10 Pubs in California You Should Visit

(Ye Olde King's Head)

Pull up a stool at the Ye Olde King’s Head for an all day session. (Ye Olde King’s Head)

One of the things that many Brits miss when they arrive in the U.S. is the pub. Americans have different expectations and opinions about social drinking and alcohol for a start, and whether it’s a country local or a more upscale bar/eaterie, there’s nothing like going somewhere “where everybody knows your name,” to steal a phrase from U.S. television series Cheers.

There are bars a-plenty in the U.S., and while the abundance of loud, flat screen-filled sports bars might be your cup of tea, you could struggle to see any top English or Scottish soccer, let alone rugby. Baseball, basketball, ice hockey and American football? No problem. But the England cricket team getting murdered at Lords? Forget it.

Satellite feeds are common of course, but if you’re the only Brit in the bar you’re not going to get a shot. Also, if you’re on the West Coast, most U.K. soccer games start at 7am PST, and even evening games will inevitably clash with something more popular stateside.

As such, British pubs are often the solution to this problem. Usually run by expats, people with close connections or just a big love for the U.K., their success isn’t hard to work out: familiar accents and conversational shorthands, reassuring décor, imported beers from Blighty, a menu offering lost favorites and maybe the chance to pick up some English chocolate. Or perhaps it’s just that they have a proper, non-electric game show-style dart board and show the soccer every weekend.

And if you’re living in California, you’ll have the persistent urge to escape the blinding sunlight for the creature comforts of a cool, dark pub.

Here is a list of 10 places in the Golden State that guarantee a friendly Brit welcome.

1. Ye Olde King’s Head – Santa Monica
The King’s Head turns 40 this March, and is right by the sea—always an attraction for homesick Brits! It’s an unofficial British Embassy really, and as the decades-old photographs show, every Brit celeb in town has come here. It has a large restaurant and a shop/bakery, plus a sister venue in Studio City.

2. The Cock n Bull – Santa Monica
Run by three Brits and a Scot, this pub claims to be the first to show live English soccer back in 1990. They use 20 oz. glasses and have the regulation breakfast and Sunday roast, but here, there’s the chance that Arsenal fan Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols might pop in to catch the game.

3. The Cat & Fiddle – Hollywood
A place where musicians hang out, from Morrissey and Noel Gallagher back to the days when late owner Kim Gardner, a bassist and part of the 1960s Brit Invasion, couldn’t find a decent pub, so decided to open his own. It’s been a family business ever since.

4. The Village Idiot – Los Angeles

This smart place on Melrose Avenue is free of farming tools and more wine bar than pub, but including a tea sandwich on its “Supper” menu shows it has the Brit sensibility you might expect from the name. A firm favorite since it opened in 2007, it’s always busy—and no reservations!

5. The Fox & Hounds – Studio City
They started serving in 1997, and will open as early as 4 a.m. so you can see the really big soccer matches on the “telly”—that’s real dedication for you. Their steak and ale pie and the shepherd’s pie are worth a try too, and they have that rare thing in a Brit pub: Taco and Tequila Tuesday.

6. Lucky Baldwins – Pasadena
Serving over 60 beers on tap—including plenty from the U.K. and California, this bar is slap bang in the middle of Old Town and is English-owned (by David and Peggy). Good fish and chips, plus they’re mad about Belgian beer too. There’s a second bar in Pasadena and another in Sierra Madre.

7. Old Kings Road – Santa Barbara
The tube sign outside will be a welcome sight, and this is a bit of a haven in busy State Street. There’s a pool table and some arcade games at the back, and they offer more choices of beer—Brit and domestic, tap and bottled—than you’d expect, plus a load of Scotches too. Oh, and their motto is “No wankers.” Enough said.

8. Shakespeare Pub & Grill – San Diego
Free Newcastle Brown pint glasses on a Friday night? We’re definitely at a Brit pub here, as you can tell from the “proper” chips, which come with curry sauce or gravy. The Cornershoppe —just across the courtyard—will help you with any consumable Blighty cravings you have too.

9. The Black Horse London Bar – San Francisco
With room for just nine people, this rectangular closet-sized bar in San Francisco has taps—or you can get a beer from a tub behind the bar. There’s bar food including bangers and mash, and while it’s not especially British, there’s no way you can pass by without popping in for a pint.

10. The Wirtshaus – Los Angeles
Yes it is a German beer-and-sausage place, but German soccer is some of the best in the world. Yes they always beat England on penalties, but lots of Brit national soccer teams play the best German teams in the Champions League etc, and it’s all rabid soccer fans here.

