Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Santa Rosa, CA

  • Published 2022/11/26

Santa Rosa is the county seat of Sonoma County in western California.

Its name is the Spanish translation of the words “Saint Rose.”

Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo founded it in 1833.

You’ll easily locate this city since it is within Santa Rosa Creek at the foot of the Sonoma Mountains and is just 55 miles away from San Francisco.

This city is also dubbed as the biggest city in the state’s Wine Country and Redwood Coast.

It offers lush green hills and exciting family destinations that you’ll enjoy even without spending money.

Here are some free things to do in Santa Rosa, California.

Go for a Morning Hike at Trione-Annadel State Park

A bird perched on a tree at Trione-Annadel State Park

natmac stock /

Trione-Annadel State Park on Channel Drive is a favorite hiking spot for locals.

It is beautifully located on the northern edge of Sonoma Valley and is adjacent to the Spring Lake Regional Park.

This 5,092-acre property is the perfect spot for biking and running.

Landscape of Trione-Annadel State Park

Brian Michelsen from Santa Rosa, California, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You can also bring your mountain bike here or do some trail riding.

Trione-Annadel State Park is filled with green landscapes and rocks, and you’ll be amazed by the wildflower fields surrounding the area.

If you’re bringing your vehicles, note that a parking fee is required.

A swan on the waters of Trione-Annadel State Park

natmac stock /

Bond with the Whole Family at Spring Lake Regional Park

Spring Lake Regional Park is located on Violetti Road.

This is one of the county’s most popular regional parks due to its large space and fun activities.

Try hiking or walking on Spring Lake Regional Park’s 10-mile trail.

Its main trail has a 2.3-mile paved loop that offers a 360 view of the lake and forest.

Spring Lake Regional Park also has 31 campsites perfectly situated at the center of oak woodland just above the lake.

You can bring your tent, but a trailer and RV are also welcome.

All family members can enjoy Spring Lake Regional Park as it has wheelchair-accessible trails.

Take a Trip Back in Time at West End Neighborhood

West End Neighborhood is located at the heart of Santa Rosa.

A trip around this neighborhood will let you experience what it’s like living in a classic American neighborhood.

This small community is what today’s urban developers are trying to imitate.

West End Neighborhood has local businesses that are accessible to everyone.

Make sure to spend some time here at West End Neighborhood, where art preservation, camaraderie, and urbanism are alive.

Stroll along the Historic Railroad Square

Depot at the Historic Railroad Square

Sanfranman59, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Historic Railroad Square is a vibrant district located on 4th Street.

It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

The Square is perfect for a morning or afternoon stroll alone, with family, or with your furry friend.

It exudes a vibrant and lovely atmosphere and is surrounded by exciting restaurants, bars, shopping centers, and theaters.

Historic Railroad Square’s exposed brick woods and cement floors will make you feel like you’ve been transported to the past.

Aside from these, you may also visit world-class wineries just a few minutes from this district.

Enjoy Some Quiet Time at Laguna de Santa Rosa

Laguna de Santa Rosa is a 1.8-mile trail on Highway 12 where you’ll see and experience the biological diversity of the county’s largest freshwater wetland.

Winter rains transform Laguna de Santa Rosa into a flooded landscape that becomes a perfect home for wildlife and plants.

Meanwhile, in summer and fall, this place becomes dry and a good place for running, biking, or walking.

As you walk through Laguna de Santa Rosa’s trail, you’ll be greeted by eucalyptus and oaks.

You’ll also get the chance to get a glimpse of Mount Saint Helena if you walk in the northern part of the trail.

See Beautiful Plants and Colorful Flowers at Luther Burbank Home and Gardens

Flowers at Luther Burbank Home and Gardens

Jeffrey M. Frank /

Luther Burbank Home and Gardens is an urban garden on Santa Rosa Avenue open daily to the public.

It is one of the Registered National, State & City Historic Landmarks.

Water fountain at Luther Burbank Home and Gardens

Zack Frank /

The site is home to an acre of a garden filled with unique plants and colorful flowers.

Luther Burbank Home and Gardens also features a greenhouse built by its owner, Luther Burbank, in 1889.

He brought hundreds of new plant varieties to the city, and this destination also commemorates his contribution to Santa Rosa’s horticulture.

Exterior of the Luther Burbank Home

Frank Schulenburg, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While the gardens are accessible to the public, tours around other places in the area have a fee.

Go Window Shopping for Antique Collections at Whistlestop Antiques

Whistlestop Antiques is a 10,000-square feet antique and collectible shop on 4th Street established in 1974.

This is the best place in the city where you can find antique treasures, books, and jewelry.

There are 36 antique dealers in this store, so you can spend hours and hours window shopping here.

Other antique items at Whistlestop Antiques are furniture, magazines, China wares, native American handcrafts, and vintage toys.

Bring Your Kids to Howarth Park

Dogs at Howarth Park

KarinaStarr0301 /

Howarth Park is a 152-acre park with a lake on Summerfield Road.

Your kids will love this place since it has a lot of playgrounds and kid-friendly attractions such as small trains, carousel, pony rides, and an animal farm.

However, each of these attractions is available for a fee.

If you don’t want to spend, you can explore Howarth Park’s trails and go hiking or jogging.

