For years, we’ve documented some of the best places to travel for beer in the United States, from Portland, OR, to Portland, ME, and everywhere in between. We’ve even ventured internationally, documenting the best bars and breweries to visit in countries like Germany, Belgium, France, and Japan. But secretly, I love finding those lesser-known places—cities off the beaten path and away from the metropolitan lights. Sometimes, we discover regions like the Hudson Valley, NY. Other times, they are urban towns like Rancho Cordova, CA.
Located about an hour and a half drive Northeast from San Francisco (without traffic) in the heart of sunny Gold Country, Rancho Cordova beckons with a bevy of breweries, wineries, cideries, meaderies, kombucha taprooms, and distilleries.
Literally, whatever your best beverage, Rancho Cordova has you covered.
Consider this reasonably young city a gold mine, home to the Barrel District, an area boasting six breweries, two distilleries, a new-age wine taproom, a meadery, and a Queer-owned hard kombucha brewery. Along with Apple Hill, a scenic destination about a thirty-minute drive outside the city (similar to Sonoma or Napa Valley). Zig zag through winding leaf-covered roads to over fifty apple orchards, farms, cideries, and wineries.
Once you head back to Rancho Cordova proper, fuel yourself from one of the over one hundred diverse eateries. The city ranks twenty-eighth as the most diverse city in the country, meaning you find people speaking over ninety different languages and making food from various countries.
“We’re like a small town, and we’re still growing,” says Visit Rancho Cordova’s Content Manager Kristen Achziger. “I like to say we’re a quirky, welcoming community with small-town vibes.”
Whether you’re visiting Sacramento and need to get outside the city for a day, heading to Lake Tahoe and looking for a pit stop, or just searching for a new little-known beer adventure, Rancho Cordova could be your next pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
You don’t have to follow in our footsteps (exactly), but here are our suggestions for how to drink and eat around Rancho Cordova in just forty-eight hours.
Friday: Welcome to Rancho Cordova – Whiskey, Beer, and Wine, Seriously
J.J. Pfister Distilling Company
9819 Business Park Dr Suite 3, Sacramento, CA 95827 | (916) 672-9662
11:30 AM Old-knitting-company-turned-distillery part of the fabric of Rancho Cordova – Start your day at a distillery. Not a sentence we think we’ve ever written. But for those visiting Rancho Cordova, J.J. Pfister is the first place Achziger recommends to people from out of town.
“It has that feeling of handcrafted in everything they do, which is why it’s one of my top recommendations,” she told me as I sipped a seasonal Fig and Honey Old Fashioned (made with a fig leaf simple syrup from trees in hospitality lead Cory Stewart’s yard) and dug Dirty Kettle Chips, a tray of chips (or in our case, we chose tots) packed with toppings like confit tomatoes, chimichurri, goat cheese, and balsamic glaze. “It’s really nice because everyone is really kind, and they put so much love and detail into their craft.”
That “craft” runs in the family.
In 1869, J.J. Pfister immigrated from Switzerland, taking one of the first transcontinental train rides to San Francisco and opening his own knitting company.
Over one hundred years later, one of Pfister’s nine great-grandchildren, Kevin Keck, and his son Brian Keck opened their own distillery with nods to their family’s entrepreneurial spirit everywhere.
Like in the logo, which includes a sewing machine connected to a beak, the part of the copper still where the steamed alcohol condenses and drips back out.
“We married the two together because we pay homage to that past, and then we look forward to the future,” Stewart told me as he showed me around.
Somewhat uniquely, J.J. Pfister originally started selling just potato vodka in 2017. When they expanded to gin, that base spirit didn’t blend well, so they switched to a twenty-nine-times-distilled vodka. Although they no longer make the tuber spirit, J.J. Pfister’s thirty-times-distilled gin with nine different botanicals is now their best seller.
