Because of its diverse, lush landscape and temperate climate, it’s a locals’ and visitors’ paradise year-round, packed with renowned restaurants, lively bars, artists’ communities and entertainment venues. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy hiking and biking along its multitude of trails, parks, and back roads. Go ahead, work up an appetite and then saddle up to some of its friendly neighborhood restaurants and bars. Here are some of the best drinking experiences to be found in the place Spirited magazine calls home.
The city of Petaluma sits at the southern tip of Sonoma County and offers an almost European-feeling, small-town charm in its downtown area along the Petaluma River, where turn-of-the-century architecture sets the stage. Speakeasy Bistro is a local favorite, featuring small plate dining and an emphasis on local wine and beer. It’s adjacent The Big Easy underground restaurant and jazz club boasts live music of all types six nights per week.
Seared serves Executive Chef Joe O’Donnell’s masterfully crafted dishes made from locally farmed and sourced products. The full bar features some of Petaluma’s local distilleries and the wine list gives a proper nod to Petaluma Gap producers.
A little further north in town, husband-and-wife team Josh Norwitt and Miriam Donaldson most recently added a full bar to the menu at Wishbone (wishbonepetaluma.com); try the “smokey lemonade” or the “hot buttered rum” with house-made spiced honey butter. The couple also raises Scottish Highland cattle for the menu, offers house-made bread, jams and pickled vegetables and works with local farmers to round out the choices.
Lagunitas Brewing Company (lagunitas.com) is located on the northeast side of town (also known as the Makers district) and is a must-stop for beer lovers. Its lively, friendly tap room and beer sanctuary have a multitude of year-round and seasonal beer selections; brewery tours; a menu with snacks, salads, sandwiches and desserts; as well as regular live music in its expansive beer garden or amphitheater. Its annual Beer Circus is packed full of shenanigans and benefits the Petaluma Music Festival, which supports music in local public schools. Nearby is 101 North Brewing Company’s (www.101northbeer.com) newly opened tap room (don’t miss the Heroine IPA). Also at-hand is Griffo Distillery (www.griffodistillery.com), which crafts small-batch gin and whiskey. Its tasting bar is open Fridays through Sundays, and guests can enjoy hand-crafted cocktails and tastes of recent spirits releases. Sonoma Coast Spirits (www.sonomacoastspirits.com) makes its craft cocktails, grappa, vodka and liqueurs right around the bend and is planning on opening a tasting bar this spring.
Sonoma County’s largest city, with a population of about 175,000, Santa Rosa houses most of the county’s craft breweries and taprooms. Russian River Brewing Company (RRBC; www.russianriverbrewing.com) is well known for its tasty sours and IPAs, most notably Pliny the Elder. Folks from around the world line up for its annual release of Pliny the Younger, an award-winning triple IPA, when it’s available for a short time each February. Just down the street from RRBC in Santa Rosa is Belly Left Coast Kitchen & Tap Room (www.bellyleftcoastkitchen.com), where visitors can enjoy tasty bites thanks to chef/owner Gray Rollin. Its extensive list of mostly local draft and bottled beers makes it a popular local watering hole and a great spot for sampling what the region’s craft brewers have to offer.
Restaurant lovers can’t miss with any of Mark and Terri Stark’s many locations in both Santa Rosa and Healdsburg (www.starksrestaurants.com). Stark’s Steak & Seafood in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square neighborhood has a classic, old-style bar and lounge with dark wood, red leather booths and one of the best happy hours in town. The couple’s first location, Willi’s Wine Bar, is in north Santa Rosa, featuring small plates and an outstanding local wine list.
A bit further north in the small town of Healdsburg is a wealth of eateries and wine tasting rooms. Chef Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen (www.drycreekkitchen.com) is a long-time favorite, with fine dining and an amazing wine list. Nearby Barndiva (www.barndiva.com) is known for its specialty cocktails, lengthy wine list, sustainably sourced menu items and hip, art-filled atmosphere. Chef Dustin Valette’s Valette (www.valettehealdsburg.com) is also known for locally focused foods, an excellent wine list and specialty drinks. H2 Hotel houses the popular Spoonbar (www.spoonbar.com), a bar and restaurant known for its creative drink and food menus. And near the town square, Sonoma Cider’s taproom (www.sonomacider.com) offers more than 20 specialty hard dry ciders on tap (some exclusive to the space) and a full restaurant menu. The venue plans to host live music and comedy, as well.
