Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Mission Beach to La Jolla

(San Diego, CA)

After my visit to San Diego last October (as short as it was), I was left with the feeling that, as a beer city, it could hold it's own with the likes of Seattle, Portland, Denver, San Francisco, etc... After my latest visit however, I'm thinking that it may very well be the best of all.

Found this righteous fridge magnet at one of the bars.

A couple weeks ago I had a short contract job in nearby Coronado and decided to extend my stay for a few days when I was finished. I had two full days to beer hike and I packed a lot in. This first day's hike was mostly beer bars and a couple brewpubs -- almost 7 miles from Mission Beach to La Jolla. (The second day was an all-brewery hike north of the city, in Miramar -- more on that coming soon.)

We began in Mission Beach around 1:30 on a Friday afternoon and worked our way north for almost 7 miles, to La Jolla (it would surely be fun in the opposite direction, too, starting in La Jolla and hiking south.)  I 'd like to revisit this one during the summer and make it a longer hike by including Pizza Port - Ocean Beach. That would make it over nine miles and perfect for an all-day marathon of beer and sand. But this time, this is how our hike looked:

Mission Beach to La Jolla UBH; 6.8 mi.
Luigi's / Amplified Ales / Pacific Beach Alehouse / SD Taproom / Bar Key / La Jolla Brew House / Public House La Jolla

View Mission Beach to La Jolla in a larger map

The first day after I finished my job, I booked a room near Pacific Beach and dropped my stuff. The weather could not have been better -- not a surprise for San Diego. Sunny and mid-60's is perfect urban hiking weather. Within 10 minutes, I was aboard a bus to Mission Beach and headed for the first stop.

1. Luigi's at the Beach
I met up with my hiking partner for the day, an old friend I'll call Crazy Jon, at this craft beer and pizza joint near the beach. Jon and I had many adventures together back in our corporate catering days. He could carry an oval tray of 10 bowls of soup with one arm and not spill a drop, he could. Anyway, Jon is a local (he lives in Clairemont), but he wasn't all that familiar with most of the places I had mapped out for this hike. This was going to be uncharted territory for both of us.

Besides a fine draft list, Luigi's also offers a pizza called "Dave's Delight". It seemed like a sign, so we ordered it without any hesitation. The small pie and something from Alesmith Brewing (X?) set a perfect base and our beer hike had begun.

2. Amplified Ales
After a crisp, surfer girl-filled walk along the beautiful Mission Beach, we arrived at California Kebab.  CK has a fantastic tap list, but is also the home of their nanobrewery, Amplified Ales. It was a little tricky to find (take the elevator up), but not too bad. We grabbed a couple barstools right in front of the fermenters and ordered some beer. The draft list revealed that they had a smoked kiwi IPA, but it wasn't going to be released until the following day. The beertender was nice enough to sneak us a taste, however, and it was damn tasty. Smokey and sweet with a fair amount of hoppy goodness. It wasn't really like anything I'd ever had. Very memorable.

3. Pacific Beach Alehouse
PB Alehouse is Buffalo Bills Country. That's right. Check this out:

This could be the western-most Buffalo Bills bar in the country. The bartender did most of the talking while I breezed through my sampler tray of their fine house brews and admired some of the goofy Bills crap on the walls (the WGR 550 Sports Radio bumper sticker brought back some memories -- I grew up about 60 miles east). When Crazy Jon decided that some whiskey was in order, I declined and took a walk around the pub and took some more pictures. Before long, we were on our way.

From PB Alehouse, we walked up Grand Ave. several blocks (I lost count of the tattoo studios) before cutting over to Garnet and arriving at our next stop.

4. SD Taproom
A sign outside the bar stated that Pliny the Younger was coming. Friday happy hour was just getting underway and the place was starting to jump. I froze when I imagined what it would be like on PtY release day. I checked the date and quickly calculated that I would not be anywhere near the place at that time. A warm sense of relief washed over me.