“Juniper is definitely required to make it a gin, right? You have to have it, but it doesn’t need to be the prominent flavor,” says Stewart. “I don’t like getting smacked in the face with the Christmas tree glass I’m trying to drink. And a lot of people don’t like gin for that reason. So, our juniper is very subtle. You get more botanicals upfront, and the juniper sneaks up on the back end. And because it is technically thirty times distilled, it is super clean, crisp and smooth, easy to drink, neat on the rocks or in a cocktail.”
According to Stewart, J.J. Pfister’s gin has been awarded ninety-seven tasting points in double gold and competition. “We have been turning non-gin drinkers onto gin!” he says.
The distillery also makes bourbon, whiskey, rum, and something called Drakas, an aged honey spirit.
Everything runs through the distillery’s 650-gallon copper pot still imported from Italy. And the bourbons and whiskeys rest in fifty-three-gallon American white oak barrels from the California-based cooperage Nadalié.
As Achziger said, everything here has an emphasis on craft.
From the spirits to the snacks.
Along with those Dirty Kettle Chips, my wife and I split a decadent grilled cheese and harvest salad.
And if you still have room, “they make a homemade cheesecake with bourbon-infused caramel sauce that’s to die for,” Achziger says, “If I’m here at night, it’s coming home with me.”
Burning Barrel Brewing Company
11210 Sun Center Dr B, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670 | (916) 382-4846
1:00 PM Crazy sours, award-winning lagers, world’s hottest beer? – One of my favorite stops of the weekend, Burning Barrel brews outside the barrel (well, actually in it, too, because they do some tremendous barrel-aged stuff, but you get the idea). You’ll find folks going ga-ga for their over-the-top yet spot-on flavorful sours. For instance, Fresh Out the Oven V1, which perfectly mimics the center of a peach pie—gooey crust and all (seriously).
But this brewery isn’t a one-trick pony—more like a rainbow-colored unicorn with at least one new beer coming out every week. On tap, next to eight crazy sours, you’ll also find a nitro English pub ale, a German helles lager, and a Vienna lager next to West Coast, triple West Coast, and hazy IPAs.
“We’re really heavy on innovation and the overall vibe and atmosphere,” Burning Barrel Co-Founder Duncan Alexander told us. “We want it to be comfortable for anybody, whether you’re working a corporate job and want to get beers for lunch or you just poured concrete all day and want to come out with your crew. If you live in San Francisco and want to try some new crazy beers other breweries don’t offer, make a day trip on the weekend.”
After all, this place is a family affair, too.
Alexander’s dad has been homebrewing for thirty years since Alexander was a kid. “When I started getting older, even like sixteen years old, I helped him out,” he laughed. “My parents were very strict, though, so I wasn’t even allowed to sample anything.”
Now, he samples everything, seeking flavor wheel perfection. If Alexander wanted to make a Willy Wonka Everlasting Gobstopper, he’d go to the ends of the earth to find that perfect flavor.
Whether that’s through an ingredient. Like trying out different species and forms of lemon to find the perfect one to create the perfectly fresh-squeezed lemonade flavors in Berry Juiced.
Or getting ten different samples of apple puree from around the Western Hemisphere.
Or buying the cream of coconut found at most prominent tiki bars for the Island Getaway Double Jammer fruited sour because it “has like that decadent, creamy” coconut, says Alexander.
“What’s going to taste the best?” he asks. “I’ve definitely spent money on getting pallets of fruit from abroad that cost way more, but at the end of the day, that’s what we had in mind for the final beer. I would lose sleep if I didn’t spend an extra few hours … and just threw something together because it’s the easier way to do things.”
Burning Barrel never takes the easy way. And that extends to the brewery’s processes and techniques, too. Like investing in an Alfa Laval BREW 80 Centrifuge. “Our goal is let’s not focus our money and time on just getting more and more tanks,” says Alexander. “We could have fit like two more thirty-barrels, but we decided to use that space for the centrifuge and do things the right way.”
The brewery’s significant investment has already started paying dividends, with its flagship pilsner Side Pull Pillows recently winning gold at the 2023 Craft Brewers Cup of California.
