This content was originally published by The Hop Review, a digital magazine that joined the Hop Culture family in March 2020.
This piece was written by Tom White.
The Pacific coastal city of Carlsbad, California lies about 40 minutes north of San Diego, one of the most traveled beer mecca’s in the world. Not to be overshadowed by its famous neighbor, Carlsbad offers a lot to the aspiring beer traveler. From quality brewers, excellent food, world class accommodations and golf, not to mention the beautiful beaches, this city by the sea deserves a look for your beercation.
Not to be confused with the nationally distributed Port Brewing, Pizza Port began brewing just north of San Diego in 1987. Since opening their Carlsbad brewpub in 1997, the husband and wife team behind one of the most famous SoCal breweries have won countless medals across a huge variety of beers. As you might expect from the name, this place prides itself on its pizza, so grab a slice and a pint and kick back. — 571 Carlsbad Village Dr., Carlsbad
There’s a good chance one of the reasons you’re traveling to southern California is the weather. If we had to pick one place to enjoy a beer while soaking up some rays, it would be the sun-bathed outdoor area at Bagby. Modern but comfortable, the two tiered beer garden offers a place to relax while working your way through their impressively long and diverse draft menu. Oh, and those beers just happen to be some of the best we had during our visit. — 601 South Coast Hwy., Oceanside
Started by two friends born and raised in Carlsbad, Culver Beer Co. offers a shiny new and intimate taproom with a creative lineup of beers. Located near the local airport in an industrial park, the setting might turn off some visitors but the beer is worth a visit. Be sure to stop by when they have one of their rotating food trucks or chow down on the free popcorn to stem your appetite. — 2719 West Loker Ave., Carlsbad
With a large modern taproom, huge whiskey and cocktail menu, and can distribution throughout the area, there’s clearly a strong backing behind Mason Ale Works, a recent addition to the local beer scene. The smaller O’side “R & D” location is a great place to work your way through their portfolio, or change it up and grab a whiskey sampling. — 2002 S. Coast Hwy., Oceanside
Likely one of the more unique taprooms we’ve been in, drinking a beer at Arcana Brewing somehow manages to feel both like you’re at a working brewery and hanging out in your living room. A small but diverse draft menu of beers created about 20 feet from where you’re drinking make this one a worthwhile stop. — 5621 Palmer Way, Suite C, Carlsbad
While located a short drive inland from Carlsbad, the Port/Lost Abbey/Hop Concept production brewery and tasting room is well worth the trip. If three breweries in one aren’t enough to get you out there, the massive draft menu featuring beers you won’t see anywhere else, rare bottles to go, and an interesting tour should be. Make an afternoon out of this one, just make sure you have a ride back. — 155 Mata Way #104, San Marcos
Other Area Breweries
There are dozens of breweries in and around Carlsbad, so here are a few others we were unable to visit but come highly recommended — Stone Brewing (Escondido), Belching Beaver Brewery (Vista), Mother Earth Brew Co. (Vista), Breakwater Brewing (Oceanside), Guadalupe Brewery (Carlsbad), Iron Fist Brewing (Vista)
Herd of Turtles
Baltic Porter, 9.6%
Lots of caramel and roasty malt in this huge Porter.
Für Die Titten
Berliner Weisse, 4.2%
Mildly sour, with lots of cucumber, if that’s your thing.
Mint Coffee Milk Stout
Milk Stout, 5.0%
Huge roast with a side of mint–a surprisingly refreshing stout.
Hoppy Saison, 6.8%
Belgian yeast meets Mosaic hops to create this gem.
Blood Orange IPA
Sweeter than expected, followed by big bitter orange pith and citrus zest.
Hop Freshener Series
A new hop combo releases each season and all are perfect examples of SoCal IPA’s.
Make the six-wheeled vintage swiss army safari vehicles of Scavengers Beer & Adventure Tours your guide for the day. The uber unique open air transports, included beers for the road, and knowledgeable guides make for a fine way to cruise from brewery to brewery.
If you’re looking for a more laid back but no less unique form of transportation for your beercation, consider Love Bus Tours. Retrofitted VW busses and throwback tunes guarantee an entertaining ride. For those longer trips, you could even get a game of cards going on the van’s dining table.
