A Local Shares 7 Essential Santa Cruz Experiences
Get insights from a local on what to do in Santa Cruz and where to have the best time.
As the largest city on the Redwood Coast, Santa Rosa is a veritable hub of activity in Northern California, known for its fertile agriculture and vibrant emerging art scene. While it is certainly not the biggest city in California there are plenty of things to do and see in this city and the surrounding Sonoma County. Some of California’s best state parks are in Santa Rosa, making it one of the destination cities for anyone who loves spending time in the natural world.
Northern California isn’t as well known by tourists as SoCal is, and what that means is that visiting Santa Rosa is akin to exploring the unbeaten path and finding cool stuff many folks just don’t know about. In Santa Rosa, you will find a hidden foodie paradise with plenty of fine dining options, great cycling infrastructure, scenic vineyards, and a colorful subculture. If you’re looking for a holiday destination free of generic tourist traps, look no further.
Outside of going to downtown Santa Rosa shops, you should know that the surrounding county of Sonoma is endowed with various areas of breathtaking natural beauty perfect for the nature lover in all of us. The beauty of living in Sonoma County is that all of its points of interest are just a short drive away from downtown Santa Rosa, CA. The climate of this area makes for a picturesque natural landscape filled with lush rolling hills, luxuriant vineyards, and plenty of wildlands. It also makes exploring less of a chore, since the weather is generally more than tolerable.
There is no shortage of ways to spend time in this region, but we recommend attending some Santa Rosa downtown events, such as the many farmer's markets that take place throughout the year. Those with kids will also love the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County, a fun colorful place with plenty of novel exhibits designed to educate kids in a fun and original way. Current exhibits include Flavortown, where kids can get to play the chef in a cooking show kitchen complete with a “real” cafe, hot line, and prep table. Instead of serving their food to judges, the kids get to serve their creations to their parents.
No matter which time of year you visit you should go to Santa Rosa’s ice rink downtown known as Snoopy’s Home Ice. The enclosed ice rink was constructed by Charles M. Schulz, the cartoonist who created the Peanuts kids show. You can either go ice skating here or catch a local hockey game if you come during the Mountain West Hockey League Season.
Of course, true nature lovers will want to do more than a day trip to take full advantage of the natural wealth and architectural beauty of this region. Fortunately, it’s easy to explore the natural wonders of the Santa Rosa area thanks to the abundance of mountain trails in the region as well as scenic roads. In addition to multiple bicycle shops, there are also bicycles available for rent, meaning you don’t have to worry about bringing your ride.
If you’re not sure where to ride, you can also purchase a guided tour at local businesses such as Pedego Electric Bike Rentals and Tours. Before going to the mountains, we recommend taking a bike trip around Santa Rosa’s downtown square, where you can find famous historical sights such as the Empire Building and the Hotel La Rose, the oldest continuously operating hotel in the city.
Once you’ve had your fill of downtown Santa Rosa CA’s quaint small-town vibes and gorgeous neighborhoods it’s time to ride up to one of the many beautiful parks the area has to offer. The Trione-Annadel State Park is popular with mountain bike enthusiasts thanks to its extensive trail network and stunning scenes of natural beauty. Another great spot to check out is Spring Lake Regional Park. Although not as wild as Annadel, Spring Lake is a beautifully developed green space with plenty of paths for cyclists and joggers. It also features plenty of picnic spots for grilling, and a sandy beach for sunbathing and swimming, making this the perfect place for leisure.
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If you’re looking for family activities for the weekend in Sonoma County, here’s a place to keep on your radar. An aviation museum might seem like something that would only appeal to a handful of people, namely airplane enthusiasts. However, there is a lot more to any air museum than first meets the eye. It’s more than just a collection of airplanes on a tarmac; but is living history that you can see with your own eyes and even interact with. With the help of one of the Pacific Coast Air Museum’s dedicated volunteer guides this collection of warplanes, fire-fighting planes, and ExecuJets comes to life.
This makes for an excellent day for the whole family that will be both highly educational and thoroughly memorable. Aviation is arguably one of humanity’s greatest achievements, and it played a major role in the history of the American West, so why not spend the day exploring that history and taking some amazing pictures? Plus, let’s just be honest, planes look very cool, and they will look even cooler on your Instagram feed.
Luther Burbank was a famous botanist credited with developing the Russet Burbank potato, the most popular potato in America today. Although originally from Massachusetts, Burbank completed his most successful experiments on a 4-acre farm in Santa Rosa, making him a local celebrity in the area. Today, many things in Santa Rosa are named after him, including the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.
In the past, this multi-million dollar facility has been host to famous comedians such as Lewis Black and George Carlin. Today the center hosts a variety of shows, from ballet to country music acts, so there’s a little bit of something for everyone. Classical music lovers will love to know that Santa Rosa also has its own symphony, although it performs at the Green Music Center located on the campus of Sonoma State University. So whether you’re into the Bee Gees or Beethoven, Santa Rosa has got you covered.
If you’re looking for reasons to move to Santa Rosa, this is a big one. As a quirky little big city, Santa Rosa’s got a diverse selection of fine dining options making it a perfect place for foodies with a great farm-to-fork culture. We’ve picked just a few downtown Santa Rosa restaurants to check out, but there are plenty more to choose from. Italian food lovers will love the Rosso Pizzeria & Wine Bar for its excellent beef and veal meatballs and gourmet pizzas. You can also go to places such as The Bird, a stylish old-fashioned downtown Santa Rosa, CA establishment that specialized in classic American comfort food with a twist, perfect when you want to try something new that’s still somewhat familiar.
For something truly international, we recommend paying a visit to the SEA Thai Bistro, a successful local chain that is hidden in plain sight. This delicious restaurant provides all the famous Thai classics, including pad thai, drunken noodles, meat curries, and of course, plenty of vegetarian options for those with dietary requirements. After a fine meal, you’ll wanna top things off with a delectable dessert, and for that, we recommend the Noble Folk Ice Cream & Pie bar. Located right in historic downtown Santa Rosa, CA, Noble Folk is a charming local spot to drink coffee, enjoy a divine pie or cupcake, and of course, get some amazing ice cream.
Constructed in 1950, Montgomery Village is one of the oldest Santa Rosa malls downtown and features seventy-two different stores. This includes major chains such as Talbots and Ross but also features a wide array of local and regional chains such as Patrick James, Sonoma Outfitters, and White House/Black market. Because the mall is open-air, you can stroll through a variety of shaded shopping areas with plenty of quality clothing and accessory stores to browse through.
Another cool thing about this mall is that it features an assortment of artsy family-owned shops alongside corporate outlets, giving you a good diversity of shopping options. For example, the village hosts Urban Garden, an art studio that features beautifully sculpted redwood dishware made by Doug Smith, a local artist. If you start to feel peckish halfway through your day-long shopping spree, worry not, as the Montgomery Village Mall also houses some delightful cafes and restaurants. This means you can take a quick break for a refreshing coffee and a snack, before getting back to it.
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Get insights from a local on what to do in Santa Cruz and where to have the best time.
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