Ever wanted to take a road trip around the Bay area in a ruby red Volkswagen bus equipped with California crafted beers? I did with Erik, designated driver, guide, owner and genius behind Vantigo San Francisco tours, at the wheel. Vantigo offers city tours, oyster lunches at Hog Island’s oyster farm and North Bay brewery tours just over the Golden Gate Bridge. I opted for the brewery tour since I’ve dragged my boyfriend on countless winery tours despite the fact that he can’t stomach red wine and mildly tolerates white.
Vantigo picked us up at our hotel location along with 3 other people who accompanied us on our tour that day including Lisa from Cooking with Rhubarb (I love meeting other bloggers unexpectedly!). As we departed the city Erik prompted us to tell each other a bit about ourselves as well as our experience and knowledge of beer (from 1-5, I being a 0.5) as we sipped on some local brews and nibbled on some locally inspired snacks in the back of the Volkswagen (yup you get beers on your way to the breweries!). If you’re not a fan of beer you can choose to have wine on the other non brewery related tours.
The Vantigo Brewery tour isn’t just about the consumption of locally made beers on the site they were brewed but it’s an education as well. While we sipped on our brews Erik had us pass around various hops and seeds in jars to smell enabling us to recognize what our current beers start as and prepare our palates for heftier beers to come. My favourite part was when we circulated different cheeses and were able to determine which beer tasted best with each cheese without judgement or snobbery, after all beer tastes best with whatever you feel tastes best with it. Also on our way to our first stop, Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma, Erik pre-ordered our lunch by phone after we filled out a menu. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The menu presented a selection of gourmet sandwiches, pulled pork nachos and other menu items that I would expect to find at my local gastropub.
When we made it to Lagunitas I was amazed. This brewery is hidden behind a grey block building filled with corporate offices but if you head behind it there’s nothing short of a huge party with live music, a grassy amphitheatre where beer lovers, their dogs and their children bathe in the sunshine as food and drinks are brought to their blankets. Just past the amphitheatre are shaded tables and a rompin’ band playing good music. It was in this area that we sat and were served a selection of Lagunitas beers and our delicious lunches with a brewery tour soon to follow.
Brewery tours couldn’t be more different than wine tours. Wine tours, I have found, are filled with interesting facts about the terroir, talk about the growing and ageing process with a usually very serious guide. On the other hand, Lagunitas’ guide for example, had a sense of humour, a pride in the struggle and controversial history of the brewery and was very short on the brewing process. I’m sure there is more to the terroir of hops but the hops Lagunitas uses comes from places like Alberta, Canada for example. With a full beer in hand 40+ of us followed our grizzly John Goodman guide with a Big Lebowski flare around the grounds enthralled with the stories about Lagunitas and its owner Tony Magee which included troubles with the local cops to the federal label approving agency (BAFT) due to their Kronic beer now known as Censored, and the ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) who shut them down for 2o days due to “Disorderly House” but that’s another story you’ll have to visit to hear or buy the book.
After Lagunitas the VW bus was filled with happy patrons with a bit of a buzz, in all honesty, and we then headed from Petaluma (where American Graffiti was filmed) to Fairfax where Iron Springs Brewery serves paddles featuring 6 beers of your choice along with some good food. The vibe here was much more laid back, less of a public party and more of a space to relax outside where a few deer even wandered through our hillside view. Surprisingly the Black Magic Rye beer was my favourite and had a coffee and chocolate smell but a smooth and shockingly light finish for such a dark beer. If you leave your table to take the short brewery tour beware of scavengers like the local man who thought it would be okay to suck back as many of our beers as possible before our return…To repay his debt he bought the table another paddle but the awkward damage had been done.
Onward and upward we continued on to the Marin Brewing Company which also offers an extensive food menu and eclectic framed newspaper clippings featuring the breweries favourite sports, boxing and mountain biking. It is nestled within a quaint outdoor shopping area painted in Cape Cod white. Marin Brewing Company ended up being a place for us to relax, reminisce about our day and ask questions. Vantigo is still in its infancy so we had the rare opportunity to talk to Erik, our guide, and discuss potential avenues for the future and where he wants to take this ingenious idea – from a stretch limo VW bus to a Napa Valley wine tours, be sure to check in with VantigoSF.com for new tours and additional dates in the near future.
P.S. Erik was so kind to stop at the Marin Headlands lookout so us Canadians could get a good picture of the Golden Gate Bridge as seen at the top of this blog post.
That’s a really interesting tour with a funny guide and all. A beer on hand would no doubt lift your spirits and just make you be in the moment. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Also, you should take on that Napa valley tour, it would give you another awesome experience no doubt.
The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.
I recently met Erick and told him that I read about his tours on your website. Small world! I am so doing the beer tour soon. How could I not do this tour in an awesome VW van? Love the travel/blogging connections.
Wow that’s great Olivia!
You’ll have a great time and I can’t wait to read about it!
Be sure to pace yourself lol. What’s cool with Vantigo is that he asks your opinion on places you might want to see which makes the tour a bit different each time.
Say hi for me!
So fun! I love the VW van to add to the atmosphere…
I’m surprised you guys went all the way to Petaluma with all the great beer places in SF. I guess there must not be real breweries in the city.
This particular tour was for the North Bay but if you have a preferred brewery in a different area of San Francisco Erik, the guide, would add that brewery which is a nice touch. But I just ended up going with the flow and was happy to see beyond San Francisco and the actual breweries.
I am curious do you have a favourite beer from the area?
You had me at oysters, beer and vintage VW, Murissa! What a way to while away the time in SF! Great stuff.
Love it! SF has been on my must do list for awhile ( I haven’t been since I was 6) and I know I can convince Kel if beer is involved!
San Francisco is such a great spot, it shouldn’t be hard to convince him at all but beer does always help. If a brewery tour is too much beer for you then you can always go on the Oyster tour or the city tour and have the choice of beer OR wine to stock in the VW cooler to have on your way to the destination.
Sounds like a great visit! You are having a “Wanderful ” Year!
This year has been filled with unexpected travel surprises Hazel and this was certainly one of them.
Thanks for commenting!
I’ve never been to SF but would love to go! The brewery tour sounds really fun and would love to check it out when I eventually get there! Thanks for writing such a great post and letting me know about more cool things to do there
Thanks for the kind words sis!
Don’t you worry, we’ll be getting a brewery tour in Ireland. Be prepared to get a little bloated. I don’t think I recovered for 4 days after this Vantigo tour lol.
Hi Murissa, how interesting. I also love going on food related tours in cities I visit and last time in SF I did a few walking tours in the various neighbourhoods. Matching beer with cheese, I’d like to know more about that. We are so used to matching cheese with wine but why not beer, really?
I was going to do a food tour but I figured why not try a brand new tour that not many have experienced yet. It was a delicious experience and I will be joining Vantigo for the oyster experience next time.
Thanks for commenting!