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Need a weekend getaway from San Francisco or the Bay Area? I feel you. When I moved to the Bay Area in 2017, I knew I was going to become a weekend warrior, exploring far beyond the City (San Francisco) and the East Bay (Oakland and Berkeley). I’ve already visited some great spots like Yosemite, Carmel, Tahoe, Siskiyou county, and Calaveras county… but I haven’t spent much time in wine country! I decided to spend a weekend in Santa Rosa, the biggest town in Sonoma county.
This weekend itinerary is perfect if you live in the Bay Area – or if you’re taking a longer trip to our area and want to spend more time than a day tour in Sonoma. You’ll find suggestions on wine tasting, getting outdoors, and the best places to eat and drink in Santa Rosa… and where you can see rhinos, giraffes, and wildebeest too! (Yep, you can go on safari in the North Bay!)
Read on for the perfect weekend in Santa Rosa, chock-full of photos and tips about the best things to do in Santa Rosa – to help you make the most of your short time.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Graton Rancheria and Southern Pomo peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
This post was originally published in August 2019, and was updated in September 2022.
How to Travel to Santa Rosa
Traveling to Santa Rosa is thankfully easy! It’s a 70-minute drive up US Highway 101 from San Francisco to Santa Rosa. You can’t miss it – there are exits for Santa Rosa right from the 101.
No car of your own and no rental? You won’t be able to do much of this itinerary, but it’s still possible to visit Santa Rosa – especially for wine tasting. Beau Wine Tours offers Sonoma wine tasting tours from San Francisco.
The Best Things to Do in Santa Rosa
Many people in the Bay Area know about Santa Rosa, but not very many have visited. There’s a lot more to Santa Rosa than you might think. Here are some of my suggestions for the best things to do in Santa Rosa – yes, that includes wine tasting!
1. Wine Tasting
I’ll start with the obvious and most popular thing to do in Santa Rosa: wine tasting. Santa Rosa is the largest city in Sonoma County. It’s a great place to base yourself for a weekend of wine tasting at some of the region’s popular and/or offbeat wineries. As Sonoma County is home to hundreds of wineries, there’s something for everyone.
On my trip, I visited St. Francis Winery which is one of the impressive tasting rooms about 15 minutes outside downtown Santa Rosa. What makes St. Francis Winery special is that they have a large number of their vines growing right on the property with their tasting room – and their production facility is also located on the property. A special combination of factors allows them to grow several different types of grapes right there so you can stroll among the vines that grow those different types of wine after your tasting. They even offer a self-guided tour around the property (and yes, you can take your glass of wine with you!).
If you want to splurge, opt for the “Estate Pairing.” This is a wine and food pairing where each small course is designed to compliment the wine. It’s not a meal, but it gives you a great sense of how each wine will go with food and sells the wines better than just tasting them on their own.
2. Go on a Safari
Did you know that you can go on a safari with real African animals, right in the heart of Northern California? I’m talking giraffes, rhinos, wildebeest, cape buffalo, zebras, you name it. All roaming in huge areas of land rather than pent up like you’ll see in zoos. Oh, and you can spend the night in real Botswanan canvas tents on the property if you want to make it an overnight safari.
I’ll admit I had never heard of Safari West before I started planning my trip to Santa Rosa, but it was a star highlight of my weekend there. Mr. V and I started our trip at Safari West: we did an afternoon safari under a baking sun (it felt very African) and our first night snuggled up under heated blankets in our tent, listening to the guinea fowl and flamingos chatter in the darkness. We had meals at the great lodge, and admired the stars overhead once the sunset… it was a complete experience that felt worlds away from the Bay Area rather than a 90-minute drive.
This is a great option for families who might never see these animals outside a zoo – and who can’t afford to travel to Africa to do so. Heck, it’s a great option for adult humans who might never make it to Africa. As for Mr. V and I, we’re even more sold on visiting Southern Africa… maybe for our honeymoon?
If you love the great outdoors, Santa Rosa is a surprisingly good base to get that fresh air you’re craving. There are several state parks in the area, but the two big ones are Trione-Annadel State Park and Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.
Both are great for hiking; Trione-Annadel has a bit less elevation gain but beautiful views of surrounding wine country whereas Sugarloaf Ridge is more mountainous and forested. Whichever you prefer, there are over 65 miles of trails to explore.
4. Visit the Charles Schulz Museum
Even if you don’t recognize his name, you know Charles Schulz’s characters: Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, and the rest of the Peanuts gang. Here’s more Santa Rosa trivia: did you know that Schulz spent the later years of his life living in Santa Rosa?
The Charles Schulz Museum is now a beautiful monument to all things Peanuts. You can explore several galleries, works of art, and even a reconstruction of Schulz’s home office where he drew many of the nearly 18,000 comic strips in his career. Like Safari West, this museum is great for families – but adults who know and remember Peanuts in the Sunday papers* might actually appreciate it even more.
*Remember when receiving those was a thing?!
