The Secret Sonoma County Destination You Need to Know About

One of Sonoma County's trendiest and most culturally alive neighborhoods is hiding in plain sight. Check it out.

Sonoma County is not a secret to its many visitors from near and far, but one of the county capital’s most culturally alive neighborhoods is almost hiding in plain sight. Tucked away in a creative enclave just a short walk from downtown Santa Rosa, the SOFA — or South of A Street — district continues to undergo a renaissance that began around 20 years ago when artists started setting up shop there.

Now home to a diverse group of workshops, galleries, independently owned shops, and restaurants, SOFA channels an artistic energy reminiscent of areas of Brooklyn or London’s East End, where former industrial and warehouse spaces metamorphosed into creative communities.

The SOFA district encompasses only a few blocks, but it has a myriad things to see and do in its many nooks and crannies. Whether you pop into the neighborhood for a morning jaunt, make a whole day of it or turn it into your home base for an extended stay in the area, this list will help you get acquainted with Santa Rosa’s charming SOFA district.

Check in at the Astro Motel

There is no better way to get to know a neighborhood than by living in it, even if only for a few days or weeks. The Astro Motel, which is walking distance from the heart of the action, provides convenient and well appointed lodgings in the SOFA district.

The Astro was recently renovated with a retro mid century modern design vibe, a nod to the motel’s 1960s era origins that also incorporates more contemporary sensibilities, such as the front parking lot turned into a manicured courtyard (including public art, a fire pit, herb garden and plum, apple, lemon, mandarin, fig and cherry trees).

Among its amenities, the Astro has a fleet of Shinola bicycles for rent as well as a bike repair station for guests interested in cycling in the area.

323 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa. 707-200-4655,

Breakfast at Café Frida Gallery or Red Bird Bakery

It’s important to get the day started on the right note. Café Frida and Red Bird Bakery offer a veritable symphony of flavors to choose from on their breakfast menus.

Café Frida, created by Mamadou Diouf and Mario Uribe as an “artist hangout” with a gallery that features Sonoma County artists, has a menu drawing from French and Mexican culinary traditions. Among the drinks and dishes that can be ordered: A spicy Passion Fruit or Tamarind Fizz or Cortado (espresso with milk), Nutella Toast, Breakfast Burrito, Vanilla Concha (traditional Mexican pan dulce) or Spinach Feta Croissant.

Known for its wholesome breads and tempting pastries and cakes, Red Bird is the English translation of the owners’ Czech last name, Cermak. The cafe has a wide assortment of handcrafted baked goods such as levain, chai whole wheat with apricots and walnuts, baguette, sweet rolls, tea breads and cookies.

300 South A St., Santa Rosa. 707-308-4344,

463 Sebastopol Ave., Santa Rosa. 707-544-3663,

Explore SOFA art studios

On the first Friday of each month, SOFA’s art studios open to the public at 5 p.m. as part of the Open Studios or First Friday Art Walk. The free event is the perfect opportunity to meet and mingle with artists in their studios, learn about their process and buy one of their pieces. Live music and light refreshments often round out the evening.

If you can’t make it to the First Friday event, the Santa Rosa Arts Center (SRAC) is a hub of cultural activity that is open most days of the week and by appointment. Founded in 2017, The SRAC is located in the Chroma gallery and sponsors art shows, performances, concerts, literary events, benefits and classes.

Catch a play at The Imaginists

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players…” Experimental theater company The Imaginists has taken the first lines of Shakespeare’s oft quoted speech from “As You Like It” to heart with productions that feature trained actors and non-actors alike. The group has collaborated with a diverse array of community members, including day laborers, undocumented youth, immigrant rights groups and environmental nonprofits to put on productions that aim to reimagine public space, cultivate radical inclusion and rethink theater.

461 Sebastopol Ave., Santa Rosa. 707-528-7554,

Take a snapshot at Jeremiah’s Photo Corner

If you are interested in cultivating your inner Gordon Parks, Henri Cartier-Bresson or Dorothea Lange, or just want to capture some photo memories of your visit to SOFA, a visit to this neighborhood photoshop might be in order. Jeremiah’s Photo Corner caters to aficionados and amateurs alike with an assortment of film cameras, film, photography and printing paraphernalia, as well as camera repair and film processing drop off and pick up services. The location is also home to Jeremiah Flynn Tintype Photography, where you can book a sitting for your very own vintage portrait (tintype was one of the first photographic processes, invented in the mid 19th century).

441 Sebastopol Ave., Santa Rosa. 707-544-4800,;

Go shopping at Saint November

Before going in front of the cameras, it’s important to carefully choose your wardrobe. Newly opened Saint November creates handmade, small batch clothing and sewn goods designed and produced in its SOFA studio. You can choose from the items available in Saint November’s catalog or make an appointment to commission a custom design.

320 South A St., Santa Rosa.,

Dinner at The Spinster Sisters

After a busy day nourishing the soul, it’s time to nourish the body. The Spinster Sisters restaurant, which exhibits the work of local artists in its “concrete chic” interior, is the perfect culinary complement to a day spent absorbing the neighborhood’s cultural vibrance.

Chef Liza Hinman’s innovative menu embraces traditions and flavors from all over the world with a distinctly modern flair. Dishes that are also available for takeout include Crispy Kennebec Fries (finished with rosemary and sage and served with SOFA sauce), Tunisian Style Meatballs, Citrus Cured Ocean Trout, Mussels Mouclade (with madras curry, aioli, herbs, white wine and grilled red bird levain), Meyer Lemon Mousse and Paris-brest.

401 South A St., Santa Rosa. 707-528-7100,

Experience a one-of-a-kind seasonal event

Every year, the streets of SOFA come alive with a parade that personifies the exuberance and creativity of the arts district. The city sponsored event, Winterblast, continues to grow every year, featuring open art galleries and a zany procession of illuminated sofas and parade goers. Food trucks, live music and entertainers animate the festivities, but the decorated couches on wheels (with float themes that range from UFOs to Snoopy’s dog house) are the highlight of the parade event.;

Click through the above gallery for a tour of Santa Rosa’s SOFA arts district.