In many cases, entire trips can focus just on what there is to eat and drink in a particular location—especially if it’s a trip through wine country where you can accomplish both. But thanks to the craft beer boom of the past decade, the U.S. is also now home to an ever-growing number of locales that stand out in their own right. Without the need for vast vineyards or cavernous cellars, breweries have sprung up in practically any area where they can find four walls and a roof, creating an unprecedented era of quality and accessibility for the beverage. And while there’s likely plenty to sample in your neck of the woods, some of the beers in the world can only be found by planning a trip to visit them. Read on to see which U.S. cities experts say are must-see destinations for beer lovers.
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For those who appreciate their brews, there are cities that happen to be beer towns, and then there are beer towns that happen to be cities. And in North Carolina town tucked up into the mountains, the local beer culture has become the stuff of legends due to the sheer volume of high-quality brews it produces.
“Asheville, North Carolina is also known as ‘Beer City’ because it has one of the highest numbers of breweries per capita in the country,” Erin Moreland, travel blogger at Super Simple Salty Life, tells Best Life. “The town is known for its craft beer scene and hosts annual beer festivals, walking brewery tours, and daily group bicycle excursions to the best local breweries.”
Besides upstart operations like Burial, Highland, Green Man, and Hi-Wire, the city also hosts larger craft breweries that’ve come in from out of town to set up shop. This includes the East Coast production arm of Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing Company and California’s iconic Sierra Nevada—whose expansion production facility has been lovingly dubbed “Malt Disney” by fans.
As Florida’s largest Gulf Coast city, Tampa has created a name for itself in the beer world. But according to experts, that hasn’t always been the case.
“When I first started visiting Tampa, there was Dunedin Brewery and maybe one other, which has since gone out of business. Now, there are 70-something of them! It’s exploded,” travel writer Tim Leffel says.
With plenty of sun and warm weather more or less year-round, Leffel says the city has developed a thirst for its burgeoning class of breweries while still supporting its long-standing heroes. “There’s a lot of interesting things going on there. Some brewers are doing cool, experimental things, others are more straightforward. The biggest one is Cigar City, which still manages to make approachable IPAs alongside unique one-offs. And Tampa Bay Brewing Company—another longtime player—is also doing equally intriguing barrel-aged beers alongside their big crowdpleasers!”
He cites the local commitment to a great cause as one of the reasons for the area’s success.”Breweries have also come out of nowhere and grown really big seemingly overnight, and I think the overall tourism helps. It’s so compact you can visit so many places in one day without really traveling much. Cities that are much bigger like Miami or Atlanta simply don’t have as good a scene as Tampa.”
And if you’re willing to take a short trip, neighboring St. Petersburg is just a short drive away and filled with award-winning operations, including Green Bench Brewing, 3 Daughters Brewing, and Cycle Brewing.
Beer-focused cities may feel like they’re a dime a dozen lately, but there’s arguably nowhere more significant to American beer culture overall than Denver. The town is a rare example of a place that influenced the entire industry’s growth from afar. And as such, there’s plenty for visitors to see, do, and taste to experience it for themselves.
“You will find no less than 100,000 home brewers in Colorado’s capital city, making it the ideal destination for beer buffs and pint protagonists,” says Xanthe Steer, travel blogger and owner of Places Unpacked. “Not only is this fast-growing city home to the largest single-site brewery worldwide, but it also hosts the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). Visiting this city won’t just have you sipping beer, it will have you experiencing it from all angles as you join brewery tours, beer tastings, and even make-your-own home brewing workshops.”
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San Francisco is a city with a lot going for it. But those who love beer know the city was foundational in creating America’s beer identity, beginning well before the recent craft boom gave the beverage new relevance. That vibrancy continues today, and in many ways has grown alongside the city’s impressive culinary scene.
“There are so many microbreweries and nanobreweries in and around San Francisco in the Bay Area that they have been experimenting with food-inspired brews like no other place,” Jenny Ly, a professional travel expert and blogger at Go Wanderly, tells Best Life. “Consider Moonlight Brewing Company, which gathers redwood twigs and cedar bark from brewer Brian Hunt’s property, or Almanac, which employs seasonal food in its brews.”
“When mass-marketed light beers became the rage in the 1960s, the sale of Anchor Steam Brewery prompted the creation of several iconic beers,” she explains. “The 21st Amendment Brewery, Speakeasy, Drake’s, Black Diamond, and Social Kitchen and Brewery have all done likewise. La Trappe Cafe and The Toronado Pub—which holds perhaps America’s premier barleywine festival—are notable establishments. And the San Francisco International Beer Fest and Beer Week are not-to-be-missed events.”
While New York City looms large in the beer world in its own right, the surrounding towns have also stepped up their brewing game. According to experts, those heading east of the Big Apple in search of unforgettable good pints won’t be disappointed.
“While you may think of places like Austin and Boston as famous beer destinations, many have never considered Montauk and the Hamptons,” says travel expert Becca Siegel from Halfhalftravel.com. “This beautiful beachy region on the eastern end of Long Island is not on the major well-known traveler beer trail (partially due to its location near NYC), but it’s home to Montauk Brewing, North Fork Brewing Company, Greenport Harbor Brewing Company, and Shelter Island Craft Brewery. With your visit to most breweries in the Hamptons, you can schedule a tasting tour and drink in lots of cool knowledge—while also making time to sample the local wine and cider. And the best part is that you can hit the beach afterward!”
