Adventures in Wine Country - A Visit to Santa Rosa, California

Armstrong Redwood State Nature Reserve
Kraig Becker

The charming California town of Santa Rosa sits in the heart of wine country, which makes it a popular destination for travelers looking for a relaxing escape that includes visits to the region's famous vineyards. But it turns out, there are plenty of things for active, adventurous travelers to do there as well, providing a unique mix of activities that are surprisingly diverse and fun. If you're planning a visit to this region – located just a short drive north of San Francisco – here are some suggestions of things to do and see while you're there.

Active Adventures

Kayak the Russian River
Looking for an aquatic adventure while visiting the Santa Rosa region? Local adventure travel company Getaway Adventures can help! For more than 25 years Getaway has been organizing active escapes for visitors to wine country. One of their most popular tours involves coastal paddling near the town of Jenner, where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean. This leisurely trip provides guests with amazing views of the California coastline and the hills that line the river. If you visit during the spring time, you might even see the local harbor seals caring for their newborn pups. 

Take a Bike Tour Through Wine Country
Getaway Adventures doesn't just specialize in paddling trips. In fact, their real specialty is cycling tours of the wine country located just outside Santa Rosa. Whether you're looking for a relaxed bike ride with stops at various vineyards, or a more intense workout that culminates with visits to some of the guide's favorite wineries, Getaway has you covered.

They even offer a cycling tour that visits some of the popular breweries that have begun popping up throughout the region too. 

Mountain Bike Annadel State Park
Santa Rosa features an amazing resource for mountain bikers that is located just 15 minutes outside of town. That's where you'll find California's Annadel State Park, a fantastic outdoor playground that is popular with local riders and visitors alike.

The park features miles of trail – ranging from wide fire roads to narrow single track – that includes lung-bursting climbs and adrenaline inducing drops. You'll find everything from easy routes to very rocky and technical trails, which makes this an ideal destination for riders of all experience levels. 

Didn't bring a bike of your own? Then just head over to the Trek Store of Santa Rosa. This fantastic bike shop has all kinds of different bikes to rent, including some excellent models for tackling the challenges of Annadel. If you'd prefer a nice cruiser bike for zipping around Santa Rosa, they'll have you covered there too. 

Zipline Through the Redwoods
Northern California is well known for its epic redwood trees, and there are few better ways to explore them than with Sonoma Canopy Tours. The company offers two different courses to take you through the forest – the Classic and the Challenger. The former of those courses is the original route from when Sonoma Canopy Tours first opened back in 2011, while the latter is an exciting new course that just opened in the fall of 2015. Both are exciting and fun, and offer some unique challenges, including long zipline runs, dizzying bridges that connect platforms in the trees, and even 40-foot rappels out of the redwoods themselves.

You haven't ziplined until you've done it amongst these magnificent trees. 

Go for a Hike in Armstrong Woods
Santa Rosa has a number of fantastic parks within easy driving distance, but if you want to an epic hike, it's tough to top Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. The park offers a wide variety of trails to hike, with some being short and easy, while others are long and challenge, with a solid amount of vertical gain. Most will take you deep into the redwood forests, which tower hundreds of feet overhead. If you're lucky enough to make it into the backcountry, you'll be treated to fantastic views of the surrounding countryside, where rolling hills spread out to the horizon. Don't miss the Parson Jones Tree, which is the tallest in the park, topping out at over 310 feet, or the Colonel Armstrong Tree, which is the oldest.

That particular redwood is estimated to be over 1400 years old. 

Where to Stay

Flamingo Conference Resort and Spa
There are no shortage of places to stay in Santa Rosa, with plenty of good hotels sprinkled throughout the area. But it is tough to top the Flamingo Conference Resort and Spa in terms of location, amenities, and character. With its spinning neon sign proudly displayed on a high tower, the Flamingo is likely to induce nostalgic memories from a bygone era. In fact, the hotel features a distinct 1950's vibe that gives it a unique ambiance that you don't find in many places. But don't let its retro look fool you. It is a comfortable, fun place to stay that includes an onsite restaurant and lounge; a health club and spa; and a large heated swimming pool that is very popular with guests. The rooms are comfortable and modern, with plenty of nice convenience, and the staff is always helpful and friendly too. 

Where to Eat

Stark's Steakhouse
If you have a healthy appetite after an active day, Stark's Steakhouse needs to be on your list of local restaurants to visit. It features a full menu of options for steak and seafood lovers, not to mention plenty of fantastic side dishes, mouthwatering desserts, and a healthy sampling of local wines. The house garlic bread is simply too good to pass up, while the prime rib is definitely a favorite as well. 

The Pullman Kitchen
Downtown Santa Rosa isn't lacking for fine dining options, and The Pullman Kitchen is another choice that you should have on your list. The restaurant offers guests a host of delicious options that range from light and healthy to rich and decadent. The bacon wrapped dates are wonderful, while the seared yellowfin tuna served on a bed of glass noodles will hit the spot after a busy day too. 

Belly Left Coast Kitchen & Tap Room
For a more raucous dining experience, head over to Belly Left Coast Kitchen & Tap Room, where the devious fare springs from the mind of owner and head chef Gray Rollin. Known as the "rock chef," Rollin owned his craft by serving as the traveling cook for a number of famous rock bands, including Motley Crüe, Blink 182, and Katy Perry. The restaurant features some wonderful twists on classic meals (the mac and cheese is amazing!) with some fresh, modern takes on everything from tacos to pizza. The bar is well stocked with a wide selection of beer and wine as well. 

Where to Drink

Russian River Brewing Company
Popular with locals and visitors alike, the Russian River Brewing Company can get quite busy and crowded at times. But that's just a testament to good the beer is there. If you've had your fill of wine tasting for awhile, and you're looking for something a bit different, then you'll definitely want to have this place on your list of potential stops. The beer is excellent and the atmosphere is solid. What more could you ask for?

Woodfour Brewing Company
For a different experience, head over to Santa Rosa's sister city Sebastapol to sample some of the find beers being concocted at the Woodfour Brewing Company. Owner and brewmaster Seth Wood brings a level of sophistication to the creative process that is seldom seen on the beer-making scene, which is due in part to his background as a winemaker I'm sure. The flavors are wonderful and unique, with some great options for just about everyone. 

As you can tell, Santa Rosa has a lot to offer travelers that go well beyond the local vineyards. Don't get me wrong, those are fantastic too, but if you need a break from sampling the vino, it's always good to know what other activities are available.