TL;DR: The best California breweries are Ballast Point Brewing Company (San Diego), Brew Crew Inc (Riverside), and Thirsty Bear Brewing Co. (San Francisco). Here are the key takeaways from my review of California breweries:
- Ballast Point BRewing Company is one of our favorite breweries in San Diego and home to my favorite beer, the Sculpin IPA. They offer over 50 beers on tap, an extensive food menu, and indoor and outdoor seating with views of the brewing equipment.
- Brew Crew Inc in Riverside is a collaboration between 3 local breweries, making it a personal experience that we love. They offer over 24 craft beers on tap, a full kitchen serving bar food, and indoor seating as well as a dog-friendly patio that overlooks the brewhouse.
- Thirsty Bear Brewing Co. in San Francisco is my favorite brewery for family get-togethers, offering a selection of 10 handcrafted beers, prominently known for their award-winning Valencia Wheat Beer. They have a full-service restaurant with Spanish-inspired cuisine, a spacious interior, an inviting outdoor beer garden, and occasionally offer brewery tours as well.
With 570 California breweries up and down the state, the Golden State has more craft breweries than any other state in the USA.
Born and raised in California, it is also the place where I had my first experience with craft beer – Arrogant Bastard from Stone Brewery to be exact.
California is known for its craft beer culture, specifically in San Diego and San Francisco, but there are so many other breweries within the state that are worth a stop.
Note: this article contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.
After going to a sour tap takeover of Cantillon beer in Portland a few days ago, I was inspired to recreate the beer journey I recently went on from San Diego to Eureka.
I also made sure to add on my other favorites that I didn’t get to stop in at the last time around.
For the following breweries, I’ve either been to them personally, tried their bottled beers before, or have heard so many recommendations about them from friends in the craft beer industry that I couldn’t leave them off the list.
If you’re looking for a West Coast craft beer adventure in a state that’s known for tasty beer, use these top 30 picks to guide you to the breweries to visit in California.
Oh, and don’t forget to enjoy a beer for me!
Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.
Stone Brewing Co. – San Diego
The brewery that started it all for me, and where I had my first taste of good California craft beer.
A kick to your taste buds – in a good way – Stone Brewing is all about the hops, high alcohol, and strong beers.
The brewery covers an expansive complex that includes a rock garden and a few different areas to sip your beer in a relaxing setting.
You can take free brewery tours here, but it’s a first-come-first-serve basis so put your name on the list as soon as you get there.
Be prepared for a fairly expensive food menu, the beer mac & cheese is the best! Also, this is one of the most popular north county breweries in San Diego so it’s often busy.
Signature beer: Arrogant Bastard Ale, 7.2%
Where to find: 1999 Citracado Parkway.
Recommended Experience: Tijuana Taco and Craft Beer Tour from San Diego
Ballast Point Brewing Company – San Diego
One of my favorite breweries and where I found my all-time favorite beer (Sculpin IPA!), Ballast Point is a quality brewery that has made a name for itself in the San Diego craft beer scene.
It’s easily considered one of the best breweries in Southern California.
There are two locations for Ballast Point in San Diego – the original location in Miramar, and the newer one located in downtown Little Italy.
There’s outdoor seating at the Little Italy location and a varied tap list, depending on the season.
Ballast Point is always keeping it fresh with uncommon beer styles and combinations, such as the Habanero Sculpin IPA, that keeps the homebrew vibe alive and well in a successful large-scale brewery.
Signature beer: Sculpin IPA, 7.0%
Where to find: (1) 9045 Carroll Way (2) 2215 India St. – For the downtown tasting room.
Half Door Brewing Co. – San Diego
The new kid on the block in San Diego, Half Door Brewing is located right near Petco Park and provides a refreshing Irish countryside spin to the West Coast-focused southern California breweries around town.
At Half Door, you’ll find traditional Irish beer styles, such as an Irish Red and, my personal favorite, the Irish Dry Stout on Nitro.
They also brew a delicious Berlinerweisse that’s worth a taste if you enjoy sour beers.
This is one of the smaller breweries you’ll find in downtown San Diego, and therefore comes off as personal and intimate.
Signature beer: Colmans Stout (Nitro), 4.8%
Where to find: 903 Island Ave.
Karl Strauss Brewing Company – San Diego
You can find Karl Strauss pretty much everywhere in San Diego.
