Despite being the largest city in Sonoma County, Santa Rosa has the heartbeat of an authentic, eclectic, and vibrant small town.
There's a vast diversity of independently owned restaurants, breweries, wineries, and shops to explore—and after suffering massive devastation in the 2017 Wine Country wildfires, now is the perfect time to visit and give Santa Rosa some love.
Where to Eat in Santa Rosa
(Courtesy of Perch + Plow)
Perch + Plow
A giant octopus mural and sunset views of Santa Rosa's Historic Courthouse Square set the tone for a memorable dining experience at Perch + Plow. Located on the second floor, its members-only vibe makes it one of downtown Santa Rosa's best kept secrets. Order up one of their inventive craft cocktails, often designed after historical and pop culture figures and then garnished in their honor; the Churchill, for instance, is a smoky mezcal libation that celebrates Winston Churchill's love for cigars and comes with a tiny photo of the late Prime Minister clipped to the glass. Refreshing and colorful dishes look almost too pretty to eat—we loved the the grilled octopus (served with chickpea puree, fennel pesto, arugula, and pickled onion) and the ahi tuna poke, plated with ponzu sauce, avocado, cucumber, and a crispy rice chip. // 90 Old Courthouse Sq. (Santa Rosa), perchandplow.com
John Ash & Co.
If you've got a special occasion to celebrate, make a rezzy at John Ash & Co., located at Vintners Inn. Chef Thomas Schmidt sources seasonal ingredients from the restaurant's own gardens, as well as from the best local farms. For the full experience, go with the four-course chef's tasting menu ($68 per person, $35 additional for wine pairings), but if a-la carte if more your jam, you won't want to skip the foie gras trio for a starter. For mains, good luck choosing between dishes like lobster risotto, bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin, and a lamb trio. // 4350 Barnes Rd. (Santa Rosa), vintnersinn.com/dining/john-ash-co
The Spinster Sisters
A Sonoma County staple, The Spinster Sisters is open for breakfast, lunch, happy hour, dinner, and weekend brunch, which means there's no excuse not to make it in. Located in the up-and-coming SOFA Arts District, the restaurant features the work of local artists. Chef Liza Hinman serves up equally creative New American dishes, like housemade kimchi and bacon deviled eggs or Joe's Benedict (poached eggs, prosciutto, red onion, and arugula with avocado and herb hollandaise served on Downtown Bakery challah). // 401 South A St. (Santa Rosa), thespinstersisters.com
Dierk's Parkside Café
This old-school diner has become a cult Santa Rosa breakfast spot (so be prepared for a possible wait on weekends). Grandma Dierk's Pull-A-Parts—basically a giant, cinnamon sugar donut, but better—is a must-order, and the rest of the menu is a mix between classic breakfast dishes and Dierk's specials. If you're feeling adventurous, look to the Sonoma duck confit (scrambled eggs with hash browns and warm apples) or the cinnamon roll French toast (homemade cinnamon pecan roll dipped in egg batter and topped with apples, pecans, and hot syrup). // 404 Santa Rosa Ave. (Santa Rosa), dierksparkside.com
Bird & the Bottle
The newest addition to Stark Reality Restaurants—the same folks behind other Santa Rosa gems Willi's Wine Bar, Stark's Steak & Seafood, and Monti's—Bird & the Bottle blends inspiration from Asia, the American South, the East Coast, Jewish comfort food, and the sea. This results in funky culinary combos like salmon wings with kimchi salt and matzo ball soup with barbecue chicken thigh. Other perks of Bird: a large selection of street tacos, local beer available by the growler, and Health Shots (cocktails infused with fresh herbs and super foods). // 1055 4th St. (Santa Rosa), birdandthebottle.com
The Parish Café
This slice of N'awlins heaven has all the goods from The Big Easy: po-boys, shrimp and grits, jambalaya, crawfish, and of course, powdery beignets. The popular Healdsburg restaurant recently opened its second location in downtown Santa Rosa and has nine (nine!) different po-boys on its menu, like fried green tomato and catfish. // 703 4th St. (Santa Rosa), theparishcafe.com
