Imagine spending a few days in Sonoma County amid rolling hills dotted with vineyards and wineries, and miles of trails for hiking and biking. Now instead of crowds and traffic-choked roads filled with caravans of tour buses, imagine a relaxed pace and wide-open country lanes. Such a place exists, and it is much closer to the Bay Area than many people realize. It’s Santa Rosa, the happening hub for all there is to see, do, eat, drink, hike, bike and explore in Sonoma County.
“We’ve got a lot of what everybody else wants. We look around and we see the open space. We see the parks, the wineries, the farm to table dining,” said the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber president, Peter Rumble. “We’re like what Napa was 30 or 40 years ago.”
Currently, there are 495 wineries in Sonoma County, and wine has been produced in the region since the Spanish Mission-era in the 18th Century.
“Our area of the Russian River Valley appellation is really known for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel.” said co-owner of Paradise Ridge Winery, Rene Byck.
The wineries in Santa Rosa and the surrounding area remain informal and welcoming, in contrast to neighboring wine regions.
“There are families like mine making wine and it’s small and quaint, and you can usually talk to the winemaker personally,” Byck said. “In this case, he’s my brother-in-law.”
The Wine Road has wineries along its well-marked route that runs through northern Sonoma County. Dozens more are located off the main trail but still within an easy drive.
Santa Rosa is also known as the endurance sports capital of California, in addition to its wineries and world-class craft breweries. Santa Rosa is the only city in California to host two IRONMAN triathlons, a full (170.6) and a half (70.3).
“We get athletes from all over the world that come to compete in this stunning landscape.” IRONMAN race director, Dave Reid said. “Santa Rosa and Sonoma County offers a wonderful setting in a warm, welcoming community.”
In addition to the IRONMAN, Santa Rosa has also hosted Levi’s King Ridge GranFondo, an endurance cycling event, for the past 11 years. One of the best-known granfondos in North America, Levi’s GranFondo is both a challenging and competitive mass-start cycling event with riders of all ability levels from around the world.
The King Ridge GranFondo began in 2009 with the inaugural event hosting 3,500 participants and is the brainchild of local two-time US national champ and Olympic medalist, Levi Leipheimer. Levi donates 100% of his time and involvement for the benefit of his community and the charities that benefit from the money generated by registration and fund-raising. Presently, the GrandFondo attracts over 6,000 riders annually.
Santa Rosa also has great mountain biking trails.
“We are overwhelmed with great mountain biking in Santa Rosa. Pretty much any direction you go you can be on trails within 15 minutes in oak-strewn hills or whizzing through a technical course surrounded by vineyards. It’s amazing,” Rumble said.
Santa Rosa also has miles of hiking trails in more than 70 nearby parks, including Spring Lake Park, Taylor Mountain Regional Park, and Hood Mountain Regional Park.
Downtown Santa Rosa has undergone a renaissance. It remains easily walkable but now has restaurants that are attracting diners from as far away as the South Bay and Monterey, and in 2019 the new Hotel E opened in the heart of downtown in Old Courthouse Square.
Even before Hotel E opened, Santa Rosa has numerous lodging options for travelers, from the wine country luxury of Vintners Resort to a wide range of upscale and midscale national chain hotels and locally-owned hotels.
“We’ve got a million people less than an hour away. Quite frankly, once they come here, they quickly realize they’re going to need more days.” Rumble said.