Frugal Traveler: Beer on a Budget in San Diego
Two men were loudly discussing politics at the bar (this was my first post-inauguration trip) and I got roped into the conversation. “I didn’t vote,” Chuck Hogan, 33, said. “But I’m a conservative. If I had, I would have voted for Trump.” I asked him why, and he replied: “Hillary would have just been more of the same. At least this will be different.” Our waitress, a middle-aged immigrant from Russia, chimed in. She said that she, too, supported President Trump. She spent years legally going through the immigration process, she said, and didn’t like that others didn’t play by the rules.
Not all of my encounters were quite so political — most were just friendly and transactional. I stopped by the Home Brewing Co. one evening right as they were closing (many small breweries with tasting rooms close early — as early as 6 p.m.), but a very nice guy named Scott gave me a couple of tastes on the house. One, a 10 percent alcohol porter, was heady and chocolate-y. The other, an American pale ale called Pun Killer, tasted wonderfully of citrus and mango.
I stopped for a decent plate of pulled pork ($9.99) at the BBQ Pit on University Avenue before continuing on to ChuckAlek Biergarten, a spot in North Park with a great outdoor area. I tried the caramel-y 1850 Runner brown porter and the Moonstomper Oat IPA (the names of these beers, like race horses, are half the fun). The five-ounce tasters cost only $2.
The glut of beer and breweries is almost overwhelming — seemingly every other storefront in North Park is an independent microbrewery or a brewing supply store. And that’s to say nothing of the Miramar neighborhood, or the famed “hops highway,” a stretch of Route 78 just north of the city with a large concentration of brewers.
San Diego is considered by some to be the beer capital of America, and is “clearly one of the best brewing communities in the world,” said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association.
“The city came on board with a tourism grant for the San Diego Brewers Guild that helped with promotion,” Mr. Gatza added, offering a theory as to why the beer community in San Diego, in particular, was able to take hold and flourish.
And there is something for everyone: Bottlecraft is a self-described curator of bottled craft brews. Young Hickory combines the ethoses of a coffee shop and brewery — a room of people on laptops, half consuming caffeine, half enjoying one of 30-something varieties of craft beer. Even the most casual of burger joints, like Crazee Burger, have a healthy selection of craft beer on tap.
One does not live by drink alone, however, and so I headed to Pacific Beach on a different day to walk along the ocean and take in the sea air. After enjoying a brisk walk and inhaling an unreasonably large breakfast burrito stuffed with egg, bacon, cheese, potato and hot sauce from Kono’s Cafe, I struck up a conversation with Dennis Miller, who has lived in Pacific Beach for over 50 years. I first noticed his parrot, actually — a yellow-naped Amazon named Dry Rot, which was rescued from an abandoned ship.
“See that place right there?” Mr. Miller asked me, pointing to the 710 Beach Club, a live music venue next to Kono’s. “I used to have a card room right there.” He explained that gambling and “card rooms” were once popular in San Diego but that few now remained. We walked out toward the ocean on Crystal Pier, a structure dating back nearly 100 years that now holds vacation cottages. The day was gorgeous, and a light breeze ruffled Dry Rot’s thinning feathers (the parrot is over 30 years old). Mr. Miller told me stories about rabbit hunting in the Clairemont neighborhood and how local kids used to go abalone fishing off the coast.
The natural beauty and casual atmosphere of San Diego isn’t strictly relegated to the beaches. Point Loma extends down like an elephant’s trunk from Sunset Cliffs and stretches south, hugging San Diego Bay and a large naval supply center. At the tip of the appendage is the Cabrillo National Monument ($10 admission per car, or $5 for bicycles) and Old Point Loma Lighthouse, built in 1854. I recommend walking around and taking in the incredible views of downtown and other sights, like nearby Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, which is magnificent.
The real treat, though, is heading down to the Point Loma tide pools and exploring these mini-universes, hiking along the cliffs and taking in the Pacific vistas. Entire ecosystems flourish in the tide pools — and you can get right up next to them. You might see kelp, mussels, abalone, chitons and sandcastle worms. (It’s a great activity if you have curious children in tow.)
After a semirigorous cliffside walk, it was time to make up those expended calories with more drinks. I met up with my cousin Adrienne, a fashion designer who grew up in the area. We headed to the downtown tasting room of Stone Brewing, an Escondido brewery that may not have invented the craft IPA, but has done has much as anyone to promulgate the bitter, hop-heavy West Coast style. We shared a flight of four beers at $3 apiece; the Tangerine Express IPA was particularly good.
We walked up through the Gaslamp Quarter, a popular nightlife district — if not my cousin’s favorite, owing to “aggressive men who don’t respect women.” We settled on Resident Brewing, inside of the restaurant the Local, for $2 pours of a tasty blonde ale and a nice saison before grabbing an Aero Mule (a take on a Moscow Mule, $6.50) at the charming and divey Aero Club in Middletown.
One of my favorite beer selections was at Border X Brewing, a Mexican craft beer specialist in Barrio Logan. Driving down Logan Avenue toward the brewery, you will see huge colorful murals in Chicano Park; one, from the 1970s, reads, “Varrio si, yonkes no!” (Neighborhood yes, junkyards no!)
Border X has four-ounce pours for a mere $1.50 and an all-day happy hour on Tuesday with discounts on some pints. I recommend the deep-red Blood Saison, made with hibiscus and agave — it’s sweet, tart and refreshing. The Abuelita’s chocolate stout, vaguely spicy and tasting of cinnamon, is good, too. A perfect chaser (or appetizer) is an order of tacos al vapor (steamed tacos) from the restaurant Salud across the street (three for $6 on Thursdays).
Believe it or not, I haven’t been able to account for all of the excellent beers I sampled on this trip. Mikkeller, Alesmith, the list goes on and on. I recommend heading to San Diego to experience it yourself — taking occasional breaks now and then to enjoy the natural beauty and a pristine ocean view or two, of course.
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of a brewery in San Diego. It is Mikkeller, not Mikkeler.
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