Gerard's PaellaIf you're a wine country regular, chances are you've seen Gerard at one event or another, cooking up giant heaps of his famous paella. Finally, he opened up his own restaurant, enabling his loyal followers to get their fix of the classic Spanish dish whenever they crave it. The menu features four variations of paella, plus pintxos, tapas, salads, bocadillos, and desserts. Wash it all down with a kalimoxto, a concoction of red wine, cola, and chuncho bitters. // 701 4th St. (Santa Rosa), gerardspaella.com
All the Beer + Wine in Santa Rosa
Santa Rosa is hops country, and while one weekend won't be enough to visit all of the local breweries, you certainly can give it the old college try. The mainstay brewery of Santa Rosa—a "pionbeer," if you will—Russian River Brewing Company (725 4th St.) has acquired a cultish following that's willing to wait hours in line for a pint of their annual release of Pliny the Younger. The brewery just opened their second taproom in Windsor (roughly 10 minutes outside Santa Rosa), so maybe it will be a little less crowded on the weekends now. // Tucked away in an office park warehouse, locals love Cooperage Brewing Company (981 Airway Ct. g), a no-frills spot for a casual evening of good beer (hoppy Belgian-style ales and the occasional sour) and old school board games. // HenHouse Brewing's (322 Bellevue Ave) small taproom and patio is seemingly always busy, which is probably why they recently opened a second, larger location in Petaluma. They focus on under-appreciated styles—think saisons, an oyster stout brewed with whole oysters, a gose with mango puree—and almost always have a local food truck on location. // If there's one thing 2 Tread Brewing (1018 Santa Rosa Plaza) has more of than their fellow Santa Rosa breweries, it's space. With 10,000 sq. ft. for hanging out, whether it be inside by the working brewery or outside in the beer garden, 2 Tread offers up a good range of styles (including IPAs, Farmhouse Ales, and Cream Ales), but also has something for everyone: live music, wine, craft cocktails, and an elevated menu with tons of gluten free and vegetarian options. They had us at the sweet potato teeter tots. // Short on time? Sample an array of local brews via 20 taps at Local Barrel (490 Mendocino Ave #104), set in the heart of downtown Santa Rosa.
Santa Rosa is often referred to as a great jumping off point to popular Wine Country destinations like Healdsburg, Sonoma, and Sebastopol, but there are plenty of great wineries to hit up right in town. Benovia (3339 Hartman Rd.), a small production, family-owned winery, recently renovated their quaint, yet elegant ranch house tasting room with floor-to-ceiling windows that showcase their sprawling vineyard views. If it's a nice day, sit out on Benovia's upstairs deck and enjoy a relaxed tasting of single vineyard chardonnay and pinot noir from the Russian River Valley; if it's not, by the fireplace is where you'll want to cozy up. // Connoisseurs of Kendall-Jackson (500 Fulton Rd., Fulton) chardonnay will want to visit their Santa Rosa estate. Book one of the wine and food experiences—choose between a 5-course meal, wine and chocolate, or wine and cheese pairing—and don't leave without a stroll through their impressive gardens, where KJ's farm-to-fork philosophy really comes to life. // Matanzas Creek Winery (6097 Bennett Valley Rd.) is best known for their gram-worthy, frolick-inducing lavender fields, which draw thousands of tourists a year, but their wines can stand on their own. While most of Sonoma County is focused on chardonnay and pinot noir, Matanzas has built a unique portfolio of merlot and sauvignon blanc. This is also a great spot for a picnic and bocce, so bring your friends (reservation recommended). // Belden Barns (5561 Sonoma Mountain Rd.) is the definition of a hidden gem. Set at 1,000 ft. elevation on Sonoma Mountain, this magical property offers up panoramic views, a wishing tree, farmstead, the rustic, wine country barn of your dreams, and a glass of Grüner Veltliner.
Before you head home, stop in at Bottle Barn (3331-A Industrial Dr.). This beer and wine emporium is like IKEA for alcoholic beverages and the fastest way to stock your fridge and/or cellar.