The original brewery is over on Santa Fe Street, but they have brewery restaurants in almost every suburb.
Karl Strauss is seen as a more commercial brewery in San Diego, and perhaps a tad less original when it comes to unique beer styles.
However, don’t let that fool you into thinking they don’t make quality beer, because they do.
Signature beer = Red Trolley Ale, 5.8%
Where to find: 5985 Santa Fe St. (but you can find their brewery restaurants all over San Diego)
Mission Brewery – San Diego
Mission Brewery has won so many beer awards they must be losing room on their shelf of trophies.
With a very laid-back Southern California atmosphere, Mission is located in a brick warehouse that’s open and airy.
It’s the perfect place for an afternoon beer.
The roots of this brewery go way back, they were even around during the hard times of Prohibition.
It wasn’t until 2007, when the avid home brewer, Dan Selis, reestablished the brand and set-up the tasting room in San Diego.
Now it’s one of the best breweries in Southern California.
Signature beer = Mission Blonde, 5.0%
Where to find: 1441 L St.
Green Flash Brewing Company – San Diego
Green Flash is the poster child for the West Coast IPA style and known for the constant high quality of beer they brew.
Located in an industrial business park, which is not unusual for Southern California breweries, Green Flash has a beer garden and food trucks to create a communal feel in a large brewing complex.
Also, I’ve heard the brewery tours are great here, giving you good insight into the life of brewing.
Tours are $5 for a 1 hour experience behind the scenes and the chance to have a guided tasting of 4 beers.
Signature beer = West Coast IPA, 8.1%
Where to find: 6550 Mira Mesa Blvd.
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Pizza Port Brewing Company – San Diego
Pizza Port is another brewery that has multiple locations around San Diego, but the Solana Beach location has to be my favorite of the north county breweries (besides maybe Stone).
I have fond memories of grabbing pizza & beer here before heading off to LA from the train station across the street.
It’s just steps from beautiful Solana Beach and I’ve always had great service at this location.
Pizza Port is a local favorite that has a homebrew feel to their beers and a very unique pizza line-up.
This is some of the best pizza you’ll find in San Diego, and the people who work here all look like chilled out surfers, fitting the San Diego personification quite well.
Signature beer = Ponto Pale Ale, 5.4%
Where to find: 135 N. Highway 101, Solana Beach.
Wicks Brewing Co. – Riverside
Located in a business park, Wicks Brewing is just another California brewery that I was pleasantly surprised with in Riverside, a city I had never associated with craft beer before.
Wicks has a clean brewing operation set-up, and they offer the unique feature of hosting brew classes for those who want to learn the art of how to make beer.
Signature beer = Bard’s Song Brown Ale, 5.9%
Where to find: 11620 Sterling Avenue Suite C.
Brew Crew Inc – Riverside
My favorite brewery in Riverside, Brew Crew Inc is the first collaboration brewery I’ve been to.
There are three different small breweries that share the space, collaborating and taking turns with brew days.
It’s a locally run place and personal in how you can meet the brewers and watch them work on small batches for the day.
The 3 different California breweries you’ll find here are Polymath, Delicious Science, and Fermatrix homebrewing.
We found so many interesting experimental beers here that were not only creative but incredibly delicious.
Signature beer = Sir Charms Breakfast Stout, 7.5%
Where to find: 11626 Sterling Ave Suite G.
Eagle Rock Brewery – Los Angeles
Located in a converted warehouse in Los Angeles, Eagle Rock Brewery hosts a laid-back tasting room with beer styles that range from sessionable to imperial.
Going from the minimalist design of the place and menu choices, this brewery is all about the beer.
Grab lunch/dinner beforehand and just enjoy tasting good beer and chatting to people who are knowledgeable about the product.
Recommended Experience: Los Angeles Brewery Yoga
Signature beer = Populist IPA, 7.0%
Where to find: 3056 Roswell St.
Monkish Brewing Co. – Los Angeles
A hard-to-find brewery with a small tasting room, Monkish Brewing Co. is worth the hassle to get to.
It’s a Belgian-inspired brewery that excels at its specialty.
Combine that with 80s music, free snacks, and friendly staff, and this is not a brewery to be missed if you’re in the LA area.
Recommended Experience: East and Central Los Angeles Beer Hop
Signature beer = Crux Belgian Ale, 5.6%
Where to find: 20311 S. Western Ave.
