If you're in the business of drinking good beer, and fortune has it that you either reside in the great golden state or you are planning a trip to the west coast, San Diego is a must-see destination both for its history and its immense and diverse craft beer scene. If you are unfortunate enough to only have time to visit California once, then San Diego must be the place.
As a traveling professional photographer, I have a bad habit of bringing the entire arsenal to every assignment. I know that most travelers keep things simple and bring a camera, some batteries and maybe just one or two lenses. I don’t know how these people can handle traveling so light and carefree, but for this assignment I thought I’d give it a try. For this short trip to San Diego, I decided to limit myself to one camera, one battery and one lens. The question then was should I bring my standard lens, a Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 VC, or my Sigma Art 50mm prime. Decisions, decisions.
San Diego, CA
Beer Capital of the West Coast
Pros and Cons
In days of old, the nifty 50 was the lens to have for city walks and Travel. In the film days, an easy way around a fixed ISO was to have a lens with a very wide range of aperture, like a 50mm prime. No matter the scenario, you could shoot wide open at f/1.4 if you happened to be indoors or shooting at night and stop down to f/22 in bright daylight. The only Achilles heel to this lens was the fixed focal length. Even still, a 50mm is a great middle of the road lens, able to capture some architecture, wide countryside images, portraits or even some near-macro shots depending on the quality of the lens itself.
As lens and camera technologies advanced and became the diverse and dynamic digital monsters they are today, the digital camera users shifted towards carrying a standard lens as the end-all be-all for travel. Digital cameras are not limited to one ISO setting, thus a standard lens like my Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 became more useful. In low light it’s not as great as a 50mm prime, but newer cameras have the ability to dial up the low light performance to compensate, and the range of composition options offered by a standard lens are hard to argue with.
In the opposite way that the 50mm primes allowed film cameras to be used in a wider variety of scenarios, the cameras of today allow the newer zooming standard lenses to work in a wider variety of environments to an arguably better result in both quality and diversity.
We slummed around Ocean Beach for the first couple of hours of the trip. Ocean Beach has an incredible selection of breweries almost stacked on top of each other, and most of the time we could see the next stop on our list while drinking a beer at the previous one. After just a few hours in Ocean Beach we had visited Pizza Port, Kilowatt, Helms, Culture and Belching Beaver and we decided to Uber up to Miramar and check out Ballast Point and Green Flash. Ballast Point was easy enough to find as it was a huge beautiful glass building across from the airbase. Green Flash did take a second, the location that was closest to us was their large brewing and distribution hub that was tucked into an industrial complex and poorly labeled. Still, the bar and seating areas were quite full, and the bartenders were pouring drinks as fast as they could to keep up with the demands of the many patrons. As the day turned to evening we came back to the San Diego city center and enjoyed some Karl Strauss and dinner. The food at Karl Strauss was pretty amazing an it might have had something to do with all the walking and drinking we had done for the day, but it was a much-needed stop before we took the plane back to Sacramento. All in all, by strategically ordering flights we were able to taste 67 different beers and get an idea of the situation down in San Diego. It was an epic day not soon forgotten.
First up: 50mm
Below is a gallery of images taken at 50mm to show how the world looks at this particular fixed focal length.
(Click to see enlarged photo)
I do need to mention that by simply having a variable focal length lens I was not as interested in staying at 50mm and thus could have tried a bit harder to get some better shots at each location. On the flip side, I did indeed have the ability to compose the images as I saw fit and optimize each opportunity to get exactly what I wanted so why would I limit myself to one focal length.
Variable Focal Lengths, 24mm-70mm
Below is a gallery of images taken at variable focal lengths to show the diversity of composition using a standard lens.
(Click to see enlarged photo)
As you see, the diversify of compositions and ability to shoot in both wide-open spaces and small cramped bars, sunlight or shade, demonstrates exactly why more photographers are switching to a standard lens for travel. One and done. I must admit that I did take a step or two to reposition myself for some of these comparisons but I would argue that my movement was minimized compared to what id have to do with a 50mm lens, and in some of these scenarios the movement was very limited and space was in short supply. In an environment consisting of cramped spaced and limited movement, a standard lens will be your best friend.
We finished discussing the camera stuff and if you’ve read this far I bet you are just here for the beer. I don’t blame you one bit, as San Diego had some of the best beers available and often we find ourselves looking for these So-Cal varieties when we’re out on the town. These are the breweries that we visited, and these are how they stacked up. We based our decision using a similar rubric to our individual beer tasting notes found in our previous articles, but this time we averaged them out to determine an overall quality of experience at each brewery for beer aficionados and patrons simply seeking fine craft brew. We do have a couple of other considerations that led us to having an honorable mention for your must-see one stop beer shop but ill get to that later.
First up are the favs from each stop (In order of visitation)
Pizza port - Brut IPA, Flying Hawaiian (Hef)
Kilowatt - S3 Cucumber Sour
Helm’s - Sonder Blonde Ale
Culture - Pale Ale
Ballast point - Oaked Chardonnay DIPA with white grape pear and oak
Belching Beaver - ODB Russian Imperial Stout w/ Vanilla and Coconut, Here comes the mango (honorable mention)
Green Flash -Soul Potion IPA
Karl Strauss - red trolley ale
I must say that Jordan planned the itinerary for the day and he did a fine job. The plan was to hit all of these places in the most time-effective manor, seeing as we had only a few hours. At the end of the day we hashed out which brewery was our favorite, and hands down it was Kilowatt. The decisions and considerations for the rest of the Power Ranking were not as easy to navigate and there was a lot of debate back and forth. The results are displayed below.
Brewery Power Rankings (beer only)
It is important to note again that the Power Rankings were based solely on the beer available on tap at each brewery. If we had to measure the quality of each brewery’s overall experience, an experience that for some of the less-snobby patrons included the beer in bottles and cans, it might be a little more difficult to decide the proper order. What’s more, the fact that three of the places we visited were full-on restaurants that all served pretty amazing food items makes it very tricky to evaluate the spread. If we were to include food, atmosphere and enjoyment from both a beer drinker’s standpoint and also one who must consider their family when making decisions out on the town, we both agreed hands-down that Pizza Port might actually jump to our #1 spot. Pizza port offered so many items that were beyond the scope of our beer tasting trip that we felt the need to discuss the shear magnitude of awesomeness we experienced while dining. We were sitting not more than 10 feet from the brewer's area, who were in fact making beer while we ate lunch. The arcade, smaller picnic tables and offerings of assorted kid-friendly foods and beverages makes Pizza Port a must for any beer enthusiast with a family that finds themselves down in Ocean Beach.