5. Explore Downtown
All of my suggestions so far don’t actually give you a sense of Santa Rosa. You know, the town of Santa Rosa. The hub of all these cool activities and experiences. The place where you can stay, eat, drink, and stroll around during your trip.
Downtown Santa Rosa, like many of the ‘neglected’ towns of the North Bay, has undergone a renaissance. You won’t find a sleepy or left-behind downtown core with crumbling buildings here. Instead, there’s a central square that continues to serve as the core for development on the surrounding streets.
From the Old Courthouse Square, you can walk to restaurants like Bollywood Bar & Clay Oven or hip Perch + Plow. Afterward, you can tuck into ultra-hip spots like Sift Dessert Bar for a sweet end to the night.
Last but not least, y’all know I love the night sky – and I love getting away to places where I can actually see it. (Stargazing in the San Francisco Bay Area is pretty much impossible due to light pollution.)
Santa Rosa is a good stargazing spot because, there is some light pollution near downtown, but outside the city, it gets dark incredibly quickly. I’d like to thank the wineries, whose vineyards are typically unlit and therefore dramatically improve the quality of the night sky.
Santa Rosa is also home to the Robert Ferguson Observatory, located in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. You’ll need to plan ahead to attend an event at the Robert Ferguson Observatory, as they’re only open to the public for events on specific nights. There’s also an admission fee to the State Park to access the observatory. If you’re planning a weekend for one of these events though, it’s a great evening option – especially with kiddos.
3 Days in Santa Rosa: A Weekend Itinerary
Santa Rosa is an ideal weekend getaway from the Bay Area – it’s a short drive and totally doable in 2-3 days. Below I’ve detailed a suggested weekend itinerary that strings together all of the best things to do in Santa Rosa, based very closely on my own trip in June 2019. You can, of course, adjust based on your own travel preferences.
Day 1 – Friday
If you’re spending a weekend in Santa Rosa, you’ll probably arrive from San Francisco in the afternoon. (Take that half-day from work, you deserve it, and I guarantee you don’t use your PTO enough!)
After making the 70-minute drive up 101, head to Safari West for your first night. You can book an afternoon safari (usually offered at 9 am, 10 am, 1 pm, and 2 pm), then check into your tent before dinner. You’ll get the chance to see a crazy-looking giraffe, a trio of rhinos, and a dazzle of zebra – yes, that’s what a group of zebra is called.
Enjoy happy hour and dinner at the main lodge (an extra cost in your stay), then settle in on your deck to enjoy some informal stargazing or just to listen to the various birds make their calls as the night comes on.
Day 2 – Saturday
In the morning, enjoy breakfast at Safari West (included in your stay), then check out. You could head to Trione-Annadel State Park or Sugarloaf Ridge State Park for a morning hike, or make your way straight to a winery like St. Francis for an early wine tasting. Head to downtown Santa Rosa for lunch, possibly somewhere like Perch + Plow.
In the afternoon, you have options: you could go out for another wine tasting or head to the Charles Schulz museum depending on your interests. Enjoy dinner in downtown Santa Rosa, at somewhere like Bollywood Bar & Clay Oven. Then, make another choice: formal stargazing at the Robert Ferguson Observatory (if they’re hosting an event) or sample Santa Rosa’s nightlife at the Jade Room or one of the other bars or breweries in town. I won’t judge you if you opt for champagne and macarons at the Jade Room – that’s what I did. #BestSaturdayEver
For accommodation in Santa Rosa, there are plenty of options, but I recommend The Astro Motel. This renovated property is in a part of Santa Rosa that’s still coming up. It has a neighborhood vibe and a few local restaurants and shops in the area – but it’s not quite as polished as downtown despite only being a few blocks away. Here’s a peek inside the mid-century-inspired rooms:
Day 3 – Sunday
On Sunday morning, it’s time to check out from your hotel and enjoy the morning in Santa Rosa before heading home. If you stay at The Astro Motel, head across the street to Dierk’s Parkside Cafe for breakfast. Be aware that lines form early, so you might need to queue up if you want to eat there.
There are other fun diners around the area too. If you’re planning a morning visit to the Schulz Museum, head to Zee’s dinner (a five-minute drive from the museum). This place also gets crowds, so you might need to wait for a table depending on your party size.
If you didn’t visit the Charles Schulz museum yesterday, today’s the day. Give yourself 1-2 hours to explore the museum and galleries, as well as Snoopy’s Home Ice. Then it’s time to turn your wheels south on 101 and head back to San Francisco. (There is always traffic on 101 south near Petaluma; Google Maps sometimes re-routes through the town or surrounding countryside – these are beautiful alternative routes if you choose to take them.)
Do you have questions about planning your visit and things to do in Santa Rosa you’re there? Let me know in the comments.
Thanks to Visit Santa Rosa, Safari West, and The Astro Motel for hosting me during my stay. Several of the other businesses mentioned in this post also provided hosted experiences. This post was produced as part of my partnership agreement with the destination, but all businesses and experiences mentioned are included at my own discretion.