Sixty miles north of San Francisco lies the bustling city of Santa Rosa. Yet, compared to the busy city, the surrounding landscape is impossibly scenic and incredibly rugged. With tons of hikes and outdoor pursuits, you couldn’t dream of completing all the things to do in Santa Rosa!
Once you have had your fill of the plentiful food scene and shopped until you dropped, sample some of the local wineries and step outside to see what this beautiful part of California has to offer.
Things To Do in Santa Rosa
1. Spring Lake Park
Spring Lake Park is one of the region’s most loved parks, and it is not hard to see why it is one of the most popular things to do in Santa Rosa. There are 10 miles of trails, including one that loops the lake, but the trails are not the main draw here.
Swimming in the lake in the summer months brings the crowds eager to relax on the sandy beaches or picnic under the shade of the redwoods.
For the kids (or big kids), there is a water park and regular off-leash dog parties for a little something different. Spend the day kayaking, boating, or paddleboarding around the water, try fishing, visit the Environmental Discovery Center, and finish camping at one of the 31 comfy campsites.
2. Hood Mountain Regional Park
Strap those boots on tight as you are in for a bit of a challenge if you decide to tackle the Gunsight Rock Trail in Hood Mountain Regional Park, but it is worth reaching the park’s incredible overlook. On a clear day, you can see San Francisco, 50 miles away.
If 4 hours of hiking up a mountain sounds a bit much for you, we don’t blame you; plenty of other hikes in this 2,000-acre wilderness are a little kinder on the thighs. The park is on the edge of the Sonoma Valley, and most trails here are challenging, so plan accordingly.
If you want something easier, try the hike to Santa Rosa Creek, which is still a beautiful way to enjoy the landscape of the Mayacamas Mountains, meadows, and mixed forests.
3. Armstrong Redwoods
Experience a very different type of skyscraper at Armstrong Woods State Park. If you are like us and never get bored of experiencing the wonder of the mighty redwoods, this stunning old-growth forest has you covered.
It is hard to take in the size of some of these trees, especially the Parson Jones Tree, towering at 310 feet high. The best way to experience the park is to take the Pioneer Nature Trail, which loops down through the grove and is accessible.
4. Sugarloaf Ridge State Park (One of Our Personal Favorite Things to Do in Santa Rosa!)
Hikes and horseback riding, what more could you want from a California State Park? With 25 miles of trails, passing meadows, rock outcroppings, and breathtaking redwoods, there is plenty to explore in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.
The Bald Mountain Trail is particularly scenic as you ascend from the floor of the valley and is one of the best things to do in Santa Rosa.
You may be switchbacking and climbing, but when you reach the summit and take in the views of Napa and Sonoma Valley, you will forget all about your burning calves. For something a bit less intense, we love the Vista and Meadow Loop Trail.
Year-round camping is available at the park in the 47-lot campground. You can pair it with a trip to the onsite Robert Ferguson Observatory, the largest in the western United States, and learn more about the starry sky above.
5. Shiloh Ranch Regional Park
Located in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains, the wild 850 acres of Shiloh Ranch Regional Park offers some tricky hiking trails that are great for a challenge. The Ridge Trail is a great example of this, with sweeping views over Sonoma County.
Why not make it a circuit and combine Bigleas, Ridge, Pond, and Creekside Trails to tour the park and see what the landscape offers? Or the Canyon Trail at the south of the park is another exciting option.
The park is beautiful in all seasons, but in the fall, the black oaks and big leaf maple turn rich reds and oranges, transforming the landscape entirely. The wide trails also make the park popular for equestrian riders, so if this is your thing, the park has some unique riding opportunities to enjoy.
6. Taylor Mountain Regional Park
The Taylor Mountain Regional Park offers 1,100 acres of trails, fun views, and other outdoor activities. Many people who visit this hilly terrain try the Taylor Mountain Loop, which puts you high above the Santa Rosa Plain.
Head up the Eastern trail, climbing up 1,000 feet to be greeted with a panoramic vista of Sonoma County and Mt. St. Helena, before heading back down the Western Trail for a more gentle descent to more sensible heights.
Spend some time enjoying some of the other amenities in the park, such as the 18-hole disc golf course, or enjoy a picnic on one of the strategically placed picnic tables.
6. Trione-Annadel State Park
For wildlife watchers, hikers, equestrians, mountain bikers, flower spotters, and view admirers, Trione-Annadel is a playground of natural wonders.
Over 40 miles of trails wind their way around the park, which is an incredible way to enjoy the impressive display of wildflowers covering the landscape in spring and summer.
Some of the best trails include the strenuous Rough-Go Trail, which passes some remarkable rock formations; the Canyon Trail, a favorite for horseback riders; and the Marsh Trail, which boasts incredible views of Lake Ilsanjo and the mountains.
Lake Ilsanjo covers 26 acres of the park and is a popular angling spot. If you visit in the winter, the rainy season causes a series of scenic waterfalls to cascade down the hillside, which adds to that natural charm. Keep your eyes out for birds, deer, and coyotes often spotted in the park.
