5 Beer-Cations to Take Right Now

By Nora Heston Tarte

Spend the night—or not—in these five local hotspots hailed for hops and brews.

What better way to recover from the holidays than a little beer tasting in California? Discover new-to-you craft breweries in cities from Oakland to Auburn. Every location offers its own lineup of brews—from traditional to quirky—worth their weight in hops. Drink, eat, stay, and play, or just make it a day trip; every location is close enough to drive to and back in one day. Either way, we’ve got you covered.

Trade beer for cider in Sonora. Tucked in the heart of California’s Gold Country, this Sierra Nevada Foothills town is hailed for its historic charm.

Where to Taste:
Set in the hills of Sonora sits Indigeny Reserve, a 160-acre preserve and apple orchard where handcrafted hard cider and apple brandy are the specialty. The tasting room serves up sips of the orchard’s finest gluten-free ciders including Extra Crispin and Blackberry. 14679 Summers Ln.

Where to Eat:
Pack a picnic and sprawl out on the lawn at Indigeny. The surrounding orchards are the perfect backdrop for a romantic meal for two, a gabfest between girlfriends, or a family-friendly Sunday brunch.

If the weather is putting a damper on your plans, consider heading to Emberz instead. This casual eatery features wood-fired foods, specialty cocktails, and a lively atmosphere. Order the restaurant’s specialty; baked emberz are assorted oven-baked cheeses drizzled with garlic oil and white wine. Then, dive in to some seafood favorites. 177 S. Washington St.

If you Stay:
Feel like a sleepover? Make the most of your Sonora stay by taking advantage of the town’s rich history. Baretta Gardens Inn Bed & Breakfast is everything you’d expect to find in Gold Country. The 1904 Victorian farmhouse has been updated to include modern amenities like free Wi-Fi and central air, while staying true to the era in its décor. 700 Barretta St.

Extra, Extra: Tour the brandy facility at Indigeny to see how this beverage is barreled, bottled (in 55-gallon American oak barrels), and produced.

Livermore is fast earning its place in the world of craft beer. Altamont Beer Works was the first to land Livermore on the map, set in the industrial buildings on the outskirts of town. Now a handful of other worthy breweries have popped up, making Livermore a beer drinker’s dream destination.

Where to Taste:
Try out the original. Altamont Beer Works is best known for its Hella Hoppy IPA (9% ABV). Its other claim to fame is its flagship beer Shot Away, which nods to the infamous Altamont Speedway Rolling Stones concert in 1969. 2402 Research Dr.

Move on to one of the newcomers. Shadow Puppet Brewing (named by one of the owner’s young daughters) offers a family-friendly industrialized tasting room filled with big tables for socializing and a corner of toys and games for the kids. Here is where you test your palette. Drink oddball combinations such as the Tartbreak, a tangy wheat ale with tastes of guava, and the Kokonati, a creamy porter with layers of coconut, roasted malt, and chocolate. 4771 Arroyo Vista, #B

One more before you head home. A couple of the beers on this list nod to the brewery’s moniker—Working Man. Sip 9 to 5, a pale ale, or try The Intern, a New England IPA. Better yet, think outside of the box. The menu also includes a Raspberry Cream Ale and a Blood Orange IPA. 5542 Brisa St.

Where to Eat:
Beer lovers need look no further than First Street Alehouse when searching out somewhere to grub. Whether it’s lunch, dinner, or even breakfast (if it’s a weekend), the beer list can’t be beat. You can fill your glass with tastes from around the globe, but the best brews come from local establishments. Beers rotate but there are always recognizable names on draft. Order pub grub while you visit—beer-battered anything is good here.
Expert Tip: Come in on a Thursday if you can. From 5 PM to midnight it’s Pint Night. Order a glass of the featured brew and keep the souvenir glass. 2106 1st St.

Staying all day? Hit up Livermore’s other beer-centric restaurant. Hop DeVine is almost a secret, tucked inside a nondescript shopping center off the freeway. Order a beer flight from the large LCD screens that tell you what’s on draft, its ABV, how much is left, and where it’s from. Then order food to go with your brew. The Poke Nachos are a crowd-pleaser, featuring fresh sushi, ahi chunks, diced jalapeños, bell peppers, fresh avocado, and more, marinated in poke sauce and served over deep-fried wonton wraps with a drizzle of sriracha aioli.

Where to Stay: Mostly catering to the business sect, Livermore isn’t home to a lot of luxurious hotels. However, the Courtyard by Marriott stands out. Book a suite and spend your evenings on the communal outdoor patio where fireside lounge chairs are aplenty. 2929 Constitution Dr.

Extra, Extra: Sip spirits, too. Sutherland Distillery offers visitors a different kind of tasting experience. Inside, the glasses are filled with liquors sourced from the surrounding farmlands. Tip back rum, vodka, whiskey, and bourbon. 3189 Independence Dr.

Auburn is home to a lineup of craft breweries scattered throughout town. Head into the hills to sample fruity favorites and hip flavor combinations. The names are so catchy you’ll have almost as much fun saying them as you do tossing them back—almost.

Where to Taste:
Start your tour at Knee Deep Brewing Company. Inside, long picnic tables are separated from the brew-making operations by a small fence, which means you’ll have a view of the bottling production while you sip favorites from the menu. The best way to go is to order a flight—four come to a board. Like them hoppy? Sample the Hoptologist Double IPA, an extra hoppy brew with notes of citrus and pine that finishes dry. For something a little sweeter, try the Stoutello Chocolate Hazelnut Stout, a lactose-packed cacao-flavored brew. 13395 New Airport Rd.

