We can argue all day about East Coast versus West Coast, but today's beautiful reality is that you'll find plenty of great beer on both sides of the country. Here are the best West Coast destinations for craft beer, from the rain forests of the Pacific Northwest to the beaches of Southern California.
Modern beers and old world charm. Lighthouse Brewing, Victoria, BC — Photo courtesy of Kendall Jones
Victoria, British Columbia
Old World, British charm is what draws many tourist to the city named for the beloved Queen Victoria (yawn), but an increasing number of beer travelers are learning that the city’s crumpet-free, modern beer scene makes it a worthwhile destination. This walkable, small city is home to nine breweries, so bring some comfortable shoes. Consider visiting in September for the Great Canadian Beer Festival and taste beers from all across the Great White North.
Hardcore, gritty, always good - Storm Brewing, Vancouver, BC — Photo courtesy of Kendall Jones
Vancouver, British Columbia
Compared to the rest of the Pacific Northwest, Vancouver snored its way through the craft beer revolution of the past 30 years. Today the city is making up for lost time and is suddenly home to over 20 breweries. Local beer lovers are like kids on Christmas morning–giddy for craft beer and barely able to contain their enthusiasm. Don’t miss Brassneck Brewing, Parallel 49 Brewing and the magnificently funky Storm Brewing.
Wander Brewing, Bellingham, WA — Photo courtesy of Wander Brewing
Conveniently located between Vancouver and Seattle, Bellingham is home to six breweries, which is nice, but that is only one of the reasons it made the list. A recent study revealed this to be the very worst place in America to get bad beer. It is damn-near impossible to find Bud Light, Coors Light or any other big-brand beer in this craft-crazy town. Don’t miss Chuckanut Brewery, one of America’s most highly decorated brewers of traditional European-style lagers, and Boundary Bay Brewing, which is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary.
Seattle's beloved and most-ubiquitous beer. Georgetown Brewing, Manny's Pale Ale — Photo courtesy of Kendall Jones
You know about Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks, but Seattle is also home to more than 50 breweries, with dozens more in the surrounding area. They don’t brag about it, but craft beer is a way of life in Seattle and has been since 1982 when Redhook opened its original brewery in the Ballard neighborhood. Today, you’re more likely to find Manny’s Pale Ale on tap than any other beer, including the big guys (that’s a fact). Ballard alone is now home to 10 breweries, all within easy stumbling distance of each other.
Beyond Hefeweizen, in Portland they drink a lot of other stuff from Widmer Bros. Brewing — Photo courtesy of Kendall Jones
Along with lots of bridges, you’ll find lots of beer in Portland–nearly 60 breweries inside city limits and nearly 90 in the metro area. If the beer was any better or any more plentiful, your head would explode, messing up both your handlebar mustache and your plaid flannel shirt. It is an unconsciously, unintentionally hip city, with an insatiable appetite for life's finer things, and a brewery on damn-near every corner. Don’t miss Hair of the Dog Brewing and Cascade Barrel House.
Where locals chill when they're not on the hill. Double Mountain Brewing, Hood River, OR. — Photo courtesy of Kendall Jones
Hood River, Oregon
An hour up-river from Portland, this is a mecca for adrenaline junkies and beer lovers. Between windsurfing on the Columbia River and snowboarding on Mount Hood, the locals slurp pints at Double Mountain Brewing, Pfriem Family Brewers or one of Hood River's other local breweries. Be warned, get started early because everyone turns into pumpkins at 10:00 p.m. After all, there are rocks to climb and mountains to bike in the morning.
Fierce and gritty brews at Boneyard Brewing's taproom, Bend, OR — Photo courtesy of Byron Roe Photography/Visit Bend
You will marvel at how such a small city (population 82k) supports 16 breweries, until you realize that Bend is a cute little drinking town with a mountain problem. Three hours from anywhere, it is a glowing beer oasis on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains. Apparently you work up a powerful thirst when you’re hiking, river rafting and mountain biking. Be sure to visit the Deschutes Brewery Pub on Bond Street and the oddly named Crux Fermentation Project.
You'll find Pliny and a lot more at Russian River Brewing's pub in Santa Rosa, CA — Photo courtesy of Facebook.
Santa Rosa, California
This is the home of the esteemed Russian River Brewing Company, which is reason enough for Santa Rosa to earn a spot on this list. Beer pilgrims from across the country travel to Santa Rosa to worship at the shrine of Pliny. Yes, the much-ballyhooed Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger are damn fine beers, but the Belgian-style, sour and barrel-aged beers–like Consecration, Damnation and Supplication–are what make the congregation weep. Other local breweries worth your attention include Lagunitas Brewing and Bear Republic Brewing.
Start your tour of "The Haight" at Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery. San Francisco, CA — Photo courtesy of Facebook.
San Francisco, California
Any reason to visit this romantic, seedy, sexy and steep city is a good one. Don’t miss Anchor Brewing Company, where modern craft beer was born in 1965 when Fritz Maytag spent part of the family fortune on a small brewery. To fully experience the glory of San Francisco's fabled Haight-Asbury district, stumble down Haight Street from the Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery to the Toronado, a legendary beer bar with a "shut up and drink" attitude, where they’ll eighty-six you for asking too many stupid beer questions.
Tap list at Stone Brewing, Escondido — Photo courtesy of Kendall Jones
San Diego, California
San Diegans enjoy perfect weather, beautiful beaches and world class IPA, but you should be adventurous and try something less common from one of the area's 100-plus breweries, like Speedway Stout from AleSmith Brewing. Sure, Ballast Point Brewing, Green Flash Brewing and Stone Brewing built national reputations on the quality of their IPA, but seek out the lesser-known breweries like Societe Brewing and Modern Times Beer. That said, you've got to check out Stone’s World Bistro and Gardens, either location (Liberty Station or Escondido).