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Aug 4, 2009 07:14 PM

from SF to Santa Rosa: must-do's, standouts, cannot miss items?

my gf and i will be taking a day trip up to Santa Rosa from SF, and we love to eat some good food :) i was hoping you guys can direct us to some of the must-do pit stops along the way, whether it'd be a snack or a full-fledged meal (take-out and/or sit-down). we are open to all types of cuisine.

FYI, we will be taking the 101 straight up. but if a certain item is worth taking a detour for and highly recommended, we'll strongly consider it. so all suggestions are welcome :)

Santa Rosa area recommendations are welcome as well, however, i'm more interested in what's available along the way.

feedback will be provided after the trip :)

thanks so much in advanced!

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  1. I had an absolutely sublime dish of handmade mint infused tagliatelle pasta with summer vegetables and fried zucchini flowers at Zazu. So simple, so fresh and perfect execution with the texture of the pasta. My dining companions were happy with their halibut and lamb dishes but the standout dish was the pasta. Its kind of a neat atmosphere-in the middle of nowhere, and built from an old roadhouse tavern. There's a blind wine challenge available too!


    Zazu Restaurant
    3535 Guerneville Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95401

    1. Della Fattoria bakery / cafe in Petaluma.

      Marin Civic Center farmers market on Thursdays and Sundays.

      That stretch of 101 isn't exactly a culinary hotbed.

      Della Fattoria
      141 Petaluma Blvd N, Petaluma, CA 94952

      8 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Are you kidding me? It is a culinary goldmine.

        As a Cafe, Della Fattoria is fine, but I wouldn't take precious stomach space for it. If anything, I would just order some of the baked goods that you can't get at the Ferry Plaza farmers market such as the cakes. I still wouldn't stop.

        What day and when are you going? There are great farmers markets depending on the day of the week. Sebastopol has a nice Sunday Market.

        There's a great Brazilian Cafe in San Rafael, seriously great. I will get to the report by the end of the week. However, they are closed Sunday.

        The Gravenstein apple festival is August 15th - 16th. I haven't read a lot of enthusiastic stuff about it, but this is the time for Gravensteins, so it is nice to visit a few farms during the short period they are available. Here's my visit from last weekend. Kozlowski was my favorite and they have lots of nice baked goods and jams and lots of sampling. Terrific cider. Nearby K & K would be nice if you want to stop at an actual orchard.

        Apple-looza: Gravenstein Apple Adventure results

        If you are going later, like September, then the Crane Melon barn is worth a stop. If you can give a day and/or a date, I know some terrific stuff.

        1. re: rworange

          I was recommending Della Fattoria as a bakery. It's one of the four or five best bread bakeries in the area, and has some great and unusual pastries, too. Though if you live in SF you can get most of their stuff at the Ferry Plaza if you get there early enough on Saturday.

          There are many points of gustatory interest in Sonoma County, but not many of them are close to 101 south of Santa Rosa. Kozlowski, for instance, is north of Santa Rosa and half an hour down 116. I prefer to get north fast, get off 101, and stay on the back roads till it's time to go home.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            we will be taking the 101 straight up. but if a certain item is worth taking a detour for and highly recommended, we'll strongly consider

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              I'm agreeing with Robert here about the drive and strategy.

              I love beauty and scenery in addition to fine chow, so I'm not at all fond of the 101 corridor. Yes, there are food spots, but it's not scenic, at least for the most part. Certainly your route depends on what you want, but the backroads are where I'd go.

            2. re: rworange

              our trip will be this saturday August 8th, leaving SF at 9am. we don't have anything schedule yet, since this was really just an idea for us to get out of SF (with Santa Rosa as our destination) and explore a little of the north. thanks so much for your input, especially regarding the gravensteins! just curious, would you happen to know when the harvest ends for gravensteins? sounds like we just might have to return to santa rosa for the crane melon barn :)

              1. re: 52X

                Definately the grav season extends thru the Aug 15 and maybe a little beyond. Should you decide to take a ride that way, here's a list I put together.

