Attention contemporary art lovers: check out the colorful block of storefronts at the corner where South A Street meets Sebastopol Avenue in downtown Santa Rosa.
The wide roadway and the curved awnings covering the sidewalks in front of each doorway create a sort of 1950s vibe, blended with an aura of creative funk. Officially called the South A Street Art District, but more familiarly known as SOFA, this compact area is home to nearly 40 working artists' studios, as well as a number of galleries and arts-related businesses.
"It's a lively, vibrant community, where artists are actually creating, actually making their art," explains artist Christie Marks. "You can stroll through, peek in, and pretty much the doors are open. … There's always something going on at SOFA."
Marks' studio is one of several in a former auto transmission shop at 312 South A St. Other nearby commercial and industrial buildings have also been converted into multiple working spaces for artists. Murals decorate several exterior walls in the area, and a paved space between two buildings is marked by an official street sign naming it "Art Alley."
It's a fun neighborhood to stroll on foot. In addition to the galleries and artists' studios, browse the artistic gift items at the JaM JAr, or relax with refreshments from Atlas Coffee or the Spinster Sisters (see photo on the right).
There are also several nail and hair salons in the neighborhood, and photography enthusiasts can pick up supplies or rent equipment at Jerimiah's Photo Corner.
Several other downtown Santa Rosa attractions are nearby. The lush lawns and outdoor sculptures in the city's Juilliard Park forms the northern edge of SOFA. And across from the eastern edge of the park you'll find the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens, where the world-renowned horticulturist lived and experimented with plants for most of his 50-year career. About half a mile to the west (across Highway 101), the historic Railroad Square district offers an authentic old-town ambiance as a setting for antique shops, specialty stores, restaurants, lodging, entertainment, and live theater.
SOFA is a loose coalition of artists, galleries, and businesses working together to promote and protect their distinctive neighborhood. Artists began moving into the area about 17 or 18 years ago, and SOFA as a loosely knit group began to take shape about 10 years ago.
"As we got to know each other, we started to collaborate on events," says artist Max Dubois, who has her studio and framing business in the former transmission shop. She's one of the original group of artists who moved onto South A Street close to 20 years ago.
SOFA hosts a number of activities, including the First Friday Open Studios, with music and refreshments, giving visitors a chance to browse galleries and meet the artists the first Friday evening of each month. Opening receptions for shows of original Sonoma County art are held frequently, and family-friendly art events are scheduled throughout the year. A catalog-guided tour of SOFA studios is presented each August, and SOFA's largest annual event is Winterblast in November, a wacky evening party featuring a parade of electric sofas.
And the name, SOFA? It's not an anagram of the official district name, it's just a creative nickname. New York has MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) and the SoHo district. Santa Rosa and the artists of South A Street have SOFA.
Written by Sonoma Insider Patricia Lynn Henley.