Four Southern California craft beer festivals worth the drive

Great beer festivals in Orange County, San Diego, even the Central Coast

Beer festivals (should be) about more than getting blitzed on tiny glasses of beer. At their best, they showcase the spirit of community and collaboration that makes the craft beer industry exciting for so many fans. Los Angeles has developed a slate of great events, and some of the best beer festivals in the state are just a short drive away. 

Now that the price of gas has fallen to déja vu-inducing levels, it’s a great time to take a little drive to Orange County, San Diego or even up the Central Coast to see what the beer festivals are all about. 

Brewbies Festival

In its sixth year, the Brewbies® Festival takes over the Bagby Beer Co. — one of San Diego’s most exciting recently opened breweries — on Valentine’s Day, and the festival has earned the reputation as a top-tier craft beer event, catering to beer nerds and less obsessive beer fans alike. Benefiting the Keep a Breast Foundation to raise money for breast cancer research, Brewbies draws a crowd of California’s best craft brewers, and many of the attending breweries have cooked up special brews for the festival. 

Fitting with the breast cancer awareness theme, these are often pink-hued beers, like this year’s collaboration between Ladyface Ale, Eagle Rock Brewery and Pizza Port Solana Beach. The tart wheat ale, brewed with beet juice, should be just one of the creative pink ales featured at the Oceanside festival. The $40 tickets ($50 at the door) include admission, a custom Brewbies® glass, one of Keep a Breast’s signature “I Love Boobies” bracelets and a raffle ticket. VIP admission is also available. Bagby Beer Co. is just a few of blocks from the Oceanside Transit Center, making it possible to ride the rails to the festival.

FirkFest

After a successful inaugural event last year, the organizers of Orange County’s cask ale focused festival are preparing for a bigger showing of brewers and beer fans, and they’re even adding a chili cookoff featuring Orange County chefs to the event. The “firk” in “firkfest” refers to the metal casks that traditional English ales are conditioned in and served from (called “firkins”). These cask ales have become a popular way for craft brewers to showcase their creativity and brewing skills. The beers are carefully refermented in the firkins to provide a natural carbonation that’s creamy and soft, and additional flavorings are often added to the casks for another layer complexity. Brewers at last year’s FirkFest added more hops, chili peppers, citrus or coffee beans, to name just a few. This year you can expect even more wild adulterants.

FirkFest is March 21 at Anaheim’s Farmers Park. More than 30 breweries from across California will be represented. On sale now, tickets are $50 and include unlimited beer tastings and five chili tasting tickets. 

Hangar 24 AirFest

The biggest player in the thriving Inland Empire craft beer scene is turning 7, and as in years past the aviation-themed Hangar 24 Craft Brewery is combining its anniversary party with an air show. The AirFest is the most family-friendly beer festival in town, as there are dozens of aircraft on display at the Redlands Municipal Airport, alongside the dozens of brews from Hangar 24 (including plenty of their brewery-only and specialty barrell-aged releases). Joining the party are skydivers, stunt pilots and a Kids FunZone. 

The Anniversary Celebration is on May 16 from noon to 10 p.m. Details of the schedule and ticketing for the event have not yet been announced, so keep an eye on their website for details. 

Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival

This event is both farther away from Los Angeles, and farther into the year than the others, but it might just be the best beer festival on the West Coast. The Firestone Invitational Beer Festival, now in it’s fourth year, draws a crowd of beer lovers from across the country to sample the lineup of breweries from around the globe that are hand-selected by Firestone’s brewmaster Matt Brynildson. If you love craft beer, there’s no better reason to take the trip to Paso Robles for the May 30 jamboree, but first you’ll need to score tickets to the festival. 

Tickets go onsale via the Web this Sunday, Feb. 8, at 9 a.m. sharp (and will undoubtedly sell out in just minutes). The $80 admission includes unlimited beer and food from more than 20 Central Coast restaurants (plus live music, educational talks from brewers and all the beer celebrities you can handle). For craft beer lovers, the Firestone Walker Invitational is like — with only a minimum of hyperbole —  Christmas, Super Bowl Sunday and the first day of summer vacation all rolled into one beer-soaked afternoon. Mark your calendar and set your alarm; you don’t want to miss this party.  

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