There are three breweries and tasting rooms in a tight cluster in Oceanside, not far from the Pier, and together they make a nice little beer tour.
Breakwater Brewery (101 N. Coast Highway) is the place to start. It opened in 2008 and started brewing in 2009. Fun fact: They brew on equipment salvaged from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
There is a patio outside and plenty of seating inside, including at a long bar. The room is looking a little used after a decade of high traffic but it remains a comfortable, relaxed place to grab a pint and some bar food. I particularly recommend one of their pizzas as an excellent base for the beginning of your beer tour of Oceanside.
You’ll find 12 to 18 house beers on tap plus a long list of guest beers. The guest list is great but even so it is a good decision to stick to house beers, where you’ll find a regular rotation of well-made and tasty brews. Proof of can in part be found in the medals they consistently win in competition.
There’s even a mead that’s brewed with hibiscus flower and raspberry puree: Called Rasbiscus Mead, it has won gold medals at the San Diego International Beer Festival six times.
My favorite Breakwater beer is Rye Dawn. It is officially an American Brown Ale (6.8% ABV), but to me it looks and tastes more like a porter or stout. It is a dark, opaque brown with an off-white head; in certain lights you can catch a gorgeous deep ruby color coming through. The flavor profile is dominated by roasted malts with a touch of smokiness, a bit of a bite from the rye, and everything in balance. The medium mouthfeel and clean finish make it a beer you’ll want to return to often. It improves as it warms, but I have to admit that I am rarely able to wait for it to warm up, it is just so good.
Rye Dawn reminds me of another excellent San Diego beer, Tabula Rasa from Second Chance Beer Co., which has won gold three out of the last four years at the Great American Beer Festival in the Robust Porter category.
Not that Rye Dawn needs to be compared to anything else: Its gold medal at the 2016 World Beer Cup and back-to-back golds at the 2018 and 2019 GABF competitions (all in the Rye Beer category) prove that it can stand on its own merits. Besides the brewing skill needed to maintain that kind of consistency over years, the beer has to be exceptional to keep standing out in a large and highly competitive field.
If you decide to move on after Breakwater — and you’d be perfectly satisfied just hanging out there, especially if you are a sports fan since they have plenty of large TVs — just 0.1 miles around the corner you’ll find Kilowatt Brewing’s tasting room (406 Mission Ave). I wrote about that location in a column this past August. Then, just another 0.1 miles around another corner, you’ll find the Stone Brewing Tap Room — Oceanside (310 N. Tremont Street). By the way, Stone recently rebranded their tasting rooms, dropping the confusing “Company Store” label some had and giving all of them names with the “Stone Brewing Tap Room — (location)” format.
Both Kilowatt and Stone offer a wide array of excellent beers, though their settings are quite different. Kilowatt has an almost science fiction, urban feel in its large tasting room. Stone is much more rustic: All the seating is outside, including deck chairs in nooks among in tall trees, small tables with sunbrellas, and larger communal tables with fire pits in the center. Given our year-round excellent weather, it is almost always pleasant enough to sit outside so the lack of indoor seating is not a negative.
If you want to extend your Oceanside beer tour, a bit farther afield you’ll find Northern Pine Brewing (326 N. Home Street) and Bagby Beer Co. (601 S. Coast Highway). Northern Pine is hosting “A Very Country Christmas with Kimmi Bitter and Friends” from 7 to 10 p.m. on Dec. 20.
Breakwater is just a four-minute walk from the Oceanside Transportation Center, which creates an opportunity to avoid traffic and add some adventure to your visit by taking the train.
If you are looking for a last-minute gift for the beer lover in your life, you can’t go wrong with tickets to either of these upcoming beer festivals. Both are likely to sell out, so act quickly.
Bagbyfest 4 will take place at the brewery on Jan. 18 from 5 to 10 p.m. The $75 ticket is your pass to an event inspired by the winter markets of Northern Italy. Special cultural and historical experiences will be staged throughout the venue. The idea is to celebrate beer, wine, spirits, cocktails, food and people. In addition to curated food and beverage pairings you’ll get a branded Bagbyfest glass to take home.
Also on Jan. 18, Burgeon Beer Co. (6350 Yarrow Drive, Suite 101, Carlsbad) will host its Third Anniversary Invitational Beer Festival from 4 to 8 p.m. The $55 ticket comes with access to beers from more than 30 breweries from the local area, the rest of California and across the US. Four food trucks will be selling their wares, San Diego singer/songwriter HLLNDR will be performing, and you’ll go home with a branded taster glass. Attendees are also the first to have the opportunity to purchase the special beers being released for the anniversary.
Bill Vanderburgh writes the Craft Beer in North County column for Coast News. He started his award-winning blog, CraftBeerInSanDiego.com, in 2016 and has since reviewed every brewery and tasting room in San Diego. He loves sailing almost as much as beer.