A long weekend wasn’t long enough.
The urban heart of Sonoma County’s wine country provides an easy-going launch pad for exploring the region’s wineries.
Go wine tasting, of course.
But there’s plenty of other things to do in and around Santa Rosa, too. Here are a few things to add to the itinerary for your long weekend away in the North Bay.
Join the Peanuts gang – The Charles M. Schultz Museum offers Charlie Brown and Snoopy fans a glimpse into the life and work of their creator. Permanent exhibits include the “Colorado Nursery Wall” Schultz painted on a wall in the bungalow he lived in with his young family in 1951 as well as the “Peanuts Tile Mural” displayed in the museum’s main hall. The mural is just over 17-by-22-feet and is made up of 3,588 comic strip images printed on individual 2-by-8-inch tiles to depict a larger-than-life image Lucy holding a football for Charlie Brown. Don’t miss the re-creation of Schultz’s studio, featuring his desk, books and other memorabilia. On your way out, watch the beloved comic characters on the big screen in the museum’s 100-seat theater. schulzmuseum.org.
Visit Luther Burbank Home and Gardens – Stroll around the grounds of the home of the famed horticulturalist who lived in Santa Rosa for more than 50 years and introduced more than 800 new plant varieties during his career. It’s free to enjoy the gardens, replete with flowers, herbs and vegetables – including the Burbank potato, which he developed, as well as a giant spineless cactus. Burbank introduced more than 60 varieties of spineless cacti between 1907 and 1925. He died in 1926 and was buried under the Cedar of Lebanon in his front yard. lutherburbank.org.
Taste wine – Sonoma County is home to more than 425 wineries, more than 60,000 acres of wine grapes and 18 distinct appellations. It’s impossible to see them all in one trip. If you’re pressed for time, you can still visit multiple tasting rooms if you stick close to Santa Rosa and its Olivet District, home to the next-door Harvest Moon Estate and Winery and Hook & Ladder Vineyard and Winery as well as DeLoach Vineyards. Don’t miss the chance to try Harvest Moon’s estate sparkling offerings, but zinfandel is its specialty. Hook & Ladder pays homage to the founder’s career as a San Francisco firefighter. Today, wine is made by his grandson, Jason DeLoach. Nearby DeLoach Vineyards was also started by his grandparents, pioneering vintners Cecil and Christine DeLoach, though it has different owners today. Many of its offerings can only be sampled and purchased on site, and the setting is spectacular. Wine-tasting is by appointment at the environmentally conscious Inman Family Wines, so call ahead for an intimate experience in a relaxed setting. inmanfamilywines.com and olivetroad.com.
Don’t forget the beer – There are nearly two dozen breweries in Sonoma County. So there are plenty of options for beer lovers as well as wine enthusiasts. Make your first stop Russian River Brewing Co., known for its Belgian-style beers and powerful IPAs. The brew pub is conveniently located right downtown. Pliny the Elder, its well-known double IPA, is available all year. Look, also for limited releases, such as the triple IPA Pliny the Younger, as well as barrel-aged sour beers, such as Temptation, a blond ale aged in chardonnay barrels; Supplication, a brown ale aged in pinot noir barrels with sour cherries; and more. Expect the place to be busy, even on weeknights. In nearby Petaluma, visit the tap room and beer garden at Lagunitas Brewing Co., where you can try special brews and limited releases, such as Brown Shugga Sweet Release and Born Yesterday Fresh Hop Pale Ale, as well as “unlimited releases,” including its Hop Stoopid Ale and Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale. Pub grub – pretzels, flatbreads and burgers – is available at both brew pubs. russianriverbrewing.com and lagunitas.com.
Get crabby at Spud Point at Bodega Bay – The line might be long at Spud Point Crab Co., but that’s because the clam chowder is famous around these parts. So are the crab cakes and crab sandwiches at this crab shack. Seating is outside. Parking is limited. (There are only three spots out front.) And, depending on the time of day, you might be waiting in line for upward of a half hour. It’s worth it. On Facebook: search for Spud Point Crab Co.
Have a paella party – The menu is streamlined at Gerard’s Paella y Tapas, which serves up four kinds of paella: verdura, pescador, rosa and Valdeon. If it’s super-busy – as the popular downtown Santa Rosa restaurant usually is on weekend nights – Gerard Nebesky himself, highly recognizable with his crop of curly white hair, just might offer you a glass of sangria while you wait. (There’s white and red, and both are good.) So is the paella, which you can watch line cooks make as you wait. Nebesky is known, among other things, for beating Bobby Flay in a paella cook-off on the old Food Network show “Throwdown! with Bobby Flay” back in 2008. His tapas menu includes Serrano ham, fire-roasted prawns, olives, papas bravas, quince paste and Manchego cheese, and more. But don’t skip dessert. Even after all of that, you’re going to want to try the creme Catalan and order of churros with warm chocolate sauce. gerardspaella.com.
Enjoy a taste of Pullman – The Pullman Kitchen, that is. This cozy cafe – open for lunch, brunch and dinner – serves up contemporary, hearty dishes such as fish tacos, yellowfin tuna poke, fried green tomatoes and crispy mozzarella fritters with ricotta, pancetta and tomato jam. The signature roasted chicken is served with spinach, Parmesan pancakes and pan sauce. The TPK Macro Bowl – with toasted quinoa, salsa verde, baby kale, a fried egg, pickled veggies, avocado and tahini dressing – was particularly satisfying. thepullmankitchensr.com.
Brunch at Bird and the Bottle – Enjoy a boozy brunch at this rustic chic modern tavern, which features flavors from around the world. Influences are eclectic. Dishes – reminiscent of the American South, Asia, and bubbe’s Jewish kitchen, sometimes all on one plate – are interesting, comforting, satisfying and fun. Fresh seafood is a specialty. Look for the kimchi latke benedict, Korean steak and eggs, shakshouka omelet, fried chicken and cornbread waffles, and the bacon, egg and ramen. Cocktails are craft. And, if you would like, you can order them in giant shakers for sharing with your friends. birdandthebottle.com.
Paleta, please – Don’t leave Santa Rosa without trying the paletas from Frozen Art Gourmet Ice Cream. These Mexican-style ice pops come in about 50 flavors – from rose petal and merlot chocolate chip to corn, chai latte, tequila and spicy Mexican chocolate. Dairy-free flavors – such as tamarind, mango chile, soursop, guava and hibiscus – are available too. This shop is a must-stop. On the web: frozenarticecream.com.
Where to stay – The hip Astro Motel opened in 2017 in Santa Rosa’s eclectic, up-and-coming arts district SOFA, or South of A Street. The Astro offers a fun and funky lodging experience within walking distance of galleries, boutiques and eateries. Plus, the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens is across the street. Don’t miss the motel’s sister establishment, the boho bistro Spinster Sisters, located in an old grocery building nearby, or the SOFA neighborhood’s First Friday Art Walk. Rooms in this renovated 1963 motel building are done mid-century modern decor. (Mine came with its own Polaroid camera for decoration.) And bicycles are available to rent. On the web: theastro.com. The newly renovated Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country hotel, located in downtown Santa Rosa, offers casually elegant, upscale yet rustic accommodations done in neutral tones. Amenities include an outdoor pool and hot tub with plenty of lounge furniture, fitness center, courtyard and fire pit, and new Brasserie restaurant and bar where they make a mean barrel-aged old-fashioned. On the web: hyatt.com.
How to get there – Southwest Airlines offers a direct flight from Spokane GEG to Oakland. Santa Rosa is about 58 miles northwest of Oakland. Depending on traffic, the drive takes about an hour and 15 minutes or so.
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