The Bay Area fairly brims with wonderful breweries and taprooms — and each year brings a slew of new temptations. Sipping suds at new beer gardens from Livermore to Gilroy, we’ve found the combination of twinkle lights, sudsy steins and outdoor settings impossible to resist. You will too.
From Alameda’s just-opened Humble Sea to Gilroy’s Bitter TapHouse and Livermore’s Dust Bowl, these seven beer gardens boast all sorts of outdoor offerings — beer, yes, but also cinnamon-sugar pretzel bites, lawn games, airplane sightings and re-imagined shipping containers. (Psst, there’s an eighth on the way too: Hobee’s will be opening a beer garden in San Jose’s historic Germania Hall later this year.)
Here’s where to sip some suds outdoors this Oktoberfest season. Prost!
Dust Bowl Brewing Co., Livermore
Turlock’s award-winning Dust Bowl taphouse empire, which has outposts in Monterey and Elk Grove, reached Livermore this summer with a huge taproom and beer garden with more than 150 outdoor seats. As it happens, a big chunk of the land is rented from the Federal Aviation Administration. You can sip beer while watching private planes soar from Livermore Municipal Airport against a mountain backdrop – quite a memorable way to spend the day.
Many of Dust Bowl’s gold-medal beers are available at the 32 taps, from Taco Truck Lager to Hobo Pilsner and California Golden Ale. The brewery has a reputation for strong IPAs, and you can sample them here, too – with care. The Confused Therapist and Porch Punch have ABVs of 10.4 percent, and the Mega IPAs have 12-13.
Visitors might have questions about the taps devoted to Beer Smoothies, a beer style that became popular a few years ago. They’re IPA or sour bases mixed with fresh-fruit puree until they resemble Jamba Juice. Try the Boss Smoothie, a banana-orange-strawberry concoction that provides sweet refreshment on a hot day.
The beer garden: Corrugated metal roofing provides shade against the blazing Livermore sun, and patio areas of decomposed granite add to the desert feel. There are oases in the form of green, lush-looking meadows of artificial turf. Plenty of large, communal tables encourage vivacious interactions with your beer-chugging neighbors, as do fire pits made from converted sugar-processing kettles.
Aside from airplane-gazing, the entertainment includes cornhole and live music from 5 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays and starting in October, Sundays too.
The dish: Danville’s Hazy Barbecue runs a permanent food truck here with smoked brisket, racks of ribs, andouille sausage and vegetarian jackfruit. The truck also has burgers and “brew bites” like pulled-pork nachos and tempura green beans with aioli, and kid-friendly fare like pizza and chicken tendies.
Details: Opens at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday-Monday at 3034 W. Jack London Blvd., Livermore;
Bitter TapHouse & Beer Garden, Gilroy
About seven years ago, personal trainer Ryan Dickerson found himself at a career crossroads: Should he try to open a bodybuilding gym or pursue his other big passion, beer?
The suds won out, and he and wife Larissa — both Gilroy natives — are now the proud owners of a taproom that sports Gilroy’s first beer garden. They opened on Memorial Day weekend, and went through 20 kegs those first few days.
The space is atypical. Dickerson figured they’d be opening in a warehouse setting, or perhaps utilize old shipping containers. But a beautiful 1910 bungalow became a prospect, so they got their approvals and started renovating and restoring. Colorful beer cans sit atop the wainscoting and line the shelves of the vintage built-in hutch. Upholstered seating is plentiful, and there’s a fireplace for the chilly evenings ahead.
“We get a lot of people who are working from home and pop in for a beer, then sit down and open the laptop,” he said. “We wanted to make that crowd comfortable.”
There are 20 taps, plus beer in cans to drink onsite or take to go. The emphasis is on local and regional beers from breweries such as Promised Land, located nearby in Gilroy, and Alvarado Street Brewery of Salinas. Wondering what’s new and interesting? Dickerson and special guests do biweekly tastings and post them on Instagram.
What’s next? Look for tap takeovers, oyster nights, vendor pop-ups and other community engagement.
The beer garden: The spacious backyard has been turned into a beer garden, where you can drink craft brews at tables surrounding an avocado tree and play games — cornhole, connect 4 and more — when the weather’s appealing. Lights twinkle overhead at night.
