18 Best Breweries In California

The modern explosion of craft beer is taking over the United States. As of 2021, there are over 9,100 operating breweries across the country, according to the Brewer's Association, and that number is only expected to grow. There are some areas of the country that have more vibrant craft beer scenes than others. Vermont breweries are seemingly endless, making the New England-style IPA proud, and Colorado's craft beer scene has made a name for itself for being as unique as the culture surrounding it.

There is one state that deserves credit for laying the foundation of and igniting the craft beer boom we are all enjoying today, and that is California. The very first microbrewery in America was established in 1977 in Sonoma by Jack McAullife, per California Craft Beer. However, more hop-forward beers, like the varied India Pale Ales (IPA styles), are truly the fuel of modern craft beer, which is rightfully credited to the first brewery on this list.

Craft beer in California wonderfully embodies the true spirit of the industry. Innovation and creativity are encouraged to create new and exciting beers that can be approachable and enjoyable for all beer drinkers, no matter their experience. 

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company

It's only right that we get started with the brewery that ignited the entire craft beer boom we continue to enjoy today. The brewery's founder, Ken Grossman, began homebrewing in the 1960s when he was still a teenager. It was not until 1978 that homebrewing was even legalized in California (per the Homebrewers Association), but soon after it was, Grossman developed the recipe for his brand's flagship pale ale. It was the first commercially sold beer to feature cascade hops. This new and bold flavor, ripe with citrus and pine notes, laid the groundwork for what became a craft beer powerhouse.

Today, Sierra Nevada offers its four flagship beers, the "Little Things" lineup, and constantly evolving seasonal releases. Specialty releases go beyond IPAs, including some of the most popular beers you can find at a brewery; barleywines, stouts, porters, and more. At its original location in Chico, visitors can try all the beer they want, take a tour of the facility, or even grab a bite.

With new breweries constantly popping up, anyone who can sustain in popularity and quality does so for a good reason. Sierra Nevada has been doing just that for over 40 years.

Lagunitas Brewing Company

Lagunitas is another California brewery that has grown into a national brand. Founded in 1993 by Tony Magee, Lagunitas was one of the first brands to introduce India Pale Ale to the craft beer scene successfully. Then, pale ales were the dominant beer style in the greater-San Francisco area where Magee got his start, and his newly developed IPA is what kickstarted his brewing brand.

Nowadays, Lagunitas is brewing beer at three locations: one in Chicago, one in Seattle, and the original in Petaluma, California. The IPA is what got this brewery going, and it remains its main beer style to this day. There are currently seven IPAs brewed by Lagunitas, ranging from the juicy and approachable "Hazy Wonder" to the whopping 9.0% alcohol "Maximus" double IPA. Although the focus lies on the IPA, Lagunitas is still a versatile brewery with something on tap for everyone.

Stone Brewing

This next brewery is the first on the list from the San Diego area; its original brewing facility is located in Escondido. Stone Brewing was founded shortly after Lagunitas in 1996 and is another pioneer of the India Pale Ale, specifically the West Coast-style IPA. These IPAs, as opposed to the hazy New England style, are clearer and more hop-forward, with a more resin profile reminiscent of the wilderness of California and the Pacific Northwest.

Stone Brewing has since expanded its operations to include another brewing facility in Virginia, but its beer remains a prideful and distinct export of Southern California. Along with its variety of IPAs, Stone now also offers canned margarita cocktails and bottled hard seltzers. Even if you are not a beer drinker, a trip to Stone Brewing with friends is something you can equally enjoy. Even if you don't live nearby the brewery, Stone has been able to grow into country-wide distribution, so no matter where you are in the U.S., its beer is never too far away.

The Bruery

This next brewery is not quite operating on the same scale as the first three on this list, but it has earned itself an array of awards, accolades, and more than happy customers. The Bruery's mission is to change the way people think about beer. The brewers here do their work with an innovative spirit based on diverse brewing experiences. Some brewers have beer backgrounds, and others have wine backgrounds, but they all work together to create new and exciting beers that have yet to be tried.

This drive for progression is exemplified through beers like the imperial sour blonde ale, a wheat wine ale, a sour stout, and a dark rye ale, to name a few. Even the most experienced and well-versed beer drinkers will probably be able to find something they have yet to come across with a trip to The Bruery, and even if you are a craft beer novice, this spot will have you equally taken care of.

Monkish Brewing Co

This next brewery is on the younger side, founded a decade ago in 2012. Monkish Brewing Company is located in Torrance, Los Angeles, and operates inside a massive brewhouse with a quaint tasting room for customers to enjoy all the special brews available.

The beers at Monkish are also very unique to the brewery and are not very typical. While it does focus on hops and IPAs, most of the brews at Monkish are actually triple IPAs, many of which rise above 10% alcohol. Although these pack quite the punch, they are kept tame by flavorings such as hibiscus and another with pistachio, vanilla bean, and coffee. It even offers a milkshake double IPA made with cookies, vanilla beans, and milk sugar. This spot blurs the lines of conventional brewing and does so in the best way possible.

