When it comes to libations, San Francisco might be known for its taste in wine. But the city's palate is more dynamic than that. Look closer, and you'll see a thriving craft beer movement dating all the way back to the Gold Rush. Today, microbreweries are cropping up throughout the Bay Area, each with its own distinct approach, atmosphere and flavor. U.S. News tapped some of San Francisco's resident experts to learn which ones to try.
Anchor Brewing Co.
How's this for a claim to fame? Anchor Brewing Co. holds the title as the first craft brewery in the country. Its history stretches back to the California Gold Rush, when the founders first started toiling with malts. Now, its rich amber-hued Anchor Steam Beer is sought throughout the country. Catch a glimpse of how the malty magic is made on the brewery's 1.5-hour behind-the-scenes walking tour through the historic three-story 1937 Potrero Hill facility (reservations required). Chase it with a sampler flight in the brewery's taproom.
"They book up a month in advance, so get tickets early," says Tom Wolfe, chief concierge and director of heritage at the Fairmont San Francisco.
[Read: The Best Hotels in San Francisco.]
For an impromptu taste and a more social atmosphere, head down the hill to the Anchor Beer Garden in The Yard at Mission Rock, an open-air tailgate-inspired facility next to AT&T Park where more than a dozen of Anchor Brewing's specialty beers are available to sports fans by the pint, flight or pitcher.
Anchor Brewing takes reservations up to three months in advance. Tours start at $20.
Magnolia Brewing Co.
What started as a brewpub in San Francisco's colorful Haight-Ashbury neighborhood has expanded into a local microbrewery empire with two wildly popular locations in the city, each serving Magnolia Brewing Co.'s award-winning suds. The original Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery still embodies its charm, with beers on tap like the Kalifornia Kolsch, a light and refreshing golden ale, as well as specialty cask ales, like the Big Cypress Brown, a malty English brown ale with chocolate notes.
Across town in the Dogpatch neighborhood, you'll find Smokestack, Magnolia's barbecue-oriented restaurant, beer hall and whiskey bar in a convivial, industrial-sleek space. Tip: Locals love Smokestack's spare ribs and brisket.
Southern Pacific Brewing
"Southern Pacific Brewing has a great beer selection," says Rachel Ward, editor at Where San Francisco magazine. Named after the trains that once blew through San Francisco, this massive 10,000-square-foot warehouse in San Francisco's Mission District draws in people for its atmosphere as much as its house brews in traditional styles from across the globe. Try its robust porter, a British brew with chocolate and coffee notes, the unfiltered German-style hefeweizen and the California Blonde with a floral hop finish. Plus, guest brews and specialty cocktails keep patrons guessing what's next.
On sunny days, the outdoor patio fills with people who linger over inventive pub fare like coconut fried chicken wings, sage fries with Aleppo sauce, and cast-iron mac 'n' cheese.
Old Bus Tavern
Don't let the name fool you – the sleek Old Bus Tavern is only a few years old, drawing a strong crowd for its leisurely brunches and live music on the weekends.
"Their list is always rotating," says Andreas Rippel, chief concierge at the Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco. "They have their own brewery as well as bottled beer from around the world. And good upscale pub food to pair with it."
The brewmasters began as homebrewers and worked their way up to buying a steam-fired, four-barrel brew system that lets them keep the experimental spirit going strong with Lemon Basil Saison and Starship Rye Lager. And they also have locally made kombucha as well as cocktails on tap.
Drake's Brewing Co.
This Bay Area staple likes to throw its weight around with bold West Coast-style craft beers. You can count on Drake's Brewing Co. to take the naming process as seriously as it takes its suds science. Case in point: the Drakonic Imperial Stout, with hints of chocolate malt and roasted barley. Limited editions are always a hit, like the Aroma Therapy Triple IPA, with a tinge of rye and orange blossom honey.
Its flagship brewery in San Leandro, about 20 miles southeast of San Francisco, offers complimentary tours lasting 30 to 60 minutes. Or go to Drake's Dealership in Oakland for the open-air beer garden with fire pits, pizza, live music and 32 craft beers on tap.
To experience more of what San Francisco has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.
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