San Diego Beer Tour: North Park — 14 Craft Beer stops in 2.5 miles
The first in a new series of neighborhood-based guides to craft beer in San Diego.
North Park might be San Diego's hippest neighborhood. There are restaurants and bars galore, and it contains one of the densest concentrations of craft beer locations I know. Good craft beer, too, including two places that make my top twelve list for all of San Diego and seven that make my top twenty-two. In addition, North Park is home to some of the best craft beer bars in the city, such as California Tap Room, Craft House, Bottlecraft North Park, Waypoint Public, and more. Not to mention that some of the best craft beer bars in the country, including Toronado, Tiger!Tiger!, Blind Lady Alehouse and Hamilton's Tavern, are in or near North Park. Because of this emphasis on craft beer in the neighborhood, just about any restaurant you pick will have good local craft beer available, usually on tap. Even the divey little pizza-by-the-slice place Sicilian Thing has several craft taps (and good pizza and great prices).
North Park is just a few miles northeast of downtown San Diego. It is bounded by the 805 on the east, Normal Heights to the northeast, University Heights to the northwest, Hillcrest and Balboa Park to the west, and South Park to the south. The neighborhood boundaries are usually not obvious as you are moving through the area—all of them are a mix of single family homes, lowrise apartment complexes, commercial and occasionally light industrial businesses. It is all "human scale" with good walking and biking and access to green spaces. Public transit is pretty good on the major streets like University, El Cajon and 30th St. Because of the variety of businesses, there is almost always life on the streets. Jane Jacobs, the famous urban theorist, would approve. Traffic and parking, though, can be a little tough. That's one reason I'm assuming you are going to be walking this tour and Lyfting home.
30th Street is the spine of North Park, running north-south from the top to the bottom of the neighborhood. Adams Ave., El Cajon Blvd and University Ave. are its ribs. Near the interections of those roads with 30th is where you'll find most of the restaurants and bars in the neighborhood.
There are nine craft breweries and five satellite tasting rooms in North Park proper. It is, I assert, impossible to drink at all fourteen of them in one day, even though it would at most take one hour of walking to get to all of them. Please don't try to prove me wrong on this. I advocate safe and sane enjoyment of craft beer.
There are eleven locations in a 1.5 mile stretch mostly down 30th Street, from Fall Brewing to Mike Hess. Adding on Modern Times makes it 2.1 miles, and adding on Thorn Street makes it 2.5 miles in total. From Fall Brewing, it is another 1.5 miles east to get to Blind Lady Ale House, Little Miss Brewing Normal Heights and Kensington Brewing. You could go 1.5 miles south of Thorn Street Brewing to South Park Brewing, too. There is no shortage of local beer in the area. [In fact, there used to be even more: San Diego Brewing had a second location next to Pariah until spring of 2018--the space is now occupied by hard kambucha producer Juneshine--and ChuckAlek Independent Brewers had their Biergarten in North Park until the end of August 2018.]
If you were in a mood for urban trekking you could go west from Blind Lady Ale House, home of Automatic Ales, and then just keep going south on 30th Street. With a minor wiggle west and east on El Cajon and a hook to the east on University, you would pass fifteen craft breweries and satellite tasting rooms by the time you got to Thorn Street Brewing after 3.3 miles.
You could, of course, take Lyft instead of walking, but you'd probably annoy your drivers with such short rides. You could take a bus, but waiting for a bus every time would probably take way longer than just walking. A day pass on the bus is just $5, though, so it might be worth it. (Plus $2 for a Compass Card on which to load the pass, or you can just use the Compass Cloud app on your phone.) Note that the distances below may not add up to 2.5 miles because of rounding. Links are to my full reviews of each location.
0.3mi (back alley route) to
0.2mi [BE CAREFUL: El Cajon and 30th is one of the most dangerous intersections in the city for pedestrians] to
0.1 mi [BE CAREFUL: El Cajon and 30th is one of the most dangerous intersections in the city for pedestrians] to
486ft [BE CAREFUL: El Cajon and 30th is one of the most dangerous intersections in the city for pedestrians] to
Belching Beaver North Park (tasting room)
Rip Current Brewing North Park (tasting room; food on site)
Second Chance Beer Lounge (tasting room)
North Park Beer Co. (food on site)
Modern Times Flavordome (tasting room)
(From Thorn it is another 1.5 miles south to South Park Brewing, which is right next to Hamilton's Tavern.)
Recommended short(er) versions
El Cajon Madness. You could do all three breweries and three satellite tasting rooms near the intersection of El Cajon and 30th Street in just a 0.3 mile walk. At 0.05 miles per brewery for six locations, this has to be in contention for one of the densest concentrations of craft beer locations anywhere. If you want to go to fewer places on this tour, make sure Home is one you do go to. Eppig and Pariah are the other stars of this intersection, and Belching Beaver is very good, too. Barn and Tiger! Tiger! have food, and Tiger! Tiger! has a large and excellent guest tap list in addition to the house Automatic Brewing beers.
Nothing but the Best. Another way to make a North Park beer tour manageable is to put on your beer snob beard and only go to the very best. In my opinion that means Eppig, Rip Current, Second Chance, North Park Beer Co., Mike Hess and Modern Times. Six is still too many. I guess you'll just have to visit the area twice, especially if you want to include Modern Times' amazing Monsters Park imperial stout (12% ABV).
Just the Breweries, Ma'am. You could decide just to go to places that brew on site. It is a reasonable principle, especially if you have the opportunity to visit all the breweries in San Diego at some point. Be aware, though, that this way of proceeding will force you to miss some of the best beer in North Park (Second Chance, Belching Beaver, Rip Current and Modern Times).
The Full Meal Deal. You have ambition and stamina. You have only one day in town. You are a masochist. You have a reliable ride home, and preferrably a soberish friend who can cut you off when it gets too much. Well, in that case, go for it. Wear comfortable walking shoes, drink lots of water at each location, eat throughout the day, and take your time. Then you might—MIGHT—be able to complete the whole list of North Park craft beer locations in one day.