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Santa Rosa

Slow down for unexpected pleasures and elevated Americana in Sonoma County’s biggest little city

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With nearly 180,000 residents, this is Sonoma County’s largest commerce hub, but even so, Santa Rosa still feels pretty cozy. Its small-town heart prides itself on a rich agricultural heritage, burgeoning arts and brewpub scene, and two famous native—a horticulturalist and a cartoonist.

Experience the city’s casual-warm vibe at the welcoming Railroad Square Historic District. Once the home of bootleggers and ladies of ill repute, the square now hosts 40-plus shops and eateries clustered around the restored 1903 Northwestern Pacific Railroad train depot. Every day the SMART train heads south to Marin County, but there are plenty of reasons to stay right here. Wander the square and admire Santa Rosa’s early 20th-century brick buildings. Order a demitasse of Espresso No. 9 at Flying Goat Coffee. Pop in for breakfast at Omelette Express. Browse through vintage dresses, hats, and period costumes at Hot Couture, or marvel at delicate china teacups perfect for pinky-lifting at Whistlestop Antiques. Have dinner or spend the night at the stately Hotel La Rose, built by Italian stonemasons in 1907.

Santa Rosa’s under-the-radar SOFA arts district (South A Street) is a fashionable home for creative types. The Santa Rosa Arts Center and neighboring art studios sponsor events, classes, and concerts. Entrepreneur and chef Liza Hinman has transformed an aging building into the ultra-hip, mid-century-modern Astro Motel, a sister endeavor to her Spinster Sisters restaurant, where nightly specials include eggplant croquettes, roasted bone marrow, and Moroccan-style carrots. A few footsteps away, the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens honors the self-taught horticulturist Burbank, who took advantage of Sonoma County’s rich soil to develop the Shasta daisy and Santa Rosa plum. Take a home or garden tour and visit the Carriage House Museum at this registered National and State Historic Landmark.

All around town, you’ll notice larger-than-life statues of Snoopy, often accompanied by Charlie Brown, Woodstock, and Lucy. Cartoonist Charles Schulz lived and worked in Santa Rosa from 1969 until his death in 2000, claiming Sonoma County as an inspiration for his iconic Peanuts comic strip. At the Charles M. Schulz Museum, visit a re-creation of the artist’s studio to see his sketches, then head next door to Snoopy’s Home ice rink for year-round skating.

Santa Rosa’s brewpub culture thrives at Plow Brewing Company, Third Street Aleworks, and Russian River Brewing Company, where innovative brewing methods are creating some of California’s most coveted beers, like the triple IPA Pliny the Younger. And you can’t forget you’re in wine country—tasting rooms are located right in the city’s heart. Santa Rosa Vintners Square makes sipping-and-sampling neighbors out of D’Argenzio Winery, Topping Legnon Winery, and Fogbelt Brewing Company—all dotted around a lovely terrazzo-like outdoor setting.

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