Skip across the parking lot to Moonraker Brewing Co. and order some brews from the bar. The staff is nice enough to let you sample anything on tap before settling on a favorite. Take it from us and don’t pass up the Amelia. She’s a flavorful, coconut-packed New England IPA offering a smooth mouth feel. Missing summer? Try the Sinking Sun. This zesty fruit IPA offers bold tastes of grapefruit and tangerine, created by sticking fruit purees directly into the fermenter. 12970 Earhart Ave.

Last up is Crooked Lane Brewing Company. This airy, modern space is home to some of the fruitiest beers in Northern California (and plenty are available in cans for a quick souvenir). Choose from these: Carmen Mandarina Milkshake IPA, 1-2 Punch Peach/Mango Hazy IPA, Mandarin Pale Ale, and Blood Simple. Want something truly different? All hail the Swamp Goddess. This triple IPA offers flavors from tropical to citrus to dank. 536 Grass Valley Hwy.

Where to Eat:
What pairs better with beer than pizza? Old Town Pizza, appropriately located in Old Town Auburn, offers beer, pizza, and more.  You can’t go wrong with the Auburn Aloha—Canadian bacon, pineapple, and cashew—or the Gunfighter’s Pesto—pesto sauce, tomato, fresh basil, garlic, and feta cheese. You’ll be able to find brews here, too.

Where to Stay:
If you overindulge and need a place to crash, hit the sheets at Power’s Mansion Inn. This bed and breakfast has been restored to its original glory. Antique furniture, period rooms bursting with charm, and an afternoon tea hosted in the on-site dining room make it a worthy choice for travelers. 150 Sacramento St.

Extra, Extra: Stroll through Old Town Auburn on a nice day. Pop in and out of the area’s small shops and boutiques to grab local wares. Need to seek shelter inside? This area is filled with small museums that detail the town’s history as well as the gold rush. Check out the Placer County Historical Museum, the Bernhard Museum Complex, and the Gold Rush Museum.

There is no shortage of places to Brew it Up! (yes, that’s one) in the state capital. Hurry over to the top spots for live music, pub food, and a LOT of IPAs.

Where to Taste:
There’s more than one place to enjoy a cold glass of Track 7 beer in Sacramento. The label has taprooms in Curtis Park (3747 W. Pacific Ave.) and Natomas (826 Professional Lane, Ste. 100) where the drinks are flowing at both locations seven days a week. Feeling adventurous? Order a pint of the Nukin’ Futz Imperial Peanut Butter Chocolate Cream Porter, a robust porter with peanut butter, chocolate, and lactose, or go light with the Bee Line Honey Blond Ale, an award winning brew with notes of wild flowers, warm bread, and euro noble hops. Haven’t eaten yet? Get your grub on here. Some of Sacramento’s most popular food trucks roll through daily. Check the website for a weekly lineup—Track7Brewing.com

Bring your kids, your dogs—whoever you want! Sactown Union Brewing is a community-oriented brewery located in East Sacramento that welcomes everyone in. Find balance with Something Wicked, an IPA that mixes the East and West Coast styles, or sip an authentic Kolsch, aptly named #Kolsch. Break into the “vault” and sample Prop. 64, a dank session IPA boasting a sticky icky aroma. Expert Tip: Come in on Thursday and enjoy dinner with the Sactown crew. Thursdays are BBQ nights—and you’re invited! Can’t make it Thursday? Any day of the week you can order delivery from Z Pizza or Beach Hut. 1210 66th St.

Where to Eat:
If you didn’t grub at the breweries, hit up Pyramid Alehouse. Located just a few blocks from the Capitol, this alehouse offers its own brews on tap and plenty of grub. Feast on starters of French fries and calamari before diving into over-sized burgers and kettle-brewed soups. 1029 K St.

Where to Stay: Ready to crash? Pick a spot downtown in the middle of the action. The Citizen Hotel on J Street is always a good call, with a downstairs restaurant—Grange Restaurant & Bar—where you can keep the party going. 926 J St.

Extra, Extra: Keep the party going well into the night. Dive Bar offers an experience unlike any other—mermaids swim in the tank above the bar throughout the night. Snap some photos of the real-life Ariels while imbibing till the wee hours of the morning. 1016 K St.

Oakland (Jack London Square)
No need to cross the bridge into San Francisco. Stop by Oakland’s Jack London Square for an afternoon of beer tasting, grubbing, and more.

Where to Taste: Wednesday through Sunday head to Jack London Square in Oakland. Federation should be your first stop for brews. Grab a glass of the label’s staple, the Low Boy Oatmeal Stout, which tastes like roasted coffee and caramel with a nutty finish (order it on nitro for a creamier head). Perhaps the best tastes, however, come in the form of the taproom’s seasonal brews. Hurry in to grab the Butternut Booyah! and After Hours Chocolate Stout before they disappear. Expert Tip: Check the schedule for appearances by some of the Bay Area’s best-rated food trucksFederationBrewing.com. 420 3rd St.

Where to Eat: When you’re dining near the water it’s customaryto order seafood. Scott’s Seafood Grill + Bar has a menu filled with fresh favorites. Dine on Maine lobster and house-made lobster ravioli before glimpsing the dessert menu—we dare you not to order anything. 2 Broadway

Where to Stay: You don’t have to leave Jack London Square on your trip to Oakland. Book a room at the Z Hotel, a luxury hotel that echoes the quirky, hip atmosphere that permeates the streets of Oakland. Expert Tip: Book a bed and breakfast package to save. 233 BroadwayExtra, Extra: Spend the day exploring Jack London Square. Named for the famous author, the Oakland port offers the best in dining, shopping, and entertainment. Come on the weekends to enjoy the Farmer’s Market or antique show. Staying out late? Visit Yoshi’s Jazz House + Japanese Restaurant.