Top 5 bars during the trip to South California

We came across probably 20 or so beer establishments that could be described as a brewpub, pub or bar serving good craft beer, but you always very quickly get a extra feel for some of them, i.e. a place that feels like “home” and something you would like to return to.

For me a good beer place in the form of a pub (normally what we call it in Europe) or bar (usual naming in the US) should include the following elements and feelings;

1. A large number of beers available on draught (+ extra points if at least 1-2 is available on hand pump). Large do not mean a mega tap location, instead it should be a connection between the type and number of beers, i.e. different offerings of beers and not just 100 taps of lagers\ale of the same type. So 10-25 is a good level.

2. Focus on the bar area, with the bar as the central location. Extra points if the bar is almost as long as the place or as wide if the bar is at the end.

3. Staff that knows what they are selling and also actually like the beer (and have sampled them). Places that have not tested the quality of the beers should not either be on the list, meaning tested the actual day it is served.

4. Rotating taps with beers, so that you can get something new when you get there next time, but still you want a consistent list of beers always available.

5. Better to be a established dive bar that has grown to be a bar and not package from the beginning. Do not need to be dirty, but the rough dive feeling is always better. Dirty does not mean in connection with beers, that still needs to handled with care and knowledge. An other way of explaining is that the focus should be on the beer and not how the place looks! (Toronado in San Francisco is probably the best example to show what I mean, looks like crap, but the beer is amazing).

6. Opens early, simply as I like the feeling to drink early in the day when everything is cozy and not too many people. It is really a pain when you discoverer that a place opens at 5pm or 6pm and you are just passing the place during a vacation trip.

7. Good music which is played on the level suitable for the time of the day\evening. It is always great with some good tunes together with a great beer.

8. A centrally located beer board\table showing today's offerings, really hate place where you need to ask what they have. Also this list must be updated directly after any changes.

9. Beers presented should be available. A place with hundreds of beers that is not available when asked for them is quite useless, but quite often it happens.

10. And finally it should have the un-described feeling of “home”, a place where you easily can spend 1,2 or 5 hours without any need to leave, simply your second “home”.


Based on these criteria the following establishments were up there, lets see if my overall list of bars will need a update, but anyway they are all recommended.


Top 5 bars during SCXBT09

1. “Toronado”, San Francisco


C: Still my number one bar in the US together with Barcade in NY. Great dive bar with a constant change in craft beers. Staff is friendly (but you need to handle them with care plus a good tip) and very knowledgeable in what they serve. Love to hang here early in the afternoon.

2. “Toronado SD”, San Diego, North Park


C: Quite interesting how the people behind this new bar have been able to transform the same atmosphere from the original. Really impressive that a bar that in May 09 celebrated their first year actually creates a similar atmosphere. Same feeling as in San Fran, just a bit more cleaner. Same line of beer and quality, only difference is the origin of the breweries, i.e. more focus on the San Diego area. Also not to miss is the massive bottle offerings with great prices (at least for a Swede). This place is what made me already thinking about when you can find the time to return to SD.

3. “Hamiltons Tavern”, San Diego, North Park


C: Cool bar with a rock feeling and with the correct atmosphere. But this place really needed some people to start to live up. The line of beer is the correct mixture of breweries around south California plus some guests, not too many, instead focus on quality and mixture; from session beers to triple IPA and imp stouts.

4, “Beachwood BBQ”, Seal Beach, OC


C: Strange that I did not have this place on the list from start (maybe it was the name), instead we were recommended to go here after our visit to the Bruery. Came in quite late so the place was packed, but regardless you could feel that this was a genuine beer bar with a reasonable number of good choices. Did not eat anything, but I guess that had also been a hit with all the different BQ offerings. Also nice to see that all the current beers are shown on their website (hop cam). As it was quite difficult to find any good beer bars in the OC-area (except Goat Hill tavern that we also like a lot) this place was a great discovery. Just a pity that it was closed on Mondays so that we could not get the chance to try it out during day time the day after.

5. “Zeitgeist”, San Francisco


C: What can you say?, cool and some more cool. Great selection of beers, a large beer garden (did not sit there due to the heat) and staff that seemed to collect tattoos. Wish we could have stayed a bit longer but it was the first place of the day. Regardless it went directly to my list and next time it seems to be a good starting point before going to Toronado quite close by.

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