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An Expert’s Guide To Breweries And Taprooms Along California’s Central Coast

Chatting with Mikealaa Crist is a bit like sitting down for a beer with a new friend. A friend who loves beer as much as she loves her home. In this case, that home is Monterey, California, and its outlying hamlets and towns. It’s the sort of place where deep knowledge is necessary, especially when you’re thinking of taking a road trip along California’s iconic Highway One — or “the One” as it’s loving referred to by West Coasters.

Crist, better known as CraftyBeerMaven on Instagram, isn’t just a holder of secrets for her home region. She’s also a master of the beer world — having worked in the beer industry for the past seven years. Crist has been on the floor as an assistant brewer and behind the scenes in sales, marketing, and social media for a long list of breweries. These days, she travels the country and world drinking, testing, and talking beer, visiting over 500 breweries so far.

With a reputation that impressive, we had to reach out to Crist to talk all things beer around California’s Central Coast and Big Sur. Crist was able to guide us through a great beer-centric road trip from the southern reaches of Big Sur back up to Half Moon Bay. Crist drops some serious knowledge below about where to grab the best brews, enjoy uniquely Californian experiences, lay your weary head down to sleep, fill your belly, and even grab a cuppa or two.

Let’s hit the road!

So, you fly into San Francisco. You jump in a rental car. We’re going to start in Big Sur in the south and work our way back up north towards the Bay Area. How far is that initial drive to get to the starting position for this trip?

It’s probably four hours. I mean, Big Sur’s such a big area.

Okay, we’ve been on the road for four hours, we need a beer. Where’s the first stop?

That’s a super easy question! The best place to get beer is Big Sur Taphouse. It’s an awesome spot. It’s family-owned. They do have food as well. The food’s good, but you’ve got to save your stomach. Just go for the beer.

They have awesome tap lists with a lot of local stuff. They have Alvarado on tap and they usually have some rarer stuff. You’ll be surprised by their tap list. It’s always rotating, and they do a really good job.

It’s been a long drive already, is it worth crashing here? Or, is this a spot to grab one beer and go straight to the next spot?

I would do one beer and go to the next spot. You’ll be a little bit more inland, a little bit more in the trees. Plus, the next spot is only 15, maybe 20 minutes north.

Okay, cool, where are we going to grab that bite … and next beer?

Right next to Big Sur Lodge is Big Sur General Store. It’s a tiny little store, easy to miss. If you walk to the back of it, there’s a burrito bar. They make freaking killer burritos. They’re like seven or eight bucks, and they’re bigger than my head. They also sell bottled and canned beer.

What you do is, you go in, order, and pay. Once you have your burrito and beer, you walk in between the Lodge and the General Store down a little path that goes to Big Sur Creek. At the creek, they have Adirondack chairs literally in the water of the creek. You take your shoes off and you sit in the creek with your feet in the water and drink a beer and eat your burrito. I mean, it’s magical.

That sounds magical.

It’s one of my favorite places.

So what’s your go-to beer when you’re there?

I go for a classic. I love me a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I don’t know, there’s something … I always kind of feel like reminiscing when I’m there for some reason. It’s a good place where you can let your thoughts flow and drink a classic beer that you have to think too hard about.

So we’re still in the woods. How far is it to the coast?

As you leave Big Sur General Store, it’s probably about 20, 30 minutes. It’s crazy because inland, it’ll be 80 degrees. Then you go about 20, 30 minutes north out to the coast, and for some reason, that stretch is usually foggy and like 50 degrees. It’s a very dramatic change. It’s pretty unique to see because you’re going from under the canopy of these beautiful redwoods to a foggy coast.

What’s next?

Keep driving and you’re going to go over the famous Bixby Bridge, which is beautiful. Though, it’s always kind of crowded. Honestly, it’s good to look at and then just keep going.

From there, it’s probably 45 minutes to an hour where it’s just so pretty. You’re just kind of chilling on the windy roads. If you’re a sour fan, you can stop at Yeast of Eden. It’s an Alvarado Street side project. What’s great about sours is that a lot of them clock in anywhere from three-and-a-half to five percent. You can grab the nice sour, taste it, and not get tipsy. They have a really cool, eclectic menu that changes too.

Right. And so now we’re a couple of beers in. Would you recommend setting up camp here or making one last stop?

You know, it depends. You just had a giant burrito. I’m one of those people who doesn’t feel the need to finish my beer. I really try to moderate myself. I would honestly like to save my pause until Monterey, which is only, I mean, ten to 15 minutes up the road.

You can take bottles too from any of these places. It’s not like you have to sit there an drink all day…

Absolutely. And then go drink them in your hotel room, which is awesome too.

Well then, let’s get to Monterey!

Okay, so now you’re in Monterey and, honestly, I do recommend staying the night here. We have so many great B&Bs. I love staying at the Portola. They’re on the water, right downtown. It’s super dog-friendly, no breed restrictions. You can walk everywhere. They have two great restaurants. One is a brewery called Peter B’s.

What’s cool about Peter B’s?

It’s great if you want to grab some upscale bar food and drink some good beer. Peter B’s Brewpub wins a ton of medals. They just won a World Beer Cup medal. They usually take something home from the Great American Beer Festival too. Justin, the head brewer, is just the sweetest thing. He’s become a good friend of mine.

If you’re staying at the Portola, you’re literally stumbling distance to Jack’s, which is actually inside the hotel too. It’s one of my husband’s and my go-to places. Their food is always spot on. I swear that Will the bartender lives there and he makes the best old fashioneds.

So we’re going to stay the night in Monterey. Once we’ve checked in and had a bite, where could we walk to around town?

The great thing about Monterey, everything’s pretty much walking distance. I do have to mention Alvarado Street Brewery. They have an awesome beer garden.

