Exploring Wine Country – Santa Rosa, California

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This article is focused primarily on the amenities and culture found in Santa Rosa, California. For more details on the mountain bike trails, be sure to read my other article.

While my main goal in Santa Rosa, California was to find and ride the best mountain bike trails that the area has to offer, there’s so much more still to do in Santa Rosa once your ride is over!

When to Go

Considering Sonoma’s reputation for growing grapes, it’s likely no surprise to discover that the region has a Mediterranean climate. The winters are wet and cool, but snow is a rare sight. Summer is dry and hot, although it cools off substantially at night–something we forgot to factor in coming from Georgia where the nights are hot too. So, be sure to pack a light jacket for the evenings and early mornings.

We visited in the middle of a heat wave where the temperatures reached the mid 90s during the day, but typically, summer highs are much more tolerable: in the 80s. If you’re not bothered by moderate heat, summer is a great time to visit. Otherwise, I would recommend April-May, or October-November.

Getting There

While Santa Rosa does have a small airport, you’re better off flying into either San Francisco or Oakland, as flights will be more affordable. Santa Rosa is located about 70 miles north of the Bay Area. Depending on traffic, that could take you an hour and a half on a good day–or, as we unfortunately found out, much, much longer.

Downtown Santa Rosa is highly walkable and you can literally ride from the city into Annadel, so theoretically, you could get away without renting a vehicle. But that would mean missing out on a lot of what the area has to offer.

Where to Stay

Santa Rosa is a sizable city with a population of about 175,000. As such, there is no shortage of choices for lodging in Santa Rosa. We stayed at the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country, which is on the upper end of what’s available. The hotel was located just a few miles north of downtown with quick access to Highway 101, which made it easy to get around–both to the city, and into the vineyards north of town. Their restaurant, Nectar, has an excellent patio for breakfast.

Of course, if you’d like to rent a room or an entire house in Santa Rosa, there are plenty of listings on AirBnb. And if you’re really traveling on the cheap, there’s camping at Spring Lake Park for $35/night, which is conveniently connected to Annadel State Park. You could ride straight from your campsite onto the trails.

Where to Ride

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Near the Ridge Trail in Annadel State Park

The most obvious and accessible choice for riding is Annadel State Park. Depending on who you ask, there are between 50 and 70 miles of legal trails in the park. That’s enough to keep anyone busy for a few days on its own. Try to hook up with locals if possible, because the network is a spiderweb of trails. The Annadel Mountain Bike Group does a ride every Tuesday evening in the park.

Should you want to try your hand at some racing during your visit, there’s a weekly Dirt Crit Series in Howarth Park from May through August. It’s a laid-back atmosphere–at least, when you’re not racing. Each lap is about 3/4 of a mile long with a hill that really starts to suck around the third lap. You may even get the chance to race against former pro roadie, Levi Leipheimer, who lives in the area. Good luck keeping up.

For other cycling events in the area, visit Bike Monkey’s site. They organize a variety of rides and races throughout the year, both on and off the road.

Spots of shade around Lake Sonoma are few and far between; don't forget your sunscreen!
Spots of shade around Lake Sonoma are few and far between; don’t forget your sunscreen!

Lake Sonoma, about an hour’s drive from Santa Rosa, is another option. Here, a trail follows the shore around the entire lake. In all, the trail is about 25 miles long, with a stout 5,500 feet of climbing. Since the trail stays so close to the lake, the climbs aren’t long, but man are they steep. It’s a constant up and down, up and down the entire way. There aren’t many bailout points along the way, so once you’re out there, you either complete the loop or ride it as an out-and-back.

Bike Shops

Trek Store Santa Rosa
Trek Store Santa Rosa

Considering the thriving cycling scene in Santa Rosa, it’s not surprising to see the city supporting several bike shops. I personally worked with Bret Gave from Trek Store Santa Rosa. His shop is located right in downtown and has everything from cruisers to trail bikes for sale. Their rental fleet consists of Trek Fuel EX 8 full suspension trail bikes, which we rode during the trip.

Stop by *RKTO for some coffee while you browse the store
Stop by *RKTO for some coffee while you browse the store

The shop is large, well-organized, and well-stocked. If you forgot anything at home, they’ve got you covered, from helmets to sunglasses, to apparel, to nutrition. They also share their space with the *RKTO coffee shop, so you can get your caffeine fix while you’re browsing. Be sure to try their cold brew on draft; it’s basically the coffee version of Guinness: dark, rich, creamy, and tasty!

A wide selection at the Bike Peddler
A wide selection at the Bike Peddler

If your cycling allegiances lie with different brands, don’t worry. The Bike Peddler is located just down the road and carries a diverse rental fleet of Kona, Ibis, Specialized, and Santa Cruz mountain bikes. Their sister store, NorCal Bike Sport, is a Specialized Concept Store just a couple blocks away. NorCal doesn’t offer rental mountain bikes, but they do sell them. They recently completed a remodel, and the place looks great. Hanging from the rafters are all sorts of memorable bikes from cycling history.

Famous bikes from years past at NorCal
Famous bikes from years past at NorCal Bike Sport

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