Wear flowers in your hair if you're going to San Francisco. I really enjoyed my trip to SF mostly because I was with my friend Jim. Jim appreciates good food the way I appreciate good beer so our combination made for consummate consumption, though I would say he's more selective with his quality label than me. I think all craft beer is good beer in a way because it usually tells a story about the brewer and its birthplace and has unique flavors. This is why microbreweries have become an essential component of tourism for me. That, and who doesn't love a cold one after a day of traipsing?
Beeradvocate.com and my SF-based former colleagues helped in constructing my San Fran hit list. I even did some work from our SF office so, for a little bit anyhow, it was like I was a real San Franciscan. Only real Calfornians probably handle earthquakes much more cooly than I... I nearly had a heart attack in Jim's parking garage when a car went over a speed bump thinking it was tremors. Thankfully I made it out of the Golden State alive... this time... and the living was good.
There were three major highlights.
1. Zeitgeist. I owe this one completely to Billy. He said go; I went. Me in my trendy, NY-style travel garb; JIm in business casual. The initial impression: lots of black leather. If this were a desolate roadside bar off a lightly-traveled highway, I might be scared, but this is San Francisco - they accept everyone - let your freak flag fly. We timidly ordered a pitcher from the busy servers. As our bartender left the pitcher unattended for a second to let the foam settle, a second bartender swooped in and accidentally topped it off with a different kind of beer. We tried to warn him, but you know how fast that beer flows from the tap... So we got two pitchers for the price of one for the two of us. I said, "Well... let's go make some friends." And that's how we got high with Brazilians in a sensational, seedy beer garden in San Francisco. A mile away from Zeitgeist is a craft brewery with Argentinian flair and empañadas from El Porteño called Cervecería de MateVeza.
2. Tourist Club - a beer garden only accessible via a scenic hike. Unfortunately, it ended guest weekends so festivals are the only hope, but the addition of the word 'festival' to 'beer garden in the mountains' exponentially increases the attraction anyway. It is located in a national park, just off of Muir Woods. Once again, Jim and I went in business casual and trendy travel garb, respectively. It's not a difficult hike at all, but needless to say you should at least wear sneakers... whatever - we like to make a splash and look curiously different.
3. Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery is the most perfect place Jim and I could ever go to together. A variety of house brews accompanied by absolutely amazing food. The most memorable part of our meal was bacon. I would go so far as to say it's the best bacon I've ever had in my life. Furthermore, this little slice of paradise is located in the thick of Haight-Ashbury so feel free to express yourself and join the rainbow of colorful people. Go for drunch (drunk brunch) and then meander through the infamous Panhandle and lovely Golden Gate Park. Along this route, you'll reach Social Kitchen & Brewery or Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant by happy hour and remember - every hour is happy hour when you're on vacation.
San Francisco seems to enjoy a constant temperate climate - never too cold or excessively hot. I find this reminiscent of Groundhog Day, but at least you can comfortably play outdoors all year. Biking along the waterfront is beautiful, especially near the Golden Gate Bridge. The joyride can continue from there all the way east past Ghiradelli Square, Fisherman's Wharf, Alcatraz (say hi to Sean Connery as he swims ashore), along the Embarcadero, and then inland to check out the view from Coit Tower in the Telegraph Hill hood. Down the hill on Washington Square Park sits Rogue Ales' Public House. This Oregon brewery is pretty badass and the SF meeting hall includes a beer garden. Join the revolution.
Another day, another dollar and you can find yourself on a brewery tour in South Beach: home to 21st Amendment and organic Thirsty Bear. Sounds like Thirsty Bear has the potential to be a Magnolia given its dual emphasis on beer and food, specifically tapas. We can also applaud its commitment to local sources, sustainable production, and quality. On the same street and south of Thirsty Bear is a cave in which to hibernate - if you count a cellar as a cave and hibernation as cozying up to some small-batch beers at Cellarmaker Brewing Co.
South of South Beach lies Potrero Hill, home to Anchor Brewing, Triple Voodoo Brewery & Tap Room, and Dirty Robot Brew Works. West of Potrero is Mission, home to Southern Pacific Brewing. Anchor was established in 1896, proving craft beer isn't a nouveau hipster phenomenon. Even further south and just off the waterfront in India Basin, you'll find Speakeasy Ales & Lagers. I'm not sure if there is a tasting room or anything at Dirty Robot, but even discounting the technies you have one BUSY day (or two)! Use the buddy system.