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San Diego

Brewskis and the Beach

By Stephanie Gandy Riley

Kona Kai Resort & Spa:relax and indulge!

There’s nothing quite as refreshing on a summer day as an ice cold beer. Except perhaps an ice cold craft beer enjoyed in one of the top brewing cities in the nation.

As if the gorgeous weather, ocean breezes and all that family fun weren’t enough, the brewing scene in San Diego is, pardon the expression, hopping.

Followers of the craft beer movement have known this for a long time, but the rest of us are just catching on. No matter, with more than 60 unique craft breweries in the area there are plenty of places to sample the wares of “The Capital of Craft.”

Being a bit of a novice craft beer drinker, I approached my most recent visit to San Diego with my mind firmly on the beautiful beaches and delicious food I’ve come to expect. The beers were secondary in my mind, but that was about to change.

We checked in at the Kona Kai Resort & Spa and immediately felt the Southern California vibe. Newly renovated, this secluded spot at the tip of Shelter Island is an ideal spot for getting away from it all. And by that, I mean: cuddling with your sweetheart, enjoying a specialty cocktail in the uber-cool bar (I liked The Bee’s Knees), and feasting on a divine meal at Vessel restaurant. From the cherry-glazed pork chop with spaetzel to the melt-in-your-mouth short ribs and the decadent lobster mac and cheese, this restaurant is a must-visit on any trip to San Diego. After dinner, save room for s’mores on the beach!

At Stone Brewing Co., visitors can enjoy beer paired with delicious food. Indoors or out, this is a destination farm- and brewery-to-table restaurant.

After recovering from an indulgent first night, we set out to check out the brews. We began our journey at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in the Point Loma neighborhood. Home of the legendary Arrogant Bastard Ale, along with year-round Belgians, IPAs and porters, this is the place where you can sample limited-release beers brewed by Stone as well as other notable brewers. If you aren’t sure which you’d like best, try a sampler and sip your way through the selections. Even after three days sipping beers in San Diego, I consider this the beer-lover’s mecca.

Couples can even host a wedding or rehearsal at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens-Liberty Station (there is also a site in Escondido with a lovely restaurant and a one-acre organic beer garden). With more than 23,000 square feet of restaurant, bar, and garden areas, including a lush bocce court and a private space called Building 12, there is no shortage of places to entertain. Note to the uninitiated: this is not your everyday brew pub. In addition to more than 40 world-class beers, Stone also serves up superb cuisine, including short ribs, roasted salmon, Moroccan lamb shank, and my personal favorite dessert: the Arrogant Bastard Ale brownie sundae.

Come hungry when visiting Ballast Point. Seafood, salads and fish tacos, oh my!

To sample the popular sculpin and check out the lunch crowd, we visited the Ballast Point location in Little Italy. Folks lined up at the bar to order from a vast menu of their beers, ranging from the popular ales to the imperial porters and milk stouts. On the other side of the space is a walk-up kitchen window where visitors can order sandwiches, burgers, salads and traditional pub fare such as Bavarian pretzels and fish tacos. Yes, in San Diego fish tacos are traditional pub fare, and these were mighty good.

Family- and dog-friendly, Coronado Brewing Company is a cool gathering place that just happens to serve great beers with a smile. The comfortable tasting room on Knoxville Street is home to some of the nicest beertenders and customers, and their dogs. Most nights, food trucks park outside to serve the hungry masses. I sampled the coffee stout (coffee + beer, how can you lose?) and my companion was compelled to order the Idiot IPA after leaving his phone in an Uber car. Props to the staff who helped us get the phone back, on one of our most memorable nights in San Diego.

Coronado Brewing Co.: San Diego’s friendliest tasting room.

By far the most hip and unique spot on our tour was a place that wasn’t even on our radar before the trip. Modern Times “Lomaland Fermentorium” in Point Loma. Tasty beers served with fun ‘80s music, and decor to write home about. The wrap-around bar is supported by vintage books, while the fermentation tanks are cleverly separated from the tasting room by movable bookcases. We were told that one of the owners is a huge Michael Jackson fan, which inspired the creation of a massive image of the King of Pop with his pet chimp Bubbles . . . crafted entirely with Post It notes.

Modern Times: hip and fun, with a side of vintage-cool. The magic happens on the other side of the warehouse at this “fermentorium.”

The last stop in our too-short visit was Pizza Port, a crazy-busy spot filled with friends, families and first-dates scrunched together on picnic tables enjoying yummy gourmet pizzas, chicken wings, salads and about 40 different beers on tap. To please the under-21 crowd, there is even a house-brewed root beer. This is a good spot for a group of friends to meet at the end of the night. Great selection of brews and people watching for entertainment.

Once you’ve visited San Diego’s beer scene, you’ll be back for seconds and thirds­­—there are enough breweries and taprooms to keep you coming back a couple of times a year. Beer enthusiasts have a real treat coming up this November when all of San Diego celebrates Beer Week. Check out the deets at www.sdbw.org.

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