It’s no secret that the scorching-hot weather can extend well into September and October here in the Coachella Valley. However, locals don’t need to fret or sweat—because crafty beach cities with more moderate temperatures are less than a couple of hours away.
I recently spent some time in Orange County’s beach cities—looking for some of the best places to enjoy craft beer, of course. Here are some of my findings.
The Laguna Beach Brewery and Grille (pictured below) is under new ownership, and I’m loving the Taco Tuesday specials—two tacos for $5 or $6, depending on whether you get fish, carne asada, chicken or pork. The inside bar and floor have a sleek look thanks to concrete and marble, and a handsome copper tank from Czechoslovakia sits near the kitchen. While it’s not filled with local suds yet, it should be serving beer in about six months. In the meantime, you’ll find taps from Laguna Beach Beer Company and several other local breweries. Chef Guillermo Sandoval comes from the Hilton Los Cabos Beach and Golf Resort; serving classic, contemporary and regional Mexican dishes comes naturally to him. Try pairing the delicious south-of-the-border fare with craft beers from Tijuana and Baja.
Newport Beach’s best-kept affordable dining secret is, of all things, a speakeasy-style tavern tucked away in the back corner of the city’s Whole Foods. Yes, really. If you’re not content with the 15-20 beers on tap at the Back Bay Tavern, grab a bottle from the Whole Foods store, and have them open it at the bar. Prices are indeed reasonable, and the place has a decent happy hour, with $2 off drinks and appetizers from 4-7 p.m. weekdays.
Crow Bar and Kitchen in Corona Del Mar boasts a creative craft beer selection from breweries like Pumpkin, Russian River and Paradox Beer Company. The restaurant buys as much produce as possible from independent, local farms based on seasonal availability, giving this American gastropub a gourmet touch.
Also located in Corona del Mar, SideDoor puts the “gastro” in gastropub. The menu offers a little bit of everything. From the charcuterie station, the prime rib chili cheese fries and duck-liver pâté to the warm goose-confit salad and butternut squash with wild nettle pesto, the food at SideDoor will thrill casual foodies. The pub cycles through a draft beer selection often, with choices like Sierra Nevada Kellerweis and Ballast Point Watermelon Dorado. The seasonal small plates are portioned for sharing, and the menu changes daily.
For Great American Beer Festival Award-winning brews, head to Newport Beach Brewing Company. The second brewery to open its doors in Orange County—back in 1995, in case you were wondering—resides in the historic Cannery Village on the Balboa Peninsula. Fondly known as BrewCo, the brewery adheres to the Reinheitsgebot (the German beer purity law), using only water, hops and barley in the production process. Bonus: BrewCo is just two blocks from the beach.
If you find yourself in Huntington Beach, head to the Speakeasy. Check out “Tap Tuesdays,” with $4 select draught beers all night. Just a little more than two miles away, Johnny’s Saloon has one of the best beer selections in town. It’s been voted one of the top dive bars in Orange County for years. Like an aging punk rocker, the dark, unpretentious pub sings to a different tune, with 181 craft whiskeys and 100 craft beers. Also: Slater’s 50/50 isn’t to be missed, especially if you’re a meat-loving craft-beer drinker like me. The restaurant’s namesake is its 50/50 patty—made of 50 percent ground beef, and 50 percent ground bacon. Pair a burger with one of the 100 beers on tap; after all, it’s always a good day for a burger and a beer. Every year, Slater’s 50/50 taps more than 1,000 different craft beers, which is saying something.
If you feel like heading west of Los Angeles rather than south, mark your calendars for late September and consider the BAM Fest, Beer, Art and Music Festival, in Santa Monica on Saturday, Sept. 24. With 18 open studios, arts activities and exhibitions—and, of course, beer from 42 breweries—the event is fun, and it supports a great cause: Proceeds help the 18th Street Arts Center, one of the top artists’ residency programs in the country.
Of course, one of the best things about getting away is coming home—and Coachella Valley residents are blessed to live in a place with fabulous pool parties, chill bars and impeccably designed hotels—as well as a wider craft-beer selection than ever before.
We’re lucky. Southern California residents have an amazing amount of variety and choice when it comes to craft beers—and in a matter of just hours, you can enjoy a cold one by the pool with views of palm trees and mountains and on the sandy beaches of Orange County. Either way, there is good living where there is good beer.