I love packing up my kids and hitting the road. New sights, sounds, and smells (which in my world means good food) guarantees a good time will be had by all. But now that my girls’ social schedules are more important than anything I can possibly plan, there are weekends when you just have to hang at home. Lucky for me, home is Santa Rosa. If you’ve never been, get out your calendar and set a weekend aside. I promise you won’t be disappointed, and you just might score some major points with the kids.
Welcome to Santa Rosa!
A little bit of background to give you your bearings. Santa Rosa is 55 miles north of San Francisco, figure about an hour’s drive. The biggest city between San Francisco and Portland, Santa Rosa’s got a bit of an identity crisis, but that only makes it more attractive to visiting families. It’s home to wine country, farm country, world-class cuisine, one of the most recognizable comic characters in the world, and oh yeah, I almost forgot about the lions, tigers and… well, no bears, but plenty of giraffes.
Wine Country Safari
As soon as you find an open weekend on the calendar, the first thing you should do is make your reservation with Safari West. It’s Sonoma County’s version of the Serengeti. Tucked away on 400 acres of wine country, Safari West is an African wildlife preserve. It’s the closest you’ll get to Africa without needing shots and a passport. Start your Santa Rosa adventure with the 10am tour, when everyone (parents included) have lots of energy. During the three hour safari adventure, you’ll get up close and personal (giraffes are not shy, trust me) with cheetahs, zebras, gazelles, and many of the other 600 animals that call Safari West home.
After your safari, head to downtown Santa Rosa for a quick bite at Gary Chu’s. Their “executive lunch” is fresh and fast, I always have to pry my girls away from the huge aquarium when the food arrives—broccoli beef and pineapple-sesame prawns finished off with an almond cookie and fortune cookie. My share of the fortune cookies are prime trading material with my kids. They’ll buy me 10 minutes of whine-free shopping at Cokas Diko. A furniture, design and gift store all rolled into one, it’s a great place to pick up gifts or something for yourself.
Stop and Smell the Roses
You don’t need a green thumb to enjoy the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens. In fact you don’t even need your car. If you’ve fed the meter and have any fortune cookies left, con the kids into walking the three blocks to Luther Burbank’s home. Cut through Courthouse Square and play on the massive scissors sculpture (c’mon, no one’s looking). Go feed the meter again—the scissors take time—and then get to the garden. It was Burbank’s goal to increase the world’s food supply. The famed horticulturist introduced more than 800 new varieties of plants to the world, including the well- known Idaho potato and Shasta daisy. Plan on spending at least an hour to explore the gardens. There are roses in every color of the rainbow, funky creations like the spineless cactus and potatoes with see-through planting boxes so kids can see what’s going on beneath the soil. The gardens are open to visitors, free of charge, every day of the year.
By now you’ve had a full day, so rather than driving all the way back home, check into the Courtyard by Marriott, located just minutes from downtown Santa Rosa. The kids will be in pool before you even get a chance to tell them the room came with a Nickelodeon activity book and silicone bracelet that gets them access to a secret game website. Ask about their “Nickelodeon Your Stay” package when you book a room here.
When it’s time for dinner, turn on the Garmin GPS and punch in 53 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa. You’ll arrive at Rosso Pizzeria. The bad news: There will be a wait. The good news: It is so worth it. Though it just may be the best pizza I’ve ever had, Rosso’s is so much more than a pizzeria. The kids’ menu is so good—loaded with things that aren’t on the regular menu like lightly fried house made fresh mozzarella—adults often ask to order from it (I choose to make my girls order for me). Kids get pizza dough to play with while their dinner is cooking, and they can watch as it heads to the open air kitchen and gets thrown in the Tuscan wood-burning oven. When the dough comes back to the table it’s golden brown with a ramekin of incredible housemade tomato sauce—another reason not to get a babysitter and bring the kids to dinner. After dinner, head back to your hotel and get a good night’s sleep. You’ve got a busy day ahead tomorrow.
“It’s Your Town, Charlie Brown”
Good Grief! Don’t waste any time getting to the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center. Peanuts comic strip creator Charles M. Schultz lived and worked in Santa Rosa for more than 30 years. The museum has a great collection of Peanuts comic strips, photographs, books—anything and everything that has to do with Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the whole gang. My 10-year-old is a huge Snoopy fan; she just reads and laughs her way through the exhibits. Don’t miss out on great classes like “How to Draw Peanuts” (there’s hope—I’ve made great progress over the years) and “Gingerbread Doghouse Workshops.” Yum! Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for kids. Children under 4 are free.
Hit the Ice
If museums and your kids don’t mix, head to one of the coolest places in Santa Rosa. Charles M. Schultz loved ice skating and hockey so much he built the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, located right across the street from the museum. Lace up your skates and take a few glides around the ring, or if you’re not the not-so-graceful-type like me, enjoy a warm cup of hot chocolate (extra whipped cream please) in the Warm Puppy Café while you watch other skaters make it look easy.
If it’s a Sunday I’ll risk broken bones and head out on the ice rink. Every Sunday from 10:30am to noon, the rink offers “Parent & Puppy Practice.” Little ones and big parents who aren’t so steady on their skates are invited to slide chairs onto the ice to help with balance. Prices range from $5 to $9, depending on the day and time. When you want to thaw out, head next door to Snoopy’s Gallery and Gift Shop. It has something for just about every Peanuts fan, including great gifts for the holidays.
Peanuts on Parade
While you’re in town be on the lookout for Santa Rosa’s fun tribute to Schultz. It started in 2005 when dozens of 4-foot statues of Charlie Brown were scattered around the city. Since then, Woodstock, Snoopy and Lucy have become common colorful sightings. Each statue is painted and designed by a Sonoma county artist, so no two are alike.
You’ll find a few at the museum and ice rink. But it’s worth exploring Santa Rosa to see how many you can find. I find new ones all the time, running around chauffeuring my girls from here to there. You can and should print a cheat sheet before you leave home.
If you have your own tips and recommendations on family getaways to Santa Rosa that you’d like to share, feel free to add your own comments to our blog below. We’d love to hear from you.
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