Downtown San Diego Brewery Guide

America’s Finest City’s urban core and historic bayfront have much to offer in the way of local craft beer

Tracing the history of San Diego’s craft-brewing industry will lead one downtown, where a number of fledgling operations—Karl Strauss Brewing, Hang Ten Brewing, Cerveceria La Cruda, Baja Brewing—sought to bring handcrafted beer with heart to locals and tourists alike. It’s proven a challenging area, with just one of the aforementioned pioneers remaining and many brewpubs that have made a go of it now gone. Yet, downtown boasts a quintet of diverse local beer businesses that have made the area work for them, while emboldening other brewing companies to lay down stakes in the nearby East Village and Little Italy neighborhoods. Those suds stalwarts are here to stay and are perfectly positioned for visitors fresh off a flight from the airport or taking in an event at the San Diego Convention Center.

Downtown San Diego Brewery Map


Karl Strauss Brewing
1157 Columbia St

Karl Strauss Downtown

Though there were a few short-lived upstarts, the story of local beer began at this Columbia Street locale in 1989, Inspired by a life-changing visit to an Australian brewpub, co-founder Chris Cramer partnered with his college roommate, Matt Rattner, and cousin, former VP of Production for Pabst Brewing, Karl Strauss, to install a similar concept in downtown San Diego. Behind the latter’s prowess—and moniker—Karl Strauss Brewing quickly gained a name and a following, paving the way for the hundreds of local craft-beer producers that would follow in the pioneering company’s footsteps.

Uncle Karl’s German heritage and career experience made for a lager-heavy portfolio in the company’s early days. Over time, its offerings have expanded to meet the preferences of modern-day drinkers while preserving longtime fan faves such as perennially award-winning, Irish-style Red Trolley Ale (toffee, dark fruit) and Windansea Wheat (banana, lemon peel, clove). More recent mainstays include Aurora Hoppyalis IPA and its single-hopped, lower-alcohol cousin, Mosaic IPA, plus hazy newcomer Boat Shoes and resinous double IPA, Frank the Dank. Seasonals like autumn’s Oktoberfest with its orange-blossom honey aromas and floral, bready palate are also on tap along with small-batch creations produced on Karl’s OG on-site brewhouse.

Karl Strauss’ longevity (the company was named Mid-size Brewing Company of the year at the 2016 Great American Beer Festival) comes from eschewing laurel-resting in favor of evolution. Conversely, the company has worked to preserve the classic downtown red-brick and exposed beams look of its original brewpub (it is now headquartered in Pacific Beach). Take in the atmosphere from a split-level bar and dining room or head to the shaded patio for beers and food from a menu of elevated pub fare that includes a grass-fed burger topped with beer-brined bacon, beer-infused sausages and “mac on tap”.

Resident Brewing
inside The Local Eatery & Drinking Hole, 1065 Fourth Ave

Resident Brewing

San Diegan Robert Masterson’s coconut-infused IPA took top honors at a 2013 homebrew competition conducted by Stone Brewing, which went on to brew that beer on a pro level and distribute it across the country. That victory inspired Masterson’s brother-in-law, local entrepreneur James Langley, to mash into the local brewing industry and tap his talented relative to head production. Come 2016, Resident Brewing debuted within longtime downtown watering hole, The Local, armed with a stellar coconut IPA called “Vacation”…and a whole lot more.

Early on, Resident gained popularity behind heavily hazed IPAs akin to those found on the East Coast. Those have given way to a “San Diego Series” of NEIPAs (New England-style IPAs) with rotating hop bills, each of which is named for a different part of the county. On the clearer side, single-hopped IPA, Chasing Citra (orange and more orange) is a household name, and flagship IPA Urbanite (tangerine, lemon zest) is about to get some company in the form of several new West Coast IPAs. Resident also wins points—and awards—for its non-hoppy stock, including the crisp Perky Blonde, a lemony saison called Golden Kiss, the chocolatey “imperial” (6.5%) McNeil Irish stout, and recent runaway hit, Compadre Mexican-style lager. Just as compelling is the slow trickle of specialty stouts and saisons seeping from a small but well-maintained barrel program.

Those who visit Resident after a Padres home game may very well run into a fresh-off-the-field Friar. Joe Musgrove is a fixture after having collaborated with the brewery to craft a double IPA called No-No Joe (mango, orange pith, marjoram). Released directly following Musgrove’s 2021 no-hitter (the first and only in the club’s history), it was an instant hit for Resident and has provided the basis for many happy returns for the righty hurler.


Ketch Grill & Taps - Downtown

Ketch Grill & Taps – Downtown
inside Portside Pier, 1360 N Harbor Dr

In 2017, the group behind the popular Brigantine chain of seafood-centric restaurants added an in-house craft-beer arm. Housed in “The Brig’s” Kearny Mesa HQ, Ketch Brewing produces lagers, IPAs and hard seltzers to stock the taps of the company’s restaurants, including this eatery (one of four) at downtown’s Portside Pier complex. Enjoy sea breezes, suds and sea fare (fresh oysters, surf-and-turf fondue, IPA-battered fish and chips) from a windowed first-story dome or the open-air “tasting deck”.

Mike Hess Brewing Seaport Village

Mike Hess Brewing – Seaport Village
879 W Harbor Dr, Ste W14-E

In 2021, North Park’s Mike Hess Brewing (MHB) brought tourist-locale Seaport Village its very first brewery-owned venue. The double-decker space is equipped with 23 taps dispensing the company’s ales and lager, plus hard kombucha, ciders, alcoholic slushies and the company’s Freeflow line of hard seltzers, all of which can be enjoyed along with Mexican food from culinary partner Quiero on an extensive outdoor patio (featuring live entertainment on Sundays) or a second-story bar dubbed “The Tower”. Each offers choice people-watching and unimpeded waterfront views. In 2023, MHB doubled-down on Seaport Village, opening a second taproom a short walk away from the first spot.

Mike Hess Brewing – Tap House
809 W Harbor Dr, Ste E4-A

In 2023, MHB doubled down on Seaport Village, opening a second location on the other side of the waterfront property. This one, a 1,000-square-foot bar with 26 taps, does not offer food, but does include 1,300 additional square feet of al fresco imbibing space on a sunny front patio replete with bay breezes.

Stone Brewing Tap Room - Kettner

Stone Brewing Tap Room – Kettner
1202 Kettner Blvd, Ste 101

Conveniently located less than a block north of the historic Santa Fe Depot and the American Plaza trolley station, this satellite of Escondido-based Stone Brewing provides a taste of the hop-heavy IPAs that built San Diego’s largest beer company along with lighter ales and lagers representative of the company’s diversification in recent years. Enjoy either, along with rotating taps of archived classics and specialties, around a fire-sprouting table or from the comfort of an umbrella-shaded table on the side patio.

Back to top button