48 Hours in Rohnert Park, California
48 Hours in Rohnert Park, California
Nicknamed 'The Friendly City,' Rohnert Park offers a wide variety of activities for folks of all ages in central Sonoma County, in the heart of Wine Country.
Laid out in the 1950s, Rohnert Park (pop. 40,971) was one of the first planned communities nationwide. The town stretches along US Highway 101, Sonoma County's central north-south artery.
Tall redwoods and other trees line many of Rohnert Park's wide boulevards, and biking and walking trails connect its 15 residential neighborhoods, each designed around its own park and elementary school. There's also the Central Rohnert Park district, immediately east of the 101, and West Rohnert Park and North West Rohnert Park to the west (of course) of the highway.
Some folks might see Rohnert Park as mainly a residential town, but it also boasts an acclaimed state university with 9,300 students, a dynamic arts community, a gambling casino, a multitude of indoor and outdoor recreational opportunities, and an eclectic mix of restaurants and eateries. It's a great place to spend a couple days, relaxing and exploring.
The town is a straight drive up Highway 101 from San Francisco, or if you fly into the Charles M Schulz-Sonoma County Airport (STS) in Santa Rosa, Airport Express drops you off at Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Sonoma Wine Country in Rohnert Park (and also connects to San Francisco International and Oakland International airports). Sonoma County Transit offers bus routes around Rohnert Park and to various destinations countywide, and the Sonoma-Marin Area Regional Transit (SMART) trains stop at a station in central Rohnert Park. For more details, read How to Get to Sonoma County, Guide to Exploring Sonoma County by SMART Train, and Getting Around Sonoma County.
Here's a two-day itinerary for discovering the unique Wine Country community of Rohnert Park.
Start your first day in Rohnert Park by choosing between two casual eateries with distinctly different approaches to food.
Just west of US Highway 101, Amy’s Drive Thru offers a vegetarian and sustainable take on typical American fast food. The living roof — covered with drought-tolerant plants and sporting a tower for catching and storing rainwater — is the first clue that this isn’t a typical drive-thru. The organic breakfast menu includes breakfast burritos, a breakfast sandwich, tofu scramble, bagels, hash browns, cinnamon rolls, and more, all vegetarian and GMO-free, with gluten-free and vegan options available for many items.
For a much more traditional first meal of the day, join the locals at Big Daddy’s Diner, an old school local restaurant tucked away in a neighborhood shopping center quite a bit east of the 101 corridor. The huge menu offers just about every standard American diner breakfast item, from fluffy waffles and pancakes, to omelets, scrambles, and more. There are a few vegetarian options, but there’s also steak and eggs, or corned beef hash and eggs.
Time for fun
Rohnert Park offers a number of options to just relax and have a good time, so you can choose what appeals to you the most.
Scandia Family Fun Center
Scandia Family Fun Centerincludes two award-winning 18-hole miniature golf courses, a Lil’ Indy raceway, blaster boats equipped with water squirters, bumper cars, batting cages, and an arcade with more than 120 games.
Get jumping at Rebounderz trampoline park, with 75 interconnected trampoline beds, a four-lane foam pit, four-lane basketball slam, trampoline dodge ball, fitness classes, an enormous indoor playground, a Ninja Warrior course, a 14-foot JumpXTREME tower, a café, an adult lounge with free Wi-Fi, and arcade and skill games.
In addition to 50 state-of-the-art bowling lanes, Double Decker Bowling offers a full-service lounge and sports bar with big-screen TVs, a snack bar, and a video arcade complete with pool tables.
And if you prefer a more intellectual challenge, work as a team at Game the Room, an immersive experience where you have to complete challenging puzzles, crack cryptic locks, and solve the mystery before time runs out.
When you’re ready to eat, head to Bear Republic Brewing Company Lakeside, a combination brewpub, restaurant, beer garden, and play space overlooking the Roberts Lake reservoir in northern Rohnert Park. The open, industrial indoor space includes a glassed-in kitchen, a pizza oven, and several bars serving handcrafted beers (with nearly two dozen on tap), local wines, and house-made specialty cocktails.
