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Beer Trail Itinerary: Explore Breweries in Sonoma County

Breweries around Santa Rosa and Sebastopol

Beer for breakfast? Why not — it’s a refreshing way to start the day, at the neighborhood hangout that is Piner Café (975 Piner Road, Santa Rosa, 707-575-0165), where owner Chrissy Schilling actually employs a full time expert to manage the eatery’s ever-changing craft suds selections.

Servers can even suggest the perfect pairings for breakfast favorites like the best-selling chili relleno casserole, fresh salmon and egg scramble, hearty homemade biscuits smothered in gravy, or the homemade chili and cheese omelet served with hash browns or country potatoes, toast and jelly. (Hint: Get the omelet stuffed with jalapenos for a killer spicy bite).

Now, you’re just minutes away from the legendary Russian River Brewing Company (725 4th St., Santa Rosa, 707-545-2337), which is famous for its uproariously popular Pliny the Younger release each year. Yet every day, brewmaster and owner Vinnie Cilurzo also offers up traditional (think aggressively hopped) California-style ales, Belgian-inspired ales, lagers, and barrel-aged beers. Just a few of the year-round specialties include Blind Pig, Damnation, Pliny the Elder, Beatification, and Consecration. You can sip at the remodeled bar, order suds samplers off the chalkboard, and listen to rousing music.

Next, if you’ve ever wanted to make your own beer, The Beverage People (1845 Piner Road, Santa Rosa, 707-544-2520) shares everything you could want to know about home fermentation. You can browse among brew-making kits, kegs, bottling equipment, and all the good stuff that goes into it, like grains, malt, yeast and hops.

To further your interest, BeerCraft (5704 Commerce Blvd., Rohnert Park, 707-206-9440) just a short drive away can help set you up with more education. Part tasting bar and part retail shop, this cozy store keeps customers coming for special beers of the day at 50 percent off, a craft beer of the month club, and 12 rotating taps plus a changing list of up to 30 new beers in the store each week. It’s also a hangout for local garage beer makers, who are happy to share tips and secrets.

Hungry yet? Lunch at Woodfour Brewing Company (6780 Depot St., Sebastopol, 707-823-3144) is just the ticket. An anchor tenant of The Barlow culinary and arts center, this popular, loud destination sports an entire wall of international beers on display next to its own beer counter overlooking the beer tanks.

Brewmaster and co-owner Seth Wood fashions oft-changing originals like the Wet Hop Session Ale No. 1 made of hops grown at nearby Wildo Ranch, a Gold Ridge Lager, and a sour farmhouse ale, set on tap next to guest beers like a Drake’s/Hen House Bourbon Induced Fowl Play barrel aged Belgian dark strong ale.

The food is just as notable, too, with inventive Cal-global cuisine crafted by chef-partner Jamil Peden. That means playful pub takes like white corn nuts dusted in vadouvan curry and lemon; homemade potato chips sprinkled in scallion salt and coriander for dunking in Meyer lemon yogurt; and a “BLP” sandwich of bacon, lettuce, peach and black garlic mayo.

A more recent addition to The Barlow, Crooked Goat Brewing crafts innovative beers with a distinctive western Sonoma County style. The casual, family-friendly taproom features 14 Crooked Goat beers on tap and a menu highlighting food from several Sonoma County sources, including barbecue, pizza, sandwisches, and flavored popcorn.

The Barlow is a great place to walk and wander and work up another thirst. With dozens of boutiques selling everything from clothing to children’s toys, a Tibetan monk art gallery, live glass blowing and bronze sculpturing foundries, restaurants, and wine tasting rooms, it’s easy to while away a few hours.

And if you're soon craving more beer, you'll find it at Hopmonk Tavern (230 Petaluma Ave., Sebstopol, 707-829-7300), a rustic 105-year-old stone-and-timber tavern with a world class beer garden. Offering more than 100 different types of beer, as well as their own brews and those from other local micro-breweries on tap, Hopmonk also serves wine, a full bar, and a "pub grub" style menu, and features a music venue known as the Abbey. The beer garden stage hosts live acoustic music on weekend days, while top local, regional, and national acts perform on the Abbey stage several nights a week.

Is it time to check into your hotel yet? Indeed, a nap might be in order. So many people visit from out of town specifically for Russian River Brewing Company beers that the nice owners have published a hotel directory, and some lodging places offer special RRBC packages. Choices range from near — Hotel La Rose (308 Wilson St., Santa Rosa, 800-527-6738), is only a half-mile away from Russian River Brewing Company, and is a historic property built in 1907 with 47 boutique room — to just a bit farther — Flamingo Conference Resort & Spa (2777 4th St., Santa Rosa, 707-545-8530) is 1.3 miles away, and all stays in the newly remodeled luxury rooms include a breakfast buffet and free wine tasting passes (see photo below).

Refreshed, you’re now ready for dinner. Steele and Hops Public House (1901 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-523-2201) serves both local and global beers, celebrating the best of Sonoma County’s brewing scene and honoring some international favorites.

The menu features house-smoked, house-ground, house-pickled, hand cut, and made-from-scratch goodies, including pizzas from the 750-degree brick oven. All dressings, sauces, dredges, dough, and soups are made in-house. Build your own burger, or try the classic Buffalo wings, fried calamari, beet-pickled deviled eggs, or oven-roasted mushroom toast with gouda and onion jam.

Breweries around Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Windsor and Healdsburg

Rise and shine to a hearty breakfast. Omelette Express (112 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-525-1690) in historic Railroad Square has been a Sonoma County institution since 1977, serving up delicious made-to-order breakfasts and lunch in a casual setting.