There’s also Fieldwork Brewing, which has a tap house and an outdoor beer garden as well. You know, it like never rains here, so you’re usually good at either one.

Let’s imagine we wake up in the morning — clearheaded because we drank a lot of water like good beer drinkers — where’s the morning spot to hit up?

I don’t know about you but I’ve got to get a good cup of coffee in me. Absolutely go to Captain + Stoker.

It’s my favorite coffee shop in the region. It’s a young couple that owns it, and they are just absolutely killing it. They have some great lighter breakfast items, like avocado toast and pastries.

What’s then our next stop along the One?

The coolest part about this stretch of the One is that the majority of the United States’ artichokes and avocados are grown near here. There are all these veggie stands along the side of the road. You can get like ten avocados for a dollar and four artichokes for a dollar.

You’re giving away a West Coast secret now.

I know, I know. Well, I want to support the local ag as much as I can because I know that they struggle. But, the produce is fantastic, especially if you just want something to snack on on the road. There’s usually some great strawberries and stuff like that as well. Definitely just make a quick stop. They do take cards these days too.

Our next stop is Santa Cruz?

So I love Santa Cruz. It’s got its own vibe. I don’t know if I could ever live in Santa Cruz, but I love visiting. Santa Cruz has so many amazing breweries and so much amazing food. To make it convenient, your first stop is going to be Sante Adairius Rustic Ales.

They’re famous for their sours and they’re absolutely incredible. There are two locations but, if you want that old school small brewery feel, I’d definitely go to the original location.

Which beers are you going for there?

They’re kind of known for their sours. But it’s not just sours. Their classic West Coast IPA is fantastic. There’s really a beer for everyone there, and you can bring your own food — like the strawberries you just bought! You can bring them inside and snack on them while you’re drinking your beer.

Is this a good lunch spot or would you go somewhere else?

No, they don’t have food. I have a spot that’s literally the next exit up.

Let’s hit it.

All right, so my favorite taproom on this planet — and I’ve been to almost 500 breweries and I don’t know how many taprooms — is Beer Thirty. That place just absolutely feels like home.

They have 30 rotating taps and over 300 to-go bottles and cans. It’s super kid and dog-friendly. They actually have a dog park on-site where you can let your dog off-leash. They have games. They also have a partnership with a restaurant. The food is always good. It’s always rotating.

What sort of beer are you drinking when you’re there?

They usually have some really good local stuff but also some really rare stuff. I’ve found some hard to get Bottle Logic bottles there. Then one of the owners, Olive, has become a good friend of ours. She’s just the sweetest, most hospitable human you will meet.

Let’s say you fall in love with this place. Do you have any recommendations if someone wants to crash nearby or would you recommend moving on?

So, it depends.The exit by Sante Adairius actually has a campground, if you’re into that, at Seabright Beach. I’ve camped there several times. It’s awesome.

I usually Airbnb it because there’s, like, some random tree houses and restored RVs in people’s backyards. I don’t usually stay at hotels there mostly because they’re kind of expensive. There are some really nice B&Bs. It depends on your budget. You can go from camping for $25 to a B&B for maybe like $150 to $250 a night.

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Koda turned 5 months yesterday 🎂🐾

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It feels like a good spot to post up since there are other breweries around…

Oh my gosh, so many.

Plus, if you get a little tipsy, you might want to jump in an Uber and brewery hop.

Be a responsible adult. Santa Cruz is not a big town. It’s a quick Uber kind of anywhere.

All right, let’s say you’ve found a place to crash and you’re not driving anymore, where would you go next?

I can’t leave Santa Cruz without mentioning Humble Sea Brewing. There are really good guys behind the scenes here making killer beer, really fun beer, and a really fun atmosphere. It’s very inclusive and welcoming. Their staff is always super friendly. They’re happy to give you suggestions.

And if you want to take a break and not drink a beer, walking distance from that brewery is one of my favorite coffee shops, Verve Coffee. Their iced coffee and regular coffee are just amazing.

I feel like that area is the perfect place to explore on foot…

Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing is literally steps away from Humble Sea. And then of course, if you’re with someone who’s a wine drinker, there’s Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard there too.

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Humility in Form ❤️

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Okay, last day on Highway One, we wake up, grab breakfast, and where to next?

Okay. Well, as you’re leaving, if you want to grab breakfast, I have to mention Cafe Brasil in Santa Cruz. It’s a Brazilian breakfast. They do steak and eggs but with chimichurri, and it’s fantastic.

Nice.

So, you got your breakfast in you. You’re feeling good. You’re going to head back up the One for about an hour to the little town of Half Moon Bay. They’re known for Mavericks surf break. You see a lot of world-famous surfers. I geek out a little bit.

But if you’re up there, I would go to Half Moon Bay Brewery just because they have awesome food. They have a great view and, of course, great beer.

What beer are you drinking there?

They’re known for their milk stout, Calf-feine. That’s usually my go-to, even on a hot day. It’s not a heavy stout, you know what I mean? It’s a good, nice, light milk stout. It pairs well with a lot of food.

They also do a lot of classic styles like amber ales. That’d be like my next beer if I’m hanging out for a while.

You said the food is awesome. What’s your go-to?

You can definitely get fish and chips there, but I usually get their burger. They’re just spectacular.

Is there a one last, can’t-miss spot nearby that’s worth hitting?

There’s Hop Dogma. They’re a really, really small local craft brewery. They’re definitely the locals’ joint. I don’t even think they do distribution. They want to stay small. They have a tiny brew system. I would highly recommend going there.

Is that the sort of place where it’s like, “what’s on is what’s on”?

Absolutely. And the beer-tenders are always really great. They’re a bunch of surfer bros, you know…

Follow the road trip here!

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