Travel is an essential part of life and here at Great Beer Now, I anticipate every travel opportunity as a means to discover new people, new places, new attractions, and of course, new beer. Every area of the United States has its own unique appeal in terms of local culture, history, natural scenery, and breweries with new adventures in store no matter where you go.
Disclosure: This post may have been compensated in goods, services, or monetary transfer. However, the opinions are 100 percent those of Great Beer Now.
California, as everyone knows, is the nation’s craft beer leader so when I learned about an opportunity to visit the Carlsbad area for a full- fledged beercation, my interest was piqued and I immediately started to think about this north San Diego suburb and its craft beer scene. I have visited Carlsbad before, but back when I did, Pizza Port was one of the few craft breweries in the area and the craft beer culture had not developed much beyond a handful of beer bars. Today, craft beer is important component of any Carlsbad vacation and, as I quickly discovered, the Carlsbad area is also home to several great eateries and exceptional places of lodging.
Arriving at the San Diego airport early in the morning, I was quickly transported by La Costa Limos to the West Inn & Suites, a boutique hotel with exceptional service and cleanliness. In a matter of minutes after arrival, Great Beer Now’s beercation began, with companionship provided by Visit Carlsbad and its team of merry tourist promoters. I would soon be joined by others from around the country, all of whom were anxious to discover more about this ocean side community and its penchant for craft suds, tasty foods, fine lodging accommodations, and amazing scenery.
So, sit back and follow along as Great Beer Now takes you on a three- day tour of Carlsbad, California and surrounding areas in search of delicious libations and more.
83 Degrees Gastropub & Restaurant– My first stop on my Carlsbad beercation was 83 Degrees Gastropub. I was joined by Sam Ross, Executive Director of Visit Carlsbad, and we enjoyed some lunch, sampled beer from the approximately 45 taps, and chatted with the owner/founder, who informed me about this and his other restaurants, what they offer, and his commitment to food and beverage quality.
Pizza Port– Every craft beer fan is familiar with Pizza Port, due in no small part to its numerous awards for craft brewing excellence. The Carlsbad location is one of many for Pizza Port, an establishment known for its pizza, of course, and its own beer. This location sports a surfing theme with lots of wood, bricks, and brewing vessels for a vibe that is casual/industrial and loads of fun.
Barrel Republic– At this point in my beercation adventure, we were now joined by other travel/beer bloggers and our first place to visit as a team was Barrel Republic. Among the many places we got to see and explore, Barrel Republic has to rank near the top of the list. The reason is the self- pour concept that allows you, the beer connoisseur or casual beer fan, to walk right up to the tap of your choosing and help yourself to the delicious beer flowing from the keg below. You pay by the ounce, and prices are clearly marked for each beer. With its unique self- serve emphasis, Barrel Republic is one of the best places I can think of for craft beer fans who prefer to seek out new beer experiences.
Green Dragon Tavern and Museum– As the evening wound down, me and the other members of the beercation team were treated to the Green Dragon Tavern and Museum. A fun venue for history buffs, Green Dragon is a tribute to America’s early founders and one of the few attractions I can think of that combines a museum with a restaurant and tavern. Not only do you get to refresh yourself on early American history, you get to indulge on some of the best food around while sipping on fine craft beer. My Shepherd’s Pie was delectable and my selected craft beers made for the perfect food/beer marriage- one destined to last.
Park Hyatt Aviara– We awoke bright and early at the West Inn & Suites and made our way to the Park Hyatt Aviara for breakfast and a tour of the property. Park Hyatt is a high- end brand and this was obvious the moment we walked into the hotel/resort for the first time. Starting with breakfast, we got a taste for the luxury that has made the Park Hyatt brand so endearing to those who demand only the best. We were then taken on a tour around the property, including the different rooms/suites, the pool area, and more. The amenities are numerous at the Park Hyatt Aviara and the views of the Pacific and surrounding areas add to its unmistakable charm.
Bagby Beer– First on the day’s list of breweries to visit was Bagby Beer and for this leg of our beercation adventure, we were escorted by Scavengers Tours, a fun beer touring service that transports about ten or so guests from brewery to brewery in an open- air Pinzgauer safari vehicle. Bagby Beer was our first brewery stop and if you’re familiar with the Pizza Port Brewery described earlier, then you may already know about Bagby because it was founded by none other than Jeff Bagby, the man responsible for so much craft beer brewing greatness at Pizza Port. Large and open in design, Bagby Beer has abundant seating in multiple sections, including on its own rooftop. It’s the perfect place to chill after work or while visiting the different sights and sounds in Carlsbad. The large number of Bagby beers on tap means that anyone who visits will be able to find something to their liking.
Mason Ale Works– No sooner did our beer- drinking rhythm start to commence when it was time to hop back into the Scavengers Tour vehicle and head to our next stop, Mason Ale Works. Probably the most striking aspect of Mason Ale Works is its whiskey. Yes, you heard that correctly, its whiskey. Sure, they brew their own beer and they took us on a quick tour of the brewing facility to familiarize ourselves with the process and the history of Mason Ale Works. But it was difficult to forget the wall of booze behind the bar and the countless bottles of bourbon and other whiskies contained on its several shelves. They do serve other liquors here as well, but whiskey reigns supreme and the hundreds of bottles and varieties remain in your visual memory long after you leave.
