Head to Santa Rosa for Bikes & Brews

Santa Rosa sits squarely in the heart of Sonoma County and is a place ”where the beer flows like wine”(I’ve been waiting my whole life to use that Dumb and Dumber quote!). Just 55 short miles north of San Francisco, Santa Rosa is where wine country meets beer country. A breeding ground for micro-brewing, it boasts over 25 breweries all the while surrounded by pristine rolling hills and neighboring over 5,000 acres of mountain biking fun at Trione-Annadel State Park. It’s the perfect place to day trip for some casual mountain biking and beer drinking or as I like to call it: Bikes & Brews.

I happen to be a proud owner of a mountain bike so was able to take my own. What’s that? You don’t have a bike? No problem – between San Francisco and Santa Rosa there’s plenty of options to rent. I would recommend a mountain bike with full suspension for the ride or at the very least front suspension. Your body will thank you. I did a little digging and found several mountain bike rental shops. Two worth looking at are Trek in Santa Rosa ($99/day) and Mountain Bike SF in Marin ($75/day). Or maybe you have a friend who will let you borrow..it’s always worth asking. On the subject of what to bring, here’s my short list of what to throw in your bag:

  • A helmet (if renting, this will be included)
  • Biking gloves (optional, nice if you are prone to callous or have shredded hands due to a biking fall last week like I do)
  • Sunnies
  • Sunscreen – lots of the trail is sun exposed
  • Snacks
  • Water Bottle/Camelbak
  • GoPro/Camera
  • A long sleeve (just in case!)
  • Back/Side pack to throw it all in

Ok! Punch Spring Creek Trail, Santa Rosa into your GPS and up the 101 you go. This will take you to the beautiful Trione-Annadel State Park. Annadel was in jeopardy of being shut down as recently as 2012 due to government budget cuts but thanks to local philanthropic efforts, it has remained open. Mr. Henry Trione had lots to do with that, hence renaming the park last summer to the Trione-Annadel State Park.

Hop on Golden Gate Transit for a direct ride up to Santa Rosa, then hop on your bike to enter the park on Newanga and turn right. (Note: this is a paid entrance – it will cost you $7 a day. That money will go towards maintaining the park so you can think of it as Insert Your Name Here-Trione-Annadel State Park). Keep going right until you see a restroom, drinking fountain and parking lot. The car park overlooks a wide gravel trail. This is Canyon Trail and where we start our ride.

I have outlined the route that I took below and given brief descriptions of the trails so you know what you are in for*. It was roughly 8 miles and took me approximately 2.5 hours. It can be done a lot faster, but I stopped fairly regularly to take photos and drink water (read: catch my breath).

  • Canyon Trail: Very wide, loose gravel. Walkers, runners, even pass a few horses – plenty of room for everyone, flat to a low grade incline.
  • Marsh Trail: Narrows, but still wide enough for passing. Incline increases. Switchbacks mostly in the sun (where you will be thankful for that sunscreen). Moves from gravel to sandy rock. Trail becomes a beautiful forest trail along a ridge (Annadel is known for it’s Cali Oak Woodland and Douglas Fir Forest). We pass a few nice places to stop – including a picnic bench (see above re: snacks). 90% of Marsh trail is uphill.
  • Buick Meadow: Open, sunny with a bench that overlooks the meadow. Great place for a breather.
  • South Burma Trail: Trail gets significantly rockier and there are more inclines on the first part of this trail. Second half of this trail begins your downhill – quite rocky/rooty but super fun downhill switchbacks through mostly forest.
  • Warren Trail: Start to pick up hikers/runners again. Fun rolling, smaller hills.
  • Lake Trail: Flat and open, nice place for a breather.
  • Spring Creek Trail: this last part is the most technically challenging part of the whole ride – large rocks on a downhill that’s fairly narrow in places. The natural downgrade gives enough momentum to carefully pick your way through. No shame in walking around big rocks, if you aren’t sure. Worth it, though, as this trail then opens up and is roll-y and fun.
  • Canyon Trail: Back to where we started. Downhill to flat. Same wide gravel trail from the beginning. Will pick hikers/runners back up – easy and relaxing way to end.

*There are over 35 miles of trails so lots to choose from. I would recommend downloading Trail Forks to get detailed information on each route.

As you meander back down Canyon Trail, thoughts of a cold beer and lunch will begin to dance in your head. And let’s be honest, you’ve earned it. Thankfully, you have chosen a place where options are aplenty.

Depending on your mood, I’ll give you two great suggestions (I have done both):

Russian River Brewing Company

This brewery is super popular. It’s Zagat rated and a regular on the brewery tour circuit. For this reason, expect a wait on the weekend. We took our chances at the bar and got lucky when a couple in front of us decided to leave. Russian River Brewery is known for it’s triple IPA, Pliny The Younger, which has very limited distribution and is only available for 2 weeks in February. If IPA is your thing, Pliny The Elder, a double IPA, is on tap year round. I was feeling something light so had the STS Pils. Also seasonally brewed, it’s a refreshing classic Pilsner. I then ordered a Sicilian pizza. If thin crispy crust is your jam, then this pizza is off the hook. If you are going to get food here, I’d go with the pizza.

WoodFour Brewing Company:

This brewery is located about 7 miles outside of downtown Santa Rosa in neighboring Sebastopol and is accessible via the Joe Rodota Bike Trail. Out of the two, this one was my favorite – purely due to atmosphere. It has a spacious interior and big, open patio in the sunshine. We tried the Gold Ridge Lager – deemed ‘a true farmer’s beer’. Toiling on a mountain bike trail isn’t exactly the same thing as toiling on a farm, but it was delicious nonetheless. We also tried Same Dif’- WoodFour’s ‘classic barrel-aged sour’. I’m not one for sours typically, but WoodFour is known for it’s sours and this one was pretty darn nice, I’ll admit. All food orders come with chips and salsa or you can upgrade to Nachos. I went all in on the Veggie Burrito because…it’s the weekend and I earned it? I then sat, happy and slumped in a patch of shade in silence for about 15 minutes with my eyes at half mast until it was kindly suggested to me to get up and walk around because I was sleeping with my eyes open in public. Thankfully, WoodFour’s patio backs onto the delightful McKinley Street where, among other great little shops, you can pick up a coffee at Taylor Maid Farms across the street.

Hope you enjoy the ride and see you out there!

Photos: All photos are my own.

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