Santa Rosa, Sonoma County a Worthy Visit

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Statues of Lucy and Woodstock in front of the California Welcome Center at Historic Railroad Square
Lucy and Woodstock greet visitors in front of the California Welcome Center at Historic Railroad Square. (Photos by Jeff Orenstein)

Santa Rosa is a beautiful city of 175,000 just 55 miles north of San Francisco. It is a delightful urban enclave that serves as the gateway to the world-renowned Sonoma Valley wine country.

The biggest city in Sonoma County, it is an ideal base and jumping-off point for a wine-country vacation.

Santa Rosa is close to everything that makes Sonoma what it is: wineries, urban tasting rooms, an incredible variety of restaurants, craft beer, California’s rugged coast and diverse outdoor adventure opportunities. No wonder it is becoming a desirable bedroom community for the Bay Area since the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transportation train and other improvements have arrived, and living costs are a bit lower than in the big city.

A garden by Luther Burbank
Famed horticulturist Luther Burbank made his plant magic in Santa Rosa, and his home and gardens are open to the public.

Santa Rosa’s resilience is evident. Despite the wildfires that devastated parts of the town and surrounding areas in 2017, the urban area is both bustling and welcoming. The downtown was untouched by the fires, and the neighborhoods that were burned are well along in the rebuilding process.

There is plenty to do to occupy you in Santa Rosa proper for a long weekend and certainly more than you can accomplish in a day trip from the Bay Area.

Start with some great shopping and restaurants in Historic Railroad Square and nearby Courthouse Square. Check out the lush gardens surrounding Luther Burbank’s home, and don’t forget the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, dedicated to the famed Peanuts cartoonist who made his home in Santa Rosa. There is also family fun at the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County and a bustling cultural scene.

If you get tired of wine, beer and great food in town, Santa Rosa boasts 66 parks, and the surrounding mountains are a mecca for hikers and mountain bikers.

Commuters wait for the SMART train
Santa Rosa commuters and visitors are served by the SMART train, which offers swift service toward San Francisco Bay and to the Sonoma County Airport. An extension deep into wine country is under construction.

Getting There:

Santa Rosa can be easily reached by highway, air or train.

  • By air, the nearest airport is the Charles M. Schultz Sonoma County Airport (STS), just 8 miles away. San Francisco International (SFO) is 67 miles away, Oakland International (OAK) is 68 miles away.
  • By train, the SMART regional train serves Santa Rosa. The nearest Amtrak station is Suisun-Fairfield at 55 miles. It is connected to Santa Rosa by coordinated bus service.
  • By car, California highways 101 and 12 meet at Santa Rosa.

Must-Sees for a Short Stay:

  • Railroad Square and Court-house Square restaurants and shops
  • The California Welcome Center in Railroad Square for maps, advice, discount coupons, etc.
  • The Luther Burbank Home and Gardens

If You Have Several Days:

  • The Charles M. Schultz Museum
  • A wine tasting trip to nearby Sonoma County wineries and the Russian River Valley
  • A scenic drive to the coast at Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds.
A statue of a Peanuts character
‘Peanuts’ cartoonist Charles Schutz lived in Santa Rosa, and the city is filled with statutes of his characters. There is also a Charles M. Schultz Museum in town.

Ginny O’s Tips for Dressing the Simply Smart Travel Way for Santa Rosa:

Chic but comfortable clothes are in order for Santa Rosa and wine country. With many day trippers and vacationers from the San Francisco Bay area, stylish casual and trendy are common.

This Destination at a Glance:

Over 50 Advantage: Good museums and restaurants and proximity to wine country

Mobility Level: Low

Simply Smart Travel Tip: The beautiful Luther Burbank Gardens are free.

When to Go: Year-round. Winter can be rainy, and summers are hot but not humid. September and October are busy given near-ideal weather.

Where to Stay: The Hyatt Vineyard and Marriott Courtyard at Railroad Square are convenient and right downtown. Most of the national chains have properties in and around Santa Rosa. Prices are a little more affordable than many other Sonoma locations.

Special Travel Interests: Wine, historic buildings, Peanuts cartoon memorabilia.

Jewish Santa Rosa

If you are interested in maintaining a connection with the Jewish community while in Santa Rosa, the abundance of Jewish resources available there make that possible.

The city is also just an hour’s drive from San Francisco and environs, a rich center of Jewish activity. Additionally, several Jewish congregations and a range of Jewish resources are available in Sonoma County.

Jewish Resources in Santa Rosa

If you are seeking a synagogue, Congregation Beth Ami, Congregation Shomrei Torah and the Sonoma County Chabad Jewish Center are located in Santa Rosa.

Also, the Jewish Community Center of Sonoma County based in Santa Rosa is a JCC without walls that offers cultural events, and educational and spiritual opportunities for the Jewish residents and visitors in the county. It maintains an office in Santa Rosa. Jewish summer camps in Santa Rosa include Camp Chai and Sonoma County Summer Day Camp, and there are several more in the region, including Healdsburg and Yosemite.

Regional Jewish Community Resources

  • The Jewish Family and Children’s Service of San Francisco, Marin, Peninsula and Sonoma. The Sonoma County office is in Santa Rosa.
  • The Jewish Federation of San Francisco, Marin, Peninsula and Sonoma is an active federation.
  • The Jewish Community Relations Council is a San Francisco-based agency that represents Jews in areas of social justice, intergroup relations and Israel.
  • Hillel of Sonoma County serves Jewish students at Sonoma State University and Santa Rosa Junior College.
  • Jewish LearningWorks in San Francisco maintains a library and holds educational programs.
  • Regional congregations can be found at B’nai Israel Jewish Center in Petaluma, Chabad Jewish Center of Petaluma, Congregation Shir Shalom in Sonoma, Congregation Ner Shalom in Cotati and the Russian River Jewish Community in West Sonoma. Many also maintain religious schools.

Jeffrey and Virginia Orenstein are travel writers from Sarasota, Florida.

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