Senor Grubby’s– When people drink beer, they tend to get hungry (or is it the other way around?) so with two breweries already under our belts, it was time to make a quick pit stop at a local eatery. The selected stop for this late mid- day meal was Senor Grubby’s. A casual Mexican restaurant with a nice selection of burritos, Senor Grubby’s satisfies your appetite with high quality food and larger than expected portions. They have indoor and outdoor seating, dog friendly accommodations on the exterior and, not surprisingly, a significant craft beer selection to make your meal complete.
Arcana Brewing– With my stomach and those of my beer loving comrades full of delicious west coast grub, it was time to visit another brewery. Our next place to conquer was Arcana Brewing, a casual, non- pretentious, friendly place to kick back a few cold ones while chatting with brewery personnel or with newly made friends. To keep guests entertained, Arcana has a couple of dart boards and it is common to find live bands playing here on Saturday nights. Arcana Brewing features a popular mug club so don’t be tempted to grab one of the many ceramic drinking vessels on the wall near the entrance. These mugs are the property of members of the mug club and you wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of their Arcana drinking pleasure.
On the Tracks Brewery– Located about a one minute walk from Arcana Brewing, On the Tracks Brewery is good choice for your next brewery adventure thanks to its close proximity to Arcana, if nothing else. On the Tracks is quite small on the inside, with limited space for beer drinkers so hopefully your group isn’t very large. The inside is dark and less inviting than other places we visited during this beercation and the beers range from okay to almost acceptable. Would I go out of my way to visit On the Tracks? Probably not, but like I said, if you’re already at Arcana Brewing and still have some brewery- hopping energy remaining, then a visit to On the Tracks is recommended because it is so close.
Culver Beer– Our final brewery visit for the day was escorted by Love Bus Tours, which transported us via Volkswagen Bus to Culver Beer in Carlsbad. A fun brewery with smart, knowledgeable, attentive bartenders, Culver is a great place to visit when you want some delicious beer and want to remember which beer is which. What I am referring to its Culver’s use of beer cards for its flight samplers. They attach a small card next to each beer in your flight so that you won’t need to memorize which is which or have to continuously bug the bartenders to remind you. Add to that shuffleboard and other games and you have the makings of a brewery not to miss.
Bistro West– With bellies full of beer, it was time to wind down a little with a visit to a fine restaurant. And the restaurant to which we were taken was none other than Bistro West, one of the on- site eateries at the West Inn & Suites. An excellent place of dining in every sense of the adjective, Bistro West features sophisticated American style food dishes and for our dinner, we were served a series of three courses, each paired with a specific beer. The courses were larger than expected and, combined with a serving of beer, they were really starting to take a toll on our collective waistlines. Great Beer Now is a firm believer in the old adage that you “don’t leave beer on the table” and in spite of disagreements with the rest of my body and vital organs, I finished all of the food and beverages presented- the only one in our beercation drinking/dining party to go the distance.
Cape Rey Carlsbad Resort– This final day of beercation adventures started at Cape Rey Carlsbad Resort, a nice place of lodging that happens to be located directly across the street from the Pacific Ocean, making it the best resort in the area for those who love the sights and sounds of the ocean waves. Our beercation party, at this point, had already been reduced by several members due to other obligations. But those of us who stayed got to enjoy the many charms of yet another excellent Carlsbad resort, not to mention a one hour massage treatment in the Cape Rey spa. It was a nice way to reflect on the breweries, the restaurants, and the other attractions of Carlsbad while feeling the tension of more than two days of exploring melt away.
Lost Abbey Brewing– Our final brewery visit was to a place with a familiar name to many people. Lost Abbey Brewing in San Marcos, California is a popular brewing operation known for its bomber bottles of beer and among all the places we visited, Lost Abbey is the largest in terms of total distribution. The interior and tasting room area have a distinctly industrial feel, but it takes away nothing from the experience. It’s the type of place I could sit down and lounge in for hours; sipping on beers of distinction while chatting with total strangers about the philosophical issues of the day.
Carlsbad, California has much to offer for beer lovers and their families. This beercation marked several firsts for Great Beer Now, chief among them the fact that I had never before visited five breweries in a single day. The magic number 5 was the brewery tally for day two, besting my previous high and raising the bar for future beercations.
I have visited Carlsbad before but as I stated above, the beer culture and many other aspects of Carlsbad are drastically different today compared to what they were like back in the late 1990’s. There is much more emphasis on beer today than there was back then and breweries have made great inroads in their efforts to educate the masses on the greatness of fine brew and to make excellent beer available to any adult who wants it, with little effort and few restrictions.
This Carlsbad beercation has left me with many fond memories. The breweries I toured each day had their own distinct personalities. The restaurants I visited served food that easily measures up to some of the best in the land. The places of lodging I stayed at or toured offered commendable service and high standards. The people I met were friendly and non- pretentious, much like the vast majority of people with ties to the beer industry. And the exhilarating experience overall was one that, while action packed from start to finish, was one I didn’t want to end.
Beercations are a great way to spend any amount of time off and as my Carlsbad beercation proves, it is possible to cover a significant amount of ground in a reasonably short time. Yes, there were a large number of breweries, restaurants, and hotel tours packed into a short span of hours but it was time well spent; trying new beers, sampling new food, and meeting some of the great people who love beer and want your vacation to be the absolute best it can be. The people, places, and beer help make the Carlsbad area one of the nation’s best for craft beer and more and they combine for a memorable vacation experience, right here on the beautiful Pacific coast.