How to Drink Your Way Around San Diego, America’s Most Slept-On Beer City

As told by the resident beer concierge at one of the nicest hotels in town

waterfront bar and grill san diego
The Waterfront Bar & Grill, est. 1933, is San Diego's oldest watering hole
Waterfront Bar & Grill
By Evan Bleier / September 23, 2019 6:00 am

This is Concierge Confidential, a series in which we learn about a city’s best-kept secrets from people who specialize in exactly that: long-serving concierges from the swankiest hotels in town.

Though it wasn’t actually settled by Germans in 1904 and named after a female whale’s private parts, San Diego is a city where you can drink like a fish. And when we talk about drinking in San Diego, what we’re really talking about is drinking beer, from craft-brewing titans like Stone and Ballast Point to newer, smaller operations known for unique styles or top-shelf tasting rooms.

Visitors with questions about the city’s booming craft beer scene have become so prevalent that Astrid Naujokaitis, the manager of Kimpton Hotel Palomar San Diego in the Gaslamp Quarter, now also serves as the de facto beer concierge at her workplace.

“There are so many breweries and tasting rooms in San Diego it can be hard to digest and figure out where you want to go,” Naujokaitis tells InsideHook. “So we talk to a guest so we can really understand what they are looking and provide better options or just various options to them as far as their craft beer seeking path goes. We started to see there was a need for it and our guests really love it.”

Given Naujokaitis’s unique position and proximity to the bustling beer industry, we thought she’d be an excellent person to speak to about all of the best spots to paint the town red in America’s Finest City.

Here’s what we learned.

San Diego Beer Concierge
The bar at Hotel Palomar’s restaurant Curadero. (Hotel Palomar)

What’s the best brewery in the area with a view?

I definitely recommend if someone was looking to have a variety of options on the water to head down Broadway from the hotel to Broadway Pier and go to the Carnitas Snack Shack. It’s right on the water and they have a cool little courtyard area where you can walk around with your beer and eat amazing food and just hang out.

What’s the best really large brewery in town?

For a true brewery experience I’d recommend Mission Brewery which is in East Village. It’s right by Petco Park. It’s walkable and it definitely has that brewery vibe but also it’s very local. It’s really cool. We actually have Mission beer in our minibars and we have it on draft in our restaurant, Curadero, so we love to send guests down there. It’s one of the most local breweries that you can get close to the hotel.

What’s the best restaurant with a really good beer list?

Close to the hotel, there is a restaurant called The Local which has been open for about 13 years and has really solid food. About six years ago they opened Resident Brewing and so now they have a small brewery attached which is really cool. If you get outside of downtown San Diego and into North Park, there’s a great restaurant called Waypoint Public that has many beer offerings as well as some really fantastic food. I love their fried green tomatoes and their burger is killer.

What’s the best up-and-coming microbrewery in town?

I always say Thorn St. Brewing, but I think it’s actually not up and coming. I think it came already. But it’s really cool. They started a small local brewery in North Park and just expanded to open up a brewery in Barrio Logan. They started with a pretty IPA-heavy beer menu but have started to expand and one of my favorite beers is their Barrio Lager, cause it’s light and super drinkable.

Is there anywhere else you’d suggest for a specific beer style?

Absolutely. I think for a stout it’s got to be Belching Beaver. They’re known in San Diego for their peanut-butter stout, and it’s absolutely delicious. They have a tasting room in Ocean Beach and one in North Park and a really cool vibe. I think for IPA you have to do to Thorn St. just because they have so many options. For sours, in North Park there’s a brewery called Rip Current that has a ton of sours on tap. Pure Project has some really cool sours going as well.

Are there any bottle stores in town you recommend?

There’s a store called Bottlecraft with two pretty convenient locations. They have a great selection of cans and bottles. Also, a lot of the tasting rooms are doing growlers and travel-specific growlers. Second Chance Brewing in North Park has these really cool thermos growlers and they’ve got a really great selection for travel.

What’s the best neighborhood to go bar hopping?

North Park, because there are so many options and they have these well-placed tasting rooms or breweries a couple of blocks apart. A lot of the bigger breweries are up in Miramar and Mira Mesa, but it’s not quite as convenient and there’s not really a cool walking-around ambience. I think North Park definitely lends itself to kind of just having a day.

Is there a larger venue with a good beer selection?

They all do. At Petco Park, you can almost get any type of beer you want. We have the San Diego Gulls — a triple-A hockey team — and it’s the same. Craft beer is such a part of San Diego now it’s very rare to go anywhere and not have an offering on tap or in a bottle. Some cool concert venues also have a pretty good menu. There’s the Casbah in Little Italy, a smaller music venue, that has a ton of craft beers. The Observatory in North Park … even the big North County Credit Union Amphitheater in Chula Vista has an absolute ton of local craft beers. Their offerings are extensive.

What’s the best place to go for a drink that isn’t beer?

Our restaurant, Curadero, is Baja coastal cuisine and we have some amazing margaritas on our cocktail menu. We’re known for our butterfly margarita and it’s fantastic. The tequila is blood orange infused and it has lime juice, agave and butterfly pea flower. When mixed, it turns the margarita purple and the Solerno blood orange. It’s incredible. There are some other really great cocktail bars in the area as well: There’s El Dorado. There’s Searsuckers with some really great cocktails downtown. And I have to mention Kindred, the vegan metal bar that’s serving up some tasty cocktails in South Park. They only serve vegan food, they play metal and they are serving up some badass cocktails. They have a pretty solid beer selection as well.

What’s the best place to get a coffee after all this beer?

I really like Dark Horse in North Park. They have a really great coffee program. Modern Times has been moving into coffee for several years now. They just opened their new coffee shop here downtown, called Invigatorium, which is wonderful. And then right around the hotel, we have a great local spot that’s been open forever called Elixir that makes a great cappuccino.

What’s the best place to go if you have a hangover?

I’m going to the Waterfront. It’s the oldest bar in San Diego. They open at 6 a.m. They’re great for breakfast and have a great Bloody Mary for the hair of the dog. Their chorizo plate is out of this world. It’s kind of fun to go there anytime. It’s in Little Italy.