Road Trip for Beer: Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary
Story and photos by Nick Puglisi, correspondent
Being a lifelong East Coaster, trips to California don’t come as often as they should. So, when my wife and I planned our California vacation this year, we decided that we needed to drive the California coast like it should be driven; along the Pacific Coast Highway, with the top down, and with good craft brews to refresh us at every destination.
California is a leading state in the craft beer industry so I knew that I would want to try good beers that I can’t get back home. And since my wife is more and more willing to indulge my obsession, we added a few beer-related excursions into our schedule. If you’re planning a Road Trip for Beer on the California coast, our trip (beer and non-beer related) can be the foundation that you build a perfect vacation around.
After we arrived the first night, weary from a long day of traveling, I found the strength to christen our 12-day journey with a Stone Pale Ale. Stone Brewing Co.is located in Escondido, less than an hour’s drive from downtown San Diego. There are tours every day, so check its website for times. I recommend the Oaked Arrogant Bastard and the Ruination IPA.
After your tour, you’ll want to hit the beach. Mission Beach is stuffed between the bay and the ocean, giving you many water-related activity options. If you need a break to refuel, there are plenty of shops, bars, and restaurants to patronize. We enjoyed selections from Maui Brewing Company at Sneak Joint and had Ballast Point Brewing Co.’s Yellowtail Ale at Saska’s. Ballast Point’s brewery is north of downtown San Diego and a convenient stop on your way to or from the Stone brewery. If you prefer scenery to sand, La Jolla is a good bet. The houses must be extremely expensive, but the views are pretty priceless.
Things to Do: Stone and Ballast Point tours, Mission Beach, La Jolla, Gaslamp Quarter.
From San Diego, skip I-5 and drive up Route 1, The Pacific Coast Highway. San Clemente and Laguna Beach have plenty of places to grab food right near the ocean. North of Laguna, the drive on Route 1 to the LA area gets a little boring, but the top was down, it was sunny, and we had the ’90s hits satellite channel blasting. We arrived more sunburned than we hoped, but that Salt-N-Pepa wouldn’t have been as good with the top up.
I was in LA for my friends’ wedding, which was a good reason to celebrate, and our group managed to find Naja’s Place near the pier in Redondo Beach. With 88 beers on tap, it’s a beer drinker’s mecca if you can find it without accidentally getting into someone’s sailboat. Also, being located on the boardwalk is basically a guarantee that any GPS that you follow to the bar will be confused.
Things to do: Hermosa Beach, Watch planes land at LAX from Dockweiler Beach, Clippers game (kidding).
Farther up the coast is Santa Barbara, where the mountains and the beach come together perfectly with just enough space to fit a great little city in between. You aren’t isolated by the mountains, like in parts of Malibu or Big Sur, but they are close enough that you could surf and hike in the same day.
We went to a place called Corks n’ Crowns that does both wine and beer tasting. They sell hard-to-find wines and each month they feature a flight from a specific craft brewery. We caught them on the last day of a North Coast Brewing Co. tasting.
Things to Do: Hike to Inspiration Point, Windsurf, Shop.
It took an entire day to drive the PCH between Santa Barbara and San Francisco. You have to drive slowly as you wind along the cliffs, and there are numerous stopping points for pictures. If you get the chance to spend time in California, drive the PCH. It’s unlike any road I’ve ever driven and the views live up to the hype.
There was a poetic juxtaposition between the remoteness of the PCH and the crowded streets of San Francisco. San Francisco has about half the population of Manhattan, but even so, it is a big city with great restaurants, neighborhoods, and tourist attractions.
When we travel, we tend to avoid tourist sites and focus instead on walking the city and eating good food. Walking gives you freedom to go wherever and do whatever you want and you can attempt to understand the daily rhythm of a neighborhood. So, over two chilly days we explored these neighborhoods:
- North Beach – Low key. Good food and drink. Rogue Ales Public House and Church Key have extensive beer selections.
- Haight-Ashbury – Smoke shops and record stores everywhere. Great people-watching opportunities.
- The Castro – Trolleys run right down Market Street giving it old city charm. We walked up and down one of the biggest hills I’ve ever decided to scale in order to get there. Well worth it.
Even if you’ve been on other tours, the Anchor Brewing tour is worth checking out because they use many of the same methods that have been in place since Anchor first opened in 1896. The brewers back then did not have refrigeration or access to large quantities of ice, so their “Steam” beer reportedly got its name from the process used to chill the boiled wort down to fermentation temperature. It was placed on the roof, and the cold San Francisco nights would chill it, causing steam to rise because of the temperature change. Pollution has halted that practice, and state-of-the-art sanitation practices have been adopted, but a lot is still pretty similar to how it was more than 100 years ago.
Things to Do: Walk the neighborhoods, Giants game, Golden Gate Bridge.
Our final stop was Napa. It was a perfect end to a long trip. The whole Napa Valley is relaxing and beautiful, and the people couldn’t have been nicer. Of course, we did grab a couple beers at a brewpub called Downtown Joe’s Brewery and Restaurant.
Things to do: Wine tasting, Relax.
It can be very tiring to wake up every morning and hit the road. I recommend never traveling on three consecutive days. Your body will thank you for the break. And if your trip is in California, your day off from driving can be spent sitting on a beautiful beach and cracking open a beautiful craft beer brewed in the Golden State.
California was good to us. It will be good to you too.
Nick Puglisi is an engineer by day and an aspiring inventor, guitarist, brewer, writer, and point guard by night. He also has a love of travel, especially road trips in the U.S. Though he does not claim to be an expert on craft beer, he thinks drinking regional beer is a great way to supplement the experience of visiting new places. His Beer Trails site is his attempt to learn about and enjoy the craft beers of every state.