The Craft Beer Guide to Northern California

Travel Lists California
The Craft Beer Guide to Northern California

If there were founding fathers of the craft beer movement, California would definitely be one of them. With 700 breweries all over the Golden State, California has become a beer mecca for beer lovers, connoisseurs, and simply those in search of the perfect small batch brew.

The craft beer movement began in San Francisco in the mid-1960s and today is responsible for a whopping $7.288 billion of the state’s economy. This monumental industry began in small batch breweries often searching to find the perfect mix of craftsmanship and science. Their experimentation has elevated the palates of modern day beer drinkers to appreciate what people are making at smaller scales in a big way. While many have driven a along the California coastline for the panoramic views and scenic vistas, the next time around travel from the self-proclaimed birthplace of craft beer in San Francisco to Santa Rosa to learn what makes the Nor Cal beer culture truly unique.

San Francisco

Anchor Brewing Company


Anchor Brewing Company can be traced back to the California Gold Rush in 1849. They have maintained a high-level of craftsmanship for over 100 years with a year-round rotation of several seasonal and popular beers. Anchor Brewing Company is most known for their unique steam beer brewing techniques. Made from brewing larger yeasts at warmer fermentation temptations, the Anchor Steam was first brewed in 1896 and is still beloved today.

ThirstyBear Brewing Company

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ThirstyBear Brewing Company is the first, and only, San Francisco brewery to to brew certified organic beer and become a certified Green Business. Celebrating 20 years in August, ThirstyBear is best known for their flagship brews, cask conditioned ales and barrel-aged releases taking a German influence on west coast brewing. Their brewpub serves up an array of Spanish tapas dishes and uniquely has launched a charcuterie and beer-pairing menu.



Cellarmaker has been making waves in the craft brewing industry for their small batches of experimental beers. Their rotating tap aims to include the perfect mixture of budding brews to provide a variety in their tasting room that compliments their different styles of brewing. This ever changing and evolving list of beers allows Cellarmaker to experiment with different hops, grains, barrels and yeasts. There is never a dull moment in their bustling taproom on Howard Street serving one-third of their beer on-site and the rest distributed to local bars and restaurants in the Bay Area.

21st Amendment Brewery

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21st Amendment Brewery is aptly named after the constitution that ended prohibition. With a restaurant location a few blocks away from AT&T Park and a larger factory, tour and event space in San Leandro, the 21st Amendment Brewery has found a way to brew award-winning handcrafted house beers in an inviting gathering space. They are best known for their El Sully, a Mexican-style lager, but be sure to give the India-style Red Ale Toaster Pastry, the black IPA Back in Black or one of their seasonal beers a try.


Linden Street Brewery


Linden Street Brewery is dedicated to creating handcrafted beers made by head brewer Shane Aldrich with only the finest ingredients sourced locally whenever possible. While their rustic brewery exuded the industrial vibe of Oakland, they will soon be opening their new home in the city with a bigger indoor space to hold tasting tours and other on-site events. Expand your palate by giving the Thai Gose and rich Barrel Aged Imperial Porter a taste.

Drakes Brewing Co.

Drake’s Brewing Co. (pictured at top) has had a longstanding love affair with the Bay Area. Over the years, their beers have adapted to the changing brewing styles and flavors of the West Coast to become one of the most sought after beers in California. Whether you are touring their brewery and barrelhouse in San Leandro, or swinging by Drake’s Dealership restaurant for a flight and bite to eat in Oakland, their industrial vibe has struck a cord with locals as Drake’s continues to expand.



Trumer Braueri

Trumer Braueri (pictured at top) is internationally renowned for their precise technique of creating an Austrian Pilsner with a sister brewery in Salzburg.

The Rare Barrel

Berkeley has quickly become a spot for experimentation and craftsmanship along the east shores of San Francisco Bay. The Rare Barrel has created a roster of all-sour beers dedicated to perfecting this unique fermentation process to create fruitful beers ages in oak barrels.

Triple Rock Brewing

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A fair bit of brewing history can also be found within this college town, which has the fifth open and now oldest standing brewpub, Triple Rock Brewing along Shattuck Avenue.

Santa Rosa

Russian River Brewing Company


Beer lovers travel far and wide to make the pilgrimage to Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa. Founded in 1997, they have quickly developed an almost cult like following of beer lovers flocking for a taste of some of their limited brews and batches. They are regarded as one of the most innovative microbreweries in the country and credited for inventing the Double India pale ale style (Imperial IPA). However there are a number of newer breweries on the scene that are quickly making their mark in Sonoma wine country.



The grit and ingenuity of Plow falls largely to the owner and brewmaster Kevin Robinson who has put his heart and soul into the outfitting and the construction of the brewery by hand. Set in an industrial park, Plow serves up four great beers in their relaxed taproom that has helped to name Santa Rosa as a “world-class beer destination.”



Just a stone’s throw away from Plow, Cooperage gives guests a livelier pub atmosphere in their brewery. A well-known home brewer in the area, Tyler Smith turned his passion into a career by making a standout range of beers influenced by Belgian, stout, porter, sour and other funky styles, bringing out the curt flavors of well-loved beer varieties in his own new way.

Fogbelt Brewing Company


Approaching beer making in a similar way to wine, Fogbelt Brewing Company follows the natural harvest season when it comes time to create their beer. Founded by Paul, the son of Sonoma County winemakers, and Remy, a UC Davis graduate in brewing, the Fogbelt Brewing Company has become an agricultural innovator in the beer industry, locally growing 400 of their own vines at the Fogbelt Hopyard in Healdsburg. Their beers rotate regularly and seasonally and are named after coast redwood trees as a tribute and are paired with their outstanding brewpub fare.

Bear Republic

Born from a passion and love for home brewing, Bear Republic has quickly grown to become one of the staples in Sonoma craft beer culture. Launched by third and fourth generation Sonoma County residents, this family owned brewery is known all over the state for their India Pale Ale Racer 5. Since their launch in 1995, Bear Republic’s roster of beers has continued to expand to now include year-round brews like the Big Bear Black Stout and the Hop Rod Rye as well as a selection of seasonal, barrel ages, limited edition and draft specialty beers. Their brewpub in Healdsburg, California infuses their dishes with their own brews.


Sierra Nevada

Sierra Nevada is one of California’s biggest beer exports producing nearly one million barrels of beer each year from their brewery in Chico. Best known for their Torpedo Extra IPA, this hoppy beer is aggressive on the palate with aromas of citrus, pine and tropical fruit. It is one of the highest selling IPAs in all of the USA; they produce over 180,000 barrels a year. Drop by their brewery and tap room for a tour of the decade old brewing process at Sierra Nevada. They offer daily guided and self-guided tours and tasting options based on your level of beer loving. The Engineering Tour takes a deeper look at the technological advances in their brewing process whereas the Beer Geek Tour, one of the more expensive options, offers guests a sensorial tasting experience, sampling a variety of beers throughout the tour straight from the tanks.

Caleigh Alleyne is a travel and lifestyle writer and editor of The Creators Commune.

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