When the 2017 wildfires hit Santa Rosa, they decimated acres of land on the outskirts of town. But these fires didn’t come down from the hills—leaving the historic downtown in tact. In fact, while the farmlands have been rebuilding, Downtown Santa Rosa has continued to grow, thriving with a vibrant urban community filled with restaurants and watering holes. Nearby wineries trickle down from Sonoma County, filling Santa Rosa’s more rural areas with happenings farther from the city center, but fully worth the drive. Discover the best of Santa Rosa as you dine your way through the city, with everything from small plates at New American restaurants to Indian cuisine in a contemporary setting. And the nightlife is nothing to shy away from either. Read on for our tips on exploring the Northern California city during one of its best seasons—fall.
Food, Food, & More Food
Dierks Parkside Café offers a traditional but award-winning breakfast. The casual stop looks like an easy diner, but the food is more than meets the eye. Start your meal with Grandma Dierk’s Pull-a-Parts, a fried dough dusted with cinnamon and sugar that resembles a donut, and then dive in to any of the mainstays from buttermilk pancakes to build-your-own omelets. For something slightly different, order up the Louisiana Hash (Yukon potato, jalapeño, onion, mushroom, eggs, bacon, and cheddar) or Warm Poached Egg Salad (two poached eggs on a bed of local mixed greens, chopped bacon, fresh herbs, potatoes, croutons, and tomatoes with herb dressing). 404 Santa Rosa Ave.
The Spinster Sisters also offers a hearty breakfast, but this one strays from the traditional diner menu. The offerings rotate so there is no guarantee what you’ll be grubbing when you stop in but samples include granola waffles topped with maple-agave syrup; a burrata made with apricot mostarda, Prosciutto di Parma, arugula, and grilled country bread; and a signature scramble featuring farm eggs, bacon, zucchini, crimini mushrooms, caramelized onions, Skyhill goat cheese, and herbs. 401 S. A St.
While visiting Santa Rosa, make time for a lunch at Bollywood Bar & Clay Oven, an eatery located in the old courthouse square that blends authentic Indian cuisine served in pots with a modern twist.
For lunch guests enjoy a traditional lunch box—with foods made fresh with Sonoma farms produce and spices imported from a village in India—with four containers stacked atop one another. Open each to discover naan, rice, a side dish selected by the chef, and a main course on the bottom. Come back by in the evening to enjoy the creative, craft libations made with homemade bitters, creative garnishes, and an array of flavorful ingredients. 535 4th St.
Just outside of Santa Rosa in Guerneville sits Korbel Champagne Cellars, a place you should definitely stop to taste—but more on that later. While you’re there, either before or after (several) champagne toasts and an enlightening tour, stop into the Korbel Bistro for perhaps one of the best sandwiches you’ll ever taste. Stacks of fresh meat and veggies soak into the fresh-baked bread. Pair it with a sparkling beverage of your choice and enjoy it either at the counter or outside beneath the towering redwoods the region is known for. 13250 River Rd., Guerneville
If you’re looking for New American cuisine, Santa Rosa’s The Spinster Sisters stands out. It’s perfect as a pre-dinner or dinner spot. Stop in for a selection of small plates perfect for sharing with friends and pairing with small lot wines made primarily by woman winemakers. While the dinner menu rotates just as the breakfast menu does, the charcuterie plates seem to be a mainstay. If you want to try as many restaurants as you can—and we think you should—this is a good way to sample one locale before committing to dinner elsewhere.
Of course if you decide to stay, you’ll be able to choose from menu items such as roasted bone marrow made with parsley, capers, pickled mustard seed, and served with grilled bread; ricotta gnocchi finished with blistered cherry tomatoes, basil, and parmesan; or beef tongue sliders stacked with grilled tomato and complimented with extra virgin olive oil aioli. For lighter fare, try a salad. The grilled peach dish made with mixed lettuces, almonds, Parmesan, and drizzled fig-balsamic vinaigrette is unique.
If you skipped the full meal at Spinster Sisters (or honestly even if you didn’t) make your next stop Perch + Plow. This downtown gem boasts farm-to-table meals and small plates so you can keep grubbing all night long. Pair your meal with a creative cocktail with fun flair. The Drop it Like it’s Hot—a vodka based sipper made with Charbay blood orange vodka, ancho reyes, pineapple, pineapple/habanero shrub, orange juice, and lemon—is just one example of a winning cocktail created by the resident mixologist and bar manager Alec Vlastnik. The best way to sample the bounty, however, is with a cocktail flight, but you may want to share it. Try five different creations including the Drop it Like it’s Hot, Moscow Mule, Carbonated Paloma, Post Melo’n, and A Rotating Handle.