“The first time we centrifuged the pilsner is when we won gold,” says Alexander. “It’s cool because everyone knows we’re the more hype-IPA, sour, and barrel-aged brewery, but a lot of people come here just for our lager, so it was great to see some recognition not just for the cool beers you see on Instagram but for our really well-executed core lager beer.”
Our favorite, the Czech-style pilsner, pours fluffy and golden from a LUKR side-pour tap. Starting with all-premium pilsner malt and one hundred percent German hops, Side Pull Pillows beautifully balances a toasted pine nut nuttiness with a fresh herb-like basil backbone. Probably thanks to the hot-side additions of Saaz, Crystal, and Hallertau Mittelfrüh hops. We could have easily taken down two of these.
“We’re all about creating new flavors and pushing the boundaries of what people think beer can taste like while also focusing on the classic styles really well,” says Alexander. “The whole goal is always to find something for anybody, right?”
But that’s not to say they won’t get a little crazy, either.
Like brewing what they call the world’s hottest beer with six of the seven world’s hottest peppers.
“At the end of the day, the beer was like glowing red,” laughs Alexander. “It was out of control, but we do crazy shit like that.”
Drink EEZY Craft Winery
11225 Trade Center Dr #250, Rancho Cordova, CA 95742 | (866) 200-7110
3:00 PM Not your grandpa’s winery – I admit that I know nothing about wine. So when I walked up to the bar at Drink EEZY Craft Winery to order, I felt a little skittish. I explained to Drink EEZY Craft Winery’s Tasting Room Manager Danny Tapia that I’m more of a beer person, and the menu looked like gibberish to me.
He asked, “Well, what kind of beer do you like to drink?”
I told him lagers like pilsner and helles—something crisp, refreshing, and clean.
He told me he had just the wine for me, placing a sip of Couch Surfing Macabeo in front of me. The Spanish white wine drank super crisp, like taking a bite out of a granny smith apple.
It was perfect.
That’s the kind of place Drink EEZY Craft Winery wants to be—an inclusive taproom to teach people about how to find the coolest, small-batch wine they’ll grow to love.
Like that Macabeo, which Tapia told me uses the same grape found in Cava, the sort of Spanish Prosecco. “Most people have not heard of it before,” Tapia says. “Let’s introduce people to their favorite varietal from a completely different region and see how they feel about the flavor, how it feels on their palate, all that.”
Drink EEZY Craft Winery feels more like a chill brewery taproom than a stuffy tasting room you might find in Napa. “We just want it to be a place where you can hang out,” says Tapia. “We don’t want it to be your grandpa’s winery. … We want to make wine cool again.”
Which they’re doing one small glass at a time.
When I visited Drink EEZY, there were four different cabernets on tap from all over the world: California, Washington, Chile, and Argentina. “All four are completely different from each other, like night and day,” said Tapia. Along with a Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Rosé, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and even Port wine.
But other fan favorites have included a blue Chardonnay from a Spanish grape that gives off a blue color from the skin. Or a wine slushy available all year round.
“Actually, in a few minutes, my friend from the brewery down the street is probably going to come in for her weekly wine slushy,” Tapia said with a smile. “We’re just trying to make wine fun, make wine cool, and [make wine] accessible to people.”
Well, you sold this non-wine drinker!
3054 Sunrise Blvd J, Rancho Cordova, CA 95742 | (916) 706-0343
5:00 PM De-stress, unwind, log off – Look, I’m almost in my mid-thirties now, so when I start a steady day of drinking at 11:30 AM, this is the time that I begin to wind down (not up).
“We’re anti-technology, we’re anti-stress,” LogOff Co-Founder Matt Risse told me. “The idea is to log off and do the things that bring you joy. And usually, that involves beer.”
My wife nailed it when she said LogOff reminded her of a chill coffeehouse. Shelves of board games took up one wall, local art another, couches stuffed back against one another.