                Gravenstein Apple Adventures Around Sebastopol

                Of that list, I would suggest stopping at K & K, Kozlowski, and do not miss Sebastopol Berry Farms. Walker I'd skip because of the complicated drive and time it would take. All they are selling is gravs at this time. Consider it during the fall when they have 26 varieties of apples.

                I liked Kozlowski's gravs the best. They currently are having a great sale on their jams. DON'T miss the grav cider ... it's a big cup, you could split it. I liked the grav strudel also. K & K I liked second best. It is not far off the road and it is nice to drop by an actual farm surrounded by the orchard.

                I like the pie at Village Bakery a little better than Mom's, but it you could do a pie slice taste-off.

                If you find youself hungry, I would say BBQ Smokehouse is the best option mainly it is good food and has a charming porch ... and you can peek into Patisserie Angelique next door. It is near Whole Foods.

                Maybe stop by Screamin Mimi's to see if they have any gravenstien ice cream or sorbet.

                I'd take Highway 12 to then hook up with Santa Rosa. There's a great strawberry stand just outside Sebastopol and I always pick up fresh turkey apple sausages at Willie Bird just up the road.

                If you need a coffee break in Sebastopol, I loved Hardcore Organic.

                Petaluma is definately worth a drive-thru. It is an easy on and off and runs parallel to 101. I haven't been to it, but there is a small Saturday farmers market. There are also two farmers markets in Santa Rosa on Saturday

                Petaluma has some great places ... Petaluma Creamery for ice cream, Della Fratoria for the bakery items not sold outside the cafe, Lala's Creamery, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor across from DF, Real Doner for great gyros ... to name a few.

                Lombardi's Deli ... the one not downtown, has some great bbq oysters on the weekend.

                On the way up 101, there's some signs advertising cherries. Not a major stop, but it is easy. Here's more about it

                1. re: rworange

                  thanks so much rworange! this is exactly the kind of thing i'm curious about in regards to cannot-miss-items and seasonal specialties. i really appreciate you taking the time to lay out a hypothetical itinerary/guideline for us to consider (with links and info).

                  i wonder if there's a place in the sebastopol area that makes grav apple pancakes. i would imagine them to taste pretty great from freshly picked grav apples. i tried doing a search for them, but i couldn't really get a solid find. i'm not dying to find one, but was just curious since grav apples are in season.

                  but so far, i think we're going to consider hitting up most of the above suggestions revolving around grav apples and blackberries. :)

              2. re: rworange

                I'm with rworange here, that stretch of 101 is a culinary goldmine. I don't think it's really necessary to venture too far off 101 to get some great chow. You can pull off in Petaluma on Lakeview Highway and head west just a couple of blocks to Lolita's, a taqueria in a Mexican market. You will not believe the deliciousness of the chicken mole. Or, go a little farther and get off at Hwy 116 in Cotati and head east just under the freeway, and on the other side is Bear Korean, where the lunch specials are fantastic. While you are at Lolita's, stroll around the market and shop for all kinds of interesting Mexican groceries, or after Bear Korean, walk around the corner to the Asian market and look around. Just up Redwood Highway, a few blocks north, do some shopping at Apna Bazaar, an great Indian market. Karma Indian Bistro, in the same little strip mall, is certainly decent, but not outstanding Indian food. That's just off the top of my head...

            3. If you like to have a nice glass of beer, stop by Russian River Brewing in downtown Santa Rosa. Get a basket of Beer Bites and order up anyone of their outstanding ales. They should have 3-4 IPAs on tap as well as their amazing Belgian style beers. They have a few seats out front and a nice bar area with good bartenders.

              There is plenty of parking available in the back of their building on 5th Street.

              Russian River Brewing Co.
              725 4th St, Santa Rosa, CA 95404

              32 Replies
              1. re: pininex

                thanks so much for suggesting that. i took a glance at their menu and they seem to serve mostly italian style food. is there anything else worth trying besides the beer bites? by the way, the beer bites sounds pretty good as a snack...

                1. re: 52X

                  I love thier pizza and wings as well as their beer bites. It is by no means haute cusine, but it will satisfy your tummy. While taste is quite subjective, I have no problem, saying that Russian River makes the best beers in the US. They created the first double IPA, Pliny the Elder, and they continue to produce incredible Belgian inspired sours. If you moderately love beer you will walk away being an advocate of good beer after going to Russian River.

