San Diego’s ‘Hops Highway’: A road trip that includes breweries and safaris

San Diego's Highway 78. Photo: adbar

San Diego’s Highway 78. Photo: adbar

Considering an awesome road trip? Picture yourself driving down the scenic California coast, in the car of your choice, windows (or top) down, blasting your favorite tunes… sounds like the perfect road trip, right?

If a classic American road trip is part of your plan and you have the time, consider a 22-hour plus road trip from Vancouver to San Diego and once there, include the area along San Diego’s Highway 78 in North County.

With a higher brewery-per-capita rate than the German state of Bavaria, the area along San Diego’s Highway 78 in North County plays an influential role in the region’s booming craft beer scene, with locals affectionately referring to this corridor as the “Hops Highway.”

An astounding cluster of about two dozen craft breweries, nearly one out of every five breweries in San Diego County calls the Hops Highway home.

Of course, visitors to this beer-centric corner of San Diego will find more than just tasty libations.

In addition to beer tasting at award-winning breweries, the Hops Highway features several unique attractions and points of interest, taking visitors through San Diego’s scenic backcountry ranging from rolling hills and verdant valleys to majestic mountains.

The following are a few ways visitors can get acquainted with San Diego’s Hops Highway. Remember to drink responsibly if you are the driver of the vehicle. You should have no more than one drink per hour—one drink means one 12 oz bee one 5 oz glass or wine or one 1.5 oz shot of 40% alcohol per hour.

Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, one of the top 10 craft breweries in the U.S. and third largest attraction in San Diego’s North County (behind Legoland California and San Diego Zoo Safari Park) is a must-see for any beer connoisseur. Public brewery tours are available along with fantastic farm-to-table dining and a one-acre garden with water features to stroll.

A few other standout craft breweries in the area include: Rip Current Brewing in San Marcos, champion “Very Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year” at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) and silver medal winner for its Black Lagoon Scottish Strong ale; Port Brewing Co./ The Lost Abbey in San Marcos, GABF gold medal winner for its Veritas barrel-aged sour beer, and Pizza Port Brewing Co. in Carlsbad, GABF bronze medal winner for its Sharkbite Red ale and Z-man Stout.

Two companies offering customized beer tasting tours with chauffeured transportation to Hops Highway breweries include Brew Hop and Brewery Tours of San Diego. Insider tip: when beer tasting, request a double or West Coast IPA (Indian pale ale) to sample the bold, full-bodied flavuors of San Diego’s signature beer.

Outrageous Animal Adventures

One of the top attractions along the Hops Highway, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park immerses guests in an interactive safari experience where herds of animals roam natural habitats including wild plains reminiscent of Africa and Asia in a 1,800-acre reserve.

Visitors can take in amazing views of lions lounging in the grasslands, antelope and giraffes mingling, rhinos and the remarkable new Sumatran Tiger Trail, as well as choose from a variety of exciting safari expeditions by caravan truck, cart, zip line and an overnight camping option.

Located in the pastoral Ramona Valley portion of the Hops Highway, the unusual Oasis Camel Dairy is the first camel dairy in the United States. During its monthly Open Farm Tours, visitors can enjoy exciting camel rides, petting the camels, fun photo opportunities and shopping at the dairy store, selling camel milk lotions, soaps, chocolate and more.

Historic Finds

History comes alive along the Hops Highway at San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park, honouring soldiers who fought in the battle between the U.S. and California forces on December 6, 1846 during the Mexican-American War. Generals Stephen Kearny and Andres Pico both claimed victory in this controversial battle.

Commanding sweeping views of the San Pasqual Valley, the park features hiking trails, a visitor center and the San Diego Archeological Center, the only organization in San Diego County dedicated to the care and curation of historic artifacts found throughout the San Diego region.
Battle Day, an annual reenactment of the battle that takes place on Dec. 4, 2016, features a military encampment, craft demonstrations, children’s activities, music and entertainment.

Located on the easternmost portion of the Hops Highway, the historic mountain town of Julian, founded during the Gold Rush boom of 1869, is famous for its mouth-watering apple pies, u-pick apple orchards and annual Julian Apple Days Festival (Sept. 24-25, 2016). Its charming Main Street featuring Victorian and Old West architecture stretches from one end of town to the other and houses handicraft and antique shops, a general store, country-style restaurants and bakeries.

Other popular attractions include the historic Eagle and High Peak Gold Mines for gold panning and guided walking tours through mountain tunnels, the Julian Pioneer Museum and Historical Tours of Julian.

Natural Wonders

Experience the natural beauty surrounding the Hops Highway at Alta Vista Botanical Gardens, a 14-acre oasis of garden trails, restful vistas, ponds, herb gardens, exotic plants, native flora, an interactive Bugs, Birds & Butterflies Children’s Garden, Mediterranean garden with a labyrinth, photo-worthy artworks and more.
Well-known regional artist Ricardo Breceda presents Alta Vista’s newest attraction, a collection of nine fantastical metal sculptures including dinosaurs in the Prehistoric Garden and a giant dragon-like “Serpent” in the children’s garden.

One of the few remaining rural areas in North County, the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve features 11 miles of hiking through oak woodlands, coastal sage scrub and chaparral, mountain biking, equestrian trails, scenic overlooks — providing views of the Pacific Ocean, Palomar and San Bernardino mountain ranges — and an interpretive center designed by renowned local artist James Hubbell, “San Diego’s Gaudi.”

Curtain Call

Located adjacent to the Alta Vista Botanical Gardens, visitors can catch a show at the award-winning outdoor Moonlight Amphitheatre, featuring large-scale Broadway musicals accompanied by a full pit orchestra. Arrive early to enjoy a pre-show picnic or dining in the Artisan Café.

Additional information on the Hops Highway and other San Diego attractions, activities and accommodations is always on tap at the San Diego Tourism Authority’s website.