If you’re going for snacks, order a plate of sweet potato chips served with caramelized onion dip or the gluten-free ceviche served with the same chips and other finishes. Slide into the dinner menu for spectacularly presented plates of grilled octopus served with a chickpea purée and chimichurri pesto or a hangar steak over potato puree, maitaike mushrooms, and mixed vegetables with a black garlic demi glace. Dessert comes in many forms, including cocktail, but we recommend the caramel apple bunuelos—fresh ricotta doughnuts tossed in cinnamon sugar, boasting a spiced apple filling and finished with warm salted caramel sauce. 90 Old Courthouse Sq
Wash it Down with Wine
Head into the hills to explore the area’s best wineries. We already teased you with details of Korbel, and while the deli is amazing, it’s not even the highlight.
The Korbel Champagne Cellars tour is a historic one—and it’s in depth. Tour guides teach visitors about the family history behind the sparkling wine giant as you move from one end of the property to the other. There is also a room where various methods of making sparkling wine are demonstrated, including an old racking machine that is no longer used. Ever wonder how those champagne corks get into the bottles? They’ll teach you that, too.
At the end of the tour, indulge in some of the wineries’ best sparkling wines, and some you won’t find in stores. Korbel makes white and red wines on site, as well, but they aren’t mass distributed the way its champagne is. There is even a collection of brandies available for purchase, but you can’t taste those here due to liquor laws on site. Trust us though, they are good. 13250 River Rd., Guerneville
Finish up your day of wine tasting with a few more stops. Martin Ray Vineyards & Winery is hard to miss—just look for the large water tower near the building (it influences the artwork throughout the space). Sidle up to the bar and order a flight; it’s the best way to taste a variety of wines at each stop. This is a good place to stay and play with bocce ball available to guests and food available to order. In the tasting room enjoy sips of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, malbec, pinot noir, rosé, sauvignon blanc, zinfandel, and red blends. 2191 Laguna Rd.
Next up head back toward town for an Italian winery in an unsuspecting strip mall. D’argenzio Winery is a family-owned establishment that doesn’t shy away from bold, heavy tastes, and while the sangiovese and pinot noir are impeccable, the orange wine offers something you simply can’t get anywhere else. Ask for a small plate of snacks to enjoy with your line-up before heading out—an array of cheeses, baked goods, and vegetables pairs well. 1301 Cleveland Ave.
St. Francis Winery is the last stop on our list. Located on a secluded road within Santa Rosa city limits, the estate is gorgeous from end to end. Enjoy glasses of fruit-driven wine at the expansive indoor bar, or take your drink to go so you can view the grounds. Experts talk of the property’s sustainability as they pour, as well as the young winemakers who are responsible for the rich varietals offered. For the best experience, book a wine and food pairing in the estate dining room where you’ll dive into a seasonal, five-course meal with Chef Trevor Eliason ($85).
The Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve is perfect for a picnic, with 805 acres of coast redwoods creating an intimate space for guests. Or, get on the move and take a designated hiking path through the wilderness. 17020 Armstrong Woods Rd., Guerneville
Spend a little more time outdoors at the Trione-Annadel State Park. In addition to paths prime for hiking and biking, local groups offer horseback riding. Late season fishing is also found here at Lake Iisanjo. 6201 Channel Drive
One of the biggest draws of Santa Rosa is Safari West, a 400-acre Serengeti-esque estate located in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountain. The animal oasis should never be mistaken for a zoo, instead the owner, Peter Lang, runs a world-class conservation breeding facility that encourages sustainability and education.
Guests are invited to stay on site in luxury yurts (complete with heaters, private bathrooms, and front porches) and spend their free time exploring the grounds. Animals on site include rhinoceroses, giraffes, flamingos, and monkeys—to name just a few. The best way to discover the 900 animals spanning 90 species that live on this estate is with an African safari tour. Here a tour guide takes you through the gates to get up close to the animals, sharing insights and stories along the way. Expert Tip: Grab a can of wine or beer at the small shop before climbing aboard, they welcome beverages—alcoholic or not—on the safari car.
While you’re visiting, breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all served buffet style at the Savannah Café. A selection of meats is cooked to perfection on the wood-fired grill, while trays brimming with comfort food take over the patio. Dine inside or out. 3115 Porter Creek Rd.