In addition to tasty pizza, they provide delicious pub fare with a twist, like slow-smoked pork shoulder in house-made brown barbecue sauce, mac and cheese with Fontina-Gruyere béchamel sauce topped with herbed breadcrumbs, and Cajun coleslaw. The back deck overlooks the lake, and offers a large outdoor dining area, with both adult and children’s game sections as well as a music stage.
Stretch your legs after lunch by strolling around Roberts Lake, a charming and shady city park offering excellent bird watching. The lake, which hosts an annual children’s fishing derby, holds a variety of fish, including rainbow trout, bluegill, crappie, channel catfish, carp, and largemouth bass.
If you’re traveling with a canine companion, the park includes the one-third-acre Rohnert Bark fenced dog area, with two exercise areas, one for small dogs and one for large ones. (Note: Rohnert Park offers two other fenced dog areas, at Field of Friends, 7471 Bernice Ave., and at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter, 301 J. Rodgers Lane.)
And if you fancy an afternoon of golf, the nearby Foxtail Golf Club offers two 18-hole championship golf courses, as well as a full driving range, chipping and putting practice areas, a pro shop, and group and private lessons. Both courses are open to the public, with the South Course providing a gentler experience for those who aren’t always straight off the tee.
There are a number of options when it’s time to check into your hotel room. Located near the golf courses, the Tuscan-inspired Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Sonoma Wine Country features 245 spacious guestrooms and an elegant selection of suites. Opened in September 2017, the eco-friendly Oxford Suites Sonoma County includes 163 non-smoking executive suites and an onsite restaurant. And the family-friendly, 102-room Hampton Inn & Suites offers a complimentary hot breakfast, free Wi-Fi, a fitness facility, and pool. For more options, check our listings of Rohnert Park Hotels, Motels & Lodges.
When it’s time for your evening meal, there are once again many wonderful choices. At the acclaimed Hana Japanese Restaurant chef Ken Tominaga takes classic Japanese dishes and puts a modern spin on them, with a Wine Country accent. Think fig puree of fruit plucked straight from the tree, cage-free eggs for the tamago custard, and local pig cheek so succulent it melts in your mouth.
If you’re more in the mood for prime steak and fresh seafood, 630 Park Steakhouse at Graton Casino offers delicious food in a lovely setting, with Swarovski crystal chandeliers, marble walls, and a flickering fire pit.
For a more casual supper, nibble your way through the Rohnert Park Farmers Market, held on Friday evenings in the summer (June-August). This is an end-of-the-week community party that always features live entertainment; bring a lawn chair or blanket, and settle in.
Rohnert Park also boasts a number of taquerias and Asian restaurants, as well as burgers, pizzas, and more. To look over the options, check our listings of Rohnert Park restaurants.
Out on the town
Rohnert Park might be mainly residential, but it offers a delightful mix of choices for evening entertainment.
The $825 million, 340,000-square-foot Graton Resort & Casino offers 3,000 slot and video poker games, more than 120 table games like blackjack, baccarat, and Pai Gow poker, a 20-table poker room, a high-limit table game room with private salons, and a high-limit slots room with $300 pulls, as well as three bars and lounges, three restaurants, and seven casual eateries.
Be sure to check their calendars to see what’s happening at Rohnert Park’s three performing arts centers. The Green Music Center at Sonoma State University offers music, comedy, and more in its intimate Schroder Hall and its world-class Weill Concert Hall (where the back wall opens in summer to add lawn seating). The city-owned state-of-the-art Spreckels Performing Arts Center features local, national, and internationally known performers, as well as presentations by local arts and civic organizations. And in the summer, SOMO Concerts presents a popup festival series in its 3,000-seat, solar-powered outdoor venue.
