Whether you’re traversing the jagged landscape of the Black Bear Wilderness Area, searching for meaning in every form of art, or taking a Limo Cycle tour through the historic downtown, Sanford, Florida has something to offer everyone. With miles of scenic bike trails, a real sense of community and a booming social scene, you may find it challenging to visit just once.
So if you intend on frequenting this gem of a city halfway between Orlando and New Smyrna, nestled comfortably on the south side of Lake Monroe, you’ll quickly uncover one very real truth: we are in the golden age of craft beer, and Sanford is a tiny revelation on the cusp of millennial infamy.
Compiled here is a list—not in order of greatness, but in geographical order running from east to west—of ten of the best places to grab a craft beer in downtown Sanford, and although you could conceivably visit all ten in a single day without ever stepping foot in a vehicle, I recommend taking your time and returning again and again to see what I may have left out, and what else Sanford may have to offer.
It’s actually very fitting for Wop’s Hops to be first on this list, considering that with its 2014 opening, it is the first microbrewery in Sanford, and definitely the first I’ve been to with such a unique and Italian-inspired food menu. You might fancy a Wopsicle—a meatball on a stick, topped with parmesan and pepperoncinis—or some donuts topped with cannoli cream, but if you’re in the market for something with a bit more of a Rocky Marciano knockout punch, consider the famed dessert’s big brother, the Unholy Cannoli. But be careful; with a whopping 13% ABV, you’d better hope to have Rock’s iron chin if you choose to enjoy a second glass.
And that’s not the only interesting beer on the menu. Ask your bartender about their barrel-aging program with Copper Bottom Craft Distillery and the rum-soaked coconut ale they’ve already released. Seasonally, you might enjoy their Buttered-Rum Cream Ale or sign up for their mug club membership and call yourself a regular at this Santa Maria of Sanford breweries.
Just a quick walk across the street, Sanford Brewing offers one of the more formidable tap selections you might see in such a young company. With offerings such as Celery City Pale Ale—a nod to the city’s nickname, earned in 1896 after a great freeze destroyed the citrus industry, forcing farmers to plant celery instead—or Sanford Brewing’s best seller, Smash Lager, the turn-of-the-century converted barroom with its panoramic windows is a wonderful place to enjoy a pint without shying away from the Florida sun.
Add to that its early hours and extensive food menu, and Sanford Brewing is without a doubt one of the more family-friendly stops on this list. And to top it off, they have an excellent team of knowledgeable and helpful staff, making this is a great place for a friendly pit stop. Enjoy some live music on the weekends or Monday-Friday from 3-6pm for happy hour.
Everyone knows that some of the more notable homelands of beer include Germany and Belgium. The German side of that origin story is covered, as Sanford’s own Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe is just around the corner, with 3 liter boots overflowing with hefeweizen and German folk singers performing every weekend. But what about Europe’s other origin story? That’s where Buster’s Bistro comes in. With just about every variety of trappist beer, lambic, or tripel you could ask for, Buster’s Bistro is a place to find yourself at the receiving end of some very interesting conversation, learning about the humble beginnings of the beer industry and how it has transformed into what we know and love today. With only a few American craft selections like Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, you might not consider this a craft beer hotspot, but you will gain a sense of appreciation for the journey that brought beer into its promising future, firmly rooted in American craft beer. Join them every Wednesday for trivia, or come in for a Brussels waffle and wash it down with a Belgian strong ale.
Luisa’s Cellar has enough to offer all on its own that it doesn’t even need the extensive bottle shop that has earned it a spot on this list. With its vinyl collection, dim lighting and timeless decor, it is a transformative little bar that may have you feeling like you’re in another era. Luisa’s also has one of the best wine selections around and a coffee bar with drinks as unique in craftsmanship as the very establishment itself.
And if that isn’t enough for you, come on the weekend and ask your bartender for the password to the speakeasy lounge. You may find that you’re not the only person seeking adventure along the historic streets of downtown Sanford and end up having a beer or a wine-based craft cocktail with some very interesting people.
Definitely the smallest place on this list, but packed personality and diversity in their beer list—not to mention an expansive outdoor space with plenty of room to sit with a large group of friends and the added accompaniment of your pet.
The tap list is always full of Florida beers, with up to half of them featuring the Inner Compass label, a name derived from the company’s owners deciding to follow their own inner compass and doing what they want to do in life. One of the notable favorites in Compass’s lineup is No-Hitter IPA, an east-coast-style, less hoppy IPA, tipping its cap to Buddy Lake, a minor-league baseball player who once pitched a 19-inning, no-hit ball game against DeLand in 1947—a feat that is unheard of in the world of baseball.
