Monday, July 6, 2015

Sonoma County Brewery Tour

My husband and I started a tradition years ago where we stopped buying gifts for special occasions and instead started planning a special day together. Part of this was driven by the fact that neither of us really enjoyed the stress of trying to find the perfect gift, and part of it was the desire to create a lasting memory instead of a gift that would likely be forgotten. The rules are simple: If it's your special day, then YOU get to plan it!  How often do you get to do EXACTLY what you want to do for an entire day? The feeling is pretty amazing and I am always left with a smile at the end of the day. For Father's Day this year, we had another amazing trip to Sonoma County, this time exploring some of our favorite breweries in the area.

Our day started off in Healdsburg with a stop at Healdsburg SHED.  I have to confess that this particular portion of the trip was kind of for me. I have been dying to see this place and since we BOTH need a coffee to start the day,  it was a perfect fit. The SHED is amazing, and definitely a must stop if you find yourself in Healdsburg (which you really should try to do!). The architecture alone is worth the visit, but it is the assortment of local produce, artisan goods, coffee and prepared food that will have you wishing you had half a day to spend exploring every inch of the space.

Picture courtesy of the Healdsburg SHED

With coffee in hand and a longing for more time to shop...(Oh if only this was Mother's Day!) we took a leisurely walk around the square. Most of the stores have small alcoves at each entrance, so the kids had fun playing hide-and-seek as we perused the windows of all the little boutiques, cafes and wine tasting rooms. There is also a great open space in the center of town with a fountain and plenty of room to run around. After the kids got some of their energy out, we grabbed some burritos to-go from El Sombrero and had a picnic in the park.

Where did she go?

After lunch, it was time for our first Brewery! Bear Republic Brewing is located right off the main square and has a great outdoor patio and about 20 beers on tap. I think Clay was a little over-eager to get the beer tasting portion of the trip started, because he returned to the table with 9 tasters! Favorites from the tasting were the Mach 10 and Tartare (if you like sour beers). The brewery offers tours by appointment and if you want to snag one of the coveted patio spots on a weekend, you may want to call ahead for reservations.

Our second stop of the day was a short drive south to Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa. If you are a beer lover, then chances are you have heard of their famous Pliny the Younger, which garners lines around the block and people who actually camp outside the brewery for a taste during their annual release! If you aren't into camping out for a beer, a close runner up is Pliny the Elder, which is sold year-round and is a really excellent Double IPA.  We visited on Father's Day, and there was a 30-minute wait just to get inside, and a longer wait for a table, so you may want to plan your visit to avoid major holidays. There is also a generous happy hour weekdays from 4:00-6:30 and ALL DAY SUNDAY!

Our final stop was Lagunitas Brewery, which was a short drive south to Petaluma. All three breweries have great beers, but the Lagunitas IPA is at the top of my list of favorite beers, so I was very excited for this stop. This venue is by far the most family-friendly of the three, and is a great place to spend the afternoon with kids. There is a large lawn area with umbrella's, as well as another large outdoor patio with picnic tables and live music every day of the week. Even on a busy day like Father's Day, we were able to find a large section of grass to lay out our blankets and there was plenty of room for the kids to run around. The best part (besides the seriously delicious beer) was that almost everyone on the lawn had children, so we didn't have to worry about our kids acting like kids! Brewery Tours are offered throughout the day, and take about 45 minutes. We didn't get chance to do the tour this time, but that just means we have a good excuse to come back!

We finished the day off with a stop in Larkspur to have dinner with MY dad,  followed by feeding the ducks and some fun watering the plants. A perfect ending to a wonderful Father's Day.

Our brewery tour consisted of the big-hitters in the North Bay, but I would love to do a second trip to try some of the smaller micro-breweries like 101 North and Petaluma Hills. Any other suggestions?

What are some of your favorite California Breweries?

Details: Healdsburg is about an hour and fifteen minutes from Berkeley. Santa Rosa is bout 15 miles south of Healdsburg, and Petaluma is another 15 miles south of Santa Rosa. All breweries were close to the freeway and easy to find. COST: 2 large coffees at SHED: $4.50, Lunch at El Sombrero: $20 (but you could easily split a burrito), 9 beer sample at Russian River: $13.50, Pint at Russian River: $3.50-$7 depending on beer, Pints at Lagunitas: $4.50 or pitchers for $15 (I think), Smile on Dad's face at the end of the day: Priceless! :) NOTE: Lagunitas does not allow you to bring large sun shades or tents, only smaller upright umbrellas. Also...hopefully an obvious point, but please drink responsibly and have a designated driver. Cheers!

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