Oh, and don’t forget the eclectic mix of theater, arts, and dance performances at Sonoma State University.
If comedy is your thing, Double Decker Bowling hosts a Comedy Night on the second Tuesday of each month, and the Sally Tomatoes restaurant presents local and San Francisco Bay Area standup comics three times a month.
If breakfast isn’t included with your room, start the day at Sam’s for Play Express at the Graton Casino, which is known for its delicious home-style American food. The focus is on classic diner food, like all-day breakfasts of chicken-fried steak, Belgian waffle, omelets, or biscuits smothered in gravy.
Getting Out and Around
Be sure to take your time exploring the 128-acre Crane Creek Regional Park. Tucked in the rolling grassland meadows of the Sonoma Mountain foothills on Rohnert Park’s eastern flank, it’s known for abundant springtime wildflower displays and gorgeous views of Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa down below.
This gem of a park is open year round, with 3.5 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. A seasonal creek flows in winter in spring, and the park’s open space is framed by stands of tress that include California buckeye, white alder, black oak, and maple.
It’s lovely to picnic at the park in good weather, but if you prefer to sit indoors in comfort then head back into town to the Marketplace eateries at Graton Casino.
Here you can choose from eight casual eateries, offering everything from piping hot pizza to sushi and other Asian dishes, mouthwatering burgers, barbecue, tacos, and more. Plus, enjoy ice cream, specialty coffees, and more.
An afternoon of options
Shopping can be fun, especially when you’re exploring the 14,000 square feet at Fundemonium, a toy, game, and hobby store with a wide selection of products, including infant toys, model railroading, scale models, games, art supplies, and radio control models of all kinds. The store includes a children’s play area, a slot car rack, a 1,200-sqare-foot indoor radio-controlled car track, rock tables for radio-controlled rock crawler, a snack bar, and LEGO play.
If LEGOs spark your interest, check out The Brick Hutt, the only all-LEGO store in Northern California. This family owned and operated business started as a way for a father and son to spend more time together, and now boasts two worldwide online stores, an incredible inventory, LEGO workshops, lots of finished LEGO models on display, and more, all geared to create the ultimate LEGO toy experience.
But if you’re feeling more arty, check out the Sonoma State University Art Gallery, which for more than 30 years has been making contemporary art accessible to a wide range of people. You can look at and learn about art, and meet and talk with artists from around the corner and around the world.
And if you enjoyed the craft beers at Bear Republic yesterday afternoon, be sure to stop by BeerCraft, a bottle shop and taproom stocking hundreds of carefully selected craft beers. The inventory is constantly rotating, with 10 to 30 new beers in the store and eight to 10 new beers on tap each week.
Of course, one of the beauties of Rohnert Park is that it’s centrally located in Sonoma Wine County, with quick access to an amazing array of activities and sights. It’s just a short drive to explore the stunning Pacific Ocean coastline, go wine tasting and stroll the charming resort towns in the Russian River Valley, follow winding back roads, or discover the urban amenities of Santa Rosa.
Whatever you choose for your afternoon activity, make sure you’re back in Rohnert Park for a delicious dinner.
Bacchus Restaurant & Wine Bar at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel offers Wine Country-themed casual elegance, with a grown-and-raised-in-Sonoma County menu of Californian Mediterranean cuisine and an extensive wine list.
The portions are huge and the quality excellent at Tonayan Mexican Restaurant, a family-owned Sonoran-style eatery and margarita bar. Try the shredded steak nachos or the mojarra frito (a whole fish, deep-fried and crispy, and served with the head still on).
And at the Graton Casino, the Daily Grill features classic American comfort food made from scratch; Tony’s of North Beach offers eight kinds of artisanal and innovative pizzas made in three different kinds of ovens, with wines from California and Italy; and Boathouse Asian Eatery presents a variety of Asian cuisines — including Japanese, traditional Chinese, and Vietnamese — with a centerpiece oyster and sushi bar.
Written by Sonoma Insider Patricia Henley.