San Francisco is the home of America's first craft brewery, and its beer brewing history dates back even further than the city itself. Today, SF's beer scene is exploding, with the opening of innovative small-batch breweries and several long-running microbreweries, all changing the way we taste, talk about, and think about beer citywide. Ready to start imbibing the many offerings of this West Coast brewing capital? Here are 12 must-stop spots:
Magnolia Brewing Co.
A Haight Street institution and neighborhood gathering spot for over 20 years, Magnolia was an early frontrunner in San Francisco's craft brew scene. Over the years the popular microbrewery has transformed from a casual corner hangout to a gourmet gastropub, though the English-style ales that first gave it a leg up in the industry—beers like Oysterhead Stout and Dark Star Mild—continue to remain a constant. Magnolia's second, larger, Dogpatch location just finished a complete revamp.
Local Brewing Co.
Former home-brewer Regan Long and her co-founder Sarah Fensen established San Francisco's only women-owned brewery in 2010, and the small-batch business is going strong. Beers here are all about approachability, including their flagship West Coast-style Duboce IPA and the popular SF Lager, a perfect grilled cheese pairing. Both the brewery and accompanying tap room—an industrial-esque space opened in 2015 and serving up a selection of draft pours and beer flights, as well as a menu of snacks and sandwiches—are tucked away on an unassuming side-street in SF's SOMA neighborhood.
Thirsty Bear Organic Brewery
A popular hosting ground for large groups coming from the nearby Moscone Convention Center, Thirsty Bear continues to be San Francisco's only certified organic brewery, a title it's held since first opening in 1996. The company specializes in West Coast-style beers with a German influence—brews like the Locavore Fresh Hop IPA (which their brewers refer to as “California in a Glass”) and the refreshing Clipper Ship Pilsner—as well as traditional British method and cask-conditioned beers, all of which are only available at the brewery's spacious SOMA brewpub and Spanish-inspired eatery.
San Francisco Brewing Co. & Restaurant
The San Francisco Brewing Company has recently come full-circle, opening up a 12,000-square-foot restaurant and brewery in the heart of Fisherman's Wharf complete with American pub fare, outdoor fire pits, and a self-serve beer wall (seriously!). Despite its new location, the brewery's history dates back more than a century. It began in 1907 as the Andromeda Saloon, then went through a series of name changes before landing on “San Francisco Brewing Co.” and eventually shuttering all together. New owner Joshua Leavy purchased the name and revived its legacy with a roster of easy-to-drink, small-batch beers in 2012.
Anchor remains America's first craft brewery though it's no longer the oldest, having lost its title when Japan's Sapporo Breweries purchased the business in August 2017. Still, the beloved San Francisco brew company has already sealed its place in the hearts of San Franciscans and beer lovers everywhere—tracing its roots as far back as the California Gold Rush. It's also one of the last remaining breweries to produce “Steam Beer,” or California Common, which utilizes a special strain of lager yeast that allowed it to ferment without refrigeration. Their thick, amber-colored Anchor Steam—which debuted in 1896—is the brewery's signature beer. On-site tours of their Potrero Hill property are just as popular so be sure to book early!
21st Amendment Brewery
When Giants baseball moved to San Francisco proper in 2000, their new ballpark completely transformed the city's South Park neighborhood. One of the first businesses to capitalize on the revitalization was 21st Amendment—a brewery, restaurant, and brew-pub that became pioneers of the craft beer in cans movement. Although their brewing now takes place in nearby San Leandro, the SF establishment continues to draw in crowds with inventive brews like their signature Brew Free! or Die IPA and Hell or High Watermelon, a seasonal wheat that keeps melon farmers in business. While 21st Amendment beers are currently available in 27 states, there's a rotating assortment of brews that remain tap-only.
Standard Deviant Brewing
Housed in a former auto-body shop behind a retractable garage door, Standard Deviant has been a go-to favorite among SF locals since opening in 2016. The laid-back Mission District microbrewery may be short in signage but it's big in personality—attracting weekend day-drinkers and nighty crowds (except for Monday) with its board-games and pinball machines, occasional food trucks, and comfy communal tables perfect for families who stop by with their kids and pooches in tow. Beer favorites include their German-style Altbier and a Belgian-style Saison.
Black Hammer Brewing
“Try Something Different” is Black Hammer's motto, a catchphrase that's brought to life in everything from the small-batch brewery's artisan beers to a taproom that encourages off-site working with free wifi, ample USB ports, and weekday lunch-time happy hours. Salable art adorns the walls in this in warehouse-style space, known as much for its strong brews like the 7.5 percent ABV Claw Hammer, a saison brewed with kelp and lobster shells, as it is for its canine mascot, Growler.
Ferment Drink Repeat – FDR Brewery
As much a breeding ground for creative small-batch beers as it is a neighborhood hangout, the husband-and-wife-owned FDR Brewery welcomes all walks to its colorful Portola space with a 10-tap beer system, a mix of high-top communal tables and cozy two-tops perfect for BYO food, and events ranging from live music to the occasional Taco Tuesday. A menu of changing brews features innovative options like the Tropical Vacation Pineapple-Mango Fruit Ale and Crossing the Grape Divide, a kettle soured beer-wine hybrid. There's also a small home-brewer supply store (with more than 60 malt varieties) in back.
Fort Point Beer Company
While its Presidio-based brewing facility isn't open to the public, thirsty patrons flock to Fort Point's Ferry Building kiosk—located along the city's Embarcadero—for easy-to-drink offerings like the popular Manzanita, a smoked light-bodied altbier, and their West Coast-style Villager IPA. Along with six taps of rotating beers, the outdoor tap room also sells six-packs of their canned brews to-go. They're opening a second taproom along Valencia Street, in the heart of SF's Mission District, in early 2009.
Seven Stills Brewery and Distillery
Experimentation is par for the course at Seven Stills, a Hunter's Point brewery and whiskey distillery known for limited-run releases like their Figgy Pudding, a sweet and supple milk stout made with vanilla, cinnamon, and molasses; and a lactose-fermented and extra-tropical Kahuna Shake, as well as their collaborations with other California brewers. The brewery's flagship facility hosts a bevy of tours, tastings, and entertainment such as comedy nights and live bands, while its Outer Sunset Taproom embodies more of a beachy vibe. Seven Stills also runs an upscale whiskey bar and retail store at Nob Hill's Stanford Court Hotel.
Barebottle Brewing Co.
One of the coolest things about BareBottle is how they incorporate the community into their beer brewing process, by offering a selection of homebrewed beer finalists and allowing the public to vote for their favorites. Opened in 2016, the massive Bernal Heights brewery hosts a rotating array of food trucks, as well as twice-monthly home-brewing workshops. Games like cornhole and shuffleboard are the norm, as well as brews like the creamy Coconut Confidential ale, inspired by the late Anthony Bourdain, and Magical Inspirations, a citrusy hazy IPA perfect for pairing with lemon bars.