Daytrip: Santa Rosa, California

I think I’ve said it before: it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful county than Sonoma. It really has it all—one minute you’re driving through vineyards and farmland (with those “happy California cows” who are making all the great cheese), the next you’re following the Russian River out to the Pacific Ocean. And along the way, you can find vibrant, historic communities like Santa Rosa—where, last week, we were lucky to find ourselves for 24 hours.

As ever, there was far more to do and to see than even a week would allow, but we took one of the city’s daytrip itineraries, “Family Fun Day,” and extended it into an overnight…

Saturday happened to be a beautiful night to be lakeside at the new Bear Republic Brewpub in Rohnert Park, so rather than finish there, that’s where we began.

We started off in the beer garden, playing giant-Jenga, cornhole, and foosball—while the kids enjoyed a play area of their own!—before our table was ready for dinner. I wish more restaurants had spaces like this for children.

The family-owned brewery started in Sonoma County more than 20 years ago, and is best known for their Racer 5 IPA—but we sampled some other tasty brewpub-only releases (alongside some delicious food).

That night, we checked into the Flamingo Resort—which still bears its iconic neon sign, and has a fun gallery of black-and-white photos showing how it has changed (and stayed the same) since the 1950s, when guests like Jane Mansfield came to stay. Its giant swimming pool was closed, unfortunately, but would be re-opening for summer at the end of the month. It seemed like a fun place to hang out on a hot, sunny afternoon.

By the way, it’s funny how excited the kids are about staying at hotels right now (as opposed to the routine which was once their jam). It seems to be a combination of factors: the adventure that comes with going out town, and the promise of sharing a fold-out couch.

Our early risers had a first breakfast at the hotel, and then we all stopped to fill up at Omelette Express. A fixture for 40 years, it had a fun atmosphere, with cars sticking out from its walls. I tried the California Benedict, but omelettes are—of course—the way to go!

While there, we started counting statues of Snoopy and friends around Railroad Square. There are more than 70 different statues of the Peanuts gang scattered in and around Santa Rosa—an homage to the city’s most famous resident, Charles M. Schulz—it was an ongoing treasure hunt.

We saw a train pulling up and so we walked over to the adjacent 1900s train depot, now restored as the California Welcome Center. Besides offering handouts for self-guided walking tours, helping with local directions and information and the like, the nice ladies we met there showed Hudson and Skyler to a table with an electric train they could drive and an old telegram station on which they could try tapping out messages—part of the Northwestern Pacific train museum. It’s definitely worth stopping in.

They offered us coupons and gave us directions to the Charles M. Schulz museum, and suggested, if we had time, that we also check out Children’s Museum of Sonoma County.

I should note: this was our first visit to the area since the wildfires of 2017, and we were of course interested to see how the community is doing. We saw signs of appreciation for fire-fighters around town and, I’m happy to say, a close-knit town that has come through stronger than ever.

The Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center was next on our plan.
Schulz, who created Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang, spent the last 30 years of his life and career in Santa Rosa. And while you can see his mark everywhere around town, the museum will be the highlight for his fans. You can see where he worked, what inspired him, and engage with a rich archive of his art.

There are events happening at the museum all the time—from movie nights and special exhibits, to summer camps and birthday parties. There’s also an art studio that’s always open for making your own cartoons, and I think this was everyone’s favorite part: trying to emulate Schulz’s famous drawings.

I loved the way it had us all engaged in a project together (and I know the kids appreciated that, too).

Afterward, we went next door to Snoopy’s Home Ice for public skate hours. Hudson and Aron tried to turn figure eights while Skyler and I shared a Peppermint Patty Hot Chocolate by the fireplace in the Warm Puppy Café.

One thing that seemed especially nice: they had buckets kids could stack to just the right height for leaning on and getting comfortable on the ice at one end of the rink.

For lunch, we drove back into downtown to check out Bibi’s Burger Bar, owned by the local Chandi brothers and named for their grandmother. At first glance, it’s just a cool diner, but its menu is special—with classic and creative burgers, a full Indian menu (from dosas to fried paneer), and a slew of items that blend the two!

I’m a huge fan of Indian food, and the thought that I could have Bhel Puri while my kids had french fries, was alone pretty exciting. But everything was delicious—from a cheeseburger and a PB & J milkshake for the kids, and a boozy milkshake (with Jameson’s and caramel sauce) and a potato tiki burger for us. This would definitely be a dangerously tempting place for me if it were closer.

Finally, it’s hard to imagine coming out to Sonoma without tasting some wine, and we were excited to check out Benziger Family Winery, a winery using Biodynamic farming methods.

The drive out to Glen Ellen on Bennett Valley Road was one of the most beautiful I can recall of late, even as the rain started to fall. We had reservations for a tram tour where we toured their caves and learned more about the ranch—complete with its own teams of insects, and cattle, and sheep—before doing a tasting in their tasting room. Had it been drier, I would have loved to explore more on foot as well—it was a gorgeous winery. I’d like to come back and see it again.

Nonetheless, we did go to check out the insectory, where they grow plants that attract beneficial organisms (bugs) that kill other organisms that are harmful to the vines.

Inspired by the beautiful roads around Santa Rosa, we took the windy route over the ridge from Sonoma into Napa, before driving onto Putah Creek Wildlife Area back into Davis.

It was just a quick getaway—in our own backyard—but it felt like we’d truly gone away on vacation.

Have you been to Santa Rosa? What should we be sure not to miss on our next visit? 

P.S. Nearby: a daytrip to Petaluma, a family weekend on the Sonoma Coast, oysters and cheese in Tomales Bay, and a romantic weekend in Calistoga.

Thank you to Visit Santa Rosa for providing our accommodations, and for helping us to get to know beautiful Sonoma Country even better! Go to view their other itineraries.

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