Heading to San Francisco for the weekend filled me with the excitement to discover somewhere new and all the new beer and sights it had to offer. Even with all the planning prep and research of must drink beers, you still don’t know what’s going to happen when you arrive, and that’s the best part of travel. I live for this excitement.
80% of my pre-trip research was breweries. Who are the must visits, what styles of beer are being served at each, who’s known for their food and where is the best bottle list?! Another 10% would be what sightseeing is a must and the final 10%, which is also the most important, where do I stay?
Finding a place with a central location to breweries and attractions is key. With
transportation of all kinds being available in SF, Uber started here after all, getting
places wasn’t an issue but with the traffic and cost of transport adding up a central hotel was key. The King George Hotel was the perfect spot to be hosted for this reason and more. This British Inspired Boutique Hotel is located just steps from Union Square and puts you in the heart of San Francisco. We took BART (train) from the airport to Powell St. Station for $9.15 it was a quick 30min ride then a 5 min walk to hotel.
The lobby hosts Mason Social Club, a quaint bar to
enjoy beer and cocktails while playing a friendly game of darts, pool or shuffleboard. There is filtered water to fill your to go bottles with in the day to stay hydrated and some of the best “lobby coffee” I’ve ever had by Equator Coffee. Oh and as most of San Francisco breweries it’s also pet friendly if you travel with fido. The rates are competitive with the rest of SF and it’s clean and friendly.
After a quick check-in and bag drop to the room we were ready to explore the city and start uncapping beers.
San Francisco is a huge mix of cultures and as colorful as the hues on the SRM scale. It is a beautiful city to be you, be excepted for who you are and experience all the tastes of the world through food and beer.
Mikkellar Bar was first on the list and a walking distance from the hotel. We are fortunate to get a few of there beers in Canada and I have bought a few across the border but nothing prepared me for both the bottle and draught list I was about to set my eyes upon. They have a large selection of their own beers but also pour some local breweries on tap too that shouldn’t be ignored. Their list is divided by temperature in which the beer is served at and from Mikkellar I had; Spontan Double Lingonberry, a Lambic with Lingonberries aged in Oak Barrels, SD/Tarantula Hill Dawn Speak, a West Coast IPA and DH Nelson Sauvignon, a DH Chardonnay BA Biere Brut. Drooling yet? They were all superb. I also had a Russian River STS, a beautiful Keller Pils and Moonlight Death & Taxes a SF-Style Black Lager.
The taproom was hopping, total pun intended, and the were lined with pictures of those characters from the labels we know so well. The food menu is also highly suggested and pairs well with various beers: there are no drain pours here. They currently brew in San Diego so beer is arriving fresh weekly.
5 hours into our San Fran trip I have already found my groove and what I think is my favourite place to drink, but with 30 more places to attempt to hit I am sure this will continue to change.
One of my favourite parts about Instagram these days are the people I meet around the world and the best part is some of them are willing to meet you for a beer or 10 as you visit their town. For this trip our new friend was Keith aka Beer_Shark, follow him. Though we were not scheduled to meet until Saturday he kindly messaged that he was at Cellarmaker and we were welcome to join!
Cellarmaker has two locations: Cellarmaker Brewing Co. and Cellarmaker House of Pizza we only made it to the former but have been told we missed out on fantastic pizza! Cellarmaker Brewing Co is a 15 min walk from King George Hotel, or a 14 min drive….see what I mean about traffic.
The taproom is a welcoming space and Cellarmaker brews their beers in small batches consistently producing new flavours for us to enjoy. They are on a mission to keep our taste buds intrigued and avoid making the same 3-4 beers over and over. Needless to say I agree and was ready to settle in and taste a few of their 20 own beers on tap. Tony Dankster, Part Time Lover, Legally Bitter and Curry Visions were just a few of the catchy names but these beers were as catchy and well done on the inside as they were named.
I am a huge fan of ESB’s and find them quite scarce throughout Ontario and the USA so I eagerly ordered Legally Bitter as a taster and was not disappointed. It was brewed with a significant portion of spicy rye and English crystal malts, which provided a nutty and slight toffee like character. It was balanced out by being hopped with a single experimental hop, HBC 344, and it was fantastic. Tony Dankster was, you guessed it, dank and tasty IPA with a nice juiciness to compliment the dank and Genuine Excitement, a dry hopped lager, I would not kick out of bed either.