For a tiny New England city, Portland is a place that sure holds a lot of acclaims. From top-tier art to an explosive culinary scene, the Maine destination has suddenly become a hot spot for visitors. But one thing that has long been true with the city is its devotion to beer, with nationally acclaimed breweries that are decades old brushing up against some of the hottest upstart operations in the U.S.
“The ideal place for any beer-cation is Portland,” Rick Wong, travel expert and editor in chief of CamerasTrends.com, tells Best Life. “There’s just something about the fresh Maine air and the beers they serve here that make it something extraordinary.”
“It should go without saying that the one brewery you really shouldn’t miss during any visit to town is Allagash,” he suggests. “Other recommended stops include Austin Street Brewery, Lone Pine Brewing, Maine Beer Company in neighboring Freeport, and Oxbow’s barrel room. And no trip is complete without a stop at one of the best beer pubs in the country, Novare Res Bier Café, where you can taste more than 30 different beers on tap or choose from more than 200 bottled beers.”
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It should be shocking to almost no one who knows anything about beer that Bend is a top destination for anyone looking to sample great brews. The relatively remote Oregon city is home to some of the most storied beers in a state already storied for the product itself.
“Bend, Oregon is known for two things—beer and adventure!” Nina Ragusa, travel blogger and co-founder of Oregon is for Adventure, tell Best Life. “There are breweries for everyone here. Bend has the highest microbrewery per capita in the U.S. and is ranked among the top best beer cities in the country.”
The destination’s setting in nature might also help amplify the local wares. “Bend has an awesome laidback mountain feel, the people are so nice, the views and things to do go on for days, and the beer is just too good! It must be that high-quality mountain water that makes the beer hit differently,” they say.
If you do head west, just make sure you plan accordingly. “There are over 30 breweries to choose from, so it can be best to visit for a while! If not, take the Ale Trail around town to visit as many as possible during your stay. There are also festivals year-round, and you be sure there are plenty of opportunities to sample a lineup of the freshest local brews.”
While some cities have had plenty of time to grow into their newfound beer fame, others have seemed to make the transformation overnight.
“Richmond, Virginia has quietly become a beer mecca in the last 10 years,” says Samantha Caputo, travel expert and co-creator of BoozingAbroad.com. “In 2011, the city only had two breweries. Fast-forward to today, the beloved ‘RVA’ boasts over 30 craft breweries. RVA’s booziest neighborhood, Scott’s Addition, is home to 10 breweries within a 1-mile radius, making brewery hopping super easy and walkable. The Veil Brewing is one of the most notable Richmond breweries for its ever-changing and creative collection of IPAs, sours, stouts, and everything in between.”
“Richmond is also home to Mekong, a Vietnamese eatery, which was voted the best beer garden in America in 2012 and 2013 by USA Today,” she says. “They have since expanded into brewing their own beers in an adjacent brewery called The Answer that has become famous in its own right.”
But there’s far more to do than just drink beer in the Virginia capital. “If you need a break from the numerous breweries, Richmond is a history buff’s dream as one of the older cities in the country, has plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy, such as whitewater rafting through the city and a 50-mile bike trail, some great museums for history, science, and art, and almost a festival a month,” Caputo suggests.
While it may be trendy now, some cities were practically baptized in beer from their earliest days. And while the city undergoes a rebirth of its own, Cincinnati has revitalized one of its local claims to fame in a big way lately.
“With over 80 different craft breweries and the largest Oktoberfest outside of Munich, Cincinnati needs to be on your beer bucket list! It has a rich German heritage, so it’s no surprise that beer flows through the city,” Emily Hines, a professional travel and beer writer, tells Best Life.
“There, you can sample big-name breweries like Rhinegeist and hang in their massive kid-friendly brewery complete with indoor cornhole and a rooftop bar in the very cool Over the Rhine neighborhood. There’s also the Taft Ale House with excellent pub food housed in a historic church, or you can enjoy a sunset beer on the rooftop at Braxton Brewing across the river in Covington, Kentucky, with a view of the Ohio River and Cincinnati skyline.”
You might also want to sync your calendar to catch one of the local events. “There’s a beer fest for every season in Cincy, with Oktoberfest Zinzinnati as a highlight of the year. If you love comedy and craft beer, Cincy’s Brew Ha-Ha combines the two with over 40 beers and 25 comedians. While in town, catch a Cincinnati Reds game and celebrate a win with a beer on the river at the Moerlein Lager House or dive deep into the city’s beer history with a brewing heritage trail tour with a visit to a 19th-century lagering cellar.”
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With all due respect to the other Portland on this list, it would be impossible to discuss beer culture of any kind in the U.S. without bringing up Oregon’s biggest city. And as one might expect, a trip to the Rose City can be as close to hitting the epicenter of American brewing as you can get.
“No other city in the world has as many breweries as Portland, where there are 52 and counting,” says Ly. “And with 69 breweries in the greater metro area, it is also America’s largest craft brewing market. This is because state sales regulations favor consumer preferences over discounts and kickbacks, allowing small brewers to compete with mass marketers.”
Notably, it’s where you’ll find Hopworks Urban Brewery, Alameda Brewing Company, and Cascade Brewing, all of which are recognized nationwide for their “attention to detail and innovation,” Ly explains. “Local festivals like Biketobeerfest honors two things exalted by the region: bikes and beer. And events like the Oregon Brewer’s Festival, the Portland International Beer Festival, and Portland Beer Week—America’s first organic beer festival—make sure that beer spirit in the city runs high all year.”