                  1. re: 52X

                    I lived in SF for 25 years and never even thought of taking a 1 day trip to SR. I would go 15 min. more on 101 and get off at Healdsburg exit. Park arnd Plaza spend some time there, lots to do. Then take a ride out Dry Creek road turn left on Lambert Bridge Rd and rt on West Dry Creek and wonder to end Preston Winery, Beautiful drive , lots of winerys and picnic spots......Preston makes great bread in wood burning stove. Very little traffic Saturday... 1 hour 10 min from GGB on Saturday to Healdsburg.

                      1. re: celeryroot

                        >Preston makes great bread in wood burning stove. <

                        I'll "third" the rec for stopping at Preston. It's a winery that by now seems out of another time, and in a good way. If you're ready to stop moving for a while, you can buy a bottle of their wine, a loaf of their bread, some of their olive oil and heirloom tomatoes, and eat and drink it all in one of their gazebos on their picnic grounds.


                    1. re: pininex

                      Two blocks away is an excellent Ethiopian resto, Abyssinia. It's better than any of the ones I've tried in SF or Oakland. We enjoyed happy hour at Russian River Brewing Co, then walked to Abyssinia for dinner.

                      While I like Cafe Citti, I don't consider it worth a detour off 101 unless you're doing other things in that area. Not that special for a San Franciscan.

                      Do you have specific business in Santa Rosa? Or did you just pick it as a one-hour drive away from SF. If that's the case, I'd head to Petaluma, and then to the coast from there. It's faster to get to Marshall going that way than all the way up Hwy 1 (I do the drive about once a year and getting around Stinson Beach is not worth it). Petaluma has lots of culinary attractions, as does Sebastopol.

                      913 4th St, Santa Rosa, CA 95404

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        "Do you have specific business in Santa Rosa?"

                        well, we plan on taking a walk along the lavender farms in Matanzas Creek Winery for the views and relaxation (via nytimes article:, and we'll most likely make a pitstop at Sebastopol for the farms :) but we are open to suggestions. would you say there's better options for food from "Petaluma-Marshall-Sebastopol" than "Petaluma-Rohnert Park-Santa Rosa-Sebastopol?" i'm just wondering if the drive from Petaluma-Marshall-Sebastopol-Santa Rosa is worth looking into, instead of driving straight up to Santa Rosa on the 101.

                        as much as i'd like to check out Healdsburg (thanks for recommending it celeryroot), i feel like it might be slightly more worthwhile to take advantage of the seasonal goods in Sebastopol :) but just so i understand the proximity of the towns, is Healdsburg really only a 15 minute drive up from Santa Rosa? if so, stopping by Healdsburg might be a good thing to consider....before heading back down for Sebastopol, then home.

                        thanks a lot for everyone's help :)

                        1. re: 52X

                          Well as long as you don't have to be anywhere get off at Mill Valley to Stinson, snack if you must at Point Reyes Station, see CH recs, then Marshall and Tomales Bay. Go inland to Sebastopol,more snacks and then to Santa Rosa and/or Healdsburg. Back home the straight but fairly boring 101.

                          1. re: wolfe

                            Just the driving time for that itinerary and RT to/from SF would be close to 4 hours . . . not leaving much time for eating.

                          2. re: 52X

                            I live in Healdsburg , during none "rush hour " it takes me 15 min to get to downtown SR exit. It is only 14 miles and 65 speed limit.
                            If you are looking for something different then SF or better I would not call SR a goldmine . There are great places but nothing you cant find in city or nearby across bay. The trip Melanie suggested is also nice. In Healdsburg is Love farms , at Airport Rd exit is Tierra Farms. Also on road to Preston is a great peach farm...I dont remember name I think it is near Yoakim Bridge.

                            1. re: 52X

                              If you enjoy driving, going to Petaluma, Marshall, Sebastopol, and Santa Rosa in the same day will mean plenty of quality time with your car.

                              Personally, for an enjoyable day, I'd pick Santa Rosa / Bennett Valley OR Sebastopol / Russian River OR Healdsburg / Dry Creek OR Marshall / Point Reyes OR Sonoma Valley.

