People are often surprised by the size of this area and by the abundance of Western and Sonoma Coast tourist attractions to enjoy. Santa Rosa is the biggest town between San Francisco and Portland, and it definitely has a lot to offer. And, like those two cities, there is a focus in the area on walking and biking that many people from other parts of the country find very inviting – some so much so that they end up moving here!
Some of the things to do in Western Sonoma may seem a tad quirky, but that’s part of the charm! Whether you go for quirky or lean more toward the area’s natural or historical tourist attractions, Western Sonoma is fun for the whole family. Check it out!
Safari West, Santa Rosa – Called “the Serengeti of Sonoma” by some, this 400-acre wildlife preserve offers an intimate experience with hundreds of African mammals, including zebras (three babies were born in January 2010), giraffes, cheetahs, rhinos, buffalos, wildebeests, monkeys and lemurs. The habitat is designed to give the animals the ability to interact and roam about freely, so you never really know for sure what you might see. Safari West’s expeditions are by appointment only and last about three hours. Overnight accommodations in tent cabins with hardwood floors, private baths, plush beds and a view of “the savanna” are also available. (safariwest.com)
The Charles M. Schulz Museum, Santa Rosa – The Peanuts gang is celebrated and immortalized at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in permanent displays and a variety of changing exhibits. It is a must-visit for budding cartoonists, and they can access a library of instruction books, drawing tables, writing and art supplies should inspiration strike. There is a gift shop, of course, and the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, still owned by the Schulz family, is located directly across from the museum. (charlesmschulzmuseum.org)
Howarth Park, Santa Rosa – This large city park is seamlessly joined with Spring Lake Park (a county park) and Annadel State Park. Howarth Park offers canoe and paddle boat rentals, pony rides, a merry-go-round, a miniature train ride and a large, well-developed playground with a climbing net, bridges and a play town. There are also picnic areas and campsites. There are lakes in the parks, and Spring Lake has a swimming lagoon, too. Lake Ilsanjo in Annadel State Park, considered a “local secret” natural swimming location, can be accessed by a short hike (about two miles) on the Vietnam Vets trail (off Annadel Heights Road) which leads to the Spring Creek Trail. The parks’ abundant hike and bike trails vary from paved paths to open trails and connect to the Bay Area Ridge Trails.
Luther Burbank Home & Gardens, Santa Rosa – As a world-renowned horticulturist and botanist, Luther Burbank developed more than 800 new varieties of plants – including over 200 varieties of fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains plus hundreds of ornamental flowers (including the Shasta Daisy, which he named after California’s spectacular Mt. Shasta) – and he also made Santa Rosa his home. In 1875, he declared, “I firmly believe, from what I have seen that this is the chosen spot of all this earth as far as Nature is concerned.” The home and surrounding one-acre garden, a registered National, State and City Historical Landmark, is now a Santa Rosa city park and is open to the public. (lutherburbank.org)
Railroad Square, Santa Rosa – Not far from the Schultz Museum, this historic town square’s early-20th century stone and brick buildings presently house cafes, shops and nightspots, and a California Tourist Information Center is located here in the 1904 landmark Northwestern Pacific Railroad Depot. You can pick up a self-guided walking tour map of the area at the center, or you can also access a Railroad Square walking tour map here for easy at-home printing (pdf file). Don’t miss the bronze statues of Charlie Brown and Woodstock in nearby Depot Park or the First Friday art walks during the summer months. (railroadsquare.net)
Joe Rodota Bike and Pedestrian Trail, Santa Rosa to Sebastopol – This multi-use trail extends from downtown Santa Rosa (where it connects to the Prince Memorial Greenway near the Courtyard Marriott in Railroad Square) all the way to downtown Sebastopol, several miles to the west. Except for small portions near those city centers (especially in Santa Rosa, where the path traverses a few streets), it is a completely off-road experience and a great alternative to driving between the two cities. This area is blessed with an abundance of open spaces to enjoy, and you can find a map here that will help you explore them.
The Hand Fan Museum, Healdsburg – This exquisite and unique one-room museum is devoted entirely to hand fans, and it is the only one of its kind in the country. The general collection of over 3,000 fans covers a wide variety of periods and places, and they are artfully arranged in exhibits that change every three to four months. (handfanmuseum.org)
Mrs. Grossman’s Sticker Factory, Petaluma – Mrs. Grossman’s Sticker Factory has been making stickers since 1979 and is the nation’s oldest and largest sticker company. Available by reservation, one-hour factory tours follow workers as they print, package and ship stickers and can give children an insider view of a product they know and love. (mrsgrossmans.com/tours)
The Old Potter Schoolhouse, Bodega – Used as a filming location in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” this building was slated for demolition when Hitchcock discovered it. He had it shored up and rebuilt for the filming, and it is the only original building used in the film that still exists. The public is welcome to view the outside of the schoolhouse, but it is a privately-owned residence.
The Tides Wharf Restaurant, Bodega Bay – This restaurant and parking lot also appeared in “The Birds” in the gas station, cafe and boat dock scene (although the gas station was blown up on the studio lot). The Tides complex has since been expanded and remodeled, and it is a great place to enjoy Cioppino or a a fresh salmon dinner.
Bodega Bay Kayak – Let’s end on a creative note and think of the sunbathing and surfing seals as a tourist attraction. One- and two-person kayaks can be rented for a self-guided tour, and they also offer guided kayak tours along the Russian River where it empties into the ocean. In the spring, the seals give birth to their pups here, away from deep-sea predators.
Chansolor Guest Ranch, Bodega Bay – Again, not technically a Wine Country tourist attraction, but if horseback riding or fishing are of interest, you would be hard-pressed to find a better place to enjoy them than this 373-acre historic working ranch that is surrounded by some of the finest beaches in California and over 10,000 acres of parks and protected land. (chanslorranch.com)
Did you find any Western and Sonoma Coast tourist attractions that interest you? There are a lot of things to do in Wine Country, and this California Wine Country map will help you find them. You may also want to check out our Sonoma Valley tourist attractions and Napa Valley tourist attractions articles for some additional ideas.
Photo of Snoopy at Charles M. Schultz Museum by bryce_edwards via flickr (Creative Commons) and Photo of Old Potter Schoolhouse from Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ in Bodega by mrjoro via flickr (Creative Commons).
Note: Information in this article was accurate
when it was published, but hours, prices, etc.
change constantly. Please confirm details
with local contacts before traveling.