7. Jack London State Historic Park
Frolick through meadows of wildflowers in spring or go leaf peeping in the fall; there is no question the Jack London State Historic Park is beautiful no matter the season and one of the best things to do in Santa Rosa.
In summer, the area can get very hot, but rest assured that there are many trails shaded by the thick forests so that you can enjoy the trails all year round.
If you want to find out more about the area, take the Wolf House Historic Trail or the Beauty Ranch Historic Trail, or if it is strenuous hiking and views you are after, try tackling the Sonoma Mountain Trail, taking you up to the park’s summit.
For a unique hike, the Historic Orchard Trail will take you past many rare varieties of fruit-bearing trees or see some gentle giants on the Ancient Redwood Trail, taking in the impressive ‘Grandmother Tree.’ At 14 feet in diameter, it is estimated to be between 1800 to 2000 years old!
Many trails can also be tackled on horseback or mountain bike for another way to experience the landscape.
8. Downtown Santa Rosa
With incredible dining experiences, five historic neighborhoods, cute cafes, and more, there’s no shortage of things to do in Santa Rosa.
For more outdoorsy stuff, the Prince Memorial Greenway Trail is a smooth, paved pathway running alongside Santa Rosa Creek.
Although it is only half a mile long, it is packed with bridges, painted benches, outdoor sculptures, and artwork to create what can only be described as a wonderfully pleasant walk.
The Santa Rosa Creek Trail is a paved path on the north side of the creek, with beautiful views of the farms, vineyards, and valleys outside of town.
Things to Do Near Santa Rosa
You don’t have to look far for more amazing things to do in Santa Rosa. You can use Santa Rosa as your base to visit these other incredible areas, all within an hour of the city!
9. Bodega Bay
There is nothing quite like the feeling of spotting a whale out to sea from the coast, and Bodega Bay offers a realistic chance of spotting these magnificent creatures.
Some more highlights include the views from Bodega Head, dune hiking at Bodega Dunes, and sampling some of the best seafood in the county!
10. Point Reyes (Another Favorite Thing to Do in Santa Rosa!)
A jewel of Marin County, Point Reyes offers everything you could want from a Pacific Coast landscape. This breathtakingly beautiful windswept peninsula has plenty of trails and beaches to satisfy your outdoor wanderlust.
The Tomales Point Trail is a standout trail as the views go on and on, no matter where you are on the hike, and the Point Reyes Lighthouse is another scenic spot, often considered one of the most beautiful lighthouses in California.
Heart’s Desire Beach is one of the many beaches to consider when planning a day trip to the area, and wildlife enthusiasts should head straight to Elephant Seal Overlook in the winter months to see a seal-filled beach down below.
11. Sonoma Coast State Park
Rugged but beautiful, Sonoma Coast State Park stretches for 17 miles along the Pacific coastline, comprised of a collection of beaches, headlands, and crags. Stunning in the sun, moody and mysterious in the fog.
With all stops just off Highway 1, it is easy to make multiple stops along the road and see some of the best the park offers. Our advice is, if you see a pull-off, take it, as chances are you will be greeted with a stunning view of the oceans and sea stacks.
There are also a few easy walks and longer hikes that allow you to explore the headlands further or lead down to hidden beaches you are likely to have to yourself. The Kortum Trail is a great trail to take if you are looking to beach hop, or Vista Point Trail brings you some incredible views of the Pacific.
12. Mount Tamalpais
Just north of the Golden Gate Bridge lies Mount Tamalpais State Park, complete with summit views and towering redwoods. What a combination!
On a clear day, you can gaze out into the Pacific Ocean from the 2571-foot summit and see the Farallon Islands, over 25 miles away, and on a not-so-clear day, chances are you will still be able to make out the San Fransisco Bay area.
Open hills, deep canyons, sunny slopes, fog-filled valleys, sheltered trails through the redwoods and oaks, fields of wildflowers, and tons of wildlife cover this stretch of land, creating a rich and diverse landscape to explore.
13. Muir Woods
Muir Woods is one of the best places to head if you are on the hunt for redwoods. Many of the trees here are 1000s of years old and grow to a staggering 260 feet high. It is easy to visit just under an hour from Santa Rosa, with easy-to-walk trails that wind through the trees.
Millions of people worldwide choose to head here to get their “giant tree fix,” so don’t expect to have it to yourself. There are three main groves to view while at the park, Founders Grove, Bohemian Grove, and Cathedral Grove, all of which can be explored on flat paths and boardwalks.
If you have the time, take the Canopy View Trail, where you will head above the trees and see them from a completely different angle.
I’ve been perpetually traveling and living around the world for years but it’s hard to beat California and the PNW. After years of road-tripping the area, I guess you can say I know it pretty well! When I’m not writing guides for you, you can catch me somewhere petting a dog, attempting to surf, hiking a volcano, or stuffing my face with bread and cheese.