Beer Pilgrimage (And A Touch Of Cheese Please) – Petaluma, CA
Those of you with keen memories and a penchant for the hoppy stuff may recall that I mentioned on the blog (a few posts ago) that part of our goal along our west-coastal route was to hit several “bucket list” beer spots. There are several of these frothy gems in northern California and, despite our recent change in plans (and thus the cancellation of a few of our stops), we were determined not to miss them.
Enter the land of Petaluma, CA.
This area ~40 mins north of San Francisco hides not one, but TWO such beer destinations. As an added bonus Petaluma also happens to be a cheesy hot-spot, and although that particular combo may not appeal to all, it most definitely speaks to the Scandinavian Viking in me. Give me a good glass of beer and a plate of pressed and aged curds, and I’m pretty sure I have all the nutrients needed to sustain me for the indefinite future. My very genes ooze cheesy indulgence and I’ve yet to meet a curdled creation that I don’t like.
Just to balance the lot (and ensure we didn’t balloon beyond the carrying capacity of “the beast”) we intermixed our foodie indulgences with daily walks and a few explorations around town. Here are the details.
Russian River Brewing Company
Any beer enthousiast worth his/her hops knows about Russian River Brewing. Their IPA’s are darn near world-famous and not easy to acquire.
Pliny The Younger, a rare Triple IPA, is consistently one of the top-rated IPA’s in the world(!) and is so sought after that it everytime it’s released hoards of beer-crazy devotees descend en masse to snap it up. It’s almost impossible to get. It’s brother beer, Pliny The Elder, although not quite as famous still has a serious following and is thankfully always on tap in the brewery.
THIS was the place Paul had been dreaming about for months.
We arrived at the Brewery on an early Sunday afternoon. It’s a small downtown location in Santa Rosa (just ~20 mins north of Petaluma) and the queue was already 30-deep when we got there. Almost an hour later we were finally able to sit down, and although the wait was somewhat trying I have to admit the results were (mostly) worthwhile.
Pliny the Elder delivered (as expected), but what I didn’t expect was that I also liked their Belgian (Perdition), their Dark Ale (Salvation) and I really, really liked their sours something I didn’t even know they made (Compunction was excellent, as was Consecration). On the downside their Stouts were so-so (this is most definitely an IPA place) and some of the paler beers were only average, but overall it was a nice outing. Also, Paul may have gone a bit overboard with our subsequent case purchases, but who needs RV bin space anyway?
DOGGIE NOTES/ Outdoor patio area is dog-friendly but it is SMALL and given how crowded the brewery is (and how long you have to wait to get a table) I’m not sure I’d advise bringing doggie here. Mid-week may be a better bet than the week-end?
PLINY NOTES/ On case purchases you are limited to 12 bottles per person. We “stole” a few for the shot 🙂
Lagunitas Brewing Company
Who can resist a brewery where the mascot is a dog?? Lagunitas is a pretty famous brewery and given how big it’s gotten over the past few years I have to admit I wasn’t expecting much. But I’m a sucker for doggie-stuff and like our best furry pal, we were won over by the very first hoppy wag.
Their main brewing location occupies a huge spot just south of Petaluma and offers both spacious outdoor (dog-friendly) seating as well as indoor seats and live music. It’s a happening place, and the brews are a worthy match.
Much to my suprise pretty much every single beer we tried was good. On the stout side their Imperial Stout was very tasty, while on the IPA side, the Maximus IPA was a universal fav. Other excellent brews were the Lucky 13 Red Ale, the Rich Copper Ale and their Pale New Dog Town. Food was very so-so (basic bar stuff, very hit & miss in quality) but the brews were outstanding. Plus we loved the huge and VERY dog-friendly patio. Definitely well worth an afternoon of music and tasting.
DOGGIE NOTES/ Large outdoor, dog-friendly patio. Definitely bring paws for this one!
Marin French Cheese
Ever heard of the Sonoma Cheese Trail? Honestly neither had I until I got here, but as you drive around the countryside you can’t help but notice an abundance of grass-roaming cows and the artisan makers that wrangle their milk into delicious creations. Some of these are exclusive spots that require advance notice to visit, but a few are open for cheesy gratification anytime you wish.