The scene here was bustling and the servers were solid, as you order from the bar and though busy not waiting long. We had some great conversation sipped more fantastic beers and got to thinking that San Fran is not messing around when it comes to beer.
Close to here is City Beer Store is another fantastic taproom and top of the line bottle shop to go. Worth checking out and you can get Pliny on tap here and by the bottle if your hunting for it!
This visit turned into an impromptu bottle share with BeerShark and our new Hawaiian friends LiftDrinkEatRepeat and his lovely wife in a near by green space. With us still on EST, a three-hour time difference, we rested our heads eventually and slept like dogs in our extremely comfy beds back at King George Hotel.
The next morning arrived early and we enjoy some pre mentioned delicious lobby coffee and look at our plan for day 2 which consisted of more breweries of course but a few sight seeing adventures too to #earnourbeer.
Breakfast, Cable Cars, Fisherman’s Wharf, Haight & Ashbury, Golden Gate Park, Magnolia Brewing, and Toronado Anniversary Party were all on the list for today. To summarize these all here are a few tips for each location as you really can and should do them in a day.
-Sunflower café is right around the corner from the King George and have great breakfast options including lattes and baked goods. We shared bacon and eggs as we find they are large servings.
-The King George Hotel also provides a coupon for a discount at The Bartlett for breakfast but it doesn’t open until 8am on weekends.
-Start running at 6:30 am at the end of Powell St (near the BART station a 5 min walk from hotel) so you can get an early start.
-You can download an app MuniMobile to buy your tickets or day pass online if the booth isn’t open when you get there.
-Depending on your day you may only need a one way. We got dropped at Fisherman’s Wharf and ubered and scooted around from there.
-These are a MUST to ride, if you’re feeling adventurous get an outside standing spot and hold on tight for the ride!
-Last stop on the cable car from Powell st is here, but if you have a day pass feel free to hop on and off all the way down to explore.
-Yes, it is a bit touristy here but still worth the trip. We went early for breakfast to beat the crowds and though many store were not open we still got to walk around, have a delicious crab eggs bennie, see a view of Alcatraz and check out the beach.
Musée Mécanique is worth a visit and opens at 10am.
-Change a few dollars to quarters and explore the 300+ 20th century games and mechanical machines. It’s a great 20 min of entertainment for cheap.
-Seafood…everywhere…eat it! Literally lobster rolls the size f your head.
Haight & Ashbury
-I have been dreaming of going here since I wore tye-dye shirts in 1992 and it didn’t disappoint.
-If you are a Grateful Dead fan like myself grab a photo at the Haight & Ashbury intersection and head up a short walk to 710 Ashbury St for a look at the iconic Grateful Dead House.
-This street is lined with funky stores, unique people, record shops, breweries and ends the street ends at Golden Gate Park… lots to do and is one of the most popular SF Neighbourhoods to visit.
Golden Gate Park
-You can enter at the end of Haight Street once done exploring there or while waiting for the stores & breweries to open up.
-The area map you may have is not to scale this place is huge, 1017 acres of public space and a 1hr bike ride from one end to the other.
-You can rent bikes; I did find them a little pricy but a good way to get around in a shorter time just ask questions and be careful of all the non necessary add-ons.
-Legally you can’t drink in the park but people do. I suggest taking a couple cans of beer and perching yourself on a hill and casually consuming one while watching the crowds.
-Weekends are way busier and more to see we only walked in about 10 min with a time constraint but quite enjoyed the view.
-There are plenty of gardens in the park to visit; I suggest the botanical garden and bringing some lunch (and beer) for a picnic!
-Located on Haight st (has another location in the Dog patch) this brewery is a must visit for their traditional styles including casks! (Yes they still have Hazy IPA’s if you’re wondering)
-Building was built in 1903 and has a cool history to it so be sure to ask the staff about it. It hosts it 7-barrel brew house in the basement.
-Some people had told us it isn’t the greatest service there but worth the visit. We had great service and the beer was well worth it regardless.
-Ask what they have on cask, as it wasn’t written on the handout menu.
-Eat a burger…they are delicious.
-Kalifornia Kölsch was fantastic as were their Black Lager, Stout and Hasbury IPA. All well-done beer with no off-flavours, try them all!
-The beer list is incredible but people warn you about the surly bartenders. To me the former out ways the latter, so go visit!
-Labeled the best damn dive bar in SF it is an experience. Beer fans cheer this popular, down-to-earth institution pouring a huge range of brews on tap including a fantastic variety of Belgian beer.
