Why San Diego Is the Best Beer City in the USA


Don't let the Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops fool you. We San Diegans may look mellow, but underneath our chill exteriors lurk beer drinkers who accept nothing less than big, bold, bud-busting flavors in our brews. That's why San Diego is the best beer city on the planet.

Before the "San Diego style" became world-famous, IPAs were a mostly restrained bunch, typically balanced between malt and hops, with a slightly bitter edge. When it comes to hops in San Diego, however, "restrained" is not in our vocabulary. We crave bright, fresh aromas and blasts of citrus, floral, tropical, and pine flavors. And all that hoppiness has to hang on a solid core of malt to hold those volatile, oh-so-delicious components together. We don't do beer for the faint of heart.

"Any city that can get the Germans to start breaking with tradition when it comes to beer has got to be doing something right!"

Thanks to San Diego, the classic parameters of the IPA have evolved during the past two decades. Local boy and now brewing icon Vinnie Cilurzo is credited with creating the first double IPA here in 1994, which pumped up the style considerably. And the rest of the world now shares our tradition-smashing obsession with hops. Don't just take my word for it: Look around. Today, the "San Diego–style IPA" (which grew out of the double IPA) is recognized, emulated, and consumed in vast quantities all over the globe; Stone Brewing has even built a brewery in Berlin to satisfy the demand for San Diego–style beer in Europe. Germany? Really? I mean, let's face it: Any city that can get the Germans to start breaking with tradition when it comes to beer has got to be doing something right!

Of course, the constant stream of medals and awards at the biggest national and international beer competitions (like WBC, the World Beer Cup, and GABF, the Great American Beer Festival) also tends to validate our serious street cred. Three of our breweries—Rip Current, Pizza Port Carlsbad, and Pizza Port Ocean Beach—have been named GABF Champion Breweries in the past five years, and last year San Diego was responsible for one-third of all the GABF medals won by California. How big a deal is that? Well, do the math: There are more than 510 breweries in this state.

We've fared pretty well at the prestigious WBC competition as well. We've had World Champion Breweries (Ballast Point and Coronado Brewing) named in two of the last four competitions, and we claimed 14 of California's 49 medals in 2016. We actually won more medals than the entire United Kingdom. (Oh, and sorry again, Deutschland—one of our golds was for Kölsch, a German style, but a category in which Germany won nothing.)

The big formal competitions are nice, but it's also satisfying to hear the great beer-drinking masses sing our praises. One example: Over the course of the past 15 years, San Diego's golden child, AleSmith, has won Top Brewer in the World three times on RateBeer.com and has remained on the Top Ten Best list for more than a decade. Look up AleSmith on the site and you'll find dozens of 100-point beers—including IPA, Double IPA, Double Red IPA, Evil Dead Red Ale, Reforged, Old Numbskull Barleywine, Speedway Stout, and Wee Heavy. These are beers that are truly unmatched by any brewery anywhere, and they're San Diego originals through and through.

So, yeah, having awesome beer here is one thing. And, if we were judging us against any other city solely on beer, we'd come out on top by that metric alone. But how about having great beer in a place where the surroundings are just as exciting and uplifting as the beer itself? I mean, sure, Portland and Seattle have some good breweries, which is fortunate for them, because, with all that rain and gloom, those folks need to drink as much beer as possible. But why drink beer under a black cloud when you could grab a Double Lupulin Lust IPA from Rip Current (2015 GABF Champion Very Small Brewer of the Year) or a Coronado Islander IPA (gold medal at WBC 2014) and lie out for the afternoon on the soft white sand of Coronado Island's Silver Strand State Beach, which is long, wide, and studded with beautiful shells and sand dollars? It was also—you guessed it—named one of the world's best beaches by Travel + Leisure.

Denver and Boulder are cool—actually, they're too cool, literally. They've got good beers brewing in Colorado, but you'll have to dig yourself out of 10 feet of snow before you can get to them. Much better exercise? Bring your board down to Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, La Jolla Cove, Carlsbad, or Oceanside and ride some of SoCal's best waves for a few hours. When you're done, mosey on up to Pizza Port and rehydrate with a frosty Swami's IPA; a crisp, refreshing Ponto Session IPA; a Shark Bite Red Ale (silver medal at the 2014 WBC); or one of any number of other national medal winners on tap. (Pizza Port is the most medaled brewery in San Diego.)

What's that you say? What about Chicago? The food and beer scene is pretty good, but what's to look at while you're doing all that eating and drinking? I mean, go to the top of The Pru and peer out: It's flat. It's a football field for as far as the eye can see. In San Diego, you can fill your backpack with fresh-from-the-tap Crowler cans (32 ounces!) of Mike Hess's WBC gold medal–winning Claritas Kölsch, head east, and hike in the crisp mountain air of Alpine or Julian (don't forget to bring home an apple pie made from local fruit), or mountain-bike around Mount Woodson, Lake Hodges, or Black Mountain. Now that's a truly elevating experience.

And what do we say to Boston and New York? Okay, we admit it, you've got us beat when it comes to chefs and restaurants, but we're talking beer here, and—frankly—what you're calling a double IPA out there wouldn't even cut it as a light pale ale in San Diego. And, yeah, your seafood is pretty good, but we've got 365 days every year in which you can grab a rod and a reel and head out from San Diego Bay (look out for the gray whales hugging the coast on their way to Mexico or Alaska!), and within half an hour, you can be casting for bigeye, wahoo, and yellowtail while you savor the heart-stopping hoppiness of an ice-cold Green Bullet Triple IPA from Green Flash. Oh, and don't miss the chance to dive for some of the world's tastiest sea urchins. There's nothing better than hauling a few back up on deck and cracking them open while you enjoy a world-renowned Sculpin IPA (WBC gold medal winner in 2010 and 2014). Slurp, then sip. Then repeat. You'll never want to go home. And we wouldn't have it any other way.