There are a lot of things to do on a trip to San Diego. If you’re an animal lover, there’s the San Diego Zoo or seal-spotting at La Jolla Cove. Nature addicts have Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and Sunset Cliffs Natural Park at the ready. And beach bums won’t want to miss Coronado, Mission, and Pacific beaches.
But during a recent visit, I had two things in mind, and two things only: tacos and beer. Nicknamed the Capital of Craft, San Diego is home to more than 130 breweries. On top of that, “America’s Finest City” was the first to introduce fish tacos to America, and I couldn’t think of any better food-and-drink pairing. So I dedicated two entire days to walking from breweries to eateries, drinking tacos and eating beer—wait, other way around. Eating tacos and drinking beer. Yeah, that’s it.
Because this is essentially a pub crawl, there’s obviously no driving. And while Lyft and Uber are readily accessible, it doesn’t hurt to burn off some of the calories and slow your roll.
To pull it off, I assessed which spots were worth visiting, then made a roadmap. The only rule: I had to alternate between beer and tacos. It’s strategic. Soak up some of the beer that’s sloshing around your stomach with tacos: rinse and repeat.
The itinerary below is what I came up with based on Internet research, locales I stumbled upon myself, and a lot of chatting with local taco and beer connoisseurs. On day one, I visited the hip Gaslamp Quarter, and day two took me over to Little Italy. Twenty tacos and 60 beers later (yes, you read that right), these are the picks I’d recommend trying.
Day 1: Gaslamp Quarter
Stop 1. Stone Brewing Tap Room
The beer-and-taco journey began at Stone Brewing’s tap room, located right next to Petco Park. There were 16 beers on tap, including mainstays, special releases, and collaboration beers. And while there’s nothing like a frothy pint of a beer you truly love, I had a long day ahead, so it was tasters all the way. Of the 11 beers that my friends and I sipped, we were most impressed with—and gave the highest average Untappd rating to—the Stone Experimental Batch 128. One of the brewery’s experimental beers, this dark lager has a 6.0 ABV and a flavorful toasted malt finish. Other highly rated beers included the Liberty Station Buoy 1 SD Pale Ale and Stone Vengeful Spirit IPA.
Stop 2. Oscars Mexican Seafood
Oscars—known for its fish tacos—is about a two minute walk from Stone’s, and every single local I met said I had to eat here before leaving San Diego. I ordered their taco special of the day, Shrimp and Chorizo, along with the Battered Fish Taco, Surf & Turf Taco, and snuck a few bites from a friend’s Skirt Steak Taco. The shrimp and chorizo taco was the unanimous winner, but the beer-battered fish taco was a close second—I loved how light and non-greasy each bite was.
Stop 3. Half Door Brewing Co.
With fish in my belly, it was on to the next brewery, Half Door Brewing Co.—another two-minute stroll. Located in a historic turn-of-the-century home, this brewery has a killer vibe—kind of like hanging out at your cool, rich uncle’s house. Since it was a nice day, we opted for the outdoor seating on the second-story balcony, where we were greeted with great views of the ballpark (this is definitely a great spot to hang pre- or post-game). There were 15 brews on tap, nine of which went into my glass. If you don’t like overly hoppy beers, the Tripel (10.5% ABV) is a zesty, peach-forward option with a smooth finish. The #Hypemachine IPA (6.7% ABV), on the other hand, packs in lots of flowery hop flavor along with more earthy herbal notes.
Stop 4. La Puerta
Twenty beer samples had gone down the hatch at this point, so refueling was imperative. We moseyed on over to La Puerta, a casual Mexican restaurant that claims to focus on just three things: tacos, tunes, and tequila. While I had to pass on the tequila and we arrived too early for live music, I focused entirely on the tacos—and they were stellar. The Carne Asada taco was cooked to perfection, and the Surf ‘n’ Turf had a well-balanced blend of steak, shrimp, poblano, and cheese. But the real winner was the Pastor taco: Savory pork tangoed perfectly with the sweetness of pineapple, and guacamole gave it a hearty hit of fat that helped fill me up. Actually, that may have been the side dishes—each option came with a hefty portion of refried beans, rajas con crema, and rice, all of which quickly disappeared from our plates because, well, beer makes you hungry.
Stop 5. Mission Brewery
Our bellies were feeling pretty damn full at this point, so a 16-minute walk to the next brewery was more than welcome. Nearly 25 beers awaited us on tap at Mission Brewery, and of the 12 we tried (like I said, I’m dedicated), the light, hazy, subtly malty Captain Cascara-Ango sour (5.3% ABV) was a clear favorite. The Raspberry Wheat, 5.2% ABV, was impressive too: It wasn’t overly sweet or heavy despite being a fruit-forward wheat beer. But we couldn’t just sit and drink—the brewery’s Jenga and shuffleboard were way too entertaining.