Maybe you've had enough driving around, but still have plenty of appetite for beer. North Bay Brewery Tours (707-602-7468), Brew Brothers Brewery Tours (707-206-7468), and On Tap Beer Tours (707-786-6286) offer public or private guided visits to  Sonoma County breweries, with names like Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma, Bear Republic Brewing Company  in Healdsburg, Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, Stumptown Brewery in Guerneville, Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol and Sonoma, Dempsey’s Brewery in Petaluma, Ruth McGowan’s Brew Pub-Cloverdale Ale Company in Cloverdale and Third Street Aleworks in Santa Rosa. 

Private tours are fun, but it's also a blast to hop on a scheduled bus gathering with fellow beer lovers, for behind-the-scenes immersions with looks at the actual workings of the breweries, plus lots of beer.

There are still more new places to see on your own, however, if that's what you prefer. At Fogbelt Brewing Company (1305 Cleveland Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-978-3400), brewers Paul Hawley and Remy Martin use exclusively California-grown hops. The urban hip taphouse puts forth signature sips like Atlas Blonde (“light and crisp with a fruity hop aroma”), Del Norte IPA (“hop driven with a malty finish”), and Armstrong Stout (“rich with flavors of chocolate and coffee but finishes light and balanced”).

Their location puts you just a bit north of Railroad Square (9 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-542-5306), a historic district brimming with independently owned shops. So enjoy a walking tour of the picturesque area, snapping up treasures like rhinestone-encrusted cat collars at Western Farm Center, six-panel Japanese screens hand-painted with cranes from Green Fish Trading, handmade felted soap wrapped in softly spun wool from Cast Away & Folk Modern Craft, and delicate china tea cups from Whistlestop Antiques.

Another don’t miss is the beautifully restored Northwestern Pacific Railroad Train Depot made of locally quarried stone — it sits right on the western edge of the neighborhood. The depot is now home to the Santa Rosa Visitor Center / California Welcome Center.

Next, head south to Petaluma, to Taps Beer Co. & Kitchen (54 E. Washington St., Petaluma, 707-763-6700). This beloved destination got its start in another location elsewhere in the city, then moved and expanded to downtown Petaluma. Taps owner Eric Lafranchi features some ever-changing three dozen rare beers from around the world on tap, and often hosts special guests like Stone Brewing Company for exclusive tastings (smoked Porter beer spiked with chipotle peppers, anyone?). Snacks are another draw, like feta bruschetta, or fiery spicy chicken wings.

Taps is nearly next door to another beer shrine well worth visiting, Dempsey’s Restaurant & Brewery (50 E. Washington St., Petaluma, 707-765-9694)

For a real lunch, though, save your appetite for the Pub Republic (3120 Lakeville Highway, Petaluma, 707-782-9090). This cheerful sports bar and upscale eatery woos with uncommon plates like brussels sprouts tacos, potato nachos, and truffle burgers. To go with: an excellent selection of beers, including sampler flights, a wide array on tap, bottled locals and imports, and even gluten-free brews.

Before you head off to lunch, take some time to wander the downtown Petaluma area. Taps is in the heart of the historic shopping district, boasting block after block of unique shops, antiques, music clubs, bakeries, and even a tiny store specializing in potpies (called, appropriately, Petaluma Pie Company, (125 Petaluma Blvd.N., Petaluma, 707-766-6743).

After lunch, hop in the car and head north on Highway 101 for about 15 minutes to lovely downtown Windsor. One of Wine Country’s newest craft salons is here, St. Florian’s Brewery (7704 Bell Road, Windsor, 707-838-2739).

This low-key hideaway salutes the patron saint of firefighters and chimney sweeps, since owner Aron Levin is a captain at the Windsor Fire District. He and wife Amy donate a minimum of 5 percent of profits to fire-related and community-based organizations, from sales of the signature beers including an IPA, a Brown Ale and Cali Common. Bonus: All the grain waste is recycled through local ranches where it is used to feed rescue animals.

Now, march on over to Old Redwood Brewing Company (9000 Windsor River Road, Windsor, 707-657-7624) where they sample the beers as is if in a wine tasting room.

You’re just minutes from Healdsburg, so head there next, for a stop at the famous Bear Republic Brewing Company (345 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-433-2337), resplendent with house-made ales and lagers, like the Racer 5 IPA, Red Rocket Ale, and Big Bear Black Stout.

Then, wander the wonderland that is downtown Healdsburg, chock-a-block with shops, antiques, a Hand Fan Museum, wine tasting rooms, two dozen art galleries, and a centerpiece Plaza that’s nice for simply relaxing on the lawn.

Your hotel for the night is conveniently back in Windsor, at the cozy Hampton Inn & Suites (8937 Brooks Road, Windsor, 707-837-9355), or Holiday Inn Express (8865 Conde Lane, Windsor, 707-837-0808). Both properties offer Wine Country chic accommodations, with amenities like an in-room fridge (to keep that beer cold), and complimentary breakfast.

But you’re not done with beer yet. Head back to Healdsburg, for a meal at Healdsburg Bar & Grill (245 Healdsburg Ave, Healdsburg, 707-433-3333). Besides local beers on tap, the popular, always busy restaurant has great food – Food & Wine magazine includes it on their “25 Best Burgers in the U.S. list,” the pickles are homemade, and the fish ’n’ chips are beer-batter dipped.

Sweet, sudsy dreams!

Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet