Tour and taste some of the best offerings from California’s brew masters
California craft brewers have redefined the art of ale. So hoist a mug as we help guide you to California’s best brews, from inky stouts to pale pilsners and everything in between.
Northern California: where it started in the '70s
Pay homage to the place it all began: San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing , which back in 1971 kick-started California’s microbrew scene. (Tours are available, but fill up months in advance, so call as soon as you know when you’ll be in town.) Chico’s Sierra Nevada Brewing Co . has long been another big player; cool off in summer with a frosty pint in its trellis-shaded taproom and restaurant . Up north in the Humboldt redwood region, in the tucked-away town of Fortuna, quaff a chocolaty Brown Porter while tossing horseshoes atEel River Brewing taproom and grill (Eel River was of the country’s first certified organic brewery). Auburn Ale House , in Gold Country town of Auburn, offers brewpub fare and a rotating selection of beers crafted on site. And in Santa Rosa, Russian River Brewing Company serves excellent brews, including the cult favorite Pliny the Elder Double IPA.
Central Coast: craft beers mix it up with wine country and surf hangouts
Each year at Firestone Walker Brewing Company in Paso Robles, local winemakers blend beers in a friendly competition to create an Anniversary Ale; sample the annual brew and other craft beers at the company’s taprooms in Paso Robles and Buellton , or at the brewery itself. Also in Paso Robles, try Poor Man’s Blond Style Ale or Curly Wolf Stout at BarrelHouse Brewing Co . , where you can sample beers in a half-acre beer garden. Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. celebrates the region’s Old West vibe with beers like Wrangler Wheat, served at the Buellton brewery and a tasting room in Santa Barbara’s artsy “Funk Zone.” In scruffy-chic section of Ventura known as the “Off Market Street Tasting Trail,” Surf Brewery pours porters, pale ales, and craft brews named for local surf spots.
San Diego and L.A.: a brewing boom like no other
San Diego’s craft beer scene exploded in 2010. At Stone Brewing Co. , which spearheaded the surge, fuel up on hoppy West Coast ales and fried quail in the adjacent bistro. Tour the brew house at popular Lost Abbey , serving wryly named brews like Devotion Ale, a fluffy headed Belgian pale ale. Green Flash Brewing Co. pours its craft brews from 30 taps in its tasting room. Try tart wine-barrel-aged sours at Societe . Up north in L.A., the burgeoning beer scene includes upstarts like Angel City Brewery , which also showcases local artists in its brewery gallery. North of L.A. in Agoura Hills, Ladyface Ale Companie offers a full spectrum of beer styles and rave-worthy seasonal food pairings.
High Sierra and beyond: artisan beers worthy of the mountain setting
After a day on the trails, winter or summer, end the day with a hefty barrel-aged imperial stout like Lair of the Bear at Mammoth Brewing Company . At South Lake Tahoe’s Stateline Brewery , the craft ales and lagers pair well with the pizzas (probably because the crust’s secret ingredient is beer) at e. And in California’s northeastern corner, Lassen Ale Works serves hoppy ales in Susanville’s historic Pioneer Saloon, established in 1862.
GUIDED CRAFT BREWERY TOURS
Join a guided tour for insider insights—and a designated driver.
SAN DIEGO Join a fun and informative Brew Hop , offering private, custom-designed tours of the region in a deluxe SUV.
LOS ANGELES COUNTY LA Craft Beer Tours is the city’s original beer tour company*; tours also venture to Ventura and Santa Barbara. LA Beer Hop explores the craft beer scene all over the region, including south bay beach towns.
CENTRAL COAST Hop On Beer Tours takes you to craft breweries in a tricked-out shuttle bus featuring luxurious leather seats and hardwood floors.
SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA Bay Area Brewery Tours aims to educate as well as lead you to tasty brews. Based in Santa Rosa, Woody’s Wine Tours also offers a Craft Brewery Tour. North Bay Brewery Tours lets you choose from lively party buses or quieter VIP tours to visit Sonoma County offerings.
NORTH COAST Sample craft brews in the Eureka area with Humboldt Beer Tours .
Thirsty for more? Try these online resources for additional info on California craft breweries,
BeerAdvocate : Read ratings and reviews in the online version of the beer geek’s bible.
San Diego Brewers Guild: Promoting awareness of fresh, locally brewed beer, this site is stocked with useful info, including a downloadable map guide of SD breweries.
Taphunter: Billing itself as “the craft beer finder,” this smartphone app tells users what’s on tap at area bars and restaurants.