Shop + Play in Santa Rosa
(Courtesy of the Railroad Square Historic District)
Santa Rosa has its share of standardized malls and shopping plazas, but the real fun goes down at the eclectic Railroad Square Historic District. Here, in Santa Rosa's Old Town, you'll find a slew of thrift and antiques shops; a costume shop with a delightfully-punny name (Disguise the Limit); a furniture store, yarn store, and more.
The SOFA Arts District (a nickname for South A Street) is a burgeoning artist community in downtown Santa Rosa that houses roughly 40 artist studios within just four blocks. You can shop, visit galleries, and meet artists during open studios events held throughout the year, like WinterBlast, which puts on a literal sofa parade. There are also coffee houses, the popular Criminal Baking Co., restaurants, and boutique shops to discover. // South A Street and Sebastopol Ave. (Santa Rosa), sofasantarosa.com.
The city of Santa Rosa is surrounded by wilderness, making it a hot destination for cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts. With more than 5,000 acres, Trione-Annadel State Park (6201 Channel Dr.) offers miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. One of the most beautiful hikes takes you around Lake Ilsanjo, which explodes in color during wildflower season (April-May). // From Trione-Annadel, you can also connect to Spring Lake Regional Park (393 Violetti Rd.), home of a popular, summer swimming hole with 10 miles of surrounding hiking and biking trails. // The highest peak in the Mayacamas Mountains, the nearly 2,000-acre Hood Mountain Regional Park (1450 Pythian Rd.) offers 19 miles of mostly-strenuous trails, including public backpacking sites and a Pygmy forest. Hike Hood's Gunsight Rock for the best views (and workout). // Take in panoramic views of Santa Rosa from Taylor Mountain Regional Park (3820 Petaluma Hill Rd.), home to 5.5 miles of trails, in addition to an 18-hole disc golf course. // For something quick, meander alongside vineyards, wetlands, marshes, and vernal pools on the 2-mile Laguna de Santa Rosa Regional Trail (6303 Hwy 12), keeping an eye out for the rare California tiger salamander.
Where to Stay in Santa Rosa
(Courtesy of The Astro Motel)
Vintners Inn is conveniently located right off the highway, but once you're there, this peaceful oasis feels miles away from civilization. Nestled among 98 acres of vineyards, Santa Rosa's most romantic, luxury resort boasts spacious, cozy rooms with electric fireplaces and private balconies or patios. This fall, Vintners Inn opened up a few new villas with elevated vineyard view rooms and suites, plus a 5,000-square foot spa, complete with indoor and outdoor pools and a fitness center. On site, you can make a reservation at John Ash & Co, an incredible fine-dining restaurant, or swing by the Front Bar & Lounge for a killer happy hour that's popular among locals. Moreover, the inn's River Vine Cafe is open for lunch and breakfast, a great spot to load up before a day of wine tasting. // Rates start at $250 a night; Vintners Inn, 4350 Barnes Rd. (Santa Rosa), vintnersinn.com
This 40-year-old motel channeled serious Palm Springs vibes in its recent renovation, which stars an uber-chic, 1950s pool house. The Sandman was made for Instagram photo shoots and lazy summer days; think, solstice pool parties, snacks, frosé, and other libations served at the pool bar window, plus analog games and classic books to help you unplug and engage in some old-fashioned fun. // Rates start at $169/night; The Sandman, 3421 Cleveland Ave. (Santa Rosa), sandmansantarosa.com
The Astro MotelOnce a by-the-hour roadside dump, The Astro Motel has been given new life by a group of impassioned Santa Rosans. As a tribute to its roots in the buzzing SOFA Arts District, local artists were brought in to give the Astro its colorful, retro makeover, and each room is furnished with one-of-a-kind, mid-century modern pieces collected from all over the country (and available for purchase at checkout). // Rates start at $160/night; The Astro Motel, 323 Santa Rosa Ave. (Santa Rosa), theastro.com.