The Rare Barrel

The Rare Barrel gets its name from brewing its specialty style of beer. While IPAs are the usual flagship beer in the modern craft era, this brewery specializes in sours. Sour beers are brewed using a special yeast called lactobacillus, which, after fermenting along with natural yeast, is combined with souring bacteria to create a tart and puckery brew (via Allagash Brewing Company).

The Rare Barrel is located in West Berkley and is getting beer drinkers on board with sours one brew at a time. After fermentation is complete, the beer here is moved into oak barrels for a nine-month aging period. Then, the beer's character is truly unique, unable to be replicated again even if they tried. A great part about sour beers is the flavors are entirely up to the brewer, so experimentation is naturally encouraged. If you have yet to dive into the world of sour beers, there is no better place to start than The Rare Barrel.

Common Space Brewery

Common Space Brewery, while brewing some excellent and diverse beer, is well worth a visit simply by the atmosphere they have created. The team at Common Space is dedicated to welcoming people from all different backgrounds and walks of life to congregate and share something everyone can enjoy: well-crafted beer.

This brewery offers all that is great about the California craft beer scene. Funky IPAs, fruited sours, Mexican lagers, and even a street lager. Recently, it has released beers such as a double red IPA, a strawberry-rhubarb witbier, and a black cake, barrel-aged stout. Common Space is always pushing new and innovative brews while remaining consistent with its core ones. This spot really is emblematic of its mission of community and brewing beer for everyone.

Moksa Brewing Company

California set the foundation of the IPA in the American craft beer scene, and Moksa Brewing Company is working to push that foundation as far as possible. Founded relatively recently in 2017, this brewery is located in Rocklin and serves its beers in a 3,000-square-foot taproom.

Moksa offers unique and nuanced takes on the India Pale Ale, including a hazy IPA brewed with 100% sauvin hops, which provide wine-like qualities in this crushable brew, as well as a triple IPA brewed with green tea. While innovative IPAs are the base of Moksa, they also offer modern takes on traditional styles. For example, it offers a variety of Kölsch beers, one of which is award-winning and made with lemon and thyme, and a European-style dry-hopped pilsner. If you like IPAs, Moksa is the place for you, and if you don't, there are plenty of other beers to make you happy.

Bottle Logic Brewing

Bottle Logic Brewing is one brewery on this list you should check in with regularly, as all of its beers are only released in small quantities and need to be taken advantage of within the small window they are available.

As of now, Bottle Logic is offering a wide array of IPAs in all different styles in addition to its vast selection of brews that would be difficult to find elsewhere. For instance, Bottle Logic currently offers four different lagers, one traditional Czech pilsner, one made with Japanese rice, one Italian-style pilsner, and one Mexican-style lager.

They even have cocktail-inspired brews, such as the Birds of Paradise, part of its "Lightening in a Bottle" series. This twist on the classic Jungle Bird cocktail is a rum barrel-aged fruited sour steeped on grapefruit and orange peels before being finished with pineapple and lime. You can call it a beer, or you can call it a cocktail, but you will most certainly call it delicious.

Highland Park Brewery

This Los Angeles-based brewery crafts award-winning beers in the heart of the city's Chinatown. The folks at Highland Park Brewery are dedicated to keeping the tap list along with plenty of options no matter what kind of beer drinker you are.

Hops fans will be happy to see seven different IPAs, dark beer lovers can enjoy three different stouts, two Imperials, and one oatmeal, and those who prefer lighter beers can indulge in a variety of crisp pilsners and farmhouse ales. Sour fans will pleased to find multiple Belgian-style spontaneously fermented lambics that are brewed with an assortment of fruit additions. Highland Park even brews its own schwarzbier, a centuries-old German beer style that is lesser known in the U.S. These crisp lagers made with roasted malt are hard to come by in the American beer scene, so be sure to try them out at Highland Park.

Kern River Brewing

This brewery not only has unique beer, but it also has a unique atmosphere compared to other visits on this list. Kern River Brewing Company is located at the southern gateway to the Sequoia National Forest, right in the heart of the many outdoor activities the park has to offer. The brewery itself is the perfect spot to grab some beers after a day of hiking, fishing, or whatever visitors do to enjoy the luscious wilderness.

The rustic taproom offers thirst-quenching beers like a blonde ale and fruited sour, as well as a copious amount of IPAs. After enjoying some skiing, snowmobiling, or other winter outdoor sports, Kern River will help you keep warm with its selection of stouts, porters, and an amber ale. This brewery is a perfect encapsulation of the environment it thrives in, and it's a can't-miss if you find yourself in this neck of the woods.

Sainte Adairius Rustic Ales

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales brews its beers with a belief of beauty in simplicity. The brewers are inspired by the Belgian traditions of brewing and strive to create well-crafted, straightforward, and approachable beers for its customers.

