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15 Top-Rated Things to Do in Santa Rosa, CA

Written by Brad Lane
Updated Sep 16, 2022

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Santa Rosa is 60 miles north of San Francisco in Northern California. It's the largest city within Sonoma County and a popular destination in the North Bay. Within this lush city, activities like boutique shopping, exploring the outdoors, and enjoying the agricultural splendor of the region are popular things to do.

Other Santa Rosa attractions include state parks, historic homes, stately gardens, public squares, and unique activities like spotting giraffes and rhinos at the city's Safari West. The region also has a history of attracting famous visitors and long-term residents – Charles M. "Sparky" Schulz and Jack London just to name a few, and Santa Rosa offers tourists the opportunity to explore the legacy of these two men with attractions and statues all around town.

A great place to visit first in Santa Rosa is the Old Courthouse Square, where numerous city events take place throughout the year. Adjacent to Old Courthouse Square in the heart of downtown, Fourth Street is lined with local shops, restaurants, and things to do at night. And south of Old Courthouse Square, the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens allows the public to explore the estate of another famous Santa Rosa resident.

For ideas on how to spend your time, see our list of the top attractions and things to do in Santa Rosa, California.

1. Safari West

Giraffe at Safari West in Santa Rosa
Giraffe at Safari West in Santa Rosa

This non-profit institute is a 10-minute drive north of downtown Santa Rosa and offers a unique opportunity to go on an African safari. Safari West encompasses approximately 400 acres and features a wide range of animals to encounter, including giraffes, antelopes, and a rhinoceros.

Alongside daily safari tours used to inspire wildlife advocacy, Safari West also offers luxurious tent cabins with private bathrooms and hardwood floors to spend the night. Many of these accommodations have a view of the resident wildlife.

Private adventures can be arranged prior to visiting Safari West, as well as special animal encounters, including a meet-and-greet with a cheetah or rhinoceros.

Numerous other programs and events take place at Safari West, including photography workshops, children's discovery camps, and a Conservation Dinner Series. Other on-site dining opportunities include the Savannah Café, featuring aromatic entrées cooked over a wood-fire grill.

Address: 3115 Porter Creek Road, Santa Rosa, California

Official site: https://www.safariwest.com/

2. Old Courthouse Square & Downtown Santa Rosa

Fourth Street, Downtown Santa Rosa
Fourth Street, Downtown Santa Rosa | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Old Courthouse Square is the central plaza in downtown Santa Rosa and is a recently renovated gathering space that is home to a wide range of events. A Wednesday Night Market at Old Courthouse Square features live music and a variety of vendors selling produce and homemade goods. Family Movie Nights also take place at the square, as well as community yoga, music festivals, and numerous cultural celebrations.

The rest of downtown stems from Old Courthouse Square, including the adjacent Fourth Street, lined with local restaurants and shops. This area of town is popular for perusing Sonoma County fashion styles, as well as unique locally made housewares, and bibliophiles on Fourth Street will find special interest in the family-owned Treehorn Books.

Just south of Old Courthouse Square, the sprawling estate and gardens of world-renowned horticulturist, Luther Burbank, is now a National Historic Landmark for the public to enjoy. Other downtown attractions include the Museum of Sonoma County and a large multiplex movie theater.

Railroad Square Historic District
Railroad Square Historic District | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

On the western side of downtown, Railroad Square Historic District is considered the original downtown Santa Rosa, and today features gourmet restaurants, trendy shops, and other downtown things to do within century-old buildings. Tourists from San Rafael can reach Railroad Square and downtown Santa Rosa with a newly instated passenger line.

3. Charles M. Schulz Museum

Charlie Brown statue at the Charles M. Schulz Museum
Charlie Brown statue at the Charles M. Schulz Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Dedicated to the life and artwork of Charles M. "Sparky" Schulz, this non-profit museum and research center is centered around the 50-year legacy of the Peanuts comic strip. Thousands of artifacts, including photographs, letters, and tribute art comprise the museum's collection, as well as a vast number of comics and memorabilia. Countless comic strips at the museum are known to make visitors laugh out loud as they peruse the halls.

Charles M. Schulz created the Peanuts comic strip for over 40 years in Santa Rosa, an act proudly celebrated at the museum and throughout the city. Permanent exhibits at the museum include a recreated Schulz Studio, an outdoor Snoopy Labyrinth, and numerous sculptures throughout the grounds. Other Peanuts sculptures and cultural nods are found throughout Santa Rosa, most notably at Depot Park within Historic Railroad Square.