                              1. re: 52X

                                I've lived in southern Marin (close to the city) for quite a while and take frequent day trip to the north various ways to various destinations. With all the good advice you're getting here, and more available by searching, after you do your day trip you might decide to do it more frequently and in different ways. There's an amazing variety of great things to see, do, and eat (and drink) to the north.

                                1. re: 52X

                                  OH NO! Call Matanzas Creek Winery first before going there. I was there at the end of June and they were harvesting the lavender flowers. No flowers=no lavender haze=no bees. There will still be the rounded gray-greenery, but you'll miss the best part.

                                  If you do come up anyway, get off 101 at Petaluma, head up to Penngrove and Petaluma Hill Road, then over Grange-Crane Canyon Road. Easy to loop back through Santa Rosa if you want to go north or west. I'd probably go back through Rohnert Park/Cotati and catch some of the choices mentioned.

                                  Maybe you should plan lavender for next June and try the coast route, though weather there will improve in September & October.

                                  Happy journey!

                                  Matanzas Creek Winery
                                  6097 Bennett Valley Rd, Santa Rosa, CA

                                  1. re: 52X

                                    The reason to go to Marshall is for oysters and scenery. If that's not a priority for this trip, then you'll save a lot of driving time planning a more compact itinerary.

                                    If Matanzas Creek's lavender has been harvested, then no need to wait for the warmth of afternoon to visit. I would suggest deadheading up Hwy 101 to Santa Rosa, arriving at the farmers market no later than 9:30am to pick up breakfast and do some produce shopping. The booth that sells Ecco Caffe is now called Ga Ga, don't miss it if you're fan of Blue Bottle style. Then you can easily head over to Matanzas Creek for the 10am opening. Caffeinated and with your lavender stop completed, you'll have the rest of the day to wind around west Sonoma County and Sebastopol. There will be heavy traffic for the drive home, so you can avoid 101 and make many stops on the way along the back roads.

                                    P.S. If you have ATT cell service, there are many completely dead spots in the west county with no service, so have a back up plan for gps, mobile phone, etc.

                                    P.P.S. While there are indeed instances of dumbing down that RL mentions, I will mention that Sonoma County is the epicenter for Nepalese food in the Bay Area. Also, the average Mexican, Thai, Lao, or Vietnamese restaurant in Santa Rosa is more authentic and far above the median in SF.

                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                      i really appreciate everybody's insight on their best route options. in fact, we plan on revisiting and taking advantage of the alternate routes in the future for the scenic views, the hikes, etc. so really, thanks so much everybody for the help!

                                      well, initially, the priority of this trip was to go for a casual, scenic walk together through the Matanza Creek's lavender. plus we thought it would be a great opportunity for us to take advantage of the culinary highlights of the sonoma area since this would be our first time. but now, having heard from Columba (thanks Columba!) that we may have missed the harvest, our plans for the walk have shifted a little. Benziger, Quarryhill Botanical Garden, Healdsburg, Santa Rosa farmer's market, etc., sounds like really great plan B options for us. so we're still deciding on what to do for that portion of the trip. nevertheless, we're still gungho about the food portion of the trip; the seasonal goods at sebastopol and the latino/southeast asian/middle eastern options in santa rosa & petaluma.

                                      Ga Ga and Hardcore Organic sound like great options for us to get caffeinated and ready for the nightmare of a ride back down at the end of the day (at least it sounds like it'll be a nightmare hehe). thanks for the P.S., because we planned on using our gps for the ride, but now it looks like we really need to get a decent map.

                                      1. re: 52X

                                        The GPS works fine provided you have a current address along with a zip. Old addresses lead to empty fields,my bad with Kozlowski. However from my starting point it took me down LLano Road, Sebastopol and I hit Willie Bird and Matos Cheese. Not bad for being lost.

                                        1. re: wolfe

                                          The GPS from ATT doesn't work if there's no cell service unless you can find a wifi connection. Glad you found Willie Bird and Matos.

