7 Reasons Why Santa Rosa Is Wine Country's Best-Kept Secret
For the best in California's wine bounty, most make a beeline for the Napa and Sonoma valleys. But what many miss on the way is the little city smack dab between San Francisco and the famed wine regions -- Santa Rosa. Often overlooked, here's why Santa Rosa is wine country's best-kept secret.
1. It's in the middle of everything.
Whether you're headed north, south, east, or west, Santa Rosa -- about an hour north of San Francisco -- sits pretty much in the center of it all. From Santa Rosa, it's 35 minutes north to the sophistication of Calistoga in the northern stretch of the Napa Valley, or just 20 minutes north to ever-hip Healdsburg in northern Sonoma County. Drive 40 minutes southeast to bustling downtown Sonoma, and stop in the quaint wine towns of Kenwood or Glen Ellen along the way. Fifteen minutes west of Santa Rosa is charming Sebastopol, and 30 minutes farther you'll hit coastal Bodega Bay.
2. You can fly right into wine country.
SFO isn't the only option for flights into wine country. The Charles M. Schulz – Sonoma County Airport (STS) offers nonstop flights on Alaska Airlines and Allegiant Air. Plus, statues of Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang meet you when you arrive. The airport offers direct flights on Alaska from Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego, and from Las Vegas and Phoenix-Mesa on Allegiant Air. There's a reason the airport's slogan is "For less stress, fly STS!"
3. Hotels in Santa Rosa won't break the budget.
The average hotel rate is under $200, compared with $300+ in neighboring wine-country towns. So stay for a bit, and explore the region. Some favorite hotels include family-friendly Flamingo Conference Resort and Spa with its standout pool, the historic Hotel La Rose, the modern wood and stone Fountaingrove Inn and the high-end, full service Hyatt Vineyard Creek.
You'll find the best deals by traveling during the week. Many hotels offer complimentary tasting passes at local wineries.
4. There's (really good!) beer.
There's more than just wine to sip here: Santa Rosa is a beer city in the heart of wine country. The San Francisco Chronicle says "a boomlet in new taprooms, brew pubs and bottle shops is making Sonoma County a world-class destination for great suds." Notable Santa Rosa breweries include Russian River Brewing (the birthplace of cultish Pliny the Elder), newest kid on the block Plow Brewing, Cooperage Brewing Co. with its ever-changing menu and Bear Republic in downtown Healdsburg which is celebrating 20 years.
5. The kids will be all right.
Though quaint with a small-town feel, Santa Rosa is larger and more expansive than other cities and towns in wine country, so there's more to keep the kids entertained.
Let's start with Snoopy. The Charles M. Schulz Museum is an ode to the Charlie Brown and Snoopy creator who called Santa Rosa home. You'll find 70+ Peanuts statues hanging out in Santa Rosa. How many can you find? You can also take a spin on Snoopy's Home Ice skating arena and have a hot chocolate afterward at the adorable Warm Puppy Cafe.
Safari West is an African-wildlife preserve in the middle of wine country, complete with giraffes, zebras, cheetahs and even a Cape buffalo.
Pet bunnies, taste cheese and see demonstrations on a self-guided tour to visit one of the 100 agricultural members of the Farm Trail. Howarth Park is three miles from downtown Santa Rosa, offers playground structures, miles of hiking trails, and an amusement area featuring a miniature train ride, carousel, animal farms and pony rides.
6. See the big trees.
Folks travel from all over the world to see Northern California's thousand-year-old towering trees. A crown jewel of the area (besides what you pour in your glass) is Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. Thirty minutes west of Santa Rosa, this 800-acre park preserves coastal redwoods -- the tallest living things on the planet. These trees grow to a diameter of 16 feet and stand 250 feet tall; some even survive to over 2,000 years old and tower above 350 feet.
For a different perspective, Sonoma Canopy Tours offers zip-lining through the redwood forests a bit closer to Santa Rosa.
7. And then there's the wine.
We saved the best for last. Sure, you can drive up and down the Napa and Sonoma valleys for the best in wine country's liquid bounty -- but you don't have to. The glass is already more than half full in Santa Rosa (who knew?!), with many up-and-coming and award-winning wineries.
Explore the historic and growing population of vineyards and wineries in the area. Favorite Santa Rosa wineries include:
- Siduri Wines, an approachable and unpretentious winery housed in a warehouse -- with a cult following among pinot enthusiasts
- Matanzas Creek, located on a hillside overlooking vineyards and acres of lavender fields, and known best for its sauvignon blanc
- Balletto Vineyards, best known for its pinot noir, also produces award-winning chardonnay
- Paradise Ridge Winery features life-size sculptures and artwork throughout the grounds, plus panoramic vineyard views from the outdoor tasting bar
- Romililly Wines, has a new tasting room in one of Historic Railroad Square's oldest buildings
- Korbel Champagne Cellars, 30 minutes west of Santa Rosa in Guerneville, is a rare champagne producer in the area -- plus it features a stocked deli for wine-country picnics
- Francis Ford Coppola, located 30 minutes north in Geyserville, features movie memorabilia from the famed director, not to mention award-winning wines
Don't miss the Wine & Food Affair on Nov. 5-6 -- the best way to taste around the area. The weekend features wine and food pairings in the Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River valleys.