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. – Santa Barbara
Figueroa Mountain’s original brewery is located in Buellton, but why not make an excuse to stop in the stunning seaside town of Santa Barbara if you have the chance?!
After being less than impressed with Santa Barbara Brewing Company, the only other brewery in town, Figueroa was the perfect stop to start off a day exploring town.
One of my favorite aspects was the colorful placards that came with each beer on a tasting tray, describing the beer, giving the percentage, and any pairings it would be good with.
I love that amount of information when I’m trying a lot of different beers.
They don’t have any of their own food, but the Italian place next door makes delicious pizzas that you can have ordered over and delivered to the bar.
Recommended Experience: Saturday Urban Santa Barbara Beer Tour
Signature beer = Hoppy Poppy IPA, 6.5%
Where to find: (1) 45 Industrial Way, Buellton (2) 137 Anacapa Street, Suite F,
Firestone Walker Brewing Company – Paso Robles
Although Paso Robles may be a little out of your way if you’re sticking to Hwy 1 up the coast, Firestone Walker produces some of the best beers and is known as one the best breweries to visit in California.
The brewery offers free tours by appointment, and there is a restaurant set up with everything from steaks to pizza.
They’re especially known for their unique barrel-aged beers and punchy IPAs.
Some of their more exotic beers aren’t available as bottles in local stores, so it’s worth a stop in at the brewery to experience.
Recommended Experience: Hearst Castle Tour from Paso Robles
Signature beer = Double Jack IPA, 9.5%
Where to find: 1400 Ramada Dr.
Seabright Brewery – Santa Cruz
Put on the list partly for nostalgia, Seabright Brewery is a beachside restaurant that I used to always go to with the family, growing up in Santa Cruz.
You won’t find any crazy styles or particularly phenomenal beer, but it’s one of the original breweries in Santa Cruz and definitely a local’s place.
Their food, especially their seafood dishes, are mouthwatering and deliciously fresh. The location, within walking distance to the beach, is unbeatable.
Time it right, and go watch the sunset at Seabright Beach after dinner at the brewery for the ultimate Santa Cruz experience.
Signature beer = Seabright Amber Ale, 5.0%
Where to find: 519 Seabright Ave.
Uncommon Brewers – Santa Cruz
A new brewery that has popped up in the recent brew scene in Santa Cruz, Uncommon Brewers is all about wacky and out there styles that taste good, such as their Bacon Brown Ale.
You can tell that the owner and brewmaster, Alec, is passionate about the product he’s creating.
The brewery is still a small set-up with visits to the tasting room by appointment only.
They’re known for their green practices in only making organic beer and exclusively using recyclable one-way keg technology.
Signature beer = Bacon Brown Ale, 6.8%
Where to find: 303 Potrero St. Ste. 40-H.
Discretion Brewing – Santa Cruz
Combine a fun funky atmosphere with delicious brews and food, and you have a classic Santa Cruz brewery restaurant.
Another place for the locals, Discretion is a neighborhood hang out that has a small beer garden with styles from Belgians to Irish stouts, especially highlighting European-type beers.
Recommended Experience: Ride a Steam Train through the Santa Cruz Redwoods
Signature beer = Uncle Dave’s Rye IPA, 7.0%
Where to find: 2703 41st Ave, Soquel
21st Amendment Brewery – San Francisco
I first fell in love with the quirky 21st Amendment when I tried their Hell or High Watermelon Wheat beer on a hot summer day.
I was hooked.
This multi-level brewery is the place to go in San Francisco before a Giants game as it’s right next to the AT&T Ballpark.
Their finger foods and appetizers are some of the best for savory goodness (cheese curds!).
Signature beer = Hell or High Watermelon Wheat, 4.9%
Where to find: (1) 563 2nd St (2) 2010 Williams St, San Leandro.
Related: 14 Best Hikes in San Francisco
Thirsty Bear Brewing Co. – San Francisco
Perhaps the most popular brewery to visit in San Francisco, besides Anchor Brewing, Thirsty Bear takes over a huge amount of real estate to create an airy beer hall vibe with the feeling of camaraderie.
This place is two stories and usually has events of some sort going on.
Don’t let the size intimidate you, there is usually plenty of seating and a lot of good times to be had at Thirsty Bear.
