Santa Barbara is home to several great breweries.
Between the sunshine, snobby rich white people, and surf culture, I found plenty of time to research the best breweries in Santa Barbara.
Top 7 Best Breweries in Santa Barbara
Third Window Brewing
I love Third Window Brewing. The beer menu changes more than any other brewery I’ve visited. They have a couple mainstays, but they seem to experiment more than any other brewery in the area.
Third Window also has an excellent taproom. There are plenty of indoor and outdoor seats. There’s a winery next door. They serve decent food. They have excellent Wi-Fi. I’ve spent several pleasant afternoons at Third Window Brewing.
Topa Topa Brewing Co.
Topa Topa Brewing Co. is easily one of the top three best breweries in the Ventura County / Santa Barbara County area. They make really good beer. Technically, they’re a Ventura brewery with a location in Santa Barbara. But I’m not complaining.
In Santa Barbara, Topa Topa is attached to a brewpub called Lama Dog, which serves high-end food and beer at high-end prices. You can bring food from Lama Dog into Topa Topa, but you can’t bring drinks between the two locations.
Topa Topa has an extensive menu of excellent craft beers, including legendary local beers like Chief Peak. They also have adventurous limited release beers, including bourbon barrel aged imperial stouts.
Telegraph Brewing Co.
Telegraph Brewing Co. is a genuine, Santa Barbara born and raised brewery. They make very good beer. They have a medium-sized taproom a few blocks off State Street.
Telegraph doesn’t seem like a huge brewery, but they always seem to have a large selection of beers. The entire wall of Telegraph is a window, although there isn’t really a patio area, so this is a good brewery to visit on a rare rainy day in Santa Barbara.
Brass Bear Brewing & Bistro
Brass Bear Brewing & Bistro has a special place in my heart for turning the NHL playoffs on TV one spring in Santa Barbara when everywhere else was showing NBA, a stupid sport.
Brass Bear Brewing & Bistro was founded by a couple from New York who quit the rat race, traveled the world, and settled in Santa Barbara. Brass Bear makes very good beers and good.
Unlike other breweries in Santa Barbara, Brass Bear focuses on 6-8 good beers instead of 12-16 okay beers. They have a small (and somewhat hidden) location a couple blocks from the beach, and all brewing is done off-site at another local brewery.
Institution Ale Co.
Technically, Institution is a brewery in Camarillo. However, they recently opened a location in the heart of State Street.
Institution serves the best beer on State Street – and at reasonable prices. Instead of paying $8 to $9 USD (+10% tax and +20% tip for a small American 16oz pint) like you do everywhere else on State Street, you pay $4 to $6 for an ordinary pint.
Institution also has really good pizza. If you want a pint, a casual meal, and some people watching, then a night on Institution’s patio is tough to beat.
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.
Figueroa Mountain, like Institution, is technically based outside the city but has a location in Santa Barbara. They still brew beer here, and the taproom is a great place to hang out for a game, a sunny patio day, or a trivia night.
If you like IPAs, then you’ll like “Fig Mountain” (just wait until you travel around California and you realize every brewery in the state is obsessed with IPAs).
Night Lizard Brewing Company
The new kid on the block, Night Lizard has prime real estate on State Street. There’s a large taproom and spacious patio. They have trivia nights, a diverse selection of beer, and reasonable prices. They have a huge projector screen that plays live sports. They also have live music on weekends.
I think beer snobs in Santa Barbara look down on Night Lizard for its location. However, along with Institution, Night Lizard is one of the best spots to grab a pint on State Street.
Pure Order Brewing Company
I’ve gotta be honest: I’ve only been to Pure Order a couple times. It has limited weekday hours, which means it’s not part of my normal workplace rotation routine.
Despite my naivety, Pure Order Brewing Co. is a well-rated brewery that hosts a popular trivia night and other events – including heavy metal concerts.
I need to visit Pure Order more often. They have excellent happy hour deals. I’m a sucker for cheap craft beer.
Draughtsmen Aleworks is a Goleta brewery that recently opened a spot on State Street, where they share a location with a café called Mosaic Locale.
Draughtsmen is very popular and well-rated, although I’m less familiar with it than other Santa Barbara breweries. It’s a genuine Santa Barbara born-and-raised brewery, offering much more than the usual IPAs you find at other California breweries. A recent check of their menu showed a quadruple Belgian ale, an Irish red, a Japanese rice lager, a blonde ale, and an oatmeal pale ale, among other unique selections.
Captain Fatty’s Brewery
Captain Fatty’s is another Goleta brewery popular among locals who know way more than me about Santa Barbara beer.
Conveniently located next to the Islamic Society of Santa Barbara, Captain Fatty’s can be found at restaurants across Santa Barbara. The brewery itself is dog-friendly and has a food truck on-site.
Hollister Brewing Company
I call Hollister “the brewery I visit before or after shopping at Costco”.
Located just down the parking lot from my favorite discount warehouse store, Hollister Brewing Company feels like more of a family restaurant than a brewery, but they serve a wide selection of beer in a comfortable setting.
There are several other brewpubs, restaurants, or craft beer stores in the Santa Barbara area worth mentioning:
The Cruisery: When I first visited Santa Barbara, this location was home to Santa Barbara Brewing Company. Today, it’s The Cruisery, which serves okay food, drinks, and beers in a prime location in the heart of State Street.
The Brewhouse: The Brewhouse is a sports bar and grill that brews its own beer. The beer is very good, and there are plenty of options for all tastes. However, it’s definitely a sports bar, grill, and restaurant first.
Modern Times: Modern Times is a well-known San Diego brewery. They recently opened a Santa Barbara location on lower State Street. Modern Times shares a location with Cubaneo (a great sandwich place) and Shaker Mill (a Cuban cocktail bar).
The Garden: The Garden isn’t a brewery. It’s a craft beer bar located in the Santa Barbara Public Market. Beer is pricey ($8 for a small 16oz American pint + 10% tax and 20% tip), but they serve plenty of hidden gems like Pliny the Elder. It’s also one of the best places to watch a game in Santa Barbara (they even play sound!).
Wine + Beer: Located in the Santa Barbara Public Market behind The Garden, Wine + Beer is a small craft beer and wine shop that also has beers on tap. I’ve worked from here multiple times, taking advantage of a great happy hour and extensive selection of rare craft beers.
Corks n’ Crowns: A beer and wine bar where you can taste rare varieties of both. Casual environment within stumbling distance of the beach, just steps away from Brass Bear.
M Special Brewing Company: Great beer and a well-rated brewery, but they’re based in Goleta so I don’t know much about them.
Island Brewing Company: Island Brewing Company has an excellent location in Carpinteria, California, just 10 minutes down Highway 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway) from Santa Barbara. I’m not a fan of their ever-popular avocado beer, but some of their darker beers are fantastic.
brewLAB: Another Carpinteria brewery, brewLAB serves a range of beers you’re guaranteed to never find anywhere else. High prices for high-end beer in one of my favorite small towns in America.
Final Word: Santa Barbara Has Excellent Craft Beer
I have a theory: beer in Southern California tastes different because there’s no natural water in Southern California. The water in Los Angeles comes from Colorado and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I don’t even know where the water in Santa Barbara comes from. Water is the main ingredient in beer. Bad, recycled water trucked through hundreds of kilometers of pipes has to impact beer, no?
Despite the fact that natural water sources are non-existent in southern California, Santa Barbara breweries make plenty of excellent beer. Check out the Santa Barbara breweries above and experience a unique part of the United States.