Surrounded by lush vineyards, redwood and oak-covered hills, and known for its fine wines, breweries, and locally sourced organic foods, Santa Rosa evokes what everyone thinks of when musing about the classic northern California city. Situated about 55 miles north of San Francisco in central Sonoma County, bustling Santa Rosa grew up as the commercial center for the groves, farms, ranches, and small rural towns that encircle the city. Santa Rosa has evolved into a sophisticated but unpretentious city with a diverse and strong economy. As a relatively affordable choice over San Francisco’s ultra-high cost of living, many Bay Area residents have transplanted to Santa Rosa. San Francisco still maintains the highest rate of same-sex marriages in the US, but Santa Rosa comes in second.

Many residents prefer Santa Rosa’s genuine, down-to-earth vibe over the Napa Valley lifestyle. Santa Rosa doesn’t get the intense tourism of the Napa Valley, but it still has all the natural beauty, similar amenities, and retains its charming historical character. Restaurants, cafes, hip coffee shops, bistros, wine bars, and breweries serve up creatively prepared locally sourced ingredients. And speaking of local, many locally owned businesses, from saddle shops to high-end car dealerships, plus three large malls, provide for every shopping need.

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Living in Santa Rosa: What to Know Before Moving to Santa Rosa, CA

About 504,000 people live in the greater Santa Rosa metro area. But the city proper of about 175,000 residents, offers urban amenities with the friendliness and welcoming vibe of a small town. Covering 41.5 square miles, this urban area retains a fringe of land that is undeveloped or used for agriculture. Locals regularly spot deer, wild turkeys, and other wildlife along the outlying areas of the city.

Pros and Cons

Check out the great things that make living in Santa Rosa special. But be sure to learn about the downsides that you may encounter too.

Pros

  • Economy
  • Climate
  • Proximity to San Francisco and other Bay Area cities
  • Locally grown high-quality food, wine, beer
  • Friendly down-to-earth vibe

Cons

  • High housing costs
  • High cost of living
  • High taxes
  • Rush hour traffic
  • Living in some Santa Rosa neighborhoods requires a car

Economy and the Job Market

Because Santa Rosa housing costs increased significantly in the decade between 2000 and 2010, job growth slowed, and the cost of doing business increased. But as of July 2019, the job market has grown by 1.7% in the past year, and over the next ten years, the job market is forecasted to grow 1.4% stronger than the US average. Unemployment is a low 2.8% compared to the 3.9% US average.

By occupation, most residents work in health care and social assistance; retail trade; manufacturing; accommodation and food services; and educational services. The five top Santa Rosa employers are the County of Sonoma; Kaiser Permanente; Santa Rosa Junior College; St Joseph Health System; and Santa Rosa City Schools. The industries paying out the biggest paychecks are Utilities; Public Administration; and Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services employers.

Sonoma County offers Job Link, a free service for job seekers. They provide training funds for new careers, connect employers with your skills, career counseling, and job search assistance. Because so many companies use digital hiring practices, exploring online job platforms is a great way to find employment. Just a few of the many platforms include indeed.com, glassdoor.com, simplyhired, and ZipRecruiter. Be ready: fine-tune your resume to make sure it’s ready to send (by pdf only) when a prospective employer is interested in your skills.

Tax Rates

  • State income tax: California residents pay income tax based on ten brackets. Each bracket is taxed at a different rate. The average income tax rate is 9.3%, based on incomes between $53,980 to $275,737. The average US rate is 4.6%.
  • Property tax: For a Santa Rosa home valued at the median home cost of  $597,100, the median property tax is $3,582.60 per year. If you buy a property in Sonoma County, your property will be taxed at an estimated 1.126%. Actual property tax rates can vary from property to property within counties and cities because of special property tax boundaries. Be sure to discuss your property tax rates with your realtor before signing a purchase contract.
  • Sales tax: Santa Rosa residents pay 8.6% on retail goods compared to the 7.3% US average sales tax.

Housing Market

According to Zillow, the median list price of a Santa Rosa home is $635,000, but the median home cost is $574,000. Median home values dropped 0.6% between 2018 –2019 and are forecast to drop an additional 0.8% in 2020. If prices continue to fall, you may find yourself in a buyers’ market as 2020 approaches. 61.3% of residents own their homes, and if you’re in interesting in purchasing a home, you’ll find properties ranging from upscale urban condos to rural country escapes.