                                        2. re: 52X

                                          No seriously ... If the plan is Santa Rosa, Sepbastopol, Petaluma (tho I'd make that pit stop on the way up), then either take 12 (preferable) or 116 back through Sonoma. When in Sonoma continue on 116 until you hook up with 37 and go back home through American Canyon / Vallejo. That's usuall the route I take back home when I'm up that way. Oddly, Marshall's Honey Farm is across the road from Walmart in Amercian Canyon. Also, if you hit Vallejo before 8pm on Santruday there is a tortillaria that makes tamales on the weekends. I haven't had the tamales yet, but the tortillas are good.

                                          There are miles of lovley vineyards and the road is dotted with farmstands ... Suzy's Strawberries on 12 (tho, IMO the Sebastopol strawberry place is better) ... Green String Farm on 116 (tho I haven't hit something I REALLY like there yet) ... and many others. Check for interesting joints along the route.

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            wow, is the traffic that bad down the 101 starting from Petaluma, all the way through the GGB? is it usually less congested taking the 116 to 37 to 80, going through Vallejo?

                                            and in regards to traffic, where does the congestion usually start on the 101 southbound? the reason why i ask is because i'm also wondering about the alternate route of taking the 101, then switching to the 580 (crossing the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge), then connecting with 80 in east bay. does that sound like an okay idea?

                                            thanks wolfe for confirming the GPS situation. i'll make sure the addresses are current!

                                            1. re: 52X

                                              >>"...i'm also wondering about the alternate route of taking the 101, then switching to the 580 (crossing the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge), then connecting with 80 in east bay. does that sound like an okay idea? "

                                              LOL, that could be one of the worst ideas I have ever heard! 80 is infinitely worse than 101.

                                              Seriously, southbound (and northbound) traffic on 101 has been pretty much non-existent in Marin since they added the extra lanes through San Rafael and gas went over $2.50 a gallon.

                                              The amber alert sign typically says 16 minutes from San Rafael to the GGB during commute traffic. I often get all the way to Geary Blvd in that amount of time.

                                              1. re: Civil Bear

                                                HAHAHA hey, go easy on me! it's my first time!

                                            2. re: rworange

                                              rworange, I must respectfully disagree with you on this. From Sonoma to East Bay that's a great route, but back to SF... not so. Go west on 37 to 101 at S. Novato. It really is a quicker route to SF than through the traffic snarls on 80. And pretty too - lots of views of Bay and Mt. Tam & Land Trust holdings.

                                              And Arnold Drive gets you away from the worst of Highway 12 traffic through the Sonoma area.

                                              But you city folks probably have different standards for acceptable traffic levels than we country folks do. :)

                                              1. re: Columba

                                                Tho 37 is quicker, I find it less attractive than 116 (maybe due to no food stops). It is a great route for air conditioning in the heat. It seems like almost no matter how hot the day, that road is cooled by the bay.

                                                I have a question though. A friend said in the past , off of 37 there was a town. So I took that exit recently to look around and there didn't seem like much. There's a golf club and a general store but that was about it. I think the area is called black point. Is there a there there? Or to be more to the point ... any food there?

                                                1. re: rworange

                                                  Isn't that where the Faire used to be?

                                                  1. re: wolfe

                                                    No clue what was there. I was with a friend who once lived in the area many decades back and he mentioned that at the time he lived in Napa/Sonoma there was a little community with a town. I'm suspecting the golf club devoured it. At the end of the golf club is a gated community. Didn't have a key to get in.

                                                    1. re: rworange

                                                      Here is the information. I don't believe there will be too much in the way of development and certainly no fast food or even slow food restaurants.

                                                  2. re: rworange

                                                    Black Point is part of Novato. Really not much there with the exception of the Stone Tree Golf club.

                                                    As for the route back, 101 is a whole lot quicker than trying to cut through the East Bay and the awful Bay Bridge traffic.

                                                2. re: rworange

                                                  Trafficwise that's a really bad idea to put someone in the middle of tourists returni g from napa valley thru AmCan and Vallejo on a Saturday. Are you trying to be funny? You live in the east bay, the OP is going back to SF, and doesn't need to swing so far east when there's so much to see and eat in a compact route in just a small corner of Sonoma county. Some of these itineraries involve a ridiculous amount of driving time. Covering those amounts of miles will require so much time to get from place to place, there's little time for chowing!