The Schulz Campus encompasses other facilities, including a Museum Theater, the Warm Puppy Café, and a Research Center to study the life of the famous cartoonist.

Snoopy's Home Ice offers public skating and recreational hockey across the street from the museum, providing a refreshing thing to do in the heat of summer. For more family entertainment, the Sonoma County Children's Museum is next door to the Charles M. Schulz Museum.

Address: 2301 Hardies Lane, Santa Rosa, California

Official site: https://schulzmuseum.org/

4. Spring Lake Regional Park

Spring Lake Park
Spring Lake Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

This regional park is next to Trione-Annadel State Park, east of downtown. It's centered around a 72-acre reservoir and offers a slew of warm-weather things to do.

Boating and swimming are both popular activities at Spring Lake, and this seasonal swimming lagoon features an inflatable obstacle course and lifeguards on duty. A year-round boat ramp allows motor and paddle boats to access the water, and a concessionaire at the park features boat rentals by the hour.

With ten miles of trails on all sides of the water, Spring Lake Regional Park is also popular for land-based activities. For fun overnight experiences, a 31-site campground at Spring Lake accommodates tents and RVs. Camping cabins are also available to rent. Connected by trail to Spring Lake Regional Park, the neighboring Howarth City Park is known as the "jewel" of Santa Rosa and features tennis courts, picnic tables, and a miniature train ride.

Address: 5585 Newanga Avenue, Santa Rosa, California

Official site: http://parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov/Visit/Spring-Lake-Regional-Park/

5. Luther Burbank Home and Gardens

Luther Burbank Home and Gardens
Luther Burbank Home and Gardens | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

A few blocks south of Old Courthouse Square, this urban garden and once-home of pioneering horticulturalist, Luther Burbank, is now a national historic landmark open to the public.

The intricate gardens of the home offer a free, fun thing to do seven days a week, including a unique cactus garden and Burbank's historic greenhouse. Guided tours of the Luther Burbank home take place Tuesday through Saturday, with more information and relics on display at the on-site Carriage House Museum.

Address: 204 Santa Rosa Avenue, Santa Rosa, California

Official site: http://www.lutherburbank.org/

6. Railroad Square Historic District

Hotel La Rose, Railroad Square Historic District
Hotel La Rose, Railroad Square Historic District | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

This "Old Town" district is on the westside of downtown Santa Rosa and features shopping, dining, and downtown hotels with historic appeal. Centered around the 1904 Depot and Depot Park, numerous boutique shops and local restaurants are found within the turn-of-the-century stone buildings of the neighborhood.

An iconic Peanuts statue celebrating the work of Charles M."Sparky" Schulz now stands outside the Depot, commemorating the four decades the famous cartoonist lived in Santa Rosa. Nearby, a passenger line departing from Railroad Square takes tourists to the neighboring city of San Rafael for a fun afternoon or overnight getaway (or vice versa).

The Santa Rosa Creek Trail runs adjacent to the historic district, and for some nightlife, the 6th Street Playhouse features regional productions and evening shows on two different stages. And for historic accommodations next to the Depot, Hotel La Rose provides a luxurious overnight experience in a century-old building.

Address: 9 Fourth Street, Santa Rosa, California

Official site: https://www.railroadsquare.net/

7. Howarth Park

Howarth Park
Howarth Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Howarth is a popular family park on the east side of town. It's known as the "jewel" of Santa Rosa and encompasses over 150 acres, including the 25-acre Lake Ralphine.

Popular water activities on Lake Ralphine include boat rentals, boating lessons, wildlife spotting, and fishing. Anglers often aim for bluegill, trout, catfish, or bass.

Other park amenities include plenty of picnic space and unique playground equipment that is a big hit with smaller kids. Howarth Park also has tennis courts, a softball field, and an amusement area with rides like a carousel and a miniature train ride.

Howarth is also the place to go hiking, with several paved and non-paved trails throughout.

8. Explore the Sonoma Coast

Sonoma Coast State Park
Sonoma Coast State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Sonoma Coast is world-famous for its stunning beach scenes and illustrious coastal landscapes. Tourists and residents in Santa Rosa reach this idyllic beach scene in less than an hour's drive. This proximity makes for easy day trips from Santa Rosa to one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the county.

Sonoma Coast State Park protects much of the iconic beach scenery. This 17-mile linear state park stretches north from Bodega Bay up to and through the small community of Jenner. Several notable pull-offs line the route, including places like Bodega Dunes and Mammoth Rocks. Several postcard beaches also punctuate this coastal span.

