THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Natalie Cilurzo VC_Questionnaire_NatalieCilurzo_RussianRiverBrewingCompany_NC5-060117_1280x640
Russian River Brewing Company


The co-owner of the wildly popular Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa shares her story, along with a few Golden State favorites

Natalie Cilurzo will never forget the day everything changed for the Russian River Brewing Company. It was February 5, 2010—the first Friday in February—and as she and her husband Vinnie walked up to their cozy brewpub in downtown Santa Rosa they noticed a long line of people waiting to get in. Bewildered, they approached the crowd.

“Vinnie asked them, ‘What are you here for? What are you waiting for?’ Natalie recalls. “And they said, ‘For your beer.’”

“Vinnie said, ‘We don’t open for four hours.’

“And they said, ‘Don’t you know that Pliny the Younger has been rated the best beer in the world?’”

Unbeknownst to the Cilurzos, 100-point scores from and had transformed their limited-release triple IPA, Pliny the Younger, into a craft beer phenomenon. The lines have only grown since that day, and now thousands of people line up to sample Pliny the Younger during a two-week window each February. The couples’ flagship double IPA, Pliny the Elder, has received similarly exalted reviews and draws visitors to the pub year-round.

“We got schooled pretty quickly at how to manage large crowds at our pub and we’ve been refining it every year,” Natalie says. “We’ve become a destination.“

This year alone the Cilurzos have poured Pliny for patrons from 48 states and more than 40 different countries, including China, Guam, India, Japan, Norway, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, Thailand, and Venezuela.

Plans are underway to open a second pub in Sonoma County, where the couple has lived for more than 20 years, but until then the long lines are likely to remain. (Pro tip: Go on Valentine’s Day or during the Super Bowl, when many beer fans have other obligations.) We asked Natalie to take the California Questionnaire and she gladly obliged.

Where do you live?  Santa Rosa

Why there? Sonoma County has everything anyone could ask for! We moved here 20 years ago from Southern California and never looked back. It’s beautiful, has great weather, world-class wine and beer, dozens of local producers of dairy, meat, and produce, and the people are fun and interesting. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Who or what is your greatest California love? I love autumn in Northern California. The sun is lower in the sky casting a warm light on the vineyards and trees turning autumn colors. The coast is often warm and clear with sightings of gray whales migrating south for the winter. It’s the most beautiful time of year.

What is the biggest misperception about Californians? That we all eat granola, smell like patchouli, and smoke pot! And if you are from California you must live in L.A.—I never understood that one.

What is the stereotype that most holds true? Californians are generally easygoing, casual, and friendly. We went to a beach wedding last summer in San Diego. The groom’s family was from New York and the bride’s family from California. The New Yorkers wore suits and cocktail dresses; the Californians wore shorts and sandals. A great time was had by all, but it was a very typical California wedding. What is your favorite Golden State splurge? Long weekend getaways with my husband at some charming inn on the California coast with no computer or mobile reception.

Time for a road trip—where are you going? I would start at the coast here in Sonoma County and head up to the Eastern Sierra by way of the Yosemite Valley. One of the most amazing things about California is the proximity of the Pacific Ocean to the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains. And I would do this trip in middle-to-late spring when the mountain passes are open. It is the best time of year to catch all the beautiful wildflowers and flowing waterfalls. I have always appreciated the almost desolate beauty on the eastern side of the Sierras where the mountains and the high desert collide. It’s such a magical place and well worth the eight-hour drive.

If you could decree an official state culinary experience, what would it be? Lightly battered, pan-fried abalone caught fresh that day off the coast of Mendocino, served by the campfire on a paper plate at Van Damme State Park with a tasty California craft brewed IPA. And we must start with a small wheel of Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog cheese and a delicious sour beer.

Best California song? California Dreamin’ by The Mamas and The Papas. This song truly captures a moment in history and a growing vibe in California leading up to the Summer of Love.

How would your California dream day unfold? When my husband and I have a rare day off, we like to start our day at Willie Bird’s restaurant with a late brunch. Then we head toward the coast. Our drive takes us through Sebastopol, then to the tiny historic hamlet of Freestone and a stop for a treat at Wild Flour Bakery.

