As the snow falls, and beers around the country freeze with winter weather, there are few better places to cast a wandering eye than to the warm, sunny beaches of California.
If drinking beer while basking on white beaches, watching waves crash and surfers give you the stink eye sounds like more fun than shoveling snow and layering to avoid hypothermia, you aren’t alone.
Now it isn’t technically legal to drink alcohol on public beaches in the Golden State, but if you’re anything like me in college you definitely snuck several cans from a 30 rack of El Salvador’s finest beer, Caguama, purchased at a Fresh and Easy grocery store (RIP) in a backpack down to the sand near Carpenteria at sunset.
Failing that highly specific scenario, there are quite a few places where you can drink actually good beer near the beach all over SoCal.
Beachwood still remains a hidden gem even after years of excellence.”
If you’re hungry, start in Seal Beach at the legendary Beachwood BBQ, a ferociously independent spot slinging rare and first-run beers alongside mouth-watering food. The portobello fries with a malt vinegar aioli and pastrami tri-tip were clutch, the latter served with stone ground mustard and fried green tomatoes.
Seal Beach is the original location, but Beachwood now has four locations, none more than a few miles from the ocean. Beachwood’s Blendery can be found in the heart of Long Beach, crafting American-style lambics to whet the sour appetite of the LBC and greater Los Angeles.
I had a pour of the Cool WIPA, a White IPA with a peppery, almost smoky flavor battling it out with citrus fruits and a wheat backbone. It’s aromatic, dry and – like most of Beachwood’s beers – unusual for the style.
The Street 3, Block 2 is a Simcoe hop pale ale. The brewery focuses on hop-forward, “sticky” beers, but gets high marks for its Tovarish Russian Imperial Stout variants (made at times with tiramisu, Cocoa Pebbles, coconut and other goodies).
It’s a block-and-a-half from the beach, located in the historic downtown of Seal Beach. Tourist shops, bars and ice cream parlors neighbor Beachwood, which still remains a hidden gem even after years of excellence.
I would be remiss if I left Los Angeles County without mentioning its oldest brewpub, Belmont Brewing Company, which has been pouring beers right on the beach in Long Beach since 1990. Get the Strawberry Blonde and admire the waves.
Moving south to Orange County, most of the best beer spots are going to be inland. A college favorite of mine, Taco Asylum in Costa Mesa, is a mile or two from the beach, but creates gourmet tacos with ingredients like banh mi-style and the firepig ghost chili-braised pork.
I know readers will chime in with their favorite spots on the beach in Orange County because I’m a wrong, dumb idiot, but I find things really get going next to the sand once you head south of Camp Pendleton and into San Diego County.
Be sure to stop by Bagby Beer Company, a megaplex of a taproom, brewery and restaurant with outdoor seating on the busy South Coast Highway in Oceanside.
Bagby launched in 2014, and with significant money behind the company, it has been able to expand quickly and brand well. But don’t let that put you off, the beers here are damn good, the taproom is lively and fun and best of all? It’s just a few blocks from the beach.
Get the Dork Squad IPA and savor the dankness of the Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, and Amarillo hops within, or explore the Belgian strong ale Golden Girl, a light-bodied beauty with subtle Belgian touches.
Stroll down the highway for a block or two and find one of the Barrel Republic locations, a user-friendly spot where bartenders give you a wristband with a monitoring device and you pour your own beer from one of 50-plus taps. Strange twist on the whole house arrest thing.
It was packed with North San Diego County beers, including more than a dozen sours. Landfall with blackberries by 32 North Brewing Company was excellent, but I was super geeked to find Lunch by Maine Brewing Company (about as far away from Oceanside as you can get in the continental United States, but how could I pass it up?).
The Pizza Port chain, one of San Diego’s longest-lasting beer traditions, still pushes out hot pies and decent beer in its original Solana Beach location. But as the cute bartender warned me at the excellent Tiger! Tiger! beer bar in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego, adults beware, “It’s totally kid city there.”
I, being the consummate professional journalist I am, went to two of the locations (plus Port Brewing/Lost Abbey in San Marcos which is an independent spinoff) to test that theory. Between youth soccer teams and one very frustrated toddler, I can confirm that Pizza Port is a haven for kids. The Solana Beach spot is also where San Diego County’s own Stone Brewing tapped its very first keg, unleashing its aggressive, hop-forward beers upon the world.
Port’s Ocean Beach and Solana Beach locations are a short hop from the beach, and the company dabbles in all sorts of brews in a messy, ever-changing tap list.
With beers like the Junkel in the Trunkel Dunkel, The Catalina Wine Mixer and Pineapple Pikachu, the names are sometimes more appealing than the brews themselves.
Cross the gorgeous Coronado Bridge from Downtown San Diego to the Navy-heavy Coronado Island and the long-standing Coronado Brewing Company.
Opened way back in 1996, the red-headed mermaid of Coronado has stood for quality beer in San Diego and remains a standard today. Just a block and a half from North San Diego Bay, diners and drinkers can enjoy a dazzling view of Downtown while sipping on an Idiot IPA, a complex imperial IPA with a blend of Nugget, Columbus, Centennial, Chinook, and Cascade hops.
The Orange Avenue Wit is a popular option as well, showcasing local California orange peel with the style’s characteristic coriander and wheat. It’s refreshing, crisp and finishes with honey sweetness, perfect for looking across the water at the Embarcadero Marina Park. Classic beers like the Islander IPA, Mermaid’s Red, and Blue Bridge Coffee Stout round out one of the most well-balanced line-ups in California.
If the iconic red roofs of Coronado Island don’t work for you, head to the quirky bar and arts scene in Ocean Beach.
This neighborhood is lousy with good places to drink, and has brewing outposts from Belching Beaver, Culture, Helm’s, and OB Brewing all clustered within just blocks of each other and the beach, but for an especially interesting experience, go to the Kilowatt Brewing location in Ocean Beach for an awesome, artistic taproom and the murky, delicious Grand Entrance Imperial Stout
End a long day in Southern California tasting beers near the beach at a place I stumbled upon entirely by accident and instantly fell in love with.
Wonderland Ocean Pub, overlooking the waves in Ocean Beach, is the best place to enjoy craft beer near the beach in San Diego. Full stop.
The second-floor pub has a selection of beers from local favorites such as Modern Times, Societe, Stone, and Alpine brewing companies. It does have a few taps dedicated to bigger brews like Elysian, Four Peaks, and Ballast Point, but that’s pretty par for the course. Come for happy hour and watch the sun set over the waves with a pint in your hand.
I had the Vacation Coconut IPA, a goofy, unique brew from Resident Brewing Company, a downtown-based spot. It wasn’t the right fit for me, but the hoppiness competed with the coconut flavor in the glass.
Enjoy, if you can, a complimentary “sunset shot” of Fernet Branca for all patrons in the crowded pub. The food is excellent, and the bar’s name nods to Ocean Beach’s early 1900s history as an amusement park town.
That’s long-since passed, but the area remains walkable, fun and lively.
Wonderland marks the setting of the sun on the beach every night, but it’s not the end of good places to enjoy beer near the water.
With San Diego’s density of great beer locations and Orange and Los Angeles counties quickly racing to close the gap, it won’t be the last great place to catch an ocean breeze, watch the gulls and sip a cold beer.
And best of all, no snow.