With over 850 breweries in the state of California, the Golden State's name could just as easily apply to its ample fountains of honey-toned beer as its year-round sunshine...
California is celebrated as the birthplace of true craft beer. Since a young man, named Fritz Maytag, bought up a struggling restaurant and introduced a craftman's touch to the brewing process, a seed was planted for the future of beer in California. It was a slow burner at first, but by 1990, there were around 67 breweries across the state, and the craft beer movement began to rocket into existence.
Today, the California craft brewery scene is one of the most diverse and inventive in the world. Many San Diego breweries now boast world recognised names and the city has even become known as the 'Capital of Craft Beer'. Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Francisco are hot on its heels too, all offering new flavours to taste in their achingly cool bars and tasting rooms.
To help you navigate the world of malts and hops, IPAs and lagers and a spectrum of flavours, we found some of the best California breweries, to explore what they offer and get a few tasting tips of our own.
The Best Places For California's Craft Beers
If you are serious about a brewery tour, look no further than San Diego. Boasting an array of exotically flavoured brews and 'Frankenbeers' that might just change the way you think about beer, San Diego breweries are known for serving up a hefty dose of creativity in California's trademark 'we just woke up like this' style. While beer takes centre stage, these trendy spots also serve up fantastic food and often feature live music nights for the full experience.
With over 150 craft beer breweries in San Diego alone, it may be hard to decide where to begin if you are planning your own brewery tour. 30th Street offers a good place to start, with ten great stops to choose from, including one of the city's favourites, Mike Hess Brewing Co. You will also come across the fantastic Modern Times Flavourdome tasting room, which produces a rota of seasonal beers and special monthly releases. Set in a vamped-up warehouse, you can also taste their coffees, while the laid-back vibe allows you to bring your own food in from your pick of the tasty dining spots nearby.
Pouring drinks at Stone Brewing
Great selection of craft beers at Stone Brewing
One of the must-visits in San Diego, though, is the legendary Stone Brewing. It's one of America's fastest-growing breweries and is one of the first craft American beer brands to open a brewery in Europe, with its latest addition in Berlin. Having grown from a small microbrewery into something of a craft beer empire, it still retains its original ethos and is the largest restaurant purchaser of small farm organic produce in San Diego. In the headquarters, you can take a beer tour of the vast campus, plus play bocce ball, watch al fresco movies and taste the delectable food from the bistro.
We asked one of Stone Brewing's beer experts, Hayley Jones, to give us her top five tips for the first-time beer taster:
San Diego may be the king of the craft beer scene for now, but it has plenty of challengers. Santa Barbara boasts some of the best California breweries for a beer tour in its brilliant Funk Zone. Here, converted warehouses have been spruced up with graffiti-art murals, housing surfboard shapers, winemakers, up-and coming chefs and, of course, some beer-tastic breweries.
Some of the best craft breweries here include Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co, where there are 25 beers on tap, plus you can order a heavenly pizza from Lucky Penny next door. Head over on Saturday night for the live music and make time for one of the many events and festivals they hold throughout the year.
Another of the best California breweries to be found in Santa Barbara is the fantastically friendly Brass Bear Brewing, which you absolutely must stop by on your beer tour of California.
Owned by husband and wife team, Seth and Lindsay Anderson, who began their beer career with a Christmas home brewing kit, Brass Bear Brewing only opened its doors in 2016, but has already made a name for itself. The welcoming team are more like a family, and kids are more than welcome to come along and play in the supervised play area while adults enjoy the wonderful food, beer and wine on offer. The brewery also hosts music and comedy nights throughout the year, plus four-course meal and beer pairings - sign up for these in advance, as they are very popular and fill up fast!
Santa Barbara also hosts some great beer festivals. Surf 'n' Suds Beer Festival is held on the sands of Carpinteria State Beach every August, where over 70 craft breweries, cider-makers and wineries come to serve their wares with live music, free water stations and plenty of shade to make sure everyone has a safe day. There is also the California Brew Festival and Santa Barbara Beer Festival for quenching your thirst at during your California beer tour.
Brass Bear Brewing and Bistro:
Beers served at Brass Bear Brewing
Food at Brass Bear Brewing
Interiors at Brass Bear Brewing
Selection of sumptuous beers at Brass Bear Brewing
The City of San Francisco is much celebrated for its food and wine scene. But it also contributes commendably to California's craft beer scene. The city has just hosted San Francisco Beer Week for the tenth year running. Taking place every February, this is an essential event to incorporate into a beer tour if you can, where you can not only tickle your palate with some of California's best beers and exceptional food, but get swept away with fun and unusual events, too - the 2018 festival included brewery tours guided by drag queens at Laughing Monk and a Star Wars night with Lagunitas Brewing at Hogwash! If you can make it, don't pass up the opening gala, which kicks off this marathon week of dining and imbibing with beers from over 120 breweries from across California for you to sample throughout the day and night.
Unusually for Los Angeles, this sprawling city was a little late to the craft beer party. However, it is more than making up for lost time. What makes Los Angeles so unique is its diverse patchwork of neighbourhoods that cover over 500 square-miles, meaning you can see craft brewing in all its diversity and be kept busy for days!
Along South Bay, Redondo Beach International Boardwalk is a good place to start. Here, you will find the legendary Naja's Place, which boasts over seventy beer taps, with a focus on IPAs. You can also track down Los Angeles' biggest craft beer producer, Golden Road Brewing, while in Downtown Los Angeles. Located in Grand Central Market, this stop is great for vegans, offering a tasty array of meat-free foods alongside burgers and pub-inspired favourites. If you like what you taste, you can visit the original brewery just opposite Griffith Park's Los Angeles Zoo, with over 20 beers on tap. As a quirky addition, they also offer goat yoga - joined by friendly rescues dwarf goats, you are bound to crack a smile as you stretch it out with the Hatha yoga professional!