Back on the road, we drive down Bohemian Highway and finally reach the charming town of Occidental. At the stop sign in town we hang a left onto a very narrow and windy road through beautiful redwoods and farm pastures. A hand-painted sign on a fence says “Ocean” with an arrow pointing west. When we crest the top of the hill, the grand Pacific Ocean floods our view from north to south. We make our way down the very steep and curvy road and finally hit Highway 1 and the ocean. We turn south toward Bodega Bay, made famous by filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock with his movie The Birds. Our journey ends at Bodega Head, a huge bluff that juts out into the ocean and a perfect spot for whale-watching.

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Northern California

Discover the San Francisco Bay Area

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Average (°C)
Mar - May
June - Aug
Sept - Nov
Dec - Feb

A crimson bridge, cable cars, a sparkling bay, and streets lined with elegant Victorian homes—San Francisco is undeniably one of the world’s great cities. Located along the Northern California at the state’s distinctive bend in the coast, the region has an alluring magic that stretches beyond the bay to diverse cities with nightlife and trend-setting cuisine.

"I left my heart in San Francisco, High on a hill, it calls to me."  –singer Tony Bennett

The Bay Area is also home to some of the world’s finest wine country, including Napa Valley and Sonoma, plus waterfront towns, dramatic beaches, and the tech-savvy southern end of the bay known as the Silicon Valley, where lunchtime ideas at Google, Facebook, and Apple, turn into the next brilliant innovation. 

Plan your California getaway via San Francisco with these great deals!

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Schofield Images/Getty Images


Immerse yourself in the Golden State lifestyle by seeking out fashion-forward independent retailers and local brands

Amid the hustle and bustle of San Francisco’s North Bay, the quiet waterside burg of Benicia...

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Courtesy of NPS Photo

Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial

Tour this military memorial that honors soldiers killed on the World War II home front and pays tribute to Concord’s role in civil rights history

California’s smallest national park service outlet covers a mere 2000 sqm in Concord on San Francisco Bay’s east shore—but it tells a very big...

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Erica Davis/Getty Images

Half Moon Bay

This delightful little beach town possesses serious surf DNA and is just a short drive from San Francisco

Half Moon Bay is situated 45 minutes south of San Francisco on Highway 1, but it might as well be half a world away. Home to the world-famous...

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4 Awesome Wine Country Resorts

Luxurious spas, farm-to-table dining, and easy access to dozens of wineries—these Napa and Sonoma resorts offer the indulgent getaway you need

Ready for some “me time” in Wine Country? Reserve your spot at one of these spectacular Napa and Sonoma resorts.

Farmhouse Inn,...

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San Francisco's cable cars are the only mobile National Monuments.
San Francisco itself is art, above all literary art. Every block is a short story, every hill a novel. Every home a poem, every dweller within immortal. That is the whole truth.
William Saroyan
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Golden Gate Bridge

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See one of the world’s most famous landmarks, spanning an elegant bay

With towers soaring 746 feet/227 metres into the sky, its span arcing across the mouth of San Francisco Bay, and all of it painted bright red-...


Rock rolls into the wine country with this three-day event in Napa that features 2019 headliners Imagine Dragons, Neil Young, and Mumford & Sons. With more than 80 performers in the May 24–26...

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Jessica S./Flickr
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San Francisco has only one drawback - 'tis hard to leave.
Rudyard Kipling
A Napa Valley Vineyard
Mathew Spolin/Getty Images

Spotlight: Napa Valley

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Explore ultimate wine country luxury in the land where Cabernet is king

Napa Valley reigns as the land of grand estates, expansive tasting rooms, quaint towns, and elegant lodgings, many of which edge up to the...

A bird's-eye view of Sonoma County
Vicki Jauron/Getty Images

Spotlight: Sonoma County

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Escape to wine country with secret vineyards, cozy inns, and rich history

Spanning more than 400,000 hectares from the Pacific Ocean to the rugged Coast Range, this slice of wine-country bliss defies typecasting. Yes, it...

Kid-friendly fun zones, special kids' menus & amazing wine for the grownups

Sure wine country is romantic, but now it’s a surprisingly great destination for families too, with a growing number of vineyards trading in elegant tasting rooms for kid-friendly fun zones that...

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Get the Spanish spirit at this colourful event. Stroll the grounds of Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards with a glass of bubbly, and take in a whirl of passionate music, flamenco dancing, and food...

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Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards
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Taste the delicious dishes from these amazing California chefs

From a candy-coloured pastry shop to Michelin-starred dining rooms, top restaurants run by celebrity chefs dot the Golden State. And even if you don’t know these chefs from the TV...