Day Two: Little Italy
A night at the recently redesigned Hotel Republic gave us the perfect starting point for exploring Little Italy. The hotel’s small-but-mighty gym had all the equipment I needed to get a morning session in, including a row machine, free weights, and yoga mats. For those keeping count, we’re up to 32 beers and seven tacos, so a workout was definitely in order. And with a rooftop bar that draws both locals and tourists for live music and downtown views, I knew the Hotel Republic would be the perfect spot to cap off a tour of America’s Finest City.
Stop 1: Not Not Tacos
Post-sweat, we visited the recently opened Little Italy Food Hall and popped into Not Not Tacos. Owner, Sam “The Cooking Guy” Zien, has a non-conforming take on tacos. You won’t find basic carnitas, pollo, or carne asada options. I ordered the Smokey Pork & Mac, Mashed Potato, Korean Short Rib, and Sunday Chicken Dinner Tacos. Flabbergasted by this culinary creativity, I dug in. The Smokey Pork & Mac was dressed with sriracha and sour cream, but never got soggy. The Mashed Potato taco was a genius vegetarian option with a sprinkling of crushed potato chips and a hit of cholula for some heat. And Sunday Chicken Dinner had legit Thanksgiving stuffing inside the tortilla. The prices were a little steep, ranging between $4 and $7 per taco, but the surprising flavors were definitely worth it.
Stop 2: Bolt Brewery
Next, I sauntered up to the bar at Bolt Brewery‘s small tasting room, and opted for two flights of four beers each. Their 13 draft beers cover a wide range of styles, from a crisp, snappy Mexican lager to a full-bodied double chocolate stout. Me? I was happy on the hoppier side. The High Boltage (5.9% ABV) is a nice twist for those who want a beer in between an IPA and a red—it contains floral notes and plenty of hops like a traditional IPA but pours slightly heavier, more like an amber red with caramel malts. The Wise Guys IPA (7.1% ABV) is more straightforward, with citrus notes of grapefruit and tangerine blended with earthy pine.
Stop 3: Lucha Libre Taco Shop
We ambled for 30 minutes to our next taco destination: Lucha Libre Taco Shop. Once we reached this colorful, casual restaurant, we knew it was worth every step. The vibrant energy was infectious, and the food was just the right kind of cheap SoCal Mexican we were looking for. The Surf & Turf taco came highly recommended on Yelp, and the Mole Taco, while definitely on the sweeter side, didn’t overpower the chicken and felt balanced with the pickled onions on top. But the salsa bar was the clear winner: Its many varieties, including mango and cilantro, are more interesting than your standard options and really help punch up the flavor of a basic grilled taco.
Stop 4: Ballast Point Brewery
This famous brewery is only a four-minute walk from Bolt, so if you wanted to skip the 30-minute walk to Lucha, you could bop on over to Ballast since they also serve tacos. This is by far the most spacious brewery we visited. There’s a large wrap-around indoor space, outdoor patio (with private cabanas available), beer brewing on-site, and even a gift shop if you’re looking for a souvenir. They also had the most beers on tap—nearly 50—so it’d be easy to hang out all day. Of the 16 that sloshed into our glasses, the sours were runaway winners. Standouts: the Sour Wench Blackberry Ale (7.0% ABV), Sour Wench with Passion Fruit and Guava (7.0% ABV), and the Red Wine Barrel Aged Sour Wench (8.0% ABV).
Stop 5: King and Queen Cantina
Our final taco stop, King and Queen Cantina, brought us to a restaurant giving off major Dos Muertos vibes. And after a round of sour beers, we were ready to dig in. We ordered the house taco selection to get the most variety for our dollar—the Surf & Turf taco was pretty standard, and the Korean taco had good texture thanks to the crunchy cabbage and fresh mango toppings. On my next visit, I’d get two tacos: the Crispy Avocado, which came in a sweet potato tortilla for a nice undertone of flavor that mixed well with the pickled carrots and beer-battered avocado, and the Short Rib Mole that, in a word, was divine. Served in a chocolate tortilla, the meat paired with the lime cream and pickled cauliflower was something I didn’t know I needed in my life. And now I want it again. And again. And again.
Stop 6: Karl Strauss Brewing Co.
Karl Strauss Brewing Co. is right around the corner from Hotel Republic, about a 7-minute walk from the Cantina. This brewco was the perfect place to end the adventure. After 56 beers and 20 tacos, there was room for just four more to give us an even 60. Of the 15 on tap, we opted for a small-batch selection: the Two Tortugas Belgian Quad served up a hefty 11.1% ABV and strong malty flavors of toffee, plums, and dates. Of their core beers, the Big Barrel Double IPA (9% ABV) is intensely hoppy, bitter, and has a touch of caramel malt. The Wreck Alley Imperial Stout (9% ABV) really won our hearts though, and its rich layers of dark chocolate, toffee, and espresso made an excellent finish to a very full day.