A Low Key Wine Country Getaway to Santa Rosa
- Written By:Christina Valhouli
Planning a California wine country getaway boils down to finding the right destination to suit your travel style. Foodies may be drawn to Healdsburg while anyone looking to combine sipping with spas might prefer Calistoga, which is famous for its mud baths and natural hot springs, while some of the biggest and boldest names in American wines are found in Napa.
But if you’re looking for a low key wine country getaway away from the glitz and glam, consider Santa Rosa. The largest town in Sonoma County also happens to be one of the most under-the-radar, and has been called Sonoma’s best-kept secret. Santa Rosa has a distinctly laid back vibe and offers a mix of wineries and craft distilleries, along with access to the outdoors and cultural attractions – minus the crowds and high prices of its neighbors.
The new Astro is the coolest place to stay in town. The design is mid-century modern meets retro, as the hotel is located in a renovated motor lodge. The vibe is fun and playful, with a bright color palette. There’s also a focus on sustainability, as the central courtyard is packed with edibles such as lemon and olive trees, and the addition of Gravenstein apple trees and a Santa Rosa plum are a nod to local specialties.
The Astro’s smallest guests can cycle around the courtyard on tiny trikes while adults can hop on complimentary Shinola bicycles to explore the neighborhood. Guest rooms are soothing and simple, and one of the Astro’s best features is the communal lounge with its vintage signs and furniture. In the morning the sliding doors are thrown open to enjoy the fresh air e and guests can help themselves to complimentary coffee and pastries in the morning (gluten free options are available).
Any NorCal trip should involve getting back to nature, and just across the street is the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens. Although his name may only be familiar to those with the greenest of thumbs, Burbank is an agricultural pioneer credited with introducing more than 800 varieties of plants and vegetables. Nicknamed “The Plant Wizard,” his creations include three types of Swiss chard, the Shasta daisy and plucots, a plum-apricot hybrid. The gardens here feature a mix of fruits, vegetables, herbs and plants.
If you want to get deeper into nature, head to the sprawling Jack London State Historic Park. Start at the House of Happy Walls Museum to learn more about Jack London’s celebrated life as an author and journalist as well as his wife Charmian, a trailblazing pioneer who shared his global adventures and was also a writer. The park has more than 29 miles of trails through ancient redwoods and historic orchards but more redwoods can be found nearby at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. The 805-acre state park has about nine miles of hiking trails that wind among the some of the tallest trees in the world; the tallest tree in the park is Parson Jones, which is over 310 feet tall.
Families and animal lovers should make advanced reservations to Safari West. Called the “Serengeti of Sonoma,” Safari West is a 400 acre wildlife preserve dedicated to conservation. Visits start with a walking tour to see the lemurs, cheetahs and brightly colored birds like flamingos and turacos before hopping in an open air vehicle to explore the property and see the animals roaming. Guests will spot rhinos, wildebeest and cape buffalos along with zebras and giraffes. If you get hungry, it’s hard to resist the smell of the outdoor braai (South African style barbecue) featuring smoked chicken and beef brisket.
One of the main reasons to come to Santa Rosa is for the wine and there are plenty of options to swirl and sip. Matanzas Creek Winery and Gardens is nestled in the Bennett Valley, and its grapes come from certified sustainable estate vineyards. Sampling the wines in the tasting room is a must but you could spend hours here relaxing in the courtyard among couples, friends and families enjoying a picnic and a game of bocce. The property offers a self-guided Vineyard Adventure Walk; be sure to head down to the lavender garden and stop in front of the drying barn. Although the doors are closed, you can still smell the lavender wafting through. Inside the tasting room, don’t miss the Lavender Market for dried bouquets and products like lavender bath salts. Matanzas also sells its own olive oil.
Other tasting options include Martin Ray Vineyards and Winery, which was built in 1881 and is one of the oldest continually working wineries in California. The winery is known for its Russian River Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Book a Founder’s Flight Tasting and add in an optional cheese and charcuterie plate. Drove here in your Tesla? The winery also has an electrical vehicle charging station.
But there's more than wine to sip here. Santa Rosa is home to craft breweries including HenHouse Brewing — come by to sample the beer and enjoy food trucks from StreetSide Asian Grill and Camacho’s Southern Style BBQ. Other options include Cooperage for a wide variety of beers on tap as well as kombucha.
Wrap up your trip with a leisurely meal at the Spinster Sisters, which is owned by the same group behind The Astro. Spinster Sisters embodies Santa Rosa’s laid back vibe with an emphasis on quality. Located in Santa Rosa's SoFA Arts District, chef Liza Hinman’s menu features a mix of sharing plates using locally sourced ingredients. Bring a group of friends to work your way through the menu, such as wild nettle custard grilled Monterey Bay squid and cured Spanish mackerel. Be sure to toast the bounty of Sonoma with a bottle of local (and well-priced wine) such as Two Sheperds.