Before the Tubbs Fire, a huge wildfire that jumped into urban Santa Rosa in 2017, there was a significant housing shortage. After the fire, which destroyed 5% of Santa Rosa’s homes, many people were forced to rethink their housing options and left the area. The Tubbs Fire marked the end of more than half a century of population growth in Sonoma County and was likely the reason for recent housing price reductions.

The Santa Rosa city median rent is $2,568 but rises to $2,800 in the Santa Rosa Metro area. You’ll find a variety of rental options, including apartments, condos, townhomes, urban, and rural houses.

Cost of Living

Compared to the US cost of living index of 100, Santa Rosa’s cost of living is 168. Housing accounts for the greatest expense. Here’s a rundown on cost indexes: Groceries 111/100, Health 92/100, Housing 313/100, Utilities 100/100, Transportation 111/100, and Miscellaneous (such as repairs, clothing, eating out, etc.) 104.8/100. As you can see, most expenses are in keeping with the national average. But housing is three times as much as the average.

Monthly costs for two working adults and two children living in Santa Rosa add up to $9,165. The Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator lists basic living costs for a family of four: Housing $1,843, Food $913, Child Care $1,247, Transportation $1,367, Health Care $1,114, Other necessities $1,112, and Taxes $1,469. These costs total  $109,977 annually. The same family of four in Dallas would pay $75,488 for the same expenses.

According to datausa.io, the Santa Rosa median household income is $80,409, an increase of 8.77% over 2018. The median income in the US is $60,336. In Santa Rosa, 31% of residents earn over $75,000 per year. You can see that you’ll have the opportunity to bring in a healthier paycheck in Santa Rosa than you would in many other US cities.

Weather and Natural Disasters

Santa Rosa’s Marine Mediterranean climate produces mild seasonal variations with warm, sometimes hot summers, and cool, damp winters. You can expect July and August to be the hottest months, with average highs of 82 degrees F and lows of around 53. December and January are the coolest months where daytime highs average 58 and night times cool down to the high 30s. Rain averages about 31 inches per year, with most precipitation falling from November through March. Snow doesn’t happen unless a freak Arctic storm blows through. In that case, snow would be minimal and last less than a day.

With climate change in the news almost daily, natural disasters are catching many people off guard. Santa Rosa is prone to earthquakes, floods due to winter storms, landslides, and urban/wildland fires. In 2017, a wildfire that started in the Napa Valley quickly spread west to Santa Rosa, taking down homes, businesses, and skipping six lanes of Hwy 101 to burn a large shopping center completely. Being prepared for an unexpected threat is key to your safety. Read through the County of Sonoma Hazard Mitigation Plan to stay prepared.

Traffic and Transportation

US Route 101 is the major six-lane freeway that runs north-south through Santa Rosa. Highway 101 will connect you with San Francisco to the south, or the rural towns and the Oregon border to the north. Highway 12 runs east from Sebastapol through the southern part of the city. River Road runs east-west at the northern area of the city and connects west to the Pacific Ocean, or east to Napa Valley. Locals try to avoid Hwy 101 during gridlocked rush hours, preferring surface streets like Fulton Rd, Stony Point Rd, Mendocino Ave, and Santa Rosa Ave.

If you are commuting, plan to spend an average of 24.7 minutes behind the wheel. Your Santa Rosa commute will be a fraction shorter than the national average commute time of 25.5 minutes.

United, Alaska, Sun Country, and American Airlines service the Charles M Schultz-Sonoma County Airport (STS) located eight miles northwest of downtown among beautiful vineyards, oaks, and redwoods. If you are flying out of Oakland (OAK) or San Francisco (SFO) International Airports, you can leave your car at home and take the Sonoma County Airport Express bus to catch your flight. The SMART, Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, connects Santa Rosa with locations along US Route 101 as far south as San Rafael. Sonoma County Transit (SCT) runs bus service throughout Santa Rosa.

If you’d like to get around Santa Rosa while getting some exercise at the same time, an expansive network of bike trails winds through the city. All of the public transportation systems allow you to bring your bike onboard. How great is that? Each SMART train has space for up to 24 bikes, and most buses accommodate two bikes. Santa Rosa has earned Walk Scores of 27/100 for transit, 48/100 for bikes, and 44/100 for walkability.