On the night we visited, Risse’s mom hosted one of her now-famous mac and cheese nights. A little tradition that started during COVID, Risse’s mom, who used to own a breakfast cafe, whipped up variations on mac and cheese that she served out of hot dishes from the brewhouse in the back.
Beerwise, try the Hazy Lazy Days, which won gold at the local state fair this year. “That’s probably our best-seller of all time,” says Risse. Or Malware, a grodziskie (smoked wheat) that won a bronze at the U.S. Beer Open.
Risse takes the most pride in LogOff’s Petrafyed, a peanut butter milk stout. “I’m a big Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup guy,” says Risse. “And my last name is Risse, so people always call me Reese’s.”
Like Cheers, this is where everyone probably knows your name (or will learn it), where the owner’s mom sometimes serves you mac and cheese from the back, and where you can wind down and log off after a long day.
Il Forno Classico
2121 Golden Centre Ln STE 10, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670 | (916) 858-0651
6:30 PM I-talian – Nothing like a red-sauce Italian joint loaded with pasta and bread to soak up all the alcoholic liquids you’ve consumed all afternoon.
Try the popular Naughty Pasta with double the meat, sauce, balls, and thick, rich ricotta.
Or the Linguine Pesto with basil, olive oil, garlic, parmesan, romano, pine nuts, and fresh tomatoes.
There’s hand-tossed pizza, too.
Comforting food to fill your soul.
Shorebirds Brewing Co.
11327 Trade Center Dr #355, Rancho Cordova, CA 95742 | (916) 898-2419
8:00 PM Nightcap – “Ride our vibe” is the motto at this Queer-owned hard kombucha brewery. The first alcoholic kombucha producer in the Sacramento region, Shorebirds has ridden the growing interest in hard-fermented tea.
Started by Randall Echevarria and his husband Monte Hudock—both with previous experience at the now-closed Pyramid’s Alehouse—Shorebirds brings the beach to kombucha brewing with flavors like strawberry smoothie, blueberry mint, raspberry lemon ginger, and mango margarita.
Hang ten and hang out for one last nightcap at Shorebirds.
Saturday: Hit the Apple Hill Trail
11135 Folsom Blvd, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670 | (916) 638-2046
9 AM Fill up the tank before you head out – An institution in Rancho Cordova, Brookfields is the perfect old-school diner to simultaneously nip that nagging hangover in the bud and pump you full of fuel for another long day of drinking.
Stuff yourself with skillets, bolster your brain with breakfast benedicts, or pump up your palate with pancakes.
If you’re not a post-drinking carbo loader, the lighter fare includes a Greek yogurt or açaí bowl.
But really, this is the kind of good ol’ Americana place where you want to get down and dirty with a plate of eggs and crispy fried hash browns.
The choice is yours.
Kingdom Coffee Roasters
305 Iron Point Rd, Folsom, CA 95630
10:30 AM Get a royal buzz – Don’t get us wrong, we enjoy diners’ bottom-of-the-mug (and bottomless) coffee, but we can’t help but find the buzziest new coffee shop in town.
So when Kingdom Coffee Roasters’ website boasted their aim to find ”the greatness that is within every bean,” we knew we’d found the elusive “it” spot around Rancho Cordova.
A classically tight menu includes a double shot, Americano, cortado, cappuccino, latte, mocha, drip coffee, iced coffee, nitro, pour-over, hot cocoa, chai, and tea.
But you’ll also find two signature specialties.
First, the Pearl Latte with a double shot of espresso, sweetened condensed milk, and steamed milk.
Second, the Sparkler, a twenty-ounce double shot espresso shaken with house-made vanilla over San Pelligrino sparkling water.
Walking inside, we found the barista chatting enthusiastically with caffeine cravers on a first-name basis. And he greeted us as if we could become that next regular.
Although we only stopped in for a Joe to-go, we wish we could have spent an hour sitting and sipping at Kingdom Coffee.
And that, to us, is the mark of a great coffeehouse.
