Step aboard a sleek SMART train and discover Sonoma County without having to deal with traffic or parking.
The first phase of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit project started full passenger service on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017, with a grand opening celebration in Santa Rosa's Railroad Square.
For this first phase of operations, energy-efficient, clean diesel trains carry passengers along 43 miles of track, from the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport station at the north end of Santa Rosa, south to downtown San Rafael in Marin County (or vice versa).
It's a smooth, quiet ride. The former 60- to 100-year-old railroad tracks have been replaced, and each new rail section is about five football fields long, continuously welded so there’s no more “clickty-clack” train noise.
Every two-car SMART train holds up to 158 seated passengers, 160 standing passengers, and 24 bicycles. Large comfortable seats with tray tables, overhead storage, and big windows make it easy to sit back and enjoy the scenic view. Onboard amenities include free Wi-Fi, a snack bar, and accessible restrooms.
And for walking and cycling enthusiasts, work has already begun on what will eventually be one of the longest continuous bicycle-pedestrian pathways in the country, next to or near the SMART tracks.
All this makes for the perfect way to explore central Sonoma County sans automobile. Here’s a quick look at what you can see and do at the various stops along the SMART train route in Sonoma County in order from north to south starting near the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport.
1130 Airport Blvd., Santa Rosa
For those flying into or out of the Charles M Schulz Sonoma County Airport, the Airport Boulevard train stop is slightly more than a mile east of the airport, with shuttles running between the two. Attractions in the area include the Pacific Coast Aviation Museum (One Air Museum Way, Santa Rosa, 707-575-7900), just south of the airport, where you can learn about Sonoma County’s aviation heritage while exploring more than 35 historic aircraft. Or if a delicious wine-and-food tasting appeals, you can either bicycle or grab a taxi or rideshare to Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens (5007 Fulton Road, Fulton, 707-571-8100, about 1.5 miles from the train station), where in addition to sipping and nibbling, you can stroll through four acres of sprawling gardens. Local dining options range from the Sky Lounge Steakhouse & Sushi Bar (2200 Airport Blvd., #143, Santa Rosa, 707-542-9400), offering a fresh, organic menu for breakfast, lunch, or dinner inside the airport, to the locally owned restaurants and fast food chains in the Vineyards Plaza shopping center, just northeast of the train station. Nearby lodging includes the Hilton Garden Inn (417 Aviation Blvd., Santa Rosa, 707-545-0444).
Santa Rosa North
1500 Guerneville Road, Santa Rosa
Surrounded primarily by residential neighborhoods, this is, perhaps, more of a commuter stop than a full-fledged train station. Cyclists alighting at the Santa Rosa North station will appreciate the bicycle lanes on Guerneville and Fulton roads that lead to Santa Rosa’s extensive system of trails, letting you peddle through both urban and rural areas. And this area is definitely a family destination. About half a mile to the south of the train station you’ll find the Charles M. Schulz Museum (2301 Hardies Lane, Santa Rosa, 707-579-4452), honoring the beloved cartoonist and his engaging Peanuts gang; Snoopy’s Home Ice (aka Redwood Empire Ice Arena, 1667 W. Steele Lane, Santa Rosa, 707-546-7147); Snoopy's Gallery and Gift Shop (1665 W. Steele Lane, Santa Rosa, 707-546-3385); and the highly interactive Children’s Museum of Sonoma County (1835 W. Steele Lane, Santa Rosa, 707-546-4069), dedicated to instilling a sense of wonder and teaching children (and their parents) about the arts, sciences, and the world around them. Just south of there you’ll Coddingtown Mall, which offers more than 40 specialty shops and department stores, and a variety of eateries. There are also a number of local restaurants in the area, like Kettles Vietnamese Bistro (1202 W. Steele Lane, Santa Rosa, 707-528-3747), which uses fresh local ingredients to craft traditional dishes. You can stay nearby at the Best Western Garden Inn (1500 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-546-4031) or the Sandman (3421 Cleveland Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-293-2100).
Downtown Santa Rosa
7 Fourth St., Railroad Square, Santa Rosa
The first sight as you step off the train is the gorgeous 1904 train depot building, which now houses the Santa Rosa Visitor Center / California Welcome Center (9 - 4th St., Santa Rosa, 707-577-8674). You’re in Santa Rosa’s historic Railroad Square district, which offers antique shops, specialty stores, restaurants, lodging, and entertainment, with an authentic old-town ambiance and all in easy walking distance. Whistlestop Antiques (130 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-542-9474) is a local favorite for a wide variety of vintage items. The renowned 6th Street Playhouse (52 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa, 707-523-4185) presents live theater and music in a renovated cannery building that’s more than 120 years old. Ready to eat? Omelette Express (112 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-525-1690) is a local institution, dishing up great breakfasts and lunches for the past 40 years; Stark’s Steak & Seafood (521 Adams St., Santa Rosa, 707-546-5100) blends a clubby retro atmosphere with a thoroughly modern surf and turf menu; and La Gare French Restaurant (208 Wilson St., Santa Rosa, 707-528-4355) presents traditional French cuisine in an elegant yet relaxed setting.