Things to Do

Wine and Restaurant scene: Bestplaces.net has designated Santa Rosa/Napa the #1 ‘Top Foodie Cities in America.’ Sonoma County is famous for its quality wines and fresh organic, locally sourced food. Of course, wine tasting is a popular pastime, and plenty of top-notch wineries will keep you busy comparing reds, whites, rosés, bubbly wines, ice wines, and more. Unless you have a designated driver appointed for the day, be sure to opt for a tasting tour. You’ll avoid the risks involved with driving and truly enjoy the amazing variety of wines in gorgeous settings. Some refer to Santa Rosa as the Microbrew capital of the US, but that’s probably up for argument. However, it’s worth heading over to Russian River Brewing Company or Moonlight Brewing Company to taste some of their fresh brews.

Performing and visual arts: Santa Rosa has an extensive performing arts scene for a city its size. Some options to explore include the Summer Repertory Theatre; the Santa Rosa Symphony; the Sonoma County Philharmonic; 6th Street Playhouse; and North Bay Theater Group, a consortium of 40 Bay Area theater companies representing five North Bay counties. The Sonoma County Museum and many independent art galleries provide creative options for visual arts lovers.

Attractions: Plant lovers will enjoy the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens, which keeps the famous horticulturist’s work alive. Peanuts, Lucy, and Snoopy fans will love investigating the Charles M Schulz Museum and Research Center. Safari West is home to over 1000 animals that represent around 98 species. History buffs will enjoy seeing the Carrillo Adobe, the first home built in the area in 1837. Santa Rosa’s historic Railroad Square and downtown boast restaurants, nightclubs, theaters, antique stores, shopping, and the highest concentration of historic commercial buildings in Santa Rosa. Pacific Coast Air Museum showcases vintage planes displayed on the tarmac.

Parks: Greenspaces and parks in Santa Rosa include Spring Lake Regional Park; Trione-Annadel State Park for mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, and exploring; Prince Memorial Greenway, an urban bicycle and pedestrian path that winds through downtown, and more.

Shopping: Montgomery Village with 70 upscale shops in an open-air setting; recently renovated Coddingtown Mall with over 40 shops and a Whole Foods Market; Santa Rosa Plaza with 100 shops; plus 12 neighborhood shopping centers and 17 commercial districts provide just about any commodity you could desire. You don’t even need to leave town when you’re ready to go car shopping. Auto Row features dealerships from high-end automakers to popular brands such as Toyota and Honda.

The City of Santa Rosa provides this helpful color-coded map to help you navigate through the city. You can click on Arts and Culture, Dining, Shops, Salons, Services, and Accommodations to get a great idea of all there is to do in the city.

Schools and Universities

If you have school-age children, they’ll receive a quality education in Santa Rosa. The city has 42 public elementary, middle, and high schools plus 50 private schools. US News and World Report rank four Santa Rosa high schools in their ‘best’ rankings. Santa Rosa public schools receive an above-average index score of 7.5/10 for college readiness, and the student-teacher ratio is 18:1. Some of Santa Rosa’s top schools are Austin Creek Elementary School 10/10, Mark West Charter School 9/10, and Strawberry Elementary School 8/10.

Post-secondary options include San Rosa Junior College, Empire College, and California State University at Sonoma. The University of San Francisco maintains a Santa Rosa campus and offers graduate programs designed for working professionals.

Crime

Santa Rosa ranks 31.4 for property crime compared to the US average of 35.4. Violent crime is 17.0 compared to the US average of 22.7. Before Santa Rosa became gentrified and the housing cost increase changed the nature of the city, both property and violent crime rates were much higher, especially in the southern areas of the city. In 2003, property crime was twice what it is now, and violent crime was 1.5 times as prevalent. As with all cities, various pockets of crime exist, so be sure to check the crime ratings for neighborhoods you’re interested in exploring.

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Best Neighborhoods in Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa’s 38 neighborhoods are spread out among four major quadrants: Southwest, Northwest, Southeast, and Northeast.  Some neighborhoods consist of affordably priced tract developments, and some are more rural executive style properties. Our selection of neighborhoods should help you get a head start on finding just the right home for the lifestyle you’re looking for.

Downtown

With development starting in the 1850s, Downtown is the central hub of the city’s four quadrants. Tenth Street on the north, E Street on the east, 1st Street on the south, and Jefferson Street on the west create this area’s borders. Hwy 101 runs north-south right through the middle of Downtown, dividing it into the western historic Railroad Square side, and the historic east side with Santa Rosa Plaza and eclectic businesses along 4th Street. With the freeway dividing Downtown, it had an unattractive industrial vibe during the 1970s through the early 2000s. But thoughtful revitalization work is bringing the Downtown area back to its former historical charm.