2569 Larsen Dr, Camino, CA 95709 | (530) 644-1594
11:00 AM Hot apple cider donuts on a rainy day – Take a thirty-minute drive east of Rancho Cordova, and you’ll hit Apple Hill, a trail of fifty-plus orchards, family farms, hard cideries, wineries, and more.
You could spend all day here winding through the curving, leaf-swept roads. But if you have to plant your flag somewhere, start at Rainbow Orchards.
While the season for u-pick apples seemed over when we went, going earlier in October will guarantee you can grab your own Galas, Granny Smiths, Golden Delicious, and a variety called Arkansas Black.
If you miss harvest, don’t worry! The barn has bushels for you to buy bagged.
Don’t leave Rainbow Orchards without snagging an apple cider donut and hot cider to go.
Warming your cold hands with a paper cup of hot mulled apple juice and staining them with crumbly crystals of cakey donut sugar is an essential Apple Hill experience.
Solid Ground Brewing
552 Pleasant Valley Rd, Diamond Springs, CA 95619 | (530) 344-7442
12:30 PM The land of LUKR – A suggestion from Alexander at Burning Barrel, Solid Ground, will make your jaw drop.
This place has over twenty-five side-pull LUKR taps from the Czech Republic. Can you name any other brewery in the country whose entire draft wall is LUKRs?
Not that we know of, and probably because they cost around $400 a pop.
But it’s worth it for Solid Ground Co-Founder KC Sare, about whom Alexander told us, “He just wanted to do it!”
We loved the Šipka Czech pilsner with its thick, luxurious foam, floral body, and cracker-buttery finish.
But the new 5 Mile Lager collab with New Glory wowed. Expressing zest of watermelon rind and cucumber, this German-style lager drank very refreshing and zippy. Not as floral as expected, 5 Mile Lager had a hint of pine cone with a bit of butteriness, pickled pepper, and toasted pepita in the backend.
Solid Ground is also a solid spot for lunch (or you can wait until you get to the next stop below).
The burgers come next to a pile of fries plopped onto metal trays. The Roast Fall Salad came piled high with roasted brussels sprouts, roasted cauliflower, pickled onions, and a butternut squash vinaigrette. And the Falafel Wrap came stuffed with fried chickpea balls in buttery naan.
They just go bigger at Solid Ground. And we are here for it!
Moonraker Brewing Co. Millhouse
3501 Robin Ln, Cameron Park, CA 95682 | (530) 745-6816
2:30 PM Hazy hop haven – The brewery known for out-of-this-world hoppy beers and hazies recently opened a new taproom this past May.
The Millhouse, as they’re calling it, feels like that dream house you started imagining in your mind as a kid but could only build once you made your first billion (just kidding, million).
Seriously though, this is a tricked-out outpost.
A white-paneled barn and an enormous sand patio full of picnic tables greet you on the way to the front door.
Right before you walk inside, you’ll scope a window showing you a gold-plated pizza oven sending out piping-hot pies. Walk inside, and the music of laughter, conversations, and crunching hits your ears across the over 20,000-sq-ft space spread over nearly seventeen acres.
Get in line to order; Moonraker brings everything to your tables.
We waffled between the Five Oh Five, 2020 U.S. Beer Championship gold medal-winning West Coast IPA, and Outrigger West Coast IPA. But ultimately, I went for the 2020 Best of Craft Beer Awards silver-medal-winning Puzzle Dust.
The hazy pale poured milky AF-like loaded peach, nectarine, stone fruit smooth. Some cherry Jolly Rancher and Trolli Sour Brite Crawlers on the nose gave way to a murky pale ale boasting candi-sweet notes of 7-Eleven slushies, Watermelon Airheads, and Blu Raspberry Dum Dum Lollipops.
Not gonna lie; the food looked so good here that we grabbed a snack, too—the seasonal white bean and pumpkin hummus with sourdough pita that felt like leftover pizza crust in the best way.
But you should probably go for a pizza like the pickle Pie with garlic aioli, dill pickles, hot honey, and chive or BeerBQ Chicken with Millhouse “BeerBQ” sauce, chicken, jalapeno, pickled red onion, crispy garlic, and cilantro.
