Festa Italiana is an annual event sponsored by the North Bay Italian Cultural Foundation, and it's a lot of fun for the whole family, even if you're not Italian. There's live Italian music, dancing, cooking demonstrations, classic cars, a silent auction, handicrafts and baked goods for sale, and -- of course -- food and wine.
For $1, your bambino can do arts and crafts projects under adult supervision while you shop in a different part of the room.
The Festa usually takes place in late September or early October. Tickets are $5 in advance, $8 at the door (under 10 years - free).
Lunch is a bargain at $5: it includes salad, garlic bread, and your choice of pasta, risotto, polenta, chicken, or tri-tip sandwich. There are also gelato and drink stands.
For more photos of the classic car show, see my travelogue.
In the heart of Railroad Square, the western portion of downtown Santa Rosa, is the NWP railroad depot. It was built in 1904 of rough-hewn basalt blocks, like many of the nearby buildings. Currently, alas, it is not a functioning depot (although we here in Sonoma County are pushing for rail service again!), but it houses the local California Welcome Center and the Santa Rosa Convention and Visitors Bureau. Therefore, in addition to being a great building to see, it is a conveniently located place to find travel and event information, maps, and Sonoma County/Santa Rosa souvenirs.
Inside, the depot has a visitor-information desk, a gift shop, and a small display on the railroading history of the area, a small electric train setup, and the controls for the train signals. Visitors are free to manipulate the controls (seen in the accompanying pictures I provide), which still operate, and therefore can change the depot's train signal right outside (also in the pictures here).
For cinema buffs, this is also the place where Joseph Cotten arrived in Santa Rosa, and from which he embarked the train to leave in Hitchcock's film Shadow of a Doubt. The station is quite prominent in many shots of the film both when "Uncle Charlie" is arriving and leaving, and it looks pretty much identical today as it did in the film.
There is a nice park/greenway, walking/bicycle path area along much of Santa Rosa Creek in downtown Santa Rosa, extending west from the corner of Santa Rosa Avenue and Sonoma Ave. beyond Railroad Square all the way out to the Laguna de Santa Rosa west of town. It is very well-constructed, with different levels, and provides a nice opportunity to walk between these areas away from cars, etc., and connects to the new convention centre south of Railroad Square as well as to a small park with a playground. On can walk along it from the sourthern edge of downtown, under the freeway, to or beyond Railroad Square, and go out to eh countryside. It is now also connected to the Joe Rodota Trail, a pedestrian and bike path which goes right to downtown Sebastopol. The connection is at a bridge behind the Courtyard Marriott hotel in Railroad Square and there are signs. As a result, one can ride or walk on an improved path all the way between downtown Santa Rosa and downtown Sebastopol.
Safari West Wildlife Preserve and African Tent Camp is an amazing place to experience. The property is 400 acres with several tents and cabins to stay in very close to the animals. We stayed in a tent (which is very nice ~ not roughing it at all) that had a view of a lake from our deck in the front and view of giraffes and other animals (that looked like sort of like deer) from the side windows. The bathroom had an opening in the canvas above the shower where you could see animals grazing on the hill. The bed was very comfortable and the few furnishing there were nice. A continental breakfast is served in the morning in the dining room. They have jeep tours twice a day in the winter and three times a day in the summer lasting about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The tour guide was very knowledgable and entertaining. The day we took our tour it was raining so we were unable to see much of the property due to the slippery mud roads. We opted not to do the walking portion of the tour due to the rain as well. The property is beautiful and I am looking forward to going back for another stay during the summer when I can count on good weather. Sorry the photos are so poor. I opted to use my cheap camera due to the rain. I highly recommend a visit and overnight stay!
Railroad Square is the most old-fashioned part of downtown Santa Rosa and is focused on Depot Park and the old Railroad Stations. One station, the old NWP depot, is made of rough-hewn basalt blocks like the nearby coffee house and the old La Rose Hotel across the street on Wilson Street. See my tip on the California Welcome Center. The other station, the Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad station, is at the south end of the square, is a Mission Revival building, and is now Chevy's restaurant. There are other neat old buildings on the various blocks in the area.
It was here, at the NWP depot, that Joseph Cotten arrived in Santa Rosa in the 1943 Hitchcock film Shadow of a Doubt. Much of the immediate area still looks basically the same, and several existing buildings, such as the Hotel La Rose on Wilson and the 1906 Lee Brothers building at 4th and Wilson, are visible in the film.
