seemed half the place cleared out as those on the brewery tour would get packed into their tour bus and driven away. I think within 10-15 minutes, both F and I had counter space for our beer tasters and even our little cheese tasting that we bought.
Like many breweries, there is a food truck that anchors at the brewery for a bit to serve food so the brewery doesn’t have to manage a food kitchen. In this case, since the food truck was providing lots of sausages, which equals meat, which vegetarian F could not eat, we just had the cheese box to tide us over and moved on to the next brewery.
Alesmith does offer tours, but only once a week, on Saturday at 2:00PM which because of our flight, we unfortunately missed. But, the tour is free!
One thing I should also warn is that there is no place to sit here- everyone is standing. I also want to encourage you to try their seasonals and nitro and cask offerings. The year round offerings you can find in bottles at various places here in Portland, so F and I were already familiar with many of their beers and focused in on the ones we had not tried before. And don’t be shy about ordering the taster size!
If you like coffee, chocolate, and/or porters, I highly recommend the Speedway Stout.
Ballast Point Brewing
So, it turns out Ballast Point Brewing‘s Old Grove location was where TWO beer tour buses visited at the same time as we did, which meant when we first entered it was packed like a madhouse. They do have an outdoor patio area where many people ended up going to enjoy their beers, and probably the aroma of the Philadelphia Cheesesteak food truck/tent that was there.
My favorite beer here was the Indra Kunindra, which they had their regular as well as a bourbon barrel aged version. The Indra Kunindra is a curry coconut stout, with an emphasis on Indian curry aroma and flavors. They have more than a dozen other beers if that’s not your cup of tea, and they have a lot of different styles they do so there will be something to please you, don’t worry.
There were a lot more beers that we hadn’t had here at Ballast versus Alesmith, so he responsible, smart choice was getting tasting portion sizes. I couldn’t believe it when I saw other people on the beer tour getting full glasses. Ballast Point does have 2 other locations (and it’s pretty nice how you can see what is on tap on their website), but the Old Grove location has the most beers. On the other hand, their Little Italy location (which we visited later) has a kitchen with seafood to have with your beer! They are still in the midst actually of building yet another location.
Ballast Point does multiple free tours every day at the Old Grove location, and we were in time to make one of those tours. During the tour, we learned they also have a distillery here at their Old Grove location, and you can also tour/taste their in a speakeasy atmosphere! Unfortunately since F doesn’t drink spirits and I have to drive so could not partake, we skipped that experience and went to another brewery…
Before we move on, just a few photos from the second location of Ballast Point, the one in Little Italy, that we also visited. If you do visit this Little Italy on India street location of Ballast, do not miss walking one block down India Street to Bottlecraft, which has a nice selection of bottles, a flight of beer from bottles, a couple drafts, and sometimes they offer beer classes including a beer and cheese tasting event I saw at end of July. There were some beer bottles that we can’t get in Oregon that we purchased and packed in our suitcase from this store.
Lost Abbey Brewing
Of the three breweries, The Lost Abbey Tasting Room was our favorite that we visited for this trip. We are probably a little biased because we adore barrel aged beers and they also have a lot of Belgian style beers. Also, they have a LOT of beers available at their tasting room – more than 20, which beats out the Ballast Old Grove location, and a lot more beers were new to us as they don’t distribute to Oregon.
We had a good idea that we were going to really be tasting a lot more beers here, which is why we also made it our last stop for the day so that we could take all the time we wanted until they kicked us out because it was after last call. Apparently a lot of other people (including 2 small tour vans, which is how I was able to spot it after driving past it in the industrial park area that it is located) had the same idea because it was pretty busy when we first arrived. I also really like that they took the time to decorate with art on the wall, most tasting rooms don’t think as far as this detail of art outside their beer t shirts and logos.
“In this place we have faith in British fungus”, which they make sounder cooler by saying it translates to “In the Wild Yeast We Believe”, a testament to them mucking around so freely with Brett despite it’s wild and untamed nature as a yeast.
Thankfully, Lost Abbey had a great food cart/tent serving food as we really needed it as we tasted beers: Criscito Pizza. We went with the Honey Garlic pizza with honey, parmesan, mozzarella, garlic, olive oil, and fresh basil, and it is just as delicious as it sounds. Other pizza options were a classic Margherita, a Grandma (basic cheese), a Brooklyn (essentially a sausage pepperoni) and Carbonara with roasted egg, parmesan, mozzarella, bacon, fresh basil, and olive oil. Pretty much I’m going to try to make that latter pizza myself at home it sounds so good, but probably not as fine as theirs from a wood fired oven.
Margarita Time in Old Town
After driving around to various breweries, it was great to park the car at our little hotel in Old Town and then be able to walk to attractions.
I don’t care that this is touristy, I still really liked Fiesta De Reyes. It’s a plaza that includes two restaurants (Barra Barra Saloon and Casa de Reyes restaurant). You will see the Saloon right before the fountain entrance to the plaza, and then walking past the fountain you enter the area with the stage, restaurant, and lots of little shops around the perimeter of the plaza.
I didn’t enjoy this perk, but apparently at the Saloon Kids under 12 eat free all day, every day, with the purchase of an adult entree. However, we ate at Casa de Reyes because from there you can vaguely see the stage, where they have events like Folklorico Dancing Mondays and Tuesday 5:30-9 and Saturdays Sundays 11:30-2:30. They also have Live Music every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, and Mariachi! So it was very lively in there.