As you’d expect in a place that rarely dips below room temperature, a bike might just be the best way to get around town. There are several rental places along the coast, making it easy, and cheap, to brewery hop. Just make sure you grab your helmet.
While we usually wouldn’t condone the elimination of bartenders, Barrel Republic offers so many self-service, local beer options, it’s hard to pass up. Rustic, comfortable, and with pay-by-the-ounce pours, this is the place to get a taste for what the locals are drinking, without breaking the bank. Oh, and the food was pretty tasty too.
Perhaps one of the most unique restaurants we’ve been to, Green Dragon is just as much a monument to American history as it is a restaurant. Tour the many free US history exhibits before sitting down to their short but locally inspired beer menu and fantastic food. If a pickmeup is needed come morning, there’s also an attached coffeehouse to get you on your way.
There may not be any better food on earth while drinking beer than a good burrito. Señor Grubby’s is the place to go in Carlsbad for just that. A salsa bar, SoCal brews, and a neighborhood atmosphere make this the perfect mid-tour break.
A good way to finish off your day, Bistro West offers all kinds of tasty fare from burgers to seafood. The slightly higher than expected price point seemed justified when we saw the massive portions, we struggled to finish. Well worth a visit, but consider sharing that entrée.
Comfortable, relatively affordable, and central to everything Carlsbad has to offer, West Inn & Suites provided us with the ideal base to set off on our beercation. Bistro West, one of our recommended bites, is also right across the parking lot.
For those looking to stay in style, the Park Hyatt Aviara is a top of the line resort with everything you could ask for and more. Top of the line rooms, dining, and a world famous Arnold Palmer designed golf course on-site.
Consider this your excuse to warrant your beercation by bringing the family to Legoland on your day off. Definitely one for the younger kids, the theme park, water park, and aquarium are sure to keep them entertained all day, and give you time to recover.
A beautiful hotel in it’s own right, we’d highly recommend the spa at the Cape Rey Carlsbad, a Hilton Resort. Offering everything you’d expect for an afternoon of ultimate relaxation, whether you’re nursing a hangover or preparing for the next beer tour.
A trip to southern California’s coast would not be complete without a visit to the beach. Whether you choose to take a surf lesson, bike the seaside trails, or just catch some rays, there’s plenty to do on Carlsbad’s miles of beautiful white sand beaches.
Co-Founder, Culver Beer Co.
Favorite area beer? Whenever Culver puts on something new.
Favorite non-Culver beer? Anything from Booze Bros in Vista.
Must-visit bar? Golden Tee & Village Pub
When you’re not working, what are you up to? Golfing with friends or working on my 1970 Chevelle.
Best beer scene? Carlsbad
If you weren’t working in craft beer… I’d be in some sort of service industry.
Founder, Arcana Brewing Co.
Favorite area beer? Our Monster Mosaic IPA
Favorite non-Arcana beer? Lost Abbey Angel’s Share
Must-visit bar? Churchill’s Pub & Grille
Best food in town? Urge Gastropub
When you’re not working, what are you up to? Out hiking in the mountains or gardening.
Best beer scene? San Diego of course!
If you weren’t working in craft beer… Environmental health or nursery management
Director of Media & Marketing, Port/The Lost Abbey
Favorite area beer? Societe’s Pupil IPA, can’t beat it.
Must-visit bar? Blind Lady Alehouse, or any spot owned by Lee Chase.
When you’re not working, what are you up to? If I had my way, it’d be hanging out at the beach.
Best beer scene? The Philly Beer Scene is pretty spectacular, the only beer week that I think has a leg-up on San Diego.
If you weren’t working in craft beer I’d… Probably working for a non-profit.
Executive Director, Visit Carlsbad
Favorite area beer? Annabelle’s Porter from Acana Brewing.
Must-visit bar? Vigilucci’s Cucina, ask for Jim
Best food in town? Norte Mexican Food & Cocktail
When you’re not working, what are you up to? Usually outdoors hiking with the dogs, going to beach, paddle boarding in the ocean
Best beer scene? San Diego County
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, I’d… be a motivational speaker.
Photography by Tom White.
This travel guide was created in partnership with VisitCarlsbad.com.