                                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                    Well, actually yes I do know thte traffic situation.

                                                    I've been exploring the Sonoma farms this year and I'm often up there on the weekend ... besides being into Hardon Farms in Sonoma ... love that place ... love it, love it, love it. . Across 12 and then hooking on 116 is one of my favorite routes. I have never hit traffic. You have to be caeful on 37 and be aware of the race schedules.

                                                    There is a slowdown sometimes coming home through American Canyona at Walmart, but other than that it is free sailing through to San Pablo. Sometimes I go on to Berkely, but the highway sign around Hercules with times to various locations never seems to note excessive traffic. I am usually on that stretch between 7 - 8 pm.

                                                    Actually, I usually stick to 80, so I dodn't know the 101 situation as well. Last week, besides the apple tour, I wanted to check out a few places in San Rafael. I was actually surprised about the all traffic going north on 101 at 11 am ...not as bad as rush hours, but still quite a lot.

                                                    It was just a thought for not travelling the same route up 101 to and from Santa Rosa. Also depends on where they live in SF. The Richmond/Sunset part of SF the GG Bridge is best. For Soma and that end of town, 80 would be my prefance.

                                                    Anyway, the trip is tommorow and the OP has a lot of choices. I hope they just go with the flow and what is fun to them. I start out on my fun journies with places I want to try and I can't think of one time I followed those plans ... found a swell diner when I got lost in Glen Ellen-ish.

                                                    I hope the OP lets the food gods guide their journey and have a good time. Some of the best reports on the board were from posters who got a lot of input like this and didn't stop at one single suggested place ... just followed their intuation.

                                                3. re: 52X

                                                  As one who comes back from the Santa Rosa area frequently on weekends, it really isn't that bad.

                                                  1. re: 52X

                                                    If you're going to Healdsburg, then skip the Santa Rosa farmers market especially since the county fair is in session, as Columba points out. Healdsburg has a Saturday morning market.

                                                    But I would not try to do both Healdsburg and Benziger. It will take you an hour to get to Benziger from there, when you could be spending more time in the Healdsburg area or vice versa. Please do consult a map to see the relationship of these towns to each other and the distances. On the back roads, your top speed will be about 45 mph and usually less, so plan accordingly.

                                                    Ga Ga is not an option for the end of the day, it sells at the morning farmers market.

                                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                      >Please do consult a map to see the relationship of these towns to each other and the distances.<

                                                      For sure.. A GPS is good for getting from known point to known point, but is pretty much useless for planning how to spend your day. A map is essential, especially if you change your mind during the day.

                                          2. Two favorite lunch places of mine are in Petaluma. Aram's, owned by an Armenian family, has very good Middle Eastern food. Water Street Bistro, owned by a chef-with-credentials, is a cross between a deli and cafe with a nice patio on the Petaluma River.

                                            Water Street Bistro
                                            100 Petaluma Blvd N Ste 106, Petaluma, CA 94952

                                            Aram's Cafe
                                            131 Kentucky St, Petaluma, CA 94952

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                              thanks so much for your suggestions! is Aram's comparable to the kind of armenian food that's available in southern california?

                                              1. re: 52X

                                                >is Aram's comparable to the kind of armenian food that's available in southern california?

                                                I have no idea :-) Maybe someone else here knows about that.

                                              2. re: Mick Ruthven

                                                2nd Water Street Bistro. The chef with credentials is Stephanie Rastetter, and she cooked at Babette with Daniel Patterson (Coi). Very talented and a wonderful human.

                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                  Note that Water Street Bistro is breakfast and lunch only, with occasional special event dinners requiring advance reservation.

                                              3. If you are going out Highway 12 from Santa Rosa, Café Citti is a place we stop at regularly. Casual, Italian cafe. Pizza, pasta and sandwiches. Very pleasent stop near a number of wineries.

                                                Cafe Citti
                                                9047 Sonoma Hwy, Kenwood, CA 95452

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Calvinist

                                                  thanks for the suggestion! actually, i came across a thread where Eat_Nopal stated the calamari steak sandwich as "excellent." have you tried? anything in particularly we should look out for?