One of the fun things surrounding the plaza are little taco stations. Inside these little booths you can get fresh tortillas that are put into street tacos, made right before your eyes.
If you are looking for just hot fresh tortillas (corn or flour), you can also get them at various open air stations along San Diego Avenue (I specifically remember some by Cafe Coyote), so as you may be sobering up from the margaritas you could consider walking it off a little by walking down this street (turn around by Arista Street).
It also may turn out that while you are walking down Arista you may come across Churchill Cigar and Wine Bar, which includes wine, cigars, and actually a dozen taps if you want more beer that you can enjoy in their heated patio with a large screen TV. We were sad to see the Blackhawks Game 7 and that’s all I’m saying about that.
There is also in Casa De Reyes, in one of the little shops surrounding the restaurant (more towards the back, past the restaurant actually) is a place called Hacienda de las Rosas Winery Tasting Room. There, you can have flights of wine OR beer at a huge hand-carved pinewood bar or sitting at various little cozy wine barrel tables.
Hacienda de las Rosas has the charm that would expect of a local cafe, but even better because they have wine and beer and the owners (this is family owned with the parents and children working) are very sweet, and they name their wines after horses they have in their stables at their ranch/winery. They had a really yummy sangria with their Sauvignon Blanc wine with ginger ale, lemonade, cinnamon, and pinch of brown sugar that was super refreshing. Stopping here is a great breather from the energy of Old Town because it’s so relaxing and personal, versus the party in most of the rest of Old Town.
Some examples of the Mexican food awesomeness: the first two are from Casa de Reyes (including a Suiza Shrimp Burrito with shrimp sautéeed with onions, tomatoes and peppers, plus rice, cheddar and jack cheese and jalapeno aioli), and rest are from where I thought I had the best margaritas, Cafe Coyote and also the very messy Lobster Puerto Nuevo Style. Because of course I’m going to get my seafood in too while in San Diego.
So that summarizes the drinks and eats of our beercation in San Diego. We did also visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, but you probably don’t want to see just animal photos, and honestly between the two zoos I like the San Diego Zoo better. Balboa Park nearby has some beautiful architecture and multiple museums, and you might even want to walk across a suspension bridge: all of this is roughly in the same area.
I’ve also been to La Jolla before which I recommend a stroll in the area along the beach and Girard Avenues and Prospect Streets of this upscale beach gown and having dinner one evening after watching the sunset (such as below). The Gas Lamp District, which is where we stayed last time, is another one to stroll around in the evening for drinks and dinner.
I have also liked driving across Coronado Bridge and checking out the famous Hotel Del Coronado. In the ferry area (the other side goes almost to the Gas Lamp District) there is a nice little sidewalk path where you can observe and San Diego skyline. The beach by Hotel Del Coronado (which are all free and public) are great for a walk to watch sunset. And then you get ice cream at the hotel or stop for a bite while walking along Orange Avenue (the main street on this island).
Now having taken 2 beercations here (you can look at this and my previous post for the full set of pictures), my ranking of breweries/tasting rooms to visit in terms of experience and beer can currently be summarized as
Brunch at Karl Strauss: Because beermosas. And if you go to the location out of Karl Strauss Sorrento Mesa there is a little Japanese Garden there too. And it’s a buffet. With beermosas. And also a beer flight to go with your all you can eat brunch. Beermosas and buffet brunch!
Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens in Escondido. The atmosphere here gorgeous, where you can just order a beer and then walk the backyard with its small streams, a waterfall, various patio furniture, seats around a firepit or two or three if you are willing to wait for one of those tables. This is a brewery restaurant, similar to Karl Strauss, and several food items come with beer pairing recommendations or include beer as an ingredient.
The Lost Abbey Tasting Room. They just have tremendous beers if you like barrel aged or Belgian styles and the space is unique and the beer very difficult to get here in Portland. This is where I found the beer the most to my personal taste, but Karl Strauss and Stone Brewing have a lot more of an experience with the atmosphere as well as good beers, so that’s how it ended up third here as a recommendation. If you care more about beer than the overall experience of the tasting, this would be the top. Also, Lost Abbey is 21+ while the other 2, as restaurants, can have broader appeal and audience.
Green Flash Brewing Company is a fun brewery to visit, and they have a lot of different kinds of beer to taste, many which are harder to find here in Portland.
After a day at Solana Beach, having pizza and beer at Pizza Port. If you have kids in your group, this is a good one because the kids can enjoy the pizza and games while you enjoy trying lots of different microbrews.
Ballast Point Brewing has lots of seasonals, the one in Old Grove has a speakeasy/hidden tasting room for liquor, but and if you go to the one in Little Italy you can also have seafood in their tasting room (they have a separate kitchen with a separate register but in the same space).
Alesmith Brewing has tasty beers but is more crowded and standing room only
In the Gas Lamp District, Neighborhood and Knotty Barrel Gastropub have huge beer selection and food with their own kitchen, unlike Lost Abbey, Green Flash, Ballast Point Old Grove and Alesmith that have food trucks be food providers which rotate, so check their website. Since they are in the Gas Lamp district they may be a convenient stop before or after dinner there.
Have you visited any of the places I did, what did you think? Or is there something I missed out on that I should make sure I try next time I’m in San Diego?