The dish: Three of the couple’s favorite food trucks rotate through on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Stop by for “excellent fish tacos” from Hollister-based El Guapo, Ryan said, or eats from San Jose’s popular Shrimpin’ Ain’t Eazy, or wood-fired slices from La Fenice Pizza.
Details: Opens at 4 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 2 p.m. Friday and noon Saturday-Sunday at 7797 Monterey St., Gilroy; www.instagram.com/bitter_taphouse/.
Ever had kimchi beer? It’s fruity and sour with a kick of ginger and chile– and it exemplifies the mischievous twisting of tradition that Dokkaebier is all about.
Youngwon Lee founded the company several years ago because he saw a lack of diversity in the beer industry. For a while, you could only find his charmingly minimalistic cans at grocery stores and shops. But this year, the brewery moved into the former Federation Brewing space in downtown Oakland, and now anybody can drop in to enjoy Asian-influenced drafts like Yuza Blonde, Rice Kolsch and Bamboo Pilsner (made from real bamboo).
The flavors are complex and always evolving. Soon, you’ll be seeing beers inspired by lychee-black tea and later this month, a special brew celebrating Chuseok — aka Korean Thanksgiving.
The beer garden: The neighborhood east of Jack London Square is a bit gritty, full of produce warehouses, clanking railroads and watering holes for late-night workers. Dokkaebier fits right in with a beer garden that seats 50 plopped in the middle of the street. (Is that legal? Whatever – it’s Oakland.) You can enjoy flights of beers inside two sawed-out, graffitied metal shipping containers or in the open sun at picnic tables and wooden barrels.
The dish: There are light snacks (including vegan ones) at the counter, but most of the grub comes from food trucks that appear Thursday through Sunday with a diverse culinary line-up that ranges from Jamaican to Korean to smashburgers. Make sure to get yourself on the email list for 2024’s Chimaek, Dokkaebier’s fried-chicken-and-beer street party that this year drew crowds in the thousands.
Details: Opens at 2 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday and noon Friday-Sunday at 420A Third St., in Oakland; enjoydkb.com.
Hapa’s Brewing Company, San Carlos
When long-time friends Derek Tam and Brian Edwards opened their original Hapa’s Brewing in San Jose in 2017, they chose a name that reflects them. Tam is half-Chinese, Edwards is half-Japanese, and Hapa means “mixed heritage” in Hawaii. It’s extra fitting when you think about the mixing of ingredients in the beer-making process. The bonus? Hapa sounds a little like hops. Since then, they’ve opened two more locations, one in Los Gatos and, as of this month, one in San Carlos.
The new San Carlos taproom and patio offers a Hapa’s specialty — hazy IPAs — as well as other well-made varieties. Try a flight to sample flavors like Butterfly Wings, a New England-style IPA, and Little Angel, a dense mocha porter with chocolate and coffee notes, Or take a break from the beer and sample the brewery’s sweet, fruity Malibu Crush, a mulberry seltzer.
The beer garden: Nestled downtown, the San Carlos location has a spacious, industrial vibe indoors and a small outdoor patio with group-friendly games like Uno and Jenga, perfect for helping to break the ice with new friends or perhaps a happy hour crew.
The dish: The kitchen lineup includes charcuterie boards, gourmet grilled cheese with havarti, provolone and brie cheese (or American cheese for the kiddos), a PLT with prosciutto, warm pretzels with cheese sauce and — for anyone craving something sweet — sugar-dusted cinnamon pretzel bites.
Details: Opens at 3 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, noon Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday-Sunday at 722 Laurel St. in San Carlos; hapasbrewing.com.
Humble Sea Brewing Co., Alameda
For a bunch of laid-back surfer dudes, the three friends who founded Humble Sea have conquered a lot of territory: two breweries in Santa Cruz, another in Pacifica and as of August, a taproom on the old Alameda naval base. Stepping inside is like inhaling a draft of fresh ocean vibes. The beers have names like Boardwalk Dreamin’ and Watermelon Wipe Out, artwork of socked feet in beach sandals adorns the walls and the color scheme is “saltwater taffy” – even the bathroom grout is bubblegum pink.