Show up every third Friday for stand-up comedy or invite a few friends to a enjoy a brew with a side order of fresh air.
Borrowing its name from the aforementioned city nickname, Celery City Craft Beer Garden is one of three spots on this list with a substantial outdoor space, and definitely the only place with as many taps as it has. With an estimated 40+ celery-stalk-covered taps and live music every week, it would be an easy decision to make this a go-to destination. Celery City also comes equipped with a quality pub menu and a shuffleboard table, and is in possibly the most convenient location to host a bar in downtown Sanford. Make this another stop on your bar crawl or simply the only stop after your daily grind, and be sure never to be disappointed.
With two more locations of The Imperial in Winter Park and Orlando, this three-of-a-kind could easily go up against any full house claiming to be the most interesting bar in Central Florida. Washburn Imports is jam-packed with antique furniture and decor imported from Indonesia and India and at 5 o’clock, the full bar opens, inviting patrons of all ages to sit amongst some of the most extravagant pieces of practical art you might ever come across. Whether you stop in to inquire with Molly as to the origin of some silk pillows and tapestries or a table made out of reclaimed Balinese boat wood, or if you feel more inclined to experience something from their tap selection, be sure to admire the spectacles that John Washburn has been delivering to Sanford for over ten years.
Always offering a variety of Florida taps and a very well-priced bottle and can selection as well as some large-format bottles, there is definitely enough here to keep the craft beer enthusiast occupied. But if you grow hungry and a cheese board doesn’t quite cut it, pop next door to The Sullivan (same owner) where they have a full bar menu amongst its bona fide Irish theme.
The name may have been born out of the owners’ choice to deviate from the everyday norms of a carefully constructed life, but Deviant Wolfe’s beers really take the cake on deviation, especially within the realm of their biggest claim to fame: the sour. With crafts such as their carrot cake flavored Don’t Feed the Rabbids, or their coffee sour blonde Sourmanjaro, hang on for a wild ride that your taste buds might not soon forget.
You might experience a laid-back, outdoorsy escape vibe once in Deviant Wolfe's taproom, but the company’s go-getter attitude speaks to the contrary. Kicking off it’s first annual Deviant Wolfe Adventure Racing on February 2, 2019, and with a run club every Wednesday and yoga every other Sunday, Deviant Wolfe has proven that its community driven attitude and thirst for adventure are as much a hallmark of their company’s personality as are the sours that head brewer Matt has so meticulously created. And with the first batches of its Galactic Shadows Russian Imperial Stout barrel-aging endeavor with Maker’s Mark becoming available, there is more promise of further deviation from the shackles of daily routine on the horizon.
The District isn’t a place that you go to have a craft beer, only to be surprised by the welcoming atmosphere, but instead it is the other way around. You might stop in here just for the sake of having a delightful meal or because its rustic, industrial Park and Seventh wood designs are nothing short of an invitation, but you will definitely be pleasantly surprised to see how much Florida craft beer seeps through the cracks of your blinders and piques your interest along the way.
With plenty of Florida beers on tap, and the most quintessential shade of blue walls that one could ever ask for to represent the interior color of a house in the Florida Keys, this is a place to feel right at home—given that your home comes equipped with a full bar and a delicious daily dining experience.
With probably the most modest name that a bar of this calibre could ever come up with, Tuffy’s Bottle Shop/Lounge has so much to offer. Although many patrons might elect to have one of their many Florida taps or grab something from the bottle shop, Tuffy’s is actually one of the only cideries in Central Florida as well. Tuffy’s head cider maker, Don Rhodus, with an adopted mentality of creating what he found desirable, travelled to the Basque region of Spain where after a bountiful harvest, cider literally flows out of barrels as waterfalls into the glasses of whomever so chooses to scoop it up. He wants to adopt this tradition and represent the Basque region right here in Central Florida, inviting patrons to take part in one of Basque Country’s most engaging traditions.
And if this weren’t enough, Tuffy’s Bottle Shop is also host to its very own tiki bar, Da Kine poke bowls, a bocce ball court, and a tremendous patio with a variety of outrageous seating arrangements, including a pontoon boat and an old camper. A great place to bring your pet, have a meal, and enjoy a European style, no-sugar-added Southern Lights Dry-Hopped Cider.
With more bars opening up all the time, Sanford has much to offer. This may not be a complete list of bars worthy of a visit, but it is definitely a great place to get started when looking for a quality craft beer in beautiful, historic city.