See also my tip on the California Welcome Center and my travelpage about Railroad Square and the West End.
One of the great things about this area is that, while kind of touristy and capitalizing on its old charm, it is still a "real" example of downtown, a normal, functioning, living area. It is not some artificial tourist trap with cheesy shirt stores and sweet shops found in places like Old Sacramento. Instead, it is still a normal, functioning part of town, typical of how Santa Rosa's downtown can be a great place to visit or relax while still functioning as a real town. Along with the nice eateries, hotels & antique stores, there are, among others, numerous old homes, new condos, offices, an appliance store, an engineering firm (where the modern hop-harvester was created), a feed/farm store, and 100-year-old warehouses still being used as such.
A final note is that the Railroad Square Association webstie (see below) has plenty of information on events and a "virtual" walking tour of the area.
The Charles M. Schulz Museum is a memorial to the work of the late cartoonist Schulz, the genius behind the cartoon strip Peanuts, and a must-see for fans of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy, et al.
There are huge statues of Charlie Brown and Snoopy and an impressive mural by Japanese artist Yoshiteru Otani, made up of thousands of Peanuts strips cast in ceramic tile. The galleries show Snoopy and friends as they evolved through the years.
Upstairs you can see a reconstruction of the artist's study and even a section of wall from a house he once owned, that he painted for his daughter. What touched me the most were the tributes to Schulz -- in cartoon form, of course -- from other artists. There's a small museum shop next to the lobby.
Admission is $10 general, $5 seniors and youth, museum members and under 4 free. Closed major holidays and Tuesdays in winter, fall, and spring.
But wait... there's more. Across the street you can grab a snack at the Warm Puppy Cafe (Schulz's table is stil reserved for him), go for a skate at the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, a.k.a. Snoopy's Home Ice, or shop at the Snoopy gift shop.
Like other towns in Sonoma County, Santa Rosa has a wealth of beautiful, quaint, or cute old neighbourhoods with interesting old houses.
In Santa Rosa the grandest old houses, including large plantation-style houses, and very substantial Victorians, tend to be concentrated mostly on and near McDonald Ave., just NE of downtown. These include Mableton, the mansion of Mark McDonald powerful local businessman who owned, among other things, the local power company. This house was used in the old Disney movie Pollyanna and is on a huge corner lot. McDonald Ave. has huge, beautiful old trees, too. Other nearby neat streets include Monroe, Spring, Proctor, 16th St., etc.
The Burbank Gardens area south of downtown has smaller, but very interesting homes in another old-fashioned neighbourhood. It is next to its namesake, south of Sonoma Ave., east of Santa Rosa Ave.
The South A St area is nearby and similar. It's mostly along South A St, but includes Sonoma Ave west of Santa Rosa Ave, Sebastopol Ave., Boseley St. It's between Hwy 101 to the west and Santa Rosa Ave to the east, south of downtown.
The Cherry St. area in the northern part of downtown has many Victorians. This area is primarily north of 7th St, south of College Ave., and between Mendocino Ave and E St.
The St.Rose area of northern downtown is another significant area. It is between Hwy 101 and Mendocino Ave, north of 7th and south of College Ave.
The West End is a neighbourhood north and west of Railroad Square, mostly between Wilson St and Dutton Ave, south of 9th St. It connects to the Ripley St neighbourhood, not yet officially designated, which is between Wilson/Cleveland Ave to the west, Hwy to the east, north of 9th and south of College.
On Mendocino and College Avenues, busy streets north of downtown, there are many other large, architecturally significant homes, many of which are now offices. Mendocino in particular has some significant houses, including the large Comstock house.
The Redwood Empire Ice Arena, also called Snoopy's Home Ice, is the only ice arena in the area. It was created by Charles Schulz, opening around 1970, and thus has a Peanuts/Snoopy theme. One can go skating, take lessons, and see some ice hockey events as well as Peanuts holiday ice shows like The Great Pumpkin Festival. Since the mid 1970s, it has also hosted the annual Snoopy's Senior World Hockey Tournament.
It is also right next to the Charles Schulz Museum and the Snoopy's Gallery and Gift Shop. It has a restaurant as well, the Warm Puppy Cafe, where Charles Schulz would apparently get breakfast every morning when working at his studio up the street.
Santa Rosa is blessed with a wonderful group of three great parks all tied together right in the city, not very far from downtown. They are a Howarth Park (a large city park), Spring Lake Park (county park), and Annadel State Park, a large park of semi-wilderness in the hills that extends down toward the Sonoma Valley.