Humble Sea is famous for its prolific output, having made more than a thousand unique beers since it first opened in 2015. Some linger on longer-term rotation but most never come back, ensuring beer nerds bum-rushing the place for experimental concoctions before they sell out. One day might bring a Cryo Theory that’s “mega hop saturated DIPA with flavors of ripe pineapple, mango and orange burst,” while another offers a tropical blue “Super Pops!” beer smoothie loaded with spirulina.
Of course the brewers are celebrating their East Bay landing with yet another beer, Ahoy Alameda. A collab with Oakland’s Ghost Town Brewing, it’s a quadruple IPA with Nectaron cryo and Simcoe extract – one Untappd reviewer describes it as an “interesting combination of dank and resin, but also pineapple and other tropical fruits.”
The beer garden: A long, sandy patio space runs along the side of a warehouse with rows of umbrella-shaded picnic tables, where you can order via QR codes. Like its boozy cousins on Alameda’s Spirits Alley, the garden is a nucleus of liveliness that fizzes among the gray, dilapidated naval architecture. Leashed dogs play with each other, families gather over food-truck meals, and a dirt field provides ball-kicking fun for kids.
The dish: Food trucks roll through with tacos and Filipino fare, and East Coast-inspired sandwiches by Oakland’s Saint Sandwich Shop are coming soon.
Barebottle Brewing Co., Menlo Park
Barebottle Brewing’s fourth taproom — the others are in Santa Clara and San Francisco — opened in Menlo Park’s buzzy new Springline development in July. It’s the latest endeavor from friends and Cornell classmates Lester Koga, Michael Seitz and Ben Sterling, who launched the OG brewery in 2016.
Barebottle is known for its wide range of brews — and the steady rotation that keeps things lively. We tasted through a smattering of summery-focused brews, including a Wet Hot Zesty Summer lime lager, Razz Fusion, a raspberry lime sour, and Tango Tropico, a tropical sour ale — all very fun.
The beer garden: The taproom has a beer truck! And when it’s operating, customers won’t have to even venture inside to pick up their drinks. (Sadly, it wasn’t out during a recent visit, but you may have better luck.) This isn’t a big patio, so if you find yourself short of seats, head inside and grab a perch at one of the long tables, perfect for playing a board game from the brewery’s collection. There’s also a Nintendo Switch and six pinball machines.
The dish: You’ll find empanadas — beef, chicken, corn or mushroom — from San Francisco’s Pampa BBQ on offer. Or you can order tapas from Canteen, the restaurant next door, and they’ll deliver your blistered shishito peppers or garlicky prawns to the taproom.
Details: Opens at noon daily at 550B Oak Grove Ave. in Menlo Park; barebottle.com.
Birdhaus Beer Garden, Union City
Union City native Aaron Golondrina opened his taproom in May 2020 and weathered lockdown with community support. He has been building out a beer garden in phases ever since, transforming the former parking lot into a cheery beer garden filled with umbrella-shaded picnic tables and lawn games like cornhole and an oversized take on connect 4. He still plans to extend the pergola structure and put turf down. But in the meantime, the beer garden continues to draw Union City residents and out-of-towners alike.
With room for nearly 300 people, the beer garden has become a community hub, a venue for reunions and birthday parties as well as happy hours and post-work drinks for teachers at the school around the corner — and two recent fundraisers for Maui wildfire relief including a “Yoga for Maui” event last month.
Drinkswise, you’ll find more than 50 craft beers in cans and rotating on draft. For something fruity and refreshing on tap, consider a Juicy Peach cider from Washington’s Locust Cider, the Blueberry Muffin tart ale from Great Notion in Portland or the POG (pineapple, blood orange and pink guava) cider from Newtopia Cyder in San Diego. They do sake-based slushies too, which are popular on hot days, Golondrina says.
The beer garden: With hanging lights and wooden fencing, the spacious beer garden feels like a warm, inviting escape. Adding to the vibe: The backside of the beer menu chalkboard offers inspirational statements such as “You’re good enough! You’re smart enough! And gosh darnit! People like you! :)”
The dish: Grab Filipino and Hawaiian-style dishes from the adjoining eatery, The Lone Crow, where chef Dean Ramirez serves up mochiko chicken, chicken adobo and a fried tofu jackfruit plate with guava sauce. Highly recommended: the generous vegan laing with tofu sisig served over rice.
Details: Opens at 11 a.m. Thursday through Sunday at 3821 Smith St. in Union City; birdhausbeergarden.com.