Most homes are small vintage two- and three-bedroom bungalows or Victorians, and 55% of Downtown residents are homeowners. When you explore Downtown, park your car, then enjoy the easy walk throughout the area. Friendly shop owners will welcome you into antique stores, unique specialty boutiques, and locally-owned businesses. The friendly residents and business owners give the Downtown area its gracious down-home vibe. As a Downtown resident, you’ll find it easy to run your errands. Once you’ve crossed off everything on your shopping list, enjoy the varied options for food and drink. Goji Kitchen, Rosso Pizzeria and Bar, and Acre Coffee Roaster are just some of many popular stops.

  • Population: 3,714
  • Median home value: $547,930
  • Median rental price: $1,881
  • Schools: Sequoia Elementary School, Santa Rosa Middle School, and Santa Rosa High School

Northeast

North of Highway 12 and east of Highway 101, Northeast once was mainly farmed in prune orchards, but today you’ll find subdivisions built in the 1970s through the 1990s. The legacy of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz lives on in the Northeast neighborhood. Peanuts fans can explore The Charles M. Schulz Museum and skid around on the ice at the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, fondly known as Snoopy’s Home Ice. The Finley Aquatic Center houses the region’s largest swimming complex. This neighborhood is close to the Pacific Coast Air Museum, plus Hanna Winery and Vineyards, the Martin Ray Winery, and Kendall-Jackson.

With 57% of residents owning their homes, Northeast has a suburban feel and homes are usually on large lots. The Kaiser Medical Center and Sutter Medical Center, along with many medical offices and associated amenities are in this area of Santa Rosa. Even though Northeast can be busy and feel very suburban, you’ll still see farm stands dotted around the area that sell local produce. The median household income is $72,272, and 25% of residents are families with children.

  • Population: 41,536
  • Median home value: $610,000
  • Median rental price: $1,311
  • Schools: Yulupa Elementary School, Maria Carrillo High School, and Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter School.

Southwest Santa Rosa

Located west of Highway 101 and south of Highway 12, Southwest consists of a variety of subdivision developments with local corner shopping centers located throughout the area. Homes in this area of Santa Rosa are more affordable than the central and northeastern areas of the city and vary between two-story farm designs, ranch, and transitional styles. Known for its family-friendly vibe, Roseland Village is one of the most popular subdivisions in Southwest Santa Rosa.

Santa Rosa Auto Row is on Corby Ave which runs parallel to the west side of Highway 101. If you’re looking to buy a car or need your car serviced, this is the happening place. If you’ll be commuting, Highway 101 is easily accessible from Southwest Santa Rosa.

With 51% of residents owning their homes, the area is just about equally divided between renters and homeowners. The median household income is $56,192, and 37% of households have children.

  • Population: 41,797
  • Median home value: $351,500
  • Median rental price: $1,341
  • Schools: Gravenstein Elementary School, Hillcrest Middle School, Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter School, Analy High School, and Technology High School.

McDonald Historic District

Bordered by Bryden Lane on the North, 4th St on the south, and Steward St on the west, the McDonald Historic District is a charming area about eight blocks east of Downtown where 59% of residents own their homes. Beautiful historic architecture and the highest concentration of 19th-century buildings in Santa Rosa showcases homes in Greek Revival, Mexican period, Victorian, and Gothic styles. Because of the unique properties that evoke bygone days, McDonald Historic District has provided the setting for some memorable movies such as Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt,” “Pollyanna,” and “Scream.”

Folks who live in this small neighborhood appreciate its peaceful, charming vibe with friendly neighbors, and its well-established atmosphere. They enjoy ‘buying local’ at Oliver’s Market, a small independent neighborhood store, the Spa at Montecito Heights, and love the activities provided by the Sonoma County Family YMCA. The sidewalks along the wide tree-lined streets make this district easy and pleasant for walking.

  • Population: 3,145
  • Median sale price: $680,000
  • Median rent price: $1,873
  • Schools: Proctor Terrace Elementary School, Sequoia Elementary School, Santa Rosa Middle School, and Santa Rosa High School

Mark West Springs

Defined by Fulton Rd on the west, Franz Valley School Rd on the north, and Mark West Springs Rd on the south, this area has a lovely rural vibe. As you drive through Mark West Springs, you’ll notice spacious properties, especially closer to the foothills where many people have horse paddocks and stables on their land. Housing is made up mainly of single-family homes and townhomes, but you can find a few mobile home parks too. Mark West Springs is attractive to executives and families with school-aged children and residents have a higher income than 91% of US neighborhoods.

