You could spend a lifetime drinking beer in San Diego. You could go up to the mountain for some Alpine. You could head to Orange County for The Bruery. You could hit up Pizza Port in Carlsbad and Lost Abbey on the way home. You could find a designated driver and head to the Miramar district, where Hess, Green Flash, AleSmith, and Ballast Point all have homes -- and where all sorts of new breweries are starting to pop up.
You could, if you had the time, the driver, or the money, you could pay someone for their time in order to drive you. Sometimes you arrive in a city with 24 hours of free time, sandwiched around a meeting, or a trade show, or a sales pitch. Sometimes you don't have the cash or the driver on hand. Sometimes you're stuck close to downtown.
This is the guide for those sometimes, provided those sometimes happen in downtown San Diego.
Most breweries are further away from downtown because the square footage is cheaper in the office parks of greater surburban San Diego. The closest you'll get to an up-and-coming brewery that's within a twenty dollar cab ride of downtown San Diego is Modern Times. Blazing World is their flagship IPA, and it features a fruity aroma on top of elements of a hoppy amber -- with the finish of a crisp pale ale. It's worth heading out past old town for, and if you're there, you can hit up Stone Liberty Station while you're out there.
Stone's Liberty Station is not a perfect spot. I mean, there's a koi pond, good food, an outdoor beer garden that's finely sculpted, and a ton of Stone beer. So it's close to perfect. But the selection is not always perfect, and the on-site beers fall behind many of their other offerings. No matter -- get the little Quail Knots and an Enjoy By, and remember to pause in your conversation when a plane lands or takes off. You could also extend the visit and head down to Fathom Bistro, which has a great beer list, great food, is on the end of the dock, and has a great view.
Sticking generally to the west, you could actually manage a troika of breweries with the new Ballast Point brewpub in Little Italy. The big boys bring better food, and the beer can handle it's business, but you won't have as many bragging rights when you get home if you stick to the nationally-distributed brands. You might not bring as many goodies home. But BP in Little Italy has an impressive set of locally brewed project beers that you won't see in bottles when you get home. It's not just all Sculpin. (While you are there, you can check out one of the best bottle shops in San Diego, Bottlecraft, and enjoy a beer or two on tap while you shop.)
You might get the best of both worlds if you head to Monkey Paw, but you won't necessarily get a bottle to take home. That's because Monkey Paw is a brewery, but the spot in East Village (still west of the 5) functions more like a bar. A big beautiful bar. A big beautiful bar full of Monkey Paw beers and also their favorite of the region. You'll get some of them for less than five bucks, or you can spend a little on the bottle list. And the waffle fries and cheese steak are top notch. And it looks like it's less than ten bucks away from PetCo by cab.
Generally, I'd hit this mini brewery list up before I hit the bars, but the bars are generally closer and are pretty legendary in their own right.
A short cab ride away is one of a legendary franchise in beer bars. Toronados' tap lists are the best. So are their bottle lists. But still, in this group, it's the furthest away. The nice thing about going to North Park is that there's also Tiger! Tiger! That sentence hangs, but it's fun to finish a sentence with a title that brings its own punctuation. You're also a close to Blind Lady, so there's a possibility of a taxi-aided mini pub crawl here. And don't forget the new Hess tasting room and Thorn Street and the new Modern Times tasting room! North Park is the beer destination away from downtown if you have an afternoon. You can even walk from Modern Times to Hess to Thorn Street, so there's that.
Hamilton's hasn't updated their tap list in a while, but maybe they should just frame this one and leave it there. So we can talk about the pool and the shuffleboard and the food if we wanted to but why would we need to, we just saw that tap list. So, in conclusion, they have good beers on tap. It can get crowded but, in South Park, it's still pretty close to downtown.
Small Bar is a little further away in University Heights, but it also has excellent beer. On a more regularly-updated website page. And a little advantage: El Zarape is next door. Though you really should get the California Burrito and maybe not read 538's experience with it. It's a top burrito joint serving a San Diego specialty, at least. And it's not always easy to combine a tap list like that with a cheap after tap list snack like that...
... Unless you go to Neighborhood and have a burger or their chorizo corn dogs and enjoy their tap list. The extra nice thing for baseball's Winter Meetings attendees, or really the trade show area in general, is that Neighborhood is in the Gas Lamp district -- it's about six or seven blocks away from the big hotel trade show complex behind PetCo park. In San Diego weather, you can manage that. Also downtown is the aptly named Downtown Johnny Browns if you want to peruse another tap list before you head out.