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30th Street is home to some of the city's best craft beer bars and beer-friendly restaurants, as well as a few breweries and tasting rooms.
There are lots of ways to experience the incredible selection and diversity of San Diego's great craft beer. If you want to go directly to the source and visit the brewery tasting rooms, you're in luck; you've got nearly 140 breweries to choose from! Although this strategy involves covering a lot of ground, many areas of the county have become tiny craft beer "meccas," where a collection of breweries have popped up fairly close to one another. Up in North County, Highway 78 has become known as the "Hops Highway," because so many breweries can be found along the corridor between Escondido and Oceanside. Another grouping can be found along the Miramar and Mira Mesa corridor. Still others have popped up between downtown to the Interstate 8.
But what if you want to sample San Diego's amazing variety without traveling all over the county? Well, then, 30th Street is the place for you. 30th Street (which runs through the neighborhoods of Normal Heights, North Park and South Park) offers visitors an opportunity to try a little bit of everything - it's home to some of the city's best craft beer bars and best beer-friendly restaurants, as well as two or three actual breweries and tasting rooms.
Here's a sampling of some of the many beer-centric things you can do on 30th Street. It's a suggested itinerary that would never actually be done in its entirety, but it guides you from north to south with recommendations for stops along the way.
Fall may be relatively young, but the folks behind it have been part of the San Diego brewing scene for a while. Previously, founders Dave Lively and Ray Astamendi (also brewmaster) were key players in the creation of Saint Archer Brewing Co. (which is in the Miramar area).
The spacious tasting room is light and comfortable, with shiny new fermentation tanks on display, plenty of seating and a nice selection of crisp, clean, well-balanced beers to choose from. If the California Common (A Beer Named Sue), Plenty For All Pilsner or the Coffee Stout (2AM Bike Ride) are on tap when you visit, make sure you don't miss them.
Special Note: As you come down 30th Street and hit El Cajon Blvd., you can take a slight detour east to Ohio Street, where North Park's newest brewery tasting location has recently opened. Actually, it's a triple-brewery location; this building is home to three new small breweries that are all doing really good beer. Sharing the building (but with three distinct tasting rooms) is San Diego Brewing Company, Pariah Brewing Company and Eppig Brewing Company. These three breweries are perfectly capable on their own of providing all the beer you could possibly need or want in a given outing.
Like the triple brewery location above, Tiger! Tiger! is technically not on 30th Street, but it's only two doors east. And besides, it's so good, it has to be on any 30th Street itinerary! (Draft magazine recently voted it one of America's 100 Best Beer Bars.)
Big wooden communal tables in a casual, friendly atmosphere is how Tiger! Tiger! provides its patrons with a great selection of beers (about 24 taps) and a delicious menu of scaled-up comfort bar-food (there are even some vegan options), with an emphasis on locally grown quality ingredients (their house-made sausages and Sunday brunch are awesome).
As a sister restaurant to Blind Lady Ale House (just north on Adams Ave.), Tiger! Tiger! usually has at least a few selections from Automatic Brewing, which is brewed at Blind Lady. These beers, brewed by co-owner Lee Chase, are always outstanding, so don't pass them by.
Come out of Tiger! Tiger!, take a left, then another left at the corner. Forty paces or so, and you're at the Belching Beaver tasting room. This outpost of the production brewery that makes its home in Vista is a smallish space with plenty of seating and a bunch of counters that open out onto the street.
From the 15+ taps, you can choose from a variety of Belching Beaver brews, including nitro selections, seasonal specialties and their perennial fan favorite: Peanut Butter Milk Stout.
Head a few blocks south on 30th Street and, within minutes, you'll be at Rip Current's tasting room. This outpost of the San Marcos brewery offers a large, airy, comfortable setting in which to taste Rip Current's always-delicious lineup. Founded by two nationally recognized and prolific homebrewers, this brewery does every style well, especially IPAs (Lupulin Lust) and malty beers like Barrier Reef Nut Brown.