The city of Sonoma, where you’ll find Mission San Francisco Solano, the northernmost mission in California, is a tucked-away hamlet that hosts historic wineries, world-renowned restaurants and a central plaza that’s popular for summertime gatherings. It’s also the home of the first U.S. craft brewery, New Albion, which is now being revived in Ohio.
Probably Sonoma’s most well-known restaurant (and for good reason) is the girl & the fig (www.thegirlandthefig.com), located on the plaza’s northwest corner. The popular bar at owner Sondra Bernstein and Chef John Toulze’s French-style country bistro serves aperitifs and specialty cocktails (many with house-made ingredients) and the wine list consists strictly of Rhone varieties. The back patio is a wonderful place to share a meal during warmer months. Nearby is Café La Haye (www.cafelahaye.com), a tiny space from owner Saul Gropman and chef Jeffrey Lloyd, who feature a seasonal menu with daily specials and delights. Its well thought out wine list showcases carefully selected, local wines as well as some international choices. To the south of the plaza, Carneros Bistro (www.carnerosbistro.com), a restaurant housed in The Lodge at Sonoma, that has a wine list featuring more than 400 Sonoma County wineries. Nearby is Saddles at MacArthur Place, which specializes in expertly prepared steaks, chops and seafood. Its extensive wine list has a remarkable array of wines from Sonoma and Napa counties and its full bar has a classic feel.
Beer lovers will want to visit Hopmonk Tavern (www.hopmonk.com; it also has locations in Sebastopol and Novato), which crafts its own brews (its owner is Dean Biersch, formerly of Gordon Biersch) and offers a wide selection of others, as well as a full bar and heavily local wine list. A full menu is served in its dining areas, including an expansive outdoor patio, and live music is always on the menu. About 5 miles south of town, art and garden lovers won’t want to miss Cornerstone Sonoma, a marketplace featuring shopping, wine tasting rooms, expansive gardens, live music and more, including the tasting bar at microdistillery Prohibition Spirits (www.prohibition-spirits.com), where you can enjoy limoncello, brandy, gin and beyond.
Sonoma County’s westernmost region is it’s most rustic and scenically diverse, with a multitude of small towns scattered among its coastline and forested byways. The river town of Guerneville hosts boon eat + drink (www.eatatboon.com), where the wine list is exclusively Russian River Valley selections and the beers hail only from Sonoma and Mendocino counties. Just west of G’ville is the coastal town of Jenner (don’t blink; you’ll miss it), where River’s End Restaurant & Inn (www.ilovesunsets.com) boasts one of the best places to enjoy the ocean view while eating a fantastic meal. Its full bar offers specialty drinks and its locally focused wine list is nothing less than outstanding.
Driving inland, you’ll find the Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant (www.farmhouseinn.com), a fine dining space in a restored 1873 farmhouse, where choosing the wine pairings with your prix fixe menu selections is the absolute way to go. In the nearby town of Forestville, Backyard (www.backyardforestville.com) supports local purveyors, from farmers and ranchers to local wineries, breweries and cideries.
Traveling south from Forestville, you’ll first hit the tiny town of Graton, where Underwood Bar and Bistro (www.underwoodgraton.com) takes the stage. This long-time local favorite has a lively bar and a carefully selected wine list featuring local producers. Its outdoor patios are especially popular in warmer months, while its old-school, cozy and well-appointed interior is comfortable year-round.
A bit south of Graton is Sebastopol, featuring a historic main street bustling with shops and restaurants. A newer section of town is known as The Barlow (www.thebarlow.net), and many local wineries, breweries, galleries, shops and restaurants have taken residence. There, you’ll find Spirit Works Distillery (www.spiritworksdistillery.com), which crafts small batch gin, vodka and whiskey. Its tasting room has a view of the still and offers a menu of cocktail recipes for visitors to take home.
Another tiny town just west of Sebastopol is Occidental, which is largely an artists’ community with several popular restaurants and watering holes. Barley and Hops Tavern (www.barleynhops.com) is a local favorite, serving a nice selection of seasonally changing draft and bottled beer as well as a menu chock-full of comfort foods. Nearby is Joe’s Bar at Negri’s Restaurant (www.negrisrestaurant.com), which serves up seasonally inspired (grapefruit mule, anyone?) and classic cocktails in its beautifully redesigned bar. Don’t miss the collection of antique whiskey bottles. A couple blocks north is Hazel (www.restauranthazel.com), an intimate space offering seasonal, sustainable foods and local wines with a smile.