Some of San Francisco’s best beer can be found along the Haight Street corridor, which can easily be traversed in a day by foot, bus, or cab. This will take you almost the entire length of Haight Street, from the gentrified Haight-Ashbury (or “Upper Haight”) to the slightly-less-gentrified Lower Haight, and then, optionally, to the adjacent Castro for another beer bar and the City’s second-best beer store.
1725 Haight St @ Cole
The Alembic is an optional start point, heading west to east. Its focus is not on beer, but it is owned by the same folks who own Magnolia just down the street, and carries a handful of their beers, as well as some other craft & European options. At times, this may even be a better option, considering Magnolia’s frequent wait times. The Alembic also offers a wide selection of whiskeys, top-notch cocktails, and a well-regarded small plates menu, so you can probably enjoy yourself here.
1398 Haight St @ Masonic
Magnolia makes some of the Bay Area’s best beer, so you won’t want to skip this stop on the crawl. There can be a wait for a table, but there may be seats at either the bar or the large community table to the left as you enter (or, as mentioned, you can head to their sister restaurant, Alembic). They have an arsenal of around 15 beers in their rotation, usually with about six on tap and three on cask, as well as two or three guest brews and a handful of wines (no liquor). The menu is “new” American, with an emphasis on organics and sustainability and all that tasty shit that always seems to make cheeseburger prices jump 20%.
Magnolia is the last stop in the Haight-Ashbury, so you have a few options at this point. Haight-Ashbury is flanked by the east end of Golden Gate Park (including Kezar Stadium and what you will immediately recognize as “Hippie Hill”) and Buena Vista Park, which offers views of downtown San Francisco. And two blocks north, an extension of Golden Gate Park called The Panhandle runs parallel to Haight. Any of these could be a nice place to people-watch with a picnic spread, augmented perhaps by a growler or two from Magnolia.
If you prefer to remain efficient with your beer consumption- indeed a noble endeavor- you again have two choices. Magnolia is about 3/4 of a mile from the beer mecca Toronado. If you’re not much into walking, Haight has a handful of buses that will take you down the hill to Lower Haight, and cabs are abundant (by San Francisco standards) along its length. If you do want to walk, it’s downhill the whole way, and it makes a lot more sense to stop in at the Page or Healthy Spirits on your way to Toronado.
298 Divisadero @ Page
The Page is a block off of Haight St, on Divisadero, which is the traditional divider between the Haight-Ashbury and Lower Haight. It has 20+ good beers on tap, and about a dozen meh beers in bottles (plus Hamms in a can). Friendly, attractive bartenders pour mostly West Coast craft brews (including the occasional offering from the aforementioned Magnolia) and their whiskey selection is nothing to sneeze at, either (other spirits and wine are also available). This neighborhood bar definitely has a lounge feel to it, composed entirely of wood, red velvet, and dark sexiness (much like The Red Room in Santa Cruz), but it manages to avoid being pretentious or scene-y, which I suspect would be its fate if it were about anywhere else in San Francisco. Billiards and a bona fide foosball table are also available if you need to work up a thirst. Friday & Saturday night crowding can sometimes be a problem, but otherwise it’s a very comfy bar, and a good place to sample some west coast brews.
The Page photo by Troy McClure SF
2299 15th Street @ Castro
If you need to take a breather from consumption, maybe a trip to Healthy Spirits in lieu of the Page is a better idea. There’s no bar, but this outwardly-normal corner store has about 300 beers available (and a respectable wine list as well). From Haight & Divisadero (or Haight & Page), walk (or take the 24 Divisadero bus to avoid the hill) south on Divisadero, which will veer left and turn into Castro Street, and stop at the corner of 15th Street. The guys working there are quite helpful and are more than willing to help you find something you’ll like. And nothing says class like using 750mL of Italian Shangrila Fume as hair of the dog tomorrow morning. Locals can inquire about their Beer of the Month club, and visitors can get beer shipped back home. To get back on track, either take the 24 bus back to Haight and head downhill, or walk down 15th and make a left at Sanchez for a 15 minute walk to Toronado (or take 15th to Market, veer left on Market, and stop by Lucky 13).
547 Haight @ Fillmore
Toronado, I suspect, needs no introduction. Widely known as one of the best beer bars in Northern California (if not the best), they have almost 50 taps (posted on a board) and around 100 bottles (ask for a bottle list). Around 75% of these are Belgian, 20% are California craft beers, and the last 5% are quality brews from the West Coast and Europe. It’s a dive (hike up your pants legs when you go to pee), and service can be a bit… what’s the word… pissy, so know what you want before you order and have your cash out (that’s cash, not card). Toronado, being infamous as it is, usually has quite the crowd, so make this a late night or afternoon stop, or keep one eye scanning for open seats. There’s no kitchen, but Rosamunde Sausage is located in the same building, and there’s plenty of quick food options on the block.
Mad Dog in the Fog
530 Haight @ Fillmore
Mad Dog is one of the premier sports bars in San Francisco. This is the place where soccer hooligans gather at 5am to watch a match, as well as masses of orange-clad fans watching the Giants win the World Series. There’re a dozen TVs all over the place, with a nice long bar and some very comfy booths, as well as a back patio. It’s nice and roomy, unless there’s a big sporting event to be watched, and there’s a kitchen pumping out pretty good pub grub. And with a recent remodel came a pretty impressive bottle selection… Allagash, Ninkasi, Deschutes, the Bruery, and Victory, to name a few. However, having a lot of bottles does not a beer bar make. For starters, it’s TWELVE FUCKING FIFTY for a bomber of Denogginizer. The joint ain’t cheap. Hell, they have a “special” of 4 Budweisers for $15. I mean, really? Also, I ordered a Jubelale last year during the aforementioned World Series, and I had to remove the wax from the bottle with my thumbnail, as that was the solution offered by the bartender at the time. Lame. But, they do indeed have a ton of good beer, and it is a good place to watch a ballgame, and it’s right across the street from Toronado, so hey, you’ll be nearby at some point, anyway.
Lucky 13 (GGBB)
2140 Market @ Church
If Toronado didn’t kill you, you can weave five blocks south to Lucky 13, whose beer selection can’t touch Toronado’s, but is respectable all on its own. It’s one of SF’s larger bars, so you’ll be able to breathe a little easier here than anywhere else on this crawl, not to mention enjoy a nice 5% ABV beer after the hoppy bombs that Magnolia & Toronado specialize in. Lucky 13 has no kitchen, but you’ll pass several good food options on your way down Church from Haight.
And that, good visitor, is GGBB’s Haight Beer Crawl. Granted, this would make for quite the full day, but it can be done (and- as I can attest- has been). And as I well know, finding good concentrations of good beer in a strange city can be daunting, so even if you can’t do the whole thing, you’ll be able to sample a fine cross-section of good beer without spending too much time buried in a map. If you had to ask what the most important stops are, I’d have to say Magnolia and Toronado, so if time or money gets tight, make these two a priority, but all six of these places would be a lot of fun for the traveling beer geek. Or local beer geek, for that matter.