Santa Rosa California in Sonoma County might be best known as a wine destination, but it’s also a great spot for foodies. Some of the best spots are at wineries — no surprise there — but these great Santa Rosa restaurants include some cozy family-owned spots and one place helmed by a famous chef. Here are our recommendations.
Santa Rosa is its own wine country. Located in Sonoma County just 50 miles north of San Francisco and 30 miles from Napa, Santa Rosa is a fantastic getaway for day trips and fun things to do for families with kids of all ages. We also found the itinerary suggestions in Sonoma County’s guide to be super useful.
But every family must eat. And finding the best restaurants can be a challenge. Since we love to eat, we set out to find the best Santa Rosa restaurants to try with kids and without. Here are our favorites.
St. Francis Winery and Vineyard
100 Pythian Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95409
Family friendly and wineries don’t always go together. In Santa Rosa, they do.
St. Francis Winery and Vineyard welcomes kids of all ages and has ample grounds for roaming. The grounds are elegant but the atmosphere is casual.
That family-friendly ambiance starts with the people who work there. You feel like you can hang out – go for walks, relax in the tasting room, watch the kids play in the grass. During the summer months, live music is added to the pairings.
The award-winning wine maker, Katy, has been there for 28 years. St. Francis was originally known for reds and more recently, whites. Katy has added some very popular Zins to the wine list.
Here, Executive Chef Peter Janiak pairs the perfect foods with some really tasty wines.
If the “kids” are 21, I highly recommend the pairing menu. At $70 per person, it is an educational adventure into fine dining and wine. The dessert pairing taught me to never judge a wine by the thickness of its grape skin.
I generally prefer a good bourbon over an expensive wine and a red over a white wine. That is until Marina, our server (who has worked at St. Francis for 16 years), brought out the 2018 St. Francis Extended Age Chardonnay to sip with chipotle rubbed prawns. Oak-barrel aged 18 months, creamy but not buttery, light, delicious, well…to sum it up, I bought 6 bottles.
The next course showcased St. Francis’s Pinot with short ribs.
The big surprise and aha moment for me was the dessert pairing. Instead of serving a sweet dessert wine with the decadent tahini brownie (an original Marina creation), we were served a petit sirah, made from a thick-skinned grape. It cut through the sweetness of the brownie with a complimentary bold red flavor.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Do make a reservation – you will need reservations for any winery visit – and not all wineries welcome kids under 21.
Belly Left Coast Kitchen and Taproom
523 Fourth Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Locally owned by Gray Rollins, chef to the rock stars, Belly has a casual hometown bar vibe but serves an eclectic globally-inspired menu. It’s the kind of place a local could go all the time but as a tourist or visitor, you will feel welcome.
You could just order a beer here. But if that’s all you get, you’re missing the best part. Gray has traveled the world, preparing healthy meals for top tier singers and rock bands (Motley Crue, KISS, Black Eyed Peas, Linkin Park and Katy Perry to name a few), creating interesting menus from local foods in every country he visits.
Over the years, he has learned from the locals, such as who the best vendors are in Tokyo and how to create gluten-free organic tasty meals in the Philippines.
Chatting with local business owners like Chef Gray is every bit as educational as touring a top tier museum. Every owner has a story and that story is a great way for kids (and adults!) to learn about entrepreneurship, courage and focus.
For example, Gray’s path to becoming a chef for celebrities was unconventional; he went to culinary school 10 years AFTER he began his career in his cousin’s restaurant. And then became chef to the bands that would lead him to travel to 66 countries over 10 years.
Covid and the devastating California wildfires put a pause on touring but didn’t stop Chef Gray from cooking for locals. He served more than 6,000 people in downtown Santa Rosa during the fires. Even when he wasn’t cooking, he stayed open so firefighters, volunteers and locals could charge their phones and devices.
My advice when ordering at Belly? Go for the dough! It’s special, partially because it is left to rise for 3 days and partly because its ingredients are locally sourced. My pizza was topped with fig goat cheese and honey and was out of this world.
Luckily for me, Chef was testing his newest creation: Greek nachos. It’s a mix of Mediterranean flavors — lamb, feta, cucumber and tomatoes — on a bed of pita chips. I am waiting for the cookbook!
Bird & The Bottle
1055 Fourth Street
Santa Rosa, CA
B&B is one of several restaurants owned by James Beard Outstanding Restaurateur semifinalists Mark and Terri Stark, a local family with a long history in Santa Rosa.
We heard that the crowd at B&B is more tourists than locals, but it’s a great place to start the evening.
The drink menu is hilarious with unique concoctions like the bourbon-based What Pho?, The Dirty Dilbert (a refreshing combo of gin, jalapeno, cucumber and lime) and my choice, the alcohol-free Garnet Story — a zingy combo of hibiscus tea, Blood Orange Drinking Vinegar, lemon, soda and water.
The dining experience isn’t bad, it’s just not as inspired as the cocktails. The tapas-style portions are big enough for 2-3 people to share. The tapas we liked best were the sauteed greens and the smoked beet salad. Skip the mac ‘n’ cheese and the gem salad.