Want to spend the night? Built in 1907, the stone Hotel La Rose (308 Wilson St., Santa Rosa, 707-579-3200) offers an Old World atmosphere, the ambience of a B&B, and the convenience of a full service hotel; while the Tuscan villa-style Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country (170 Railroad St., Santa Rosa, 707-284-1234) offers a gorgeous fire pit courtyard, a swimming pool, and a sculpture garden.
900 Enterprise Drive, Rohnert Park
Tall redwood trees line the sides of this bare-bones train stop, which is surrounded by residential neighborhoods, offices, and shopping centers. About a mile to the east (on foot, or by bicycle, bus, taxi, or ride share), the city-owned state-of-the-art Spreckels Performing Arts Center (5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park, 707-588-3434) features local, national, and internationally-known performers, as well as presentations by local arts and civic organizations. Another mile farther east, the Green Music Center (Sonoma State University, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park, 866-955-6040) offers outstanding acoustics for chamber music, symphony orchestras, jazz, bluegrass, cabaret, blues, recitals, soloists, world music, dance, acrobats, and comedy. Heading west from the train station for about two miles, you can try your luck at the Graton Resort & Casino (288 Golf Course Drive W.), a full-amenity gaming facility that includes restaurants and a 200-room hotel. Nearby you’ll find Amy’s Drive Thru (58 Golf Course Drive W., Rohnert Park, 707-755-3629), the nation’s first and only vegetarian, organic, and sustainable fast-food joint. Or, enjoy traditional dishes and Sonoma-inspired specials at Hana Japanese Restaurant (101 Golf Course Drive, Rohnert Park, 707-586-0270). There are a number of lodging options within a bicycle or taxi or rideshare drive of the train station, including Best Western Inn Rohnert Park (6500 Redwood Drive, 707-584-7435) and Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Sonoma Wine Country (1 Doubletree Drive, Rohnert Park, 707-584-5466).
980 E. Cotati Ave., Cotati
The buildings in this cute new train station offer small-town charm in a solidly residential neighborhood. Like the Rohnert Park stop, the outstanding performances at the Green Music Center are about two miles to the east by bicycle, bus, taxi, or rideshare. About one mile southwest of the train station you’ll find La Plaza Park, Cotati’s hexagonal-shaped downtown plaza designed in the 1890s. The park hosts a number of community events, including the annual Cotati Accordion Festival and the weekly Cotati Farmers Market (June to mid-September). Next to the plaza you’ll find a unique mix of international restaurants on Old Redwood Highway between Highway 116 and Valparaiso Avenue. Or enjoy the family-friendly atmosphere in the beer garden at the Jaded Toad BBQ & Grill (500 E. Cotati Ave., Cotati, 707-242-3383), just half a mile west of the train station. Most nearby overnight lodging options are next door in Rohnert Park.
220 Lakeville St., Petaluma
The charming buildings at this station were originally built in 1914; the old depot houses the Petaluma Visitors Center (210 Lakeville St., Petaluma, 707-769-0-429) while the former storehouse is home to the Petaluma Arts Center (230 Lakeville St., Petaluma, 707-762-5600). Stroll a few blocks to the west along Washington Street, and on the far side of the the Petaluma River you’ll find historic downtown Petaluma, where well-preserved old buildings house an engaging mix of boutiques, antique shops, specialty stores, and restaurants. The imposing 1920s Sonoma County Bank Building is now home to The Seed Bank (199 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma, 707-773-1336), the West Coast location of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. A former Carnegie library building houses the Petaluma Historical Library & Museum (20 Fourth St., Petaluma, 707-778-4398), it offers docent-led tours of the historic downtown area, one of the 5 Fun Things to Do in Petaluma. When you’re ready for a bite to eat or something to drink, Petaluma is a foodie, wine, and craft beer haven. Enjoy fresh pastries, breads, breakfast, and lunch at Della Fattoria (141 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma, 707-763-0161), housed in the former U.S. Bakery building (circa 1860); eat and drink with a view of the river at Dempsey’s Restaurant & Brewery (50 E. Washington St., Petaluma, 707-765-9694); or check our listings of all Petaluma restaurants. Spend the night at the historic Hotel Petaluma (205 Kentucky St., Petaluma, 707-559-3393), a five-story, 90-room hotel that opened its doors in 1924 and recently underwent extensive renovation. Or if you prefer riverfront views, check out the Sheraton Sonoma County Petaluma (745 Baywood Drive, Petaluma, 707-283-2888).
Fares depend on how far you travel, ranging from $3.50 to $11.50, with a daily maximum of $23; or $1.75 to $5.75 with a daily maximum of $11.50 for seniors, youth, and disabled passengers.
Passes offering unlimited rides for 31 days from the date of purchase are $200 for an adult and $100 for seniors, youth, and disabled passengers.
Visit the SMART website for more information about fares and how to pay.
Trains run from shortly after 4 a.m. to about 10 p.m.; check the online schedule for details.
Eventually, plans call for SMART to cover a 70-mile corridor, from Cloverdale in the north to Larkspur in the south, on the San Francisco Bay. For now, it’s expected to take about 55 minutes to ride from Santa Rosa to San Rafael, where buses can connect you to the Larkspur ferry to San Francisco.
This first phase of SMART offers a novel way to explore Sonoma County. For more information, visit sonomamarintrain.org.
Written by Sonoma Insider Patricia Henley.