Most beers brewed at Sante Adairius are barrel-aged in oak with added yeasts and bacteria, but its goal is always to keep things easily palatable for all beer drinkers while still capturing as much flavor as possible. The vast majority of brews here are saisons or farmhouse ale beers, but each is different from the others, with subtle additions of honey, cherries, or specialty hops, for example.

Non-saison brews include a Belgian table beer and an oak-aged grisette, another traditional Belgian beer. Sante Adairius loves to keep things simple in its beer-making but holds nothing back on its beers' deep and layered character.

Pure Project

Pure Project is another brewery that calls San Diego its home, but this spot has quickly expanded into five total locations since its establishment in 2014. At its original location in Balboa Park, Pure Project offers unique takes on classic beers, such as its Californian-style altbier, which is traditionally a German beer. It also brews smoothie beers, such as the blueberry shortcake-style and the orange cream smoothie beer.

In addition to the excellent brews, Pure Project is well-deserving of support because of its dedication to sustainable production. This brewery actually began operations in Costa Rica, established by an ex-pat and her friends from home. Since returning to and setting up business in San Diego, the brewery has remained a patron of its community and has since been able to donate over $350,000 to non-profit organizations.

Cellarmaker Brewing Company

Cellarmaker Brewing Company is a San Francisco-based brewery that is always keen on experimentation and regularly introduces something new to its customers. Unique flavors like gooseberry and cantaloupe are showcased in two of its IPAs, along with original hard seltzers and a bottled dessert beer of blended stouts.

If you visit Cellarmaker for the beer, however, odds are you will stay for the pizza. At a separate location, also in San Francisco, Cellarmaker serves its brews at its House of Pizza. Both Detroit and bar-style pizzas dawn the menu, alongside a tap list of the brewery's diverse and expertly crafted beers. Few combinations go together better than pizza and beer; at this brewery's pizza joint, you can truly get the best of both worlds.

Beachwood Brewing

This restaurant and brewery first opened in 2011 and has since expanded into five different locations. Just like Cellarmaker, Beachwood Brewing provides both excellent beer and an esteemed culinary experience. Chef Gabriel Gordon and his wife, Lena Perelman, teamed up with well-regarded homebrewer Julian Shrago to kickstart a symbiotic relationship between artisan food and craft beer.

One of the current locations is the Beachwood Blendery, which is the brewery's small-batch beer producer making lambic-style sour beers aged in custom-made barrels. Meanwhile, the culinary program at Beachwood Brewing is ever-evolving, taking advantage of what is in season and fresh to create dishes that are familiar and approachable but also new and exciting. Great food and beer beside each other is a match made in heaven and one you can expect at Beachwood Brewing.

Firestone Walker Brewing Company

What was first started by brothers-in-law on a family vineyard celebrates 25 years of brewing this year. Firestone Walker Brewing Company was established by Adam Firestone and David Walker, who converted the family's winery equipment into brewing equipment. The two had struggled to find a quality local beer and decided to try their hand at making their own, and it worked out quite well.

Today, through its three locations, Firestone Walker is still brewing its all-time greatest hits and releasing new lineups like its "Mind Haze" series and season brews like its märzen lager and a coffee nitro stout. However, the brewery's 805 Original is still the beer that fuels the operation and is just as crisp and refreshing a quarter of a century later. Firestone Walker embodies the laid-back nature of California, which is never complete without a couple of beers.

Alvarado Street Brewery

Alvarado Street Brewery was founded in 2014 by the father-and-son duo of John and J.C. Hill. Since first opening an original Monterrey location, the brewery now operates in three locations, each of which is committed to brewing a variety of beers for people of all tastes to enjoy.

The wide array of pilsners, IPAs, and kettle sours can satisfy anyone's beer craving, but it's the Mai Tai PA that has garnered some well-deserved recognition and accolades. The brewery also teamed up with Monterrey Bay F.C. to develop the Land & Sea Extra Pale Ale, a classic-tasting beer perfect for taking in a match. Alvarado Street Brewery is able to accomplish the difficult task of large-scale production while remaining an easily approachable neighborhood spot. Not many breweries pull it off, but this one does.

Fieldwork Brewing Company

Fieldwork Brewing Company was founded in 2015 in Berkley, where the headquarters remain for what is now almost a statewide operation. There are currently locations brewing great beer in Corte Madera, Monterey, Napa, Sacramento, San Leandro, San Ramon, and San Mateo. At any of these Fieldwork locations, you can expect a wide range of beers on a tap list that is ever-changing. Fieldwork is committed to constantly releasing new beers in all different styles for different beer drinkers. The tap lists are all carefully organized, divided into sections of lighter beers and lagers, sours, Belgian-style beers, dark beers, New England IPAs, and West Coast IPAs.

If you visit a Fieldwork Brewing Company location and decide to come back (or try another one), the tap list will most definitely feature multiple new beers to discover  — which is part of what makes the craft beer scene so special.