What are your favorite British restaurants and pubs in the U.S.? Join @MindtheGap_BBCA on Twitter tomorrow (Wednesday, February 5) at 2 pm ET to discuss where to find the best tastes of home in America. Tweet your favorites using the hashtag #MindTheChat from 2-3 pm ET for a chance to win a Keep Calm and Carry On tote bag via the BBC America Shop.

See more:
6 American Food Habits Brits Will Never Understand
Eating Out: 10 Differences Between Britain and America
The Cultural Divide: Brits vs. Americans on Toast

James Bartlett

James Bartlett

James Bartlett writes about travel, film and the weird and wonderful side of living in L.A. He has been published in over 90 magazines and newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, the LA Weekly, Los Angeles Magazine, Angeleno, Hemispheres, Delta Sky, Westways, Variety and Bizarre. He is also a contributor to BBC radio and RTE in Ireland, and is the author of Gourmet Ghosts - Los Angeles, a "history and mystery" guide to bars and restaurants in L.A. - details can be found at www.gourmetghosts.com.
View all posts by James Bartlett.
  • gn

    Trials (San Jose). Very traditional British-style pub (hand-pulled beer; no TV; dark, intimate living-room-style feel; board games).

    Martins West (Redwood City). Scottish-inspired gastropub. Excellent selection of draft and bottled beers (no hand-pulled beers though). Nice interior featuring an enormous number of chandelier-style candles. Food is fabulous, including several British items such as Scotch eggs and fish and chips.

    • http://www.paulinewiles.com/blog Pauline Wiles

      I’ve been to Martins West but was negligent in not trying the Scotch eggs. Must rectify that!

  • Marlise

    You left out Whale and Ale in San Pedro CA (Port of Los Angeles Harbor!) British owned and award winning several years in a row! :-)

  • Britannia

    The Pelican Inn at Muir Beach just north of San Francisco is the best. The closest thing to an old British country pub I have seen in the US. It’s a large stand alone building with chimney and Tudor beamed exterior surrounded by beautiful countryside (Muir Woods and views to the beach). Inside it has low beams, fireplaces, cozy bar with extensive Brit beer collection, and Sunday roast carvery, full restaurant, and bed and breakfast.

  • ChefMaddog

    The Golden State Mile! 1 Night 10 Pubs 50 Pints! Let’s Boo boo!

  • nine8102

    Folsom, California: Streets of London Pub
    Sacramento, California: Fox and Goose Pub

    Except for #9 (1 out of 10!), did anyone even examine Northern California when taking a survey of California Pubs?

    My big regret is that I don’t know of any further north, but haven’t looked.

    Represent, People! SoCA has your water! Don’t let them have your pubs, too!

  • AW

    How the heck did you guys neglect to add The Olde Ship in Fullerton – and their related store, The British Grocer just down the street? Seriously, The Olde Ship is an establishment in OC. I’ve had better pub food here than at some of the pubs in England. Branch out of LA proper, BBC.If you’re going to cover California, there are other spots besides like two or three outside of LA you mentioned.

  • BMW

    Yes, shame on you for overlooking our local, The Olde Ship in Fullerton. Better food than I’ve had at pubs in London. Best part – they’ve painted the back door to look like the TARDIS. Near the TARDIS door, is the doghouse for pub mascot, a bulldog called Winston. There’s a red phone box out front. The food, again, puts King’s Head in Santa Monica to shame.

  • Oc Hooligans

    How about the Olde Ship in Santa Ana& Fullerton- the best Pubs in SoCal by far..shame you missed 2 gems (and uniquely different locations) Fullerton smaller and old word feel and Santa Ana is home on weekends to many Football Supporters Clubs (like the OC Blues ChelseaFc Supporters)…easily meets or exceeds the one you have listed!

    • ChelseaPapaSmurf

      I totally agree with you, whoever you are. LOL

  • Ron

    Bad intel…you missed OC’s best Brit Pub…for the cock-n-bull on Lincoln…hahaha Friends with the owner..? Like mentioned below, The Olde Ship has some better food than had in UK. Pride on Tap. Boom. Maybe ask around before jumping to Top10

  • ChelseaPapaSmurf

    You are seriously not very well traveled or know anything about Footie Pubs if you have not been to the Olde Ship in Santa Ana, and if you have been it is disgusting that you didn’t include the pub in your list. I am English and used to travel 100 miles up from San Diego to go watch games there. The food is great, the beer is great, especially the London Pride. Jackie and Pete and the other servers are great bar people and make us all feel welcome. The pub opens up for early games and even puts up with Scousers, Gooners, and Manc fans. For big games, they do a good job of splitting the fans up and they are quick to give the old bum’s rush when we get a bit too rowdy.

  • Barry

    I’m quite fond of the Duke of Edinburgh in Cupertino. I met my future wife there 22 years ago. (She’s a Californian.)