Or you can sit on one of the benches and appreciate the lush greenery while breathing fresh air.

Go Birdwatching at Santa Rosa Creek Trail

Walkway at Santa Rosa Creek Trail

randy andy /

Santa Rosa Creek Trail is situated on Willowside Rd.

This is a 2.14-mile paved trail on the northern part of Santa Rosa Creek.

From here, you’ll get the chance to see a variety of birds and other wildlife species.

Mountains, farms, vineyards, and waterways will also surround you.

Other exciting things you can see here are horses and cattle grazing freely in the nearby fields.

Santa Rosa Creek Trail is dog-friendly, so you can bring your furry friends and let them enjoy the beauty of nature.

Like all other city trails, this one is an ideal place for running, walking, cycling, and jogging.

View the City from above at Taylor Mountain Regional Park & Open Space Preserve

Taylor Mountain Regional Park & Open Space Preserve is situated on Kawana Terrace and is one of the city’s most famous destinations.

It measures 1,100 acres and is also home to oak woodlands and some creeks.

You can reach Taylor Mountain Regional Park & Open Space Preserve’s peak via trails and stairs that are challenging yet fun to explore.

At the Taylor Mountain Regional Park & Open Space Preserve summit, you’ll be welcomed with the panoramic view of Santa Rosa.

Make sure to bring your camera and capture the views of the urban structures mixed with towering trees and luscious green landscapes.

Taylor Mountain Regional Park & Open Space Preserve is also a nice location for biking, horseback riding, and camping.

Other Free Things to Do Nearby

See Some of California’s Oldest and Tallest Trees at Armstrong Redwoods State Park

Tall trees at Armstrong Redwoods State Park

weriset /

Armstrong Redwoods State Park is located on Armstrong Woods Road in Guerneville.

This famous park is just a 31-minute drive away from Santa Rosa.

Here at Armstrong Redwoods State Park, you’ll see some of the oldest and tallest trees.

These include the Parson Jones Tree, about 310 feet high, and the Colonel Armstrong Tree, over 1,400 years old.

Nature trail at Armstrong Redwoods State Park

Photos by Michi /

Armstrong Redwoods State Park also features a huge outdoor amphitheater, nature trails, and many picnic areas.

The trail measures 1.5. miles and is ADA accessible.

You can also bring your pets here.

While the park is free for pedestrians and cyclists, there’s an admission fee per vehicle.

Old trees at Armstrong Redwoods State Park

Susan Swift /

Enjoy Public Star Parties at Robert Ferguson Observatory

Robert Ferguson Observatory is on Adobe Canyon Road in Kenwood.

You can reach this destination via a quick 27-minute drive from Santa Rosa.

If you’re a science enthusiast, you’ll have a great time here at Robert Ferguson Observatory.

It features a scale model of the whole solar system that has been shrunk 2,360,000,000 times to fit in all the distant planets and all space matters.

The best time to visit this place is during New Moon.

While the observatory offers free public events, some programs come with a fee.

Get Lost in the Gardens of Cornerstone Sonoma

Sculpture at Cornerstone Sonoma

mccown /

Cornerstone Sonoma, situated on Arnold Dr., Sonoma, is a 37-minute drive from Santa Rosa.

This wine marketplace boasts artsy gardens, boutique wineries, tasting rooms, and live music.

The International Garden Festival at Chaumont-Sur-Loire inspired Cornerstone Sonoma’s 10 gardens.

All the gardens you’ll get to explore will amaze you with their art, architecture, and various natural wonders.

Make sure not to miss out on the Pollinator Garden by Kate Frey, Mediterranean Meadow by John Greenlee, and Garden of Contrast by James Van Sweden and Sheila Brady.

There are also five culinary gardens which all highlight the food production in the place.

See Beautiful Butterflies at Hallberg Butterfly Gardens

Hallberg Butterfly Gardens on Oak Grove Avenue in Sebastopol is 17 minutes away from Santa Rosa.

This nine-acre garden features overgrown vines and thickets.

These are also filled with beautiful and colorful flowers.

But the main draw of these gardens is the butterflies.

Even though butterfly sighting is not guaranteed every season at Hallberg Butterfly Gardens, you’ll still enjoy this place for its refreshing and tranquil setting.

Hundreds of students and even adults visit Hallberg Butterfly Gardens each year.

This place is also an advocate of insect and plant preservation by imparting knowledge and learnings to its visitors.

Take a Photo of the Bodega Head

Scenic view of Bodega Head

Michael Reining /

Bodega Head is located at the entrance of Bodega Harbor in Bodega Bay, 39 minutes away from Santa Rosa.

This picture-perfect rock formation serves as the landmark of the Sonoma coast.

Aerial view of Bodega Head

Jan Werner Photography /

The harbor where Bodega Head sits is a famous crabbing area.

You can also see some hiking trails on the ocean’s side, leading you to small coves and scenic views.

This area is also good for observing migratory gray whales.

View from a cliff at Bodega Head

Danita Delimont /

Final Thoughts

Aside from being the home of the country’s best wines and beers, Santa Rosa is a haven of natural wonders and exciting activities.

It offers plenty of activities for all ages.

Whether you’re a nature, art, or food enthusiast the possibilities are limitless.

Plan your next vacation and try these free things to do in Santa Rosa, California.

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