If you can afford the calories, the carrot cake in a jar is good but not special.
Locals also highly recommend another Stark family spot, Stark’s Steak and Seafood. The steakhouse is located in Railroad Square in Santa Rosa.
The Flamingo Resort
2777 Fourth Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95405
Locals love it. Families love it. We loved it. My 20-something kids would love it.
The menu offers interesting vegan and non-vegan options. The spice-roasted cauliflower steak is just as wonderful as the grilled salmon. The umami-dusted fries are savory and a must order. The fried calamari is tender and accompanied by an avocado serrano curry Thai basil pesto that has just the right amount of heat to make it fun.
The bartender introduced me to some local brews and the firepits provided enough heat for us to sit outside when it was 50 degrees.
River Vine Cafe at Vintners Resort
4350 Barnes Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Whether you stay at the Vintner’s and enjoy the bocci ball courts and acres of floral gardens or not, eat at the River Vine Cafe. Locally sourced or grown on property, the veggies are beautiful and delicious. Our server proudly recommended the homemade gelato and it was a treat.
The GM gave us a tour of the resort grounds and the suites, which are spectacular. Sophisticated elegance with an apartment style layout, there is plenty of room for a small family.
Other Santa Rosa Restaurants to Try
Sadly, on a quick trip, there are only so many meals one can eat.
The following Santa Rosa restaurants made the list based on recommendations from others. And they are on our must-try list for our next visit.
Rosso Pizzeria & Wine Bar
53 Montgomery Dr.
Santa Rosa, CA
Rosso partners with 40 local farmers and ranchers to source ingredients for its menu, such as the hydroponically grown tomatoes from Kelly Parsons of Parsons Homegrown, or arugula and lettuce from TTT Ranch.
From a veggie option to house specialties such as the La Pera that features red wine poached pears, fontina, house made mozzarella, roasted shallots, arugula, local goat cheese and pine nuts, the pizza here is a local favorite.
SEA Thai Bistro
2350 Midway Drive
Santa Rosa, CA 95405
Co-owner and Executive Chef Tony Ounpamornchai dynamically blends Asian and modern American ingredients to create dishes that have earned numerous accolades and awards.
The menu includes interesting twists on Thai favorites, such as pineapple fried rice with prawns and Monterey Squid with black beans and Thai eggplant.
835 2nd Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
This charming Italian restaurant is located in a 19th-century house with patios and gardens.
The menu includes the Italian cuisine you would expect, plus a daily pasta special and a list of desserts that are definitely worth the calories!
Russian River Brewing
725 4th St.
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
If your drink of choice is beer rather than wine, this is the place for you. Russian River Brewing offers awarding winning beer, tasty pizza and other pub fare. There’s a happy hour on weekdays from 4-6:30pm and all day Sunday.
The company, founded by Korbel Champagne Cellars in 1997, is now locally owned by Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo.
Dierk’s Parkside Cafe
404 Santa Rosa Ave.
Santa Rosa, CA
Voted “best breakfast in Santa Rosa” seven years running, Dierk’s is the place to go for breakfast, brunch and lunch. But not dinner! It opens at 7am but closes at 1:30pm Friday-Wednesday (closed Thursdays, Christmas and Thanksgiving).
Skip the fast food breakfast and try one of these mouth-watering options: warm poached egg salad, choose-your-own Parkside omelette, French bread French toast and Grandma Dierk’s Pull-A-Parts. According to the menu, that last one is “tender fried bread dough, dusted with cinnamon and sugar and a bit of Grandma Dierk’s love! (Better than donuts!)” It sounds like the ultimate comfort food!
1129 Sebastopol Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95407
This locally-owned restaurant (and the takeout deli next door) offer Peruvian specialties inspired by the owners’ Great-Grandmother, Maria Olinda. She has Peruvian, African, Spanish and Italian ancestry, embodying the indigenous, cultural and culinary diversity of Peru.
And the menu reflects that diversity — from ceviches, sandwiches and tacos in the restaurant to salads, paninis and breakfast burritos in the deli.
2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit
Santa Rosa is a solid 6 hour drive from Los Angeles. The time went by fast because my friend and I were so chatty and because we were settled into the luxurious Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit. There was more room than the two of us needed but the Summit drives like a mid-size car. Our ride was smooth and quiet except when we were blasting the tunes thru 9 speakers. The Tek options kept us safe and entertained. There is every type of driving assistance imaginable: collision warning, drowsy driver detection, pedestrian braking, and heads up display (HUD) to name a few. But the night vision option was the most interesting. Infrared heat sensors display potential hazards on the road. Our neighbor is a car buff and the night vision feature blew him away.
The wireless charging pad was my most used feature and I missed it when I returned the Summit. Gas mileage averaged around 21mpg, which is only one mile less than the Toyota RAV4 we used to drive. The price tag, however, is almost double, coming in at just under $60,000. I am sure the price varies depending on the number of options included but I honestly can’t think of one thing I would give up – not even the quilted leather on the doors.
Obviously I really enjoyed driving this car. It delivered on my top criteria: smooth, comfortable ride, space and safety.