Sonoma County isn't all about the wine. Take a break from the wineries to spend some time in downtown Santa Rosa, the county seat. The downtown area offers movies; art; a central plaza for relaxing and people-watching; a wide variety of bars and restaurants; mall shopping and boutiques; and a passenger train that takes you north to the Sonoma County Airport and south to Petaluma and Marin County.
When locals say, "downtown," they are usually referring to the eastern section of the city.
Courthouse Square at Mendocino Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets is Santa Rosa's downtown center. This large, open-space plaza was renovated in 2017 with a grassy area, trees, and benches. It is the site of a farmers market and special events.
Fourth Street is downtown's main street. It's lined with many locally owned stores, restaurants, beer pubs, a public library, a bookstore, and coffee shops, including Starbucks and Peet's Coffee and Tea. The Russian River Brewing Company is here, widely known for its craft beers, including the popular Pliny the Elder.
A multiplex movie theater, bus transit hub, banks, and many of the city administration buildings are located toward the southwest corner of downtown, in the area around 1st and D Streets. Take a tour of the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens, where the famed American horticulturist lived and worked for most of his life.
On the western side of the downtown area, Railroad Square is considered the original, historic Santa Rosa downtown.
Many of the shops and restaurants are housed in turn-of-the-century stone buildings that have survived several serious earthquakes, including the 1906 San Francisco quake, which heavily damaged the eastern section of Santa Rosa's downtown. Hotels, fine restaurants, antique stores, and coffeehouses are found in this lively sector that is popular with tourists and locals alike.
In 2017, local passenger trains returned to the historic Railroad Square train depot. Don't miss the bronze statue of Peanuts and Snoopy in Depot Park. Peanuts creator Charles Schultz, who lived and worked in Santa Rosa, gave his official approval for this much-photographed statue.
Informally known as the "Downtown Mall," the Plaza is in the center of the downtown area where Highway 101 and Highway 12 meet. It features more than 120 specialty stores, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Aldo Shoes, Apple, Bath & Body Works, Eddie Bauer, Foot Locker, Sephora, Starbucks, and much more. The upper level has a food hall that includes a Japanese grill, pizza, hamburgers, Mrs. Fields, and Orange Julius. The mall is anchored by Macy's, Sears, and Forever 21.
Museums of Sonoma County
Across from the mall's 7th Street exit, just three blocks from the center of downtown, you'll find the 1910 historic post office building that now houses the History Museum of Sonoma County. Its collection covers Sonoma County history and culture from the first Native Americans to the earliest Russian and Mexican arrivals to recent times. The modern Art Museum, right next door, displays diverse art objects from works on paper to sculpture.