With so many spots to choose from, it’s best to break the list into categories. Let’s begin with companies offering multiple locations.
Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits
A familiar nautical theme carries over from BP’s long bar- and patio-equipped Scripps Ranch tasting room to its spacious indoor-outdoor bar and restaurant in Little Italy.
Ballast Point locations: Linda Vista | Little Italy | Miramar | Scripps Ranch
Karl Strauss Brewing Company
Renovations to this brewpub chain’s outposts improved their interior appeal while the Japanese garden and lagoon at its Sorrento Mesa venue remains one of the best local spots for an ale al fresco.
Karl Strauss locations: Downtown San Diego | Carlsbad | La Jolla | Pacific Beach | Scripps Ranch | Sorrento Valley
Modern Times Beer
Post-It murals, comic-book-page-papered walls, vintage floppy disc coasters, and bars constructed from hardback books and VHS video cases are enough to merit trips to this brewery’s tasting rooms.
Locations: Midway District — Lomaland Fermatorium | North Park — Flavordome
Mother Earth Brew Co.
An easygoing vibe and colorful artwork make a visit to either this interest’s brewery or combo tap house and homebrew shop enjoyable, and food delivery from neighboring restaurants earn extra points for the latter.
Locations: Mother Earth Brewing — Vista | Mother Earth Tap House — Vista
Stone Brewing Co.
Stone’s restaurants are the county’s largest and have won architecture awards for their sprawling outdoor gardens, its TapRoom and stores are fit for lounging, and Stone Farms is a hidden rural gem with top-notch beer.
Locations: East Village | Escondido - Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens | Escondido - Stone Farms | Liberty Station | Little Italy | Petco Park | San Diego International Airport | South Park
16990 Via Tazon #123, Rancho Bernardo
Abnormal Beer Company (at The Cork and Craft)
Dark woods, marble, vintage light fixtures, and a glass-encased brewhouse make this restaurant, winery, and brewery one of the most upscale spots for house-brewed beer in San Diego.
4150 Mission Boulevard #208, Pacific Beach
Amplified Ale Works (at California Kebab and Beer Garden)
Inside, it’s as kickback as a musician’s practice space, while outside, an open-air beer garden offers a view of the ocean in tandem with phenomenal beers, including standouts from a nice collection of guest taps.
3416 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights
Automatic Brewing Company (at Blind Lady Ale House)
The availability of renowned brewer and owner Lee Chase’s beers is as unpredictable as he is, but Automatic brews or not, a skateboard wall, vintage beer can collection, and convivial atmosphere make for a good experience.
601 South Coast Highway, Oceanside
Bagby Beer Company
Excellent beer is enough to get folks in the door, but this huge, two-story brewpub features great seating options — indoor bar with roll-up windows, multiple patios, upstairs dining room, and a deck with a view of ocean.
110 N. Magnolia, El Cajon
(No longer in business.)
URBN St. Brewing Company
Ownership did a great job URBN-izing the boring El Cajon Brewing Company site, converging it into a modern, reclaimed chic, indoor-outdoor brewpub that is its municipality’s most aesthetically appealing restaurant.
BNS Brewing & Distilling Company
10960 Wheatlands Avenue #101, Santee
Old West and Old Glory collide at Santee’s best-looking brewery. Flags, Navy SEAL emblems, wood, horseshoes, and a bar with an iced-down copper strip spruce up the interior while misters (in hot weather) and picnic tables make the outdoors great.
6550 Mira Mesa Boulevard, Mira Mesa
Green Flash Brewing Company
Already spacious and inviting, Green Flash’s tasting room has been redesigned to be even cooler and include a new retail store, while the grassy outdoor area with food-truck access remains a superb added value.
3812 Grim Avenue, North Park
Mike Hess Brewing Company
Nowhere else can one enter a facility via a catwalk overlooking a working brewery and cellar. Throw in a colorful, well-situated tasting room where beer service efficiency was a big design focus and you have a winner.
8262 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Kearny Mesa
Societe Brewing Company
No place offers such a complete, well-executed thematic…and as many seating options…and outdoor access to food trucks…and a view of the brewery…and immaculate restrooms. I could go on, but you get the idea.
3176 Thorn Street, North Park
Thorn St. Brewery
Whether you opt for the downstairs bar or spend time playing tabletop games on sofas or chatting around a barrel belly bar under the stars in the open-ceilinged back room, a fun time is guaranteed here.
1795 Hancock Street (Mission Brewery Plaza), Mission Hills
(No longer in business.)
Acoustic Ales Brewing Experiment
A dim, intimate speakeasy feel, plush leather furniture, and matching appointments make this appurtenant structure at Mission Brewery Plaza a hidden jewel at a historic site.
2545 Progress Street, Suite D, Vista
Booze Bros. Brewing Company
A big, outdoor sampling space combines with seemingly disparate interior elements — animal horns, flora, reclaimed wood, brick, Americana, and more — to form something beautiful and impressive.
2123 Industrial Court, Vista
Indian Joe Brewing
Though quite small, owner Max Moran has made his tasting room Disney-esque cool and comfy with a wooden, awning-equipped bar, hanging drive-in marquee, and illuminating fire feature.
8830 Rehco Road, Suite D, Miramar
Rough Draft Brewing Company
They pack them in at this Mira Mesa interest, but it’s comfortable, thanks to a lounge area with lush couches, a lengthy bar, and large tables fashioned by owner Jeff Silver’s wife.
9495 Candida Street, Mira Mesa
One wouldn’t figure the scientific minds at the country’s largest yeast purveyor to be so stylish, but an earth-toned color palette, woods, and hanging beaker light fixtures make for a unique and rather chic motif.
Beer Guide to be released in November!
Each year, I put together the Complete Guide to San Diego Breweries, a comprehensive tool built to help readers extract the best of the regional craft-brewing scene. It covers every brewery-owned venue in San Diego County, from immense brewing facilities with built-in restaurants to satellite retail outlets within sports arenas and concert venues. This year’s edition is now available.
Related: Top 12 San Diego breweries | Dictionary of must-try local beers | Best new breweries