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World-class accommodations in world-class locations

Head to the heart of California’s cities for luxurious stays at world-class accommodations. From San Francisco’s historic hotels to celebrity hot spots in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, California’s...

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Trip 8-10 days 10 stops

Ultimate Northern California

Explore the best of Northern California's Great Outdoors
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It may measure less than 50 square miles/130 square kilometres, but San Francisco justly ranks as one of the greatest cities in the world. Famous for grand-dame Victorians, classic cable cars, dynamic diversity, a beautiful waterfront, and a soaring crimson bridge, the  “City by the Bay” is the...

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Tucked into an ocean-facing fold of Mount Tamalpais, the signature peak just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, Muir Woods National Monument protects the last stand of uncut old-growth coast redwoods in the Bay Area, where loggers had all but denuded the region by the late 1800s....

Farm-fresh produce, culinary adventures

Juicy heirloom tomatoes and just-picked strawberries. Super-sweet peaches shaped like mini UFOs. Artisanal cheeses, emerald-green olive oils, local wildflower honey—California’s farmers’ markets...

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Laura Flippen
From Gold Rush history to 8th wonders of the world, visit these favorites

If there was ever a box of chocolates—and all of them delicious—it’s the rich collection of natural treasures, fascinating...

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Amy Meredith/Flickr
Make memories at some of California's family-favorite beaches

Sand, water, and kids—it’s a natural combination for easy family fun. This sandy dozen offers appealing, family-friendly features, such as calm water for new swimmers, tide pools for intrepid...

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Alex Farnum
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Courtesy of San Jose International Airport

Spotlight: San Jose

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Tech savvy, international flair

The first hit of this city’s unmistakable techy-ness starts right off the bat—if you get here by plane. Meet Space Observer, a 26-foot/7.9-metre-...

May 11 - May 20

America's largest and most prestigious cycling event brings many of the world’s top riders to the Golden State. The 8-stage race changes it up every year, with new courses connecting cities and...

Amgen Tour of California
Amgen Tour of California
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It's simply a very romantic place. Just one look at any of those streets, and you couldn't be anywhere else -- it's so beautiful, and there's that location, and the sense of the free spirit. ... Who couldn't become ravenous in such a place?
Julia Child
Sample ultra-fresh, hyper-local, and downright amazing

When you come to California, come hungry. This is a state that seriously knows how to cook. Amazing and innovative chefs sprinkled with Michelin stars work with local farms and artisanal food...

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George's at the Cove
Old-fashioned fun in the Golden State

Historic oceanfront playgrounds, classic city-park charmers, boisterous adventures—smaller theme parks and attractions offer an array of ways to play. These smaller parks offer old-...

Safari West
Tai Power Seeff
According to legend, Winchester Mystery House's maze of passages and building oddities were designed to confuse the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles.
Kids get an inside look at wildlife, space, and more

From cool ways for your kids to learn about wildlife, to an insider’s look at a space station, to a chance to walk through a rainforest or learn about the night sky, there’s a bumper...

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Trip 3-5 days 10 stops

San Francisco Bay Loop

Discover this something-for-everything loop tour around an iconic bay
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Start your trip with a visit to one of the most iconic spans in the world. With towers soaring 746 feet/227 metres into the sky, its span arcing across the mouth of San Francisco Bay, and all of it painted fire-engine red, the Golden Gate Bridge makes a dramatic destination, and a great way to...

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End your road trip by exploring one of the world’s great cities. Famous for grand-dame Victorians, classic cable cars, dynamic diversity, a beautiful waterfront, and a soaring crimson bridge, the “City by the Bay” truly has it all. Trend-defining cuisine ranging from Michelin-starred dining to...

Check these amazing experiences off your bucket list

Kiss a beluga, see cool movie props, and learn about Walt’s secret hideaway on exclusive and behind-the-scenes tours at California’s theme parks and attractions. Here’s a roundup of worth-the-...

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Photo by Michael Saechang/Flickr
Where to release your inner fashionista

Shopping is an art form in California. Whether you're in search of the perfect cocktail dress or an authentic Mexican piñata, you'll find it here. Want to sample fresh produce? Try our farmers...

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South Coast Plaza
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Tai Power Seeff


Ranches, vineyards, and relaxed appeal east of San Francisco

With warm sun and wide open spaces cradling vineyards, ranches, and wine country estates, the Livermore Valley makes an appealing destination just...