With an impeccable lineup of more than 53 beers on tap (and an exhaustive list of bottles), Toronado has distinguished itself as one of San Diego's premier craft beer bars (also recently voted one of America's 100 Best Beer Bars by Draft magazine). The casual and comfortable surroundings, along with the friendly and helpful staff, make it the perfect place to taste, explore and experiment. If you want a well-rounded craft beer education, you need not look any further than the offerings at Toronado.
A casual café menu complements the liquid selections, with dishes that often incorporate or utilize craft beer. Toronado frequently hosts special beer events, including multi-course beer dinners and brunches that are some of the most interesting and delicious around.
Acclaimed homebrewer Kelsey McNair launched this brewery (just a few doors east of 30th Street) on hip and trendy University Avenue a little more than a year ago. The beers are all good, with McNair's Hop Fu IPA standing out as the best in the lineup, but the space itself is the real star. Beautifully designed in a neo-Deco style, the high-ceilings, long bulky bar, mezzanine area and floor-to-ceiling windows make this room a destination in itself.
Again, this is a little detour that's worth taking. Two short avenues east of 30th Street (and just south of North Park Beer Co.) is Mike Hess Brewing. If you're looking for the brewery-tasting room combo experience, here's another spot to try.
Hess' spacious tasting room is well-designed and offers the drama of being above the fermentation tanks looking down. The brewery offers a nice selection of beers on tap, including a few unique styles, such as Grazias Vienna Cream Ale, Umbrix Rye Imperial Stout and their award-winning Claritas Kölsch. Most beers are available to take home in very cool cans, crowlers or growlers.
Here's an option for those seeking a very beer-centric gastropub kind of experience, with a bit more upscale menu. Waypoint Public boasts 27 taps, many of them local beers, as well as an eclectic California-inspired collection of dishes that range from smoked swordfish crostini to braised short rib ravioli to the classic French cassoulet.
One last stop before entering South Park is Thorn Street Brewery (a few blocks east of 30th at Thorn). Opening in late 2012, this small operation within a North Park residential area is one of San Diego's true neighborhood breweries.
While offering a nice variety of malt-forward and Belgian-style beers, their most unique offering has to be The Terpene Beer, also known as the "Cannabis IPA," because it is infused with natural cannabis terpenes that give it a distinct nose and flavor that is highly recognizable.
Here's a fitting place to end your craft beer odyssey: at another shining star in San Diego's beer bar universe (also voted numerous times by Draft magazine as one of America's 100 Best Beer Bars). Hamilton's 30+ taps and extensive bottle list are the result of owner Scot Blair's personal obsession with quality beer and the best of local beer. His longstanding relationships with hundreds of brewers has enabled him to offer patrons many rare and specialty beers that are not widely distributed elsewhere.
The atmosphere in Hamilton's is pure neighborhood bar: dark wood, low lighting, pool and shuffleboard tables, all provide a comfortable, friendly setting for anyone who happens in. Quality pub food, like their house-made sausages and great sandwiches, pair exceedingly well with the many styles of beer on offer.
South Park Brewing Company is an adjoining space filled with both a 5-barrel brewhouse and a fish-centric restaurant. The beers are all brewed, tanked and tapped right behind the long dark-wood bar and are only available at this location. The other half of the space houses an open kitchen and huge fish case, which displays all kinds of fresh seafood to be cooked there or purchased for home.
As great a place as 30th Street is, it's not the most car-friendly. On most days, parking is a challenge pretty much anywhere on or near 30th Street. In addition, if you're going to spend a day drinking beer, operating a motor vehicle is not really the best option. Walking is a great means of transport on 30th Street, though the entire route from north to south may be a bit longer than you'd like to tackle in a day. Bikes are another excellent choice.
The best choice by far, however, would be the city's #2 bus. Available from many spots downtown (on Broadway), the #2 travels the entire length of 30th Street and will take you close to every spot mentioned in this article. For $7 you can get a day-pass that will enable you to get on and off as you please, and you won't have to spend half your day looking for parking spots...that means you'll have more time to stop, sip and savor some of the best beer stops San Diego has to offer.
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