-Look around at all the cool collectibles and breweriana tacked to the wall. Bonus points if you find the Iron Beer Maiden sticker I stuck up on the wall to add to the collection.
-Cash Only bar and they will ID you no matter how wrinkly you are so carry your ID.
-The sausage place next door is a must for a bite to eat, trust me!
So we happened to be in town for Toronado’s 32nd anniversary as the beer gods were looking over us and blessed us with an extra special tap and bottle list. A lot of breweries do one offs annually in honour of their anniversary like Lost Abbey. I was honoured to try Cable Car (2018), an American Wild Ale that is produced only for Toronado and not distributed at all elsewhere. At $70 USD a bottle and a luggage limit I opted for a glass, it was superb. A beautiful tart / sour balance and let it warm up a little to release the fantastic funk on this beer.
I had the chance to chat with Chad who manages the joint and raised a couple glasses
together and chatted beer and our travels. Though not a photo guy he was kind enough to snap a pic with me and even cracked a Focal Banger from the west to share with my husband who was wearing the shirt.
I highly recommend this place as long as you don’t have a “I’m Karen, can I see a manager type attitude” Here is an entertaining list from Thrillist on ‘16 ways to not piss off a Toronado Bartender’ but in all honesty just don’t be weird, or normal, and go enjoy all they have to offer.
We found out way back to the hotel and grabbed a nightcap flight of beer at the bar in the lounge and played some darts. There was quite an international crowd staying there that were all gathered for happy hour downstairs, another bonus of travel is meeting new people from around the world.
Welcome to Day 3 though it’s time to checkout of King George Hotel until next time we have another full day of fun including crossing the Bay Bridge to Oakland and skimming the surface of breweries over there to visit.
As a younger fan of Full House, fine lifetime fan, a visit to the Painted Ladies row of houses was a must. Though Uncle Jesse did not whisk me away on his motorcycle to tour the rest of the city we enjoyed the view from the dog friendly, and overrun, Alamo Square Park across the street.
In American architecture, Painted Ladies are Victorian and Edwardian houses and buildings repainted, starting in the 1960s, in three or more colors that embellish or enhance their architectural details or as for mentioned the houses from the intro to Full House. Whatever the reason you decide to visit them they’re beautiful and the park is another great green space in the city.
Since the SF Giants were playing out of town all week that we were there we lucked out to catch a Oakland A’s game. Stub Hub is where we tend to buy our sporting
event tickets when travelling and got great seats for $20 each. Believe it or not when
we arrived there was actually a beer fest going on the top level so for an additional $20 we got a souvenir glass and two beers… it was a deal.
A few notes:
-They do tend to serve more craft beer regardless of a beer fest at USA ballparks, which is awesome.
-Arrive here early to make friends as the tailgating was on point in the parking lot.
-Drink Local, Cheer Local if you are not there to see the other team that is ;)
After a lost to the visiting Houston Astros we were ready to drown the cities sorrows at the next brewery, Faction Brewing located in Alameda, not far from Oakland.
On route we wondered if our Uber we had crossed over to the wrong side as we drove down streets surrounded by abandoned massive buildings and felt like a crowd of zombies may be lurking around the next corner. As we took one last turn toward the water we were happy to realize it wasn’t our last as a patio filled with people greeted us alongside another long glorious beer list hanging just inside the doors both confirmed we are at the right place, Faction Brewing.
This husband-&-wife beer-making operation features a 20-barrel brew house complete with a Mutt Cutts Van (any Dumb & Dumber fans out there?) a large taproom and equally massive patio to catch the San Francisco views across the bay. Best sunset location ever.Located on an old navel base, which explains the apocalypse feeling driving up, they serve a wide variety of beers including lagers, stouts, Belgians and barrel aged. Their true passion is in hops so their Pale Ales and IPA’s are the highlight with a full expression of what hops are capable of while keeping a low bitterness, they are excellent. A flight of IPA’s was consumed, a few pics with the Mutt Cutts van were taken and a few skeeballs thrown. If we had crossed the bridge for this alone it would be worth it, but of course we saw more.
We met a friendly couple in the parking lot on our way out that offered us a ride to the next stop: Almanac Brewing.
What I didn’t realize was right next door to Almanac was a malting company & taps that sold beer made with that malt. Sadly both The Rake (pub) and Admiral Maltings were closed for the day. Yet another reason to return and enjoy a pint while looking through the large aquarium like glass over the malt house.