All are large and one can walk from one to the other, so that one can start at Howarth Park right in town and end up in undeveloped, open hills out of town in the Sonoma Valley. Both Howarth and Spring Lake have lakes. Howarth park has canoe and paddle boat rentals, pony rides, a merry-go-round, and a miniature train to ride through oak trees, a tunnel, and over a small bridge. it also has a large, well-developed playground with a climbing net, bridges, a play town, and a lot more. Spring Lake has a swimming lagoon and there is good hiking in all the parks, ranging from paved paths to open trails through grass and oaks. The hike and bike trails connect to the Bay Area Ridge Trails. All the parks also have lots of trees, and there are picnic areas and campsites.
Below I give the wbesites for both Sprink Lake and Annadel.
During summer, Santa Rosa hosts the Sunday Concert Series at Julliard Park. This is a beautiful old park with both gently undulating open grass areas and extensive amounts of beautiful trees, as well as a creek and a stone bridge. It's conveniently located on the southern edge of downtown near the intersection of Santa Rosa Ave. and Sonoma Ave. The concerts are Sunday evenings 5-7 and attendance is free while one can also buy food, coffee, etc.
The Petrified Forest has quite a selection of petrified trees, many redwoods and some quite large. There are smaller chunks to touch and sit on, etc., and it is a nice walk.
I think the address is "Calistoga," but it is actually in Sonoma County (like Santa Rosa), not Napa (where Calistoga is) and it is between Santa Rosa and Calistoga.
Spring Lake is surrounded by paths for strolling through oaks and scrub. The adjacent hills have paths for hiking. The scenery is beautiful. At dusk, we often see deer. Lots of dog walkers in morning.
At the corner of 4th and D Sts. in downtown Santa Rosa is a large art-deco/art-moderne building that used to be Rosenberg's Deptartment Store. It now houses Barnes & Noble bookstore and Starbucks Coffee.
The building was built in the later 1930s and from then until about 1987 housed the department store. It is updated and the businesses are different, but the building retains most of its original character inside and out, including interior columns and the mezzanine. It's one of the most significant buildings of its type and style in the region, if not the most, and it makes for a neat shopping experience. It's worth visiting just for the architectural element.
Every Wednesday evening from mid-May through August, Santa Rosa has a "Downtown Market" known as the Wednesday Night Market. It has been going on for almost 20 years (but was originally on Thursday) and is a free event that is essentially a cross between weekly streetfestival and farmer's market. It takes up the core of 4th St. downtown between B Street and E street, usually with a portion going up Mendocino Ave. (between B & D) to 5th St., but the exact layout has fluctuated over the years.
The event is free and includes numerous vendors selling all kinds of crafts, art, breads, candies, various services, and a wide range of food. There are also street musicians and artists numerous people espousing varied political views, walking around with placards and handing out pamphlets. People seem to come out of the woodworks for this to show themselves off, meet others, or people watch and the event draws a wide range of people, including some very interesting folks. Some people come quite a distance to go.
It can be frustratingly crowded at times, but is also fun.
I should add that this is not Santa Rosa's "real" farmer's market, as people sometimes seem confused and the farmer's market portion of this event is limited compared to the large, regular farmer's market. The real farmer's market takes place every Saturday until noon all year long at the Veterans' Memorial Auditorium at the corner of Brookwood and Maple, across the stree from the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. It also is every Saturday except when the Wednesday Night Market is going on.
Santa Rosa is the home of Charles Schulz, as well as his ice arena and the museum about him and Peanuts. Therefore, in Summer 2005, the city began a celebration of Peanuts with statutes of Charlie Brown set up all over town during the celebration of "It's Your Town, Charlie Brown". Some were auctioned off but others remain. This year, Woodstock is the character being honoured in "The Summer of Woodstock" and this is expected to continue in the future with other characters.
Therefore, all over town, with a concentration in downtown, there are Charlie Brown and Woodstock statues. More characters from Peanuts are planned for similar events, since Santa Rosa was the home town of Charles Schulz and is the location of Schulz's Redwood Empire Ice Arena/Snoopy's Home Ice and the Schulz Museum.
One can obtain maps and info from, among other places, the Cal. Welcome Center in the old RR depot in Railroad Square. One can obtain souvenirs there and at the gift store at the Schulz museum and the ice arena (see my tips on those places).
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