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Destinations – Santa Rosa, CA

A restaurant window in Santa Rosa's bustling Railroad Square.


Renaissance in Railroad Square

Santa Rosa makes no apologies for being a practical sort of town. One of the largest metropolitan areas north of San Francisco, it has always been the work-a-day Wine Country suburb where visitors might find convenient parking, strip malls, churches, schools and tract homes—but not necessarily the tourist-friendly bars, restaurants and shops that out-of-towners and visitors practically stumble over to the north and south.

Vintage signs give Railroad Square a feeling of old-meets-new.

Instead, Santa Rosa is the place where many Sonoma residents actually live and raise their families. And though there have always been a few notable Santa Rosa tourist destinations, like the influential John Ash, or the ground-breaking Willi’s Wine Bar, Santa Rosa has for a long time lacked a central hub where folks could walk around, shop and eat—like the central plazas of Healdsburg or the town of Sonoma.

But recently that's been changing. Slowly at first, but with increasing speed Railroad Square, just west of downtown, is becoming Santa Rosa’s own Wine Country destination spot.

In the spring of 2006, upscale condos and residences will open in the formerly down-and-out train station blocks, bringing much-needed live-in occupants to downtown. New restaurants are opening with lightning speed, anchored by perennial favorites Syrah and La Gare. Scheduled to open this spring is a new steakhouse and an outpost of Marin’s Sushi To Dai. Relative newcomers include the increasingly acclaimed Lo Cocos and Brasserie de la Mer at the Vineyard Creek. Old standbys like Omelette Express and Josef’s have been local favorites for years and are benefiting from the area’s revitalization.

Syrah Restaurant is a favorite of locals and visitors for creative WineCountry dining.

Adding to the energy, Railroad Square is one of the few areas in Santa Rosa that stays open late: chain restaurant Chevy’s Fresh Mex is a huge draw on the weekends, as is A’Roma Roasters Coffeehouse, a hangout for late-night students and caffeine addicts. Just up the street, Last Day Saloon is one of Santa Rosa’s few late-night clubs.

Upscale lifestyle shopping has emerged as well, pushing out many of the dismal resale shops that once dominated with funky fashions, home furnishings, salons, yoga studios, coffeehouses and outdoor stores. And with several of the area's most accommodating hotels within walking distance, Railroad Square is clearly targeting visitors. A favorite is the small and charming Rose Hotel, worth checking out.

If you go, take the Downtown off ramp from Highway 101 and turn left. Keep an eye out for a few remaining decorated Charlie Brown statues located around Railroad Square—as well as the permanent bronze Charlie and Snoopy Statue next to Chevy's. You'll find plenty of the Peanuts gang dotted around the town, in honor of their creator, Charles Schultz, who was a long-time resident.

Eat
• A’Roma Roasters, 95 Fifth Street, Santa Rosa, California, 707.576.7765
• Chevy's Fresh Mex, 24 Fourth Street, Santa Rosa, California, 707.571.1082
• Josef's Restaurant & Bar, 308 Wilson Street, Santa Rosa, California, 707.571.8664
• La Gare French Restaurant, 208 Wilson Street, Santa Rosa, California, 707.528.4355
• Lo Coco's Cucina Rustica, 117 4th Street, Santa Rosa, California, 707.523.2227
• Omelette Express, 112 Fourth Street, Santa Rosa, California, 707.525.1690
•Seafood Brasserie, 170 Railroad Street, Santa Rosa, California, 707 .636.7388
• Syrah Bistro, 205 Fifth St., Santa Rosa, California, 707.568.4002
• The Last Day Saloon, 120 Fifth Street, Santa Rosa, California, 707.545.2343

Shop
• Gado Gado International, 129 Fourth Street, Santa Rosa, California, 707.525.8244
• Gracious Living, 111 Fourth Street, Santa Rosa, California, 707.566.8863
• Hot Couture Vintage Fashions, 101 Third Street, Santa Rosa, California, 707.528.7247

Stay
• Hotel La Rose, 308 Wilson Street, Santa Rosa, California, 707.579.3200
• Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel & Spa, 170 Railroad Street, Santa Rosa, California, 707.284.1234

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