Drinks & Dining
From wine tastings in Sonoma County to craft brews, Santa Rosa has everything you need for a delicious getaway.
To say my husband Jake and I are passionate about great food, wine and beer is an understatement. When we decide where to go on vacation, we look at exactly two things: 1) how delicious is the food, and 2) what experiences are there for enjoying wine, beer and other spirits? With more than 400 wineries, more than 25 breweries, local spirits and cider, and amazing wine country cuisine, it’s no surprise that Sonoma County has been on our list for quite some time.
Sonoma County’s wine country reputation precedes itself, from famous large producers to small artisan wineries—there is something for every palate. We started our wine tasting adventure at Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate. Here, we indulged our senses and delighted our palates as our expert hosts lead us through the sensory gardens while we tasted a variety of Kendall-Jackson’s limited-production wines. It was a great way to experience something outside of a normal tasting room, and a fun way to learn about the different flavors in the wine. After this inspiring tasting, it was time for lunch! Located in downtown Santa Rosa, we chose Bird & the Bottle, a modern tavern celebrating flavors from across the world with an American cuisine fusion. Just to give you a taste: BBQ’D Bone Marrow with Maple Bacon Onion Jam, Pastrami Pork Riblets, Warm Pletzel Bread, Oysters on the Half Shell and Crispy Chicken Skin Cracklings. Honestly, it was one of the most creative and delicious meals that we have had the pleasure of enjoying.
Our next stop was Matanzas Creek Winery, known for their beautiful lavender fields. We couldn’t pass up the artisan cheese and wine pairing—as much as we love wine, we really love cheese. All of the cheeses were from local producers, including Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam, a brilliantly delicious soft creamy cheese. After our tasting, we ordered a glass and headed down to their bocce ball court and enjoyed a friendly game with another couple visiting the winery that day.
With time for one more winery, we headed up to Paradise Ridge, a local favorite in the heart of Santa Rosa with amazing sunset views of the valley. They are perhaps best known for their public art sculptures and walking trails through the vineyard. The unique wine country experience begins at Paradise Meadows, an open field that’s home to a three sculpture series by artist Gale Wagner. As you wander the path, sculptures are displayed among clearings in a natural outdoor gallery. Exhibits change annually, ensuring there is always something new to see. After wandering through the vineyards, we made our way to the tasting room, where we had previously purchased tickets to one of their signature events, Wines & Sunsets. From mid-May through October, Wednesdays are all about mouthwatering wines, festive live music and local gourmet food vendors, all while enjoying outstanding panoramic sunsets from the winery’s wrap-around deck.
Wine Country Cuisine
We couldn’t come to wine country without eating at the birthplace of wine country cuisine. John Ash & Co. was the first Sonoma County restaurant to introduce the concept of cooking with seasonal, local foods and produce while pairing exceptional recipes with wines from the region. They are still a mecca for quintessential wine country dining. We decided on the Chef’s Four Course Tasting Menu, which was simply a delight. Tuna and Avocado Poke, Gravenstein Apple and Brie Soup, Roasted White Sea Bass, Dry Aged Beef Pavé and a Bourbon Pecan Tart, all paired with the perfect wine. To say that we were satisfied with our meal would be a gross understatement, it was delicious and a highlight of our trip.
After a day full of wine tasting, we were switching gears for craft brew on day two. Sonoma County is home to more than 25 craft breweries, including one of the best in the country, Russian River Brewing Co. We decided to skip a couple of the famous breweries located locally, including Lagunitas and Bear Republic Brewing. We already know of their deliciousness (they’re available at our grocery store), so we focused on tasting local brews that are new to us. Cooperage Brewing Company serves fresh hoppy beers (pales and IPAs), Belgian styles, stouts and porters. Their taproom is a little out of the way, but a destination worth putting on your list. They are a dog friendly brewery, which is awesome for bringing along their furry friend. We each tried a couple of tastes of Bowie is God (IPA), Everybody’s Talking (hoppy session) and Absence of Color, a mouthwatering porter.
Before we even started our trip we knew where we were going for lunch, Belly Left Coast Kitchen + Tap. A fun tidbit, this restaurant’s owner and executive chef is a celebrity tour chef for many well-known performers, including Blink 182, KISS, Katy Perry and most recently and exclusively with Linkin Park. Every single item on the menu made our mouth water. We started with a cheese and charcuterie board, followed by Hawaiian Kalua Pork Tacos and the Wild Mushroom Truffle Pizza. Of course the taproom part of this restaurant did not disappoint with local brews aplenty, including brews from HenHouse Brewing and Plow Brewing. It was an impeccable lunch for our beer tasting day.
Russian River Brewing Company
We made our way back to downtown Santa Rosa to our most coveted stop, reservations for dinner and tasting at Russian River Brewing Company. They have won just about every beer award you can think of—five of their beers are on the 100 Best Beers in the World List from RateBeer.com. Needless to say, we were excited to get a taste from the source. Unfortunately, we missed the release of Pliny the Younger, the amazing Triple IPA that is released for only two weeks a year. People travel from all over the world and wait in very long lines just to get a pint of this brew. We settled for its older uncle, Pliny the Elder and a pint of Blind Pig IPA. We also had a taste of Consecration, a sour beer aged in Cabernet barrels. For dinner we decided to share some “Munchies” and split a calzone. Overall, it was exactly what we were looking for in this brewery destination—great brews and great atmosphere.
A quick note about our trip: Because we both wanted to enjoy all there was to eat and drink during our visit, we hired a driver both days. If this isn’t your thing, or if one person doesn’t want to be a designated driver, there are plenty of wine and beer tours you can enjoy.