For our main outing we chose the famous Marin French Cheese just ~20 mins west of Petaluma. With over 150 years of cheese-making experience and a large, lovely (and very green) spot to enjoy their products it’s an excellent introduction to the finer craft of fromage. Everything was most delicious here, although I have to say their fresh Petite Breakfast Brie was the most mind-blowing of all (oh pray let me to devour thee, mine buttery delight). Lots of cheese to taste (for free) and lots of space to enjoy a picnic right after. A definite recommend!
DOGGIE NOTES/ No dogs allowed inside the main building (tasting/purchase area) of Marin French Cheese, but there is a HUGE grassy outdoor area with many picnic tables where you can enjoy your products w/ pooch in tow. It’s a very pleasant place to have an afternoon lounge with paws.
Dog-Friendly Walks & Hikes
In between our belly feedings we managed a few, key dog-friendly hikes in the area. Although many spots do not allow dogs here (including ALL the trails at the nearest two state parks), we did find a couple of places that were paw-friendly and quite scenic to boost. Our two favorite spots were:
Shollenberger Park – Located just south of town this is a preserved wetland, offering 165 acres of goreous birds, marsh-land and nature. It’s an easy, flat 2-mile trail around the park which can be connected (if you wish) to a longer hike at next-door Allan Marsh and the Wetlands Alliance. This park was right next to our RV park so we walked here everyday with doggie. It was very nice while we were here, although I imagine it might get buggy & hot later in summer(?). FREE to park and visit. For more info on Schollenberger For more info click HERE.
- Helen Putnam Regional Park – Located just a few minutes west of downtown this 216-acre gem hides ~6 miles of pleasant hiking including open rolling hills, dense forest and wildflowers. It costs $7 to park, but it’s completely dog-friendly and very scenic. Definitely my #1 choice for doggie in the area, especially given the outstanding views. Just beware of ticks (we found a few on Polly after the hike). For more info click HERE.
EXTRA DOGGIE NOTE/ If you want to take doggie off-leash there is also a huge area, just a few miles from Shollenberger Park called Rocky Memorial Dog Park. We didn’t go, but it rates very well on Yelp.
And A Few More Outings
We squeezed in a couple more outings while we were here, but ran out of time for more.
Paul drove into downtown San Francisco to catch a Giants game with his dad, the one and only trip he made to San Fran (our old home town). It was super nostalgic, and if we had more time we’d definitely stay longer so we could hit up some of our many old haunts. We lived in San Fran for over 12 years and I still think it’s one of the best cities in the world. One day I’ll have to take my blog readers there….
Historic downtown Petaluma is an interesting mix of pretty Victorian architecture, old industrial mills and modern developments. It’s exploded in size over the last 20 years and these days you can find everything from classy restaurants to organic farmers markets and modern theater. It’s a happening place and given more time I think I could find ALOT more hidden gems here. Alas time was too short…
Also, quite sadly we didn’t make it to ANY wineries (which is most definitely one of the big draws here), NOR any of the other breweries in the area (there are several more), but but all I can do is blame our limited schedule. The main beer pilgrimage, the lighthouse and the cheese won out, at least this time around. Next time, dear wine!
Where to Park Your RV:
We stayed at the Petaluma Elks Lodge 901 (private members only, so I’m not going to do a formal blog review). It was a good location and inexpensive ($25/night, full hookups, reservations taken), but it was just basic side-by-side RV parking & there was near-constant construction work going on behind the RV sites while we were there. Other options are:
- Graton Resort & Casino – This is just an overnight spot to park (maybe a few nights is allowed?) and offers no hookups, but it is FREE. Click HERE for Casino info, HERE for review.
- Sonoma County Fairgrounds – Other than the Casino this is certainly the most cost-effective spot to stay in the area, but it’s really not much more than a gravel parking lot. $35/night (30-amp), $40/night (50-amp). Click HERE for fairgrounds info, HERE and HERE for reviews.
- Petaluma KOA – A basic KOA with tight sites and it’s *very* pricey ($65-$95/night), but it’ll get you full hookups in a good location to explore the area. Click HERE for KOA info, HERE and HERE for reviews.
- Visit Petaluma – Click HERE for the main visitor website and HERE for the downtown website
- Cheese Links – Click HERE for the Sonoma Cheese Trail and HERE for a cool interactive cheese map
- Russian River Brewing Company – Click HERE
- Lagunitas Brewing Company – Click HERE
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