Definitely the place to be, Moonrakers Millhouse was packed even on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
Movement Brewing Company
11151 Trade Center Dr Ste 104/105, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670 | (916) 389-0046
4:30 PM Movin’ and groovin’ – When we walked through the parking lot to Movement, we passed a garage door literally rumbling with noise. We thought it was the indoor soccer arena next door.
But walking inside, we quickly realized all the rhythm and tempo came straight from the brewery itself.
On a late Saturday afternoon, Movement was bustling and bumping.
Movement is the kind of taproom that makes everyone happy.
Whether you’re someone sitting at the bar by yourself with a four-pack to go, drinking a couple of beers, and watching college football before heading home.
Or a couple of families bringing the kids along to play while you grab a couple of pints and catch up.
Or just a bunch of friends hosting a party in the corner with a free taco bar.
We observed all of this at Movement.
The tap list will fit any appetite, too, ranging from lagers—pilsner, helles, light beer—to ales—IPAs of every variety, a sour, and a stout—and those in-between—hard seltzer.
If you want to make everyone in your party happy, Movement is your go-to move.
Claimstake Brewing Company
11366 Monier Park Pl, Rancho Cordova, CA 95742 | (916) 661-5249
6:00 PM Stake your claim – Inspired by the Gold Rush, Claimstake has been keepin’ it California for about a decade. That means brewing flagships like the One Spot Sacramento-style West Coast IPA while also switching the tap list up to make sure people always stop in, hunting for that next beer of gold.
Could it be the Papa Steve, black DIPA with Simcoe, Strata, and Mosaic?
Or the Red & Gold red IPA?
Guess you’ll just have to set your wagon wheels due west to Rancho Cordova and find out.
KP International Market
10971 Olson Dr, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670 | (916) 853-8000
7:30 PM International food court – Rancho Cordova has earned itself a ranking of the twenty-eighth most diverse community in the country, sporting over ninety languages and a variety of eateries with food from around the world.
For instance, KP International, a Korean market with a global food court.
When my wife and I first moved to Oakland, we lived two blocks away from a KP Stacey frequented almost weekly.
“Why didn’t our KP have a food court!” she exclaimed as we walked inside.
You’ll find primarily Asian food here—Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese.
Stacey opted for a noodle dish with black bean sauce (called jajangmyeon in Korean) while my sweet tooth kicked in, and I got a slice of lemon cake from the bakery.
You can also find banh mi, Korean soups and barbecue, chow mein, tacos, burritos, pho, hamburgers, sushi rolls, and more.
Fort Rock Brewing Co.
12401 Folsom Blvd #110, Rancho Cordova, CA 95742 | (916) 936-4616
8:30 PM One last beer – “Just Great Beer”—that’s the ethos at Fort Rock Brewing. Just making rock-solid beer.
Sounds like a pretty solid place to end the night.
Expect a core pilsner, American IPA, hazy, DIPA, pale, fruited sour, and seasonal releases like Goonies Never Say Die hazy and FRB Brown ale.
Sunday: Rise and Shine
3155 Zinfandel Dr, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670 | (916) 970-1761
8:30 AM Brunch – With mimosa in the name, this restaurant has to have a strong brunch game. The iconic champagne-based citrus drink abounds along with varieties like a house rosé with the juice of your choice.
The menu here is massive. Everyone can find their hangover cure of choice, from sweet or savory crepes to Belgian waffles and pancakes to combo plates and skillets.
Mimosa House is a crowd pleaser. And on a Sunday morning when you no longer want to make any decisions, this is the place you should be.
Walk the American River Parkway
8:30 AM Take a Hike – A beautiful stretch of trails running thirty-two miles from Sacramento to Rancho Cordova, the American River Parkway Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail poses the perfect place to amble off a few of those brunch cals before hitting the car and heading home, reminiscing on all the great times you had in Rancho Cordova for that last forty-eight hours.