It’s a great place to come for happy hour, especially for big groups.
Recommended Experience: Half Day Craft Brews and Bike Tour in San Francisco
Signature beer = Howard Street IPA, 7.0%
Where to find: 661 Howard St.
Anchor Brewing – San Francisco
The granddaddy of craft beer in the Bay Area and the country for that matter, Anchor Brewing was America’s first craft brewery.
They’re known for their famous Anchor Steam beer that you can find in almost every bar in the city.
It’s important to note that the taproom isn’t open to the general public and they only offer two guided tours every weekday.
Tours of the brewery are free but you sometimes have to book them months in advance because they’re so popular.
The tours are highly informative, not only about the great range of beers produced at Anchor but about the rich history behind the brewery as well.
This is a landmark brewery to visit in California for its history, and one of the top California breweries not to miss.
Signature beer = Anchor Steam Beer, 4.9%
Where to find: 1705 Mariposa St.
Speakeasy Ales & Lagers – San Francisco
Speakeasy has to be another one of my favorite breweries in California, if only for their awesome beer labels and branding – but don’t worry, the beer is phenomenal as well.
Staying true to their name, they have a speakeasy-style bar in San Francisco that probably has the coolest atmosphere out of any other brewery in the city.
They’re known for their big and bold hopped-up beers, such as their Double Daddy IPA, so be prepared to rock the socks off your tastebuds.
Signature beer = Double Daddy IPA, 8.5%
Where to find: 1195 Evans Ave.
Jupiter – Berkeley
A busy and popular place on the other side of the Bay in Berkeley, Jupiter is a satisfying brewery that is known for an expansive outdoor seating ambiance, live music, and wood-fired pizzas, perhaps more than their beer.
However, they do offer up a great range of guest taps, and their own beers are not something to miss out on with everything from Nitro Stouts to Double IPAs.
Signature beer = Quasar Double IPA, 8.8%
Where to find: 2181 Shattuck Ave.
Lagunitas Brewing Company – Petaluma
Right up there with Ballast Point and Track 7 as some of my favorite breweries in California, Lagunitas is a local favorite and producer of good hoppy beer.
I realized my love for the Lagunitas IPA back in college when I found out my roommate was from Petaluma.
I knew I would have to make a stop at their brewery at some point, and I finally did this year!
The brewery is almost always busy, especially on the weekends, and has a ton of outdoor seating with live music and fun events throughout the year.
It felt like a summer party when I was there, enjoying the sunshine, people roaming around and saying hi to friends, and a generally happy atmosphere about the place.
It’s by far one of the best Sonoma county breweries.
Besides the Lagunitas IPA, try the Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale and the Double Barrel Aged Hop Stoopid.
You won’t be disappointed, this is considered one of the best breweries in California for a reason!
Signature beer = Lagunitas IPA, 6.2%
Where to find: 1280 North McDowell Blvd.
Heretic Brewing Company – Fairfield
If you’re heading inland toward Sacramento from the Bay Area and looking for a place to fill your growler and stop for a beer, Heretic has a great range of beers to taste test and enjoy.
At Heretic, you’ll find a welcoming atmosphere with friendly staff and food trucks.
The brewery is known for their bold hoppy beers, but their dark styles, such as the Shallow Grave Porter and the Chocolate Hazelnut Porter, are just as good.
Make sure to get a flight here to try the many different styles they offer.
Signature beer = Heretic Evil Twin, 6.8%
Where to find: 1052 Horizon Dr.
Russian River Brewing Co. – Santa Rosa
Another one of the best breweries in California, Russian River is known for its ridiculously popular beer, Pliny the Elder, considered by many to be the best IPA in the world.
Make sure not to miss out on their Blind Pig IPA and tasty sours as well!
This is generally a really busy brewery so be prepared to wait, the pizza and beer are well worth it though.
If you’re up for a challenge, order the 19 sample beer flight to try all of their beers on tap – if you go during happy hour you get all 19 2 oz pours for $22.
Signature beer = Pliny the Elder, 8.0%
Where to find: 1812 Ferdinand Ct.
Track 7 Brewing Co. – Sacramento
Track 7 Brewing shot up to the top of my California brewery favorites after a visit to their set-up in East Sacramento.
The bartenders are friendly, knowledgeable and personal, and the beers are all extremely good AND unique.