We were able to grab the last two seats at the bar and I began to examine the impressive tap list while Crazy Jon took account of the team of very attractive beertenders. The atmosphere at Taproom felt familiar to me -- sort of a combination of two Seattle bars that I know well: Brouwer's & The Leary Traveler. It definitely had a laid-back, beach bar sort of feel, along with a dark, no-nonsense edge, colored by some impressive chalk art on the walls.

Cool chalk art...
Even cooler tap towers.
SD Taproom is a place I would likely visit a lot if I lived in the area. It would've been great to hang out a little longer, but we had a long way yet to go. I paid the tab and made a mental note to re-visit sometime on a later trip.

Not even a block over from Garnet Avenue, the scene does a complete about-face as you enter the quiet neighborhood of Pacific Beach. If I had just dropped out of the sky, I would never have guessed that just 50 yards away was a strip of shops, clubs, bars, piercing parlors. We enjoyed the serenity because we knew it was Friday night and it wouldn't last long where we were headed.

These birds are everywhere in San Diego

4. The Bar Key
Chillin' at The Bar Key
This is the best hockey bar in San Diego that you've never heard of. The Bar Key sits in the space formerly known as Froggy's Bar & Grill and while the new, hockey-loving owners don't want to be anchored with the label "sports bar", it is an excellent place to watch a hockey game (the chicken wings are great, too). The tap list is fine, but what really makes the place great is the warm service and living room feel you get when you arrive - everyone here lives in the neighborhood and knows each other. In the back corner is a mini-lounge where, if you're lucky, you'll score seats on the sofa and be able to watch a game with the sound on. I don't know if it's by design, but the sound in the lounge does not disturb the main bar, so it's like having you're own little area without disturbing anyone. There's also a TV in the bathroom. Very cool.

The longest part of the hike came just after sunset. Not far from The Bar Key, we hooked up with the La Jolla Bike Path (aka Fay Ave. Bike Path) and followed it toward our next stop.  It's a really peaceful, off-road path that's relatively flat and affords some very nice scenery. In-city paths like this that take you off the street are all-too rare and it's vital to take advantage of them whenever possible.

5. La Jolla Brewhouse
I didn't even know about this place until the day before the hike, so it wasn't originally on the route, but I'm glad we were able to fit it in. The crowd on a Friday night was pretty raucous, but fun.  There was surprisingly little on tap the night we were there, but what we did have was pretty good. (Also, the bottle list made me laugh. See below.) The conversation with some locals at the bar made the stop worthwhile (doesn't it always?  maybe not.) I was definitely getting hungry by this point, so it was time to get to the final stop.

No contest.

6. The Public House La Jolla
The Public House's "Dave Fries"-- shoestring fries with bleu cheese crumbles, bacon, & a house beer-cheese sauce -- came up in my pre-hike planning and I'd been waiting all day to dive into some. We put in an order right as we sat down - even before looking over the impressive tap and bottle lists. (Also, it seemed fitting since we'd started the hike with a Dave's Delight pizza at Luigi's.) My mouth began to water...

At last! Dave Fries!
Once we settled on some beers, Crazy Jon and I sat back and reflected on the day's hike. With so much to offer around Mission Beach and Pacific Beach, we wondered what me might have missed. After one pint, I hit the wall though. Knowing what tomorrow had in store for me -- an even longer, all day, all-brewery hike up north, near Mira Mesa -- almost made me fall asleep right there.

It was great spending time with an old friend and recounting some of our adventures and mishaps while exploring a piece of the San Diego beer scene. I can't wait until I get another chance to return and revisit these spots -- it's only a matter of time. I have no doubt the weather, the company, and the beer will all be just as good as they were on this trip.


  1. Nice post. The owners of Public House are now a small brewer, too, which will serve both its restaurants. It is brewing at the Mission Brewing building near Lindbergh Field.

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    1. If l wasn't crazy l would have realized a long time ago what a great concept an urban beer hike is. Thanks Dave! I'll look forward to our next visit. And hopefully you will have your better half along. -Crazy Jon

  3. Hi there,
    My name is Jane and I'm with Dwellable.
    I was looking for blogs about Mission Beach to share on our site and I came across your post...If you're open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you soon!