Santa Rosa is wine country’s best-kept secret. At first glance, the region’s largest town doesn’t wow with sophistication. I’ll even admit that when I was growing up in too-cool-for-school San Francisco, I spurned anything north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I assumed that this area was just a place for sophisticates who wanted to be pampered in luxury. But as I got to know Napa’s outdoor spaces, small-town charms, and down-to-earth arts and music scenes, I was totally captivated.
Santa Rosa’s mix of arts, trails, and wineries (plus breweries) make it a destination in its own right. It’s also an ideal base for a wine country vacation. Here’s an itinerary that will help you fall in love with this gem.
Santa Rosa has a warm, dry Mediterranean climate with fog during summer mornings and evenings; pack layers, and always bring a jacket.
If you only have time for one thing, make it a visit to the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center.
You’ve likely come to Santa Rosa for the wine scene—and my advice is to dive right in. Saint Francis Winery and Vineyards and Matanzas Creek Winery are local favorites, and both are just outside of town.
Travelers interested in exploring more wineries have nearly endless options. Bike tours are a great way to visit multiple spots while staying active, as are tours that combine winery trips with hikes through nearby redwood groves.
Alternatively, if you’re not feeling outdoorsy, you can book a private tour and see a variety of wineries in Napa or Sonoma.
On your second day, take a break from the wineries and check out Santa Rosa’s green spaces. Rent an electric bike and you can explore downtown, then ride east to Howarth Park. Though modest, this park sits next to larger Spring Lake and Trione-Annadel State parks, where serious hikers and bikers can find adventures.
In the afternoon, bike to the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, dedicated to the famed Peanuts cartoonist. Finish your day by exploring the brewery scene with a beer and food crawl (many start at the popular Russian River Brewing Company).
Unlike the towns of Napa and Sonoma, Santa Rosa is close to the Russian River and the Sonoma coast, so on your third day, take time to enjoy these outdoor destinations. Start early and head to the seaside town of Jenner in time for a morning kayaking excursion where the river meets the sea.
Afterward, make your way back toward Santa Rosa and stop for lunch in Guerneville. You’ll be near the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, which boasts easy hiking paths and magical old-growth redwood grove. In the evening, return to Santa Rosa for a dinner send-off with wine.