Call me jaded, but I’m getting used to hearing every city I visit tout their food and drink offerings. Most cities around the world have enjoyed a resurrection of old neighborhoods and previously forgotten parts of town, led in large part by cafes, restaurants, food trucks, breweries and other culinary scientists. Oddly though, most cities think that they alone are undergoing this shift, even if it truly is global in nature. So when all the tourism materials I read before visiting San Diego once again promoted their new restaurants and beer offerings, I rolled my eyes. However, I’m always happy to admit when I’m wrong and in the case of San Diego, they truly do have an exceptional food and drink scene; perhaps one of the best in the country. There are any number of ways to eat yourself silly in Southern California, but I gravitate towards food tours for a few different reasons. Led by locals, they help me quickly get insight into the food culture of a new city, and usually include out of the way places I would never have discovered on my own. They also almost always infuse local history and culture creating a tour in the process that is fun, engaging and comprehensive in nature. While in San Diego, I took part in a couple of different tours, each designed to help visitors better understand key aspects of the food and beer scene in the city, while providing a fun experience in the process. I can’t recommend both tours strongly enough, and here’s a sneak peak at why they are so very useful for visitors.
Exploring the Gaslamp
Although it can be said for most cities, in San Diego it’s especially true that it is a city made up of its neighborhoods. Enjoying very distinct and separate histories, cultures and personalities, understanding them is important for all visitors to the city. With far too many to tackle on just one trip, I started with one of the most important, at least for tourists, the Gaslamp. This historic neighborhood was where modern San Diego really got its start, and gabled Victorian buildings still stand out amongst their more modern cousins. With little clues to its history dotting the vibrant streets of this downtown neighborhood, having a guide lead me through its history and food options was ideal. I wasn’t alone though, the quirky Brothels, Bites, and Booze Tour is one of the most popular in town and with good reason.
Led by an energetic and incredibly knowledgeable guide, we spent several hours not only learning about the history of the city (brothels were oddly important) but about its amazing food and drink offerings. From newer restaurants offering creative twists on classics, to finding the perfect taco, the tour really is a great mix of everything that makes the San Diego food scene so amazing. It’s also a well-paced tour I think. Instead of racing around the Gaslamp Quarter trying to eat as much as possible, the tour takes a somewhat leisurely pace encouraging participants to enjoy their food, order a cocktail or two and just enjoy the evening. Don’t worry though, there’s more than enough food offered on the tour and I returned to my hotel room afterwards full but also satisfied that I had learned a lot about the early history of San Diego and how it became the lively city it is today.
America’s Beer City
I’m not a food writer and am far from being an expert; I am just someone who appreciates food and drinks like anyone else. Maybe that’s why I was so surprised to learn about San Diego’s vibrant brewery community. In fact, with more than 130 breweries in and around the city, it’s the top brewing city in the country. Sorry Denver, Seattle and Portland, the land of permanent sunshine and surfers has you beat. With new tasting rooms and brewery-owned restaurants opening all the time, there are any number of ways to enjoy San Diego’s beer scene, but one of the best ways is to join a specially designed Brew Hop Tour.
Started by wife and husband team Summer and Larz, the couple decided to turn their passion of the beer industry into a fun and immersive tour Whether you’re a beer aficionado or just enjoy drinking a pint or two, the tours are tailored to your interests. Each tour is private and customized for you and your group, which means the best possible experience as you are driven around town in style. Feeling like a true VIP, the evening spent with Summer exploring the breweries around San Diego and learning more about this incredibly interesting industry was a highlight of my time in San Diego. More than just enjoying plenty of samples, it was the perfect crash course into everything that has made San Diego such an important beer city.
One of my favorite stops on the evening jaunt around town was at the incredibly popular Modern Times Brewery. What started as a Kickstarter project is now one of the country’s top breweries, and believe it or not but it’s all vegan. Started by a couple of guys with a passion for beer, Modern Times is quirky, a little odd and certainly unique. Their massive brewery and tasting room in the Point Loma neighborhood was packed when we visited, barely able to eke out a spot to stand. But I quickly understood why. With strange combinations and innovations, the beers are as unique as the company, providing something totally different on the local beer scene. They also roast great coffees, bags of which can be purchased in their tasting room that is flanked by a massive floor-to-ceiling portrait of Michael Jackson and his monkey made entirely out of Post-it® Notes. I told you this wasn’t your average brewery. Modern Times was just one of a few stops on my specially designed tour, assembled for me as an introduction to the great people and places that the San Diego beer scene so very unique. When you book a tour with Brew Hop, you can ask to have it focus on anything really. The goal is for the guest to enjoy the experience and learn a little bit along the way.
We all experience new cities and regions in different ways, but for me one of the most fun is always through the stomach. By investigating a city’s food culture we learn more than just what they like to eat. We learn about their history, their traditions and what they value. It’s the fastest and I think best way to start off any trip and in San Diego, thanks to some new and exciting restaurants and breweries, that learning process is also a tasty one.