San Diego is known for its craft beer, especially its west coast IPAs. But we also have a world-famous whiskey bar, tequila galore, and many wine bars in the downtown area due to the close proximity to Little Italy, the largest Little Italy in the United States. If you are looking to imbibe while here, there is an option for all tastes.
Craft beer has a rich history in San Diego. Karl Strauss Brewing Company, which opened in downtown San Diego in 1989, was one of the first modern craft breweries in California and helped to establish San Diego as a hub for craft beer. Today, San Diego is home to over 150 breweries and is widely regarded as one of the top beer cities in the world.
We will begin by reviewing the one that started it all, Karl Strauss Brewing Company. With several locations around Southern California, the location in downtown San Diego is the original and is what kicked off the craft beer movement in San Diego. Red Trolley Ale is their most famous award-winning beer. Gold medal winning Aurora Hoppyalis is my personal favorite. Queen of Tarts, while not my taste, is beloved by many who like sour beers (seasonal, not sure if it’s available during the IMS conference but worth trying if it is!). Karl has excellent food, but you can’t beat the mac and cheese.
Perhaps the closest brewery to the Convention Center is Mike Hess. Their Seaport Village taproom is situated along the waterfront and offers stunning views of San Diego Bay. Great beer and great food at reasonable prices. As a local, this is the best bang for your buck, especially if you can get a seat near the water.
Ballast Point is one of the quintessential San Diego breweries. They have their classic beers on tap as well as a wide variety of experimental variations to sample. The R&D brewing site is located in Little Italy in downtown San Diego, a ~30 minute walk from the convention center. You will find strange ingredients that somehow work in their beer. Think Watermelon Dorado double IPA, but only drink one at a deceptively high 10% abv.
Stone Brewing is known for its gargoyle theme and bold hoppy beers, including Arrogant Bastard Ale, Stone IPA, and Ruination Double IPA. They have 2 locations near the convention center:
- A tasting room in Little Italy with a lot of experimental beers on tap. AA-HARN, the Thai restaurant next door, is amazing and you can bring the food into Stone
- A large restaurant in Liberty Station, a historic San Diego location in the Point Loma neighborhood which was originally a naval training center. They have a wide variety of really good food, especially the tacos. Indoor and outdoor seating with large spaces available throughout for hosting private events
I have admittedly never been to the Coronado Brewing in Coronado, only a tasting room, but everyone really enjoys it. It’s in a prime location just across the bay from downtown and reachable by ferry + a short walk. Some of the brewery's most popular beers include the Islander IPA, the Orange Avenue Wit, and the Mermaid's Red Ale. It features a spacious indoor-outdoor space with views of the bay, as well as a restaurant serving elevated pub fare.
Wanna go to church during your visit to IMS? The Church by The Lost Abbey has you covered! Formerly a Mexican Presbyterian Church, it has arched windows, stained glass, and pew-like benches which make for a really interesting atmosphere while imbibing. It’s a short walk from the convention center and has close ties to Pizza Port in North County. Known for their Belgian inspired beers, and they supposedly have food now although they were waiting on that permit for a while.
And finally, the honorable mentions, a.k.a. non-breweries:
- The Whiskey House is the Guinness World Record holder for having the largest selection of commercially available whiskeys in the world, over 4,000 bottles according to their website. One of the rare downtown San Diego venues that offers a daily happy hour from 4:00-7:00, and it’s less than a 10 minute walk from the convention center
- Wine bars: they are everywhere in Little Italy
- Looking for tequila? Visit Old Town, a historic area adjacent to downtown San Diego