Two main routes access the Sonoma Coast from Santa Rosa. From the center of town, visitors can head on the Bodega Highway to reach Bodega Bay and the south end of the park. Alternatively, Highway 116 departs from the northside of town and heads toward Jenner and the north end of the state park.

Sonoma Coast State Park
Sonoma Coast State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The surf is dangerous along the entire Sonoma Coast. Swimming and wading are not advised. Fog sometimes also impairs the view of the beaches and ocean, though this forecast often burns off by the afternoon.

Read More: Best Beaches near Bodega Bay

9. Museum of Sonoma County

Museum of Sonoma County
Museum of Sonoma County | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

In downtown Santa Rosa, this non-profit museum highlights the culture and history of the surrounding county. It features regularly rotating displays by regional artists alongside its permanent collection of historic photographs, 19th-century paintings, and numerous sculptures, many of which are seen in the outdoor Sculpture Garden.

Address: 425 7th Street, Santa Rosa, California

Official site: https://museumsc.org

10. Sugarloaf Ridge State Park

A California quail at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
A California quail at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Sugarloaf Ridge encompasses over 4,000 acres of outdoor things to do within the Mayacamas Mountains east of Santa Rosa. It's a short drive from Santa Rosa, but the state park delivers supreme nature alongside every trail. And if you're visiting in the spring, expect a bouquet of wildflowers to appreciate along the way.

Thirty miles of hiking trails navigate the varied forests of the park, including a towering redwood grove next to Sonoma Creek. A short hiking trail to a waterfall on Sonoma Creek is popular within the park, as is the Vista Trail leading to the summit of Bald Mountain, where the Golden Gate Bridge is seen on clear days.

The Sugarloaf State Park Campground has over 40 sites available, catering to tents and trailers up to 24 feet long. Mountain biking is a popular activity at the state park, as is star gazing at the dedicated-to-the-public Robert Ferguson Observatory featuring a 40-inch telescope.

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The neighboring Hood Mountain Regional Park has even more Mayacamas Mountains to explore and a point of access to the stunningly beautiful but less visited McCormick Addition of Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.

Address: 2605 Adobe Canyon Road, Kenwood, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=481

11. Jack London State Historic Park

Jack London State Historic Park
Jack London State Historic Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

This popular historic park is a 30-minute drive southeast of the city. It's the location of Jack London's once thriving ranch and homestead-as well as the gravesite of the famous author.

Best known for titles such as Call of the Wild and White Fang, London was enamored with Sonoma Valley, sometimes referred to as the Valley of the Moon. After achieving legendary success in the early 20th century, London began building his dream "Wolf House" residence and fully operational Beauty Ranch.

Visitors today can learn more about the legacy of the popular author, as well as tour his beautiful estate, including the ruins of Wolf House, which nearly burned to the ground in a 1913 fire. Historical hiking paths span the estate, as well as extended hiking trails that explore the 1,400 acres of property. Numerous individual and group picnic sites are also spread throughout the beautiful parkland.

Address: 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, California

Official site: https://jacklondonpark.com/

12. Luther Burbank Center for the Arts

A statue at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts
A statue at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Luther Burbank Center for the Arts is a premier art and event space in the North Bay that has cultivated a near-40-year reputation for quality community engagement. It features school performances, adult education programs, and a wide collection of contemporary art.

However, this non-profit facility is best known for the talent they bring to their stage. Featuring big names and regional productions in theater, dance, music, and comedy, the Art Center's 2,000-seat Ruth Finley Person Theater routinely puts on a good show.

Address: 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa, California

Official site: https://lutherburbankcenter.org/

13. Trione-Annadel State Park

Lake Ilsanjo, Trione-Annadel State Park
Lake Ilsanjo, Trione-Annadel State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Trione-Annadel is an expansive public space east of Santa Rosa and is a favorite for hikers, mountain bikers, and horse riders. This sprawling expanse has over 40 miles of multi-use trails lacing its rolling topography.

Other popular things to do at this day-use state park include picnicking at trailside tables, enjoying wildflowers come spring, and fishing for bass and bluegill in the man-made Lake Ilsanjo. Camping and other water activities can be found in the neighboring Spring Lake Regional Park.

Address: 6201 Channel Drive, Santa Rosa, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=480

14. Spend Saturday Morning at a Farmers Market

Santa Rosa Community Farmers’ Market
Santa Rosa Community Farmers' Market | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Residents and visitors to Santa Rosa have two farmers markets to choose from on Saturday mornings. Both the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market and the Santa Rosa Community Farmers' Market take place on Saturdays year-round, each offering stalls with fresh produce and other homemade goods.

The Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market occurs at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts on the north side of town. And nearer the town's center, the Santa Rosa Community Farmers' Market takes place fittingly in Farmers' Lane Plaza. Both operate rain or shine.

Both farmers markets also offer a Wednesday market with fewer crowds. Expect local produce, hot food items, and plenty of people watching whichever market catches your attention.

15. Pacific Coast Air Museum

Fighter jet at Pacific Coast Air Museum
Fighter jet at Pacific Coast Air Museum | Joe Loong / photo modified

The Pacific Coast Air Museum displays authentic airplanes within a historic hangar and five-acre field at the Sonoma County Airport. It features over 30 planes and cockpits, including fighter jets, reconnaissance planes, and military helicopters.

The museum allows visitors to touch, feel, and inspect these well-preserved aircrafts. And during Open Cockpit Weekends, visitors can hop in the pilot seat to see how it feels. Other special events at the Pacific Coast Air Museum include air show flyovers and the annual Wheels & Wings Car Show.

Address: One Air Museum Way, Santa Rosa, California

Official site: https://pacificcoastairmuseum.org/

Where to Stay in Santa Rosa, California for Sightseeing

Luxury Hotels:

  • On 92 fertile acres in Sonoma County, Vintners Resort offers one of the most luxurious stays in Northern California. A beautiful landscaping of gardens and decorative fountains encompass much of the property, offering several places to relax and explore and enjoy the nice weather. Outside of the manicured grounds, the rooms and common indoor spaces also exude a special kind of comfort. The property offers rooms and suites with artful decorations and walk-out patios or balconies. Some rooms also come with electric fireplaces.

Mid-Range Hotels:

  • Northwest of downtown, off the 101, the Hilton Garden Inn Sonoma County Airport is a popular basecamp for exploring the area. The many attractions of Santa Rosa and the surrounding Sonoma County are easily accessible from the hotel, and comfortable furnishings make for an excellent place to rest at the end of the day. Complimentary amenities include airport transportation, internet access, and parking. Breakfast and dinner are both served daily at the on-site Garden Grille.
  • In the heart of Santa Rosa, next to Old Courthouse Square, Hotel E offers luxury boutique rooms at a moderate rate. The hotel's excellent location provides endless activities right out the front door, including several notable restaurants within walking distance. The property features 71 well-appointed guest rooms with warm and cozy decor and undeniable charm. Every overnight accommodation includes luxury linens, fast internet access, and 55-inch HDTVs. The hotel offers several special packages, including a romance package, bicycling package, and pet package.
  • Celebrating over 100 years in Santa Rosa, Hotel La Rose is a landmark hotel and centerpiece of Santa Rosa's Historic Railroad Square. The hotel offers several beautiful historic rooms filled with modern amenities. Guests have the choice between suites, deluxe suites, and standard rooms, all with a charm that a newly built hotel can't replicate. Convenient amenities include free parking, complimentary internet access, and the first-floor Grossman's Noshery. The hotel also has an excellent reputation for attentive and accommodating staff.
  • For those looking for a good night's sleep, The Sandman, located north of downtown on the 101, guarantees a restful slumber. Alongside comfortable and plush furnishings, this modern roadside motel also features local art on the walls, custom wood furniture, and a charming Californian style. The property features over 130 rooms, each with internet access, coffee makers, and pillow-top mattresses. Some rooms are pet-friendly. The property also features a beautiful outdoor pool area, equipped with bocce ball courts and fire pits.

Budget Hotels:

  • For one of the best deals in town, North Bay Inn offers clean and comfortable rooms at an affordable rate. It's less than a five-mile drive north of downtown on Mendocino Avenue. The property features 20 rooms split between queen and king bed accommodations. Every room has air-conditioning, cable TV, and coffee makers. Other complimentary amenities include parking and internet access.
  • South of downtown, Americas Best Value Inn - Santa Rosa is another popular spot for budget travelers. Alongside simple and clean rooms with king or queen beds, the overnight rate is one of the best in town. Internet access, cable TV, and a dedicated work desk come with every spacious room. Other complimentary amenities that add to the value include a grab-and-go breakfast and on-site parking. Several fast-food restaurants are also within walking distance.
  • South of downtown near Taylor Mountain Regional Park, Country Inn Santa Rosa also offers an affordable rate for a clean and convenient stay. The rooms are spacious and lightly decorated, and each are equipped with coffee makers, cable TVs, and refrigerators. The rooms also feature free internet access and air-conditioning. The hotel's outdoor pool is a fun place to burn off some energy between travel or soak in the sunny weather. Free parking is also available.

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