As a hint, get the $10 sampler deal with four 3 oz samples and a free glass to take home at the end.
Located in a converted warehouse, Track 7 is also a dog-friendly brewery and has some of the tastiest food cart fare I’ve tasted.
Recommended Experience: Downtown Sacramento Historical Food Tour
Signature beer = Panic IPA, 7.0%
Where to find: 3747 W Pacific Ave.
Rubicon Brewing Company – Sacramento
Rubicon is another popular Sacramento brewery that brews some pretty interesting beers.
Located right in downtown Sacramento, I would recommend this brewery more for the atmosphere and friendly service than I would for the California craft beer.
With that said, the beer was worthy enough to make this list, so go for a tasting flight to try a mix of their traditional styles vs. their more wacky ones, such as the Grapefruit Hopsauce Double IPA.
Recommended Experience: Sacramento Beer Train
Signature beer = Monkey Knife Fight Pale Ale, 5.4%
Where to find: 2004 Capitol Ave.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company – Chico
In 1980, Sierra Nevada was the brewery that changed the idea of the American Pale Ale, producing one that was always consistent and hop-focused.
Sierra Nevada Brewery soon became another historical part of the California craft beer scene.
The Pale Ale is the initial beer for many burgeoning beer enthusiasts, and it’s seen as the ultimate entry-level craft beer these days.
This is a larger brewery, so be prepared for an energetic and loud atmosphere in the tasting room with a lot of people.
The brewery tours come highly recommended to get a sneak peek into the pioneering craft beer history of California.
Make sure to book ahead of time because the tours fill up fast!
There are 4 different types of tours, spend a whole day going on them or just choose one or two to get a good overview of the brewery.
Signature beer = Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, 5.6%
Where to find: 1075 East 20th St.
Bear Republic Brewing Company – Healdsburg (Sonoma County)
In the middle of Sonoma Wine Country, you’ll find an unsuspecting popular spot by the name of Bear Republic, that produces some fantastic beers, especially in the realm of hopped-up styles.
This family-owned brewery creates fresh and never filtered beer, it’s generally a busy and crowded place that serves up delicious meals and pours a wide range of tasting flights for you to try.
This is another favorite of the Sonoma county breweries.
Their Racer 5 exudes West Coast IPA and is a must-try, but other ones to add to your tasters would be Hop Rod Rye and the Red Rocket Ale.
Signature beer = Racer 5 IPA, 7.5%
Where to find: 345 Healdsburg Ave.
Anderson Valley Brewing Company – Boonville
Located near the tiny little town of Boonville off Highway 253, Anderson Valley shows off that small-town country vibe from the moment you see the fake stuffed grizzly bear with antlers in the back and peruse the wooden taps.
With small-town charm, you get a personalized and friendly experience at the tasting room with a bartender who knows what he’s talking about.
Although you see their Boont Amber Ale everywhere, I was particularly impressed with their Gose-style beers.
They don’t have any food at the bar or food trucks around, so make sure to stop in at the little town deli for a homemade sandwich to bring back to the brewery if you’re hungry.
Signature beer = Boont Amber Ale, 5.8%
Where to find: 17700 CA-253.
Lost Coast Brewery & Cafe – Eureka
One of the last breweries you’ll find before reaching the Oregon border, you can tell what type of place Lost Coast is by the giant fake spider that comes down on your head as soon as you open the front door – luckily, we came in from the back.
They’re laid back, part dive, part small-town local craft beer pub, they don’t take themselves too seriously but provide friendly service and decent beer.
Some of their more unique beers had fruit features, such as the Tangerine Wheat Ale and Raspberry Brown Ale.
Signature beer = Great White, 4.8%
Where to find: 617 4th St.
As you can see, California is all about the beer, with styles that change drastically from south to north and everywhere in between.
I hope this guide can help you choose between the many craft breweries found all over the Golden State on your next California road trip!
What to Pack for California
- Light jacket
- Flip Flops
- Bathing Suit
- Good walking shoes (e.g. Allbirds Tree Runners)
- Beach bag
- Waterproof camera
- Reusable water bottle
- Portable charger
- Travel insurance for California
Get your FREE California Travel Planner and printable brewery checklist!
With so many breweries in one state, are there any you would add to this list for my next craft beer journey through California?
Watch my video below showing you through a few of the breweries we visited in California, and make sure to subscribe/like if you enjoy!
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