Some 14% of residents, a higher number than the US average, work from home. Those who commute spend, on average, 20 minutes each way on their commute. You’ll find it easy to run your errands right in your own neighborhood. Small locally-based businesses sit along Old Redwood Highway. Mi Ranchito, Bad Ass Coffee Mark West Springs, and Carmen’s Burger Bar are popular places to catch up with friends over a casual meal. Mark West Lodge, an event center and restaurant, is housed in a beautiful old barn among greenery.

  • Population: 2,491
  • Median real estate price: $929,176
  • Average rental price: $3,004
  • Schools: San Miguel Elementary School, Mark West Charter School, Mark West Elementary School, and Maria Carrillo High School

Bennett Valley

Located about 10 minutes southeast of Downtown, the main roads that define Bennett Valley are Bethards Drive, Tachevah Drive, Bennett Valley Road, and Yulupa Rd. Bennett Valley housing is 81% more expensive than average California neighborhoods, and 96% more expensive than average neighborhoods in the US. Housing consists mainly of three to five or more bedroom single-family homes, some of which are grand and stately, but you can find a few mobile home parks for more affordable options. The majority of Bennett Valley homes are owner-occupied, and properties are beautifully maintained.

Like the Oakmont neighborhood, a few homes were built between 1940 and 1960, but developers built most between 1970 and 2000. Although property prices are high, the demand for real estate is above average and may be a sign that Santa Rosa housing prices will start to rise again. More households consist of married couples than 98% of all US neighborhoods. If you’re a young single professional, you may want to consider other neighborhoods.

You won’t have to travel far for errands – two handy shopping centers, Annadel Shopping Center and Bennett Valley Center, cater to Bennett Valley residents. Golf is just around the corner at Bennett Valley Golf Course. Locals gather at Legends Sports Grill to enjoy the view of the greens while having a meal. Galvin Park is a 24-acre green space with soccer fields, baseball diamonds, and tennis courts.  The median household income is $82,274.

  • Population: 20,994
  • Median real estate price: $509,200
  • Average rental price: $1,590
  • Schools:  Yulupa Elementary School, Rincon Valley Middle School, Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter School, Santa Rosa High School, and Maria Carrillo High School

Oakmont

Defined by Highway 12 on the east, a major amount of Oakmont land is taken up by Annadel State Park.

Oakmont home and rental prices are more expensive than 75% of California neighborhoods and 95% of US neighborhoods. Housing is available in many sizes and configurations, from the small studio or two-bedroom apartments to medium-sized three to four-bedroom homes and townhomes. Although some homes were built between 1940 and 1960, the majority were built between 1970 and 2000. The area is considered to be established but not full of old housing.

An interesting fact about Oakmont is that up to 16% of residents work from their homes. This percentage puts Oakmont 99% higher than most neighborhoods in the US for at-home workers. If you are commuting in Oakmont, plan to spend 15-30 minutes each way driving to work. Most residents rely on their cars to run errands, as most amenities aren’t within walking distance.

The area is known for its peaceful, quiet vibe. Oakmont residents have a higher income than 65% of US neighborhoods, with 52% of the working residents employed in management, executive, and professional occupations. Most residents are upper-middle-income.

  • Population: 26,905
  • Median home price: $843,415.
  • Average rental price: $2,715
  • Schools: Austin Creek Elementary School, Strawberry Elementary School, and Rincon Valley Charter School

Burbank Gardens

Named after the famous horticulturist, Luther Burbank, this historic neighborhood is bordered by Santa Rosa Ave on the west, Highway 12 on the south, South E Street on the east, and Sonoma Ave on the north. Burbank Gardens is a small neighborhood about seven blocks by three blocks filled with many basic, small two-bedroom, one and a half bath, one-story homes. Their charm is their vintage age and character – many even have delightful white picket fences.

You can learn more about Luther Burbank and his influence on the plants we’ve come to love at the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens in the northwest corner of the neighborhood. The riparian nature of Matanzas Creek, which runs along Sonoma Ave at the northern border of the neighborhood, influences the community’s gardens. This family-friendly, quiet, residential area doesn’t have its own commercial center so you’ll have to venture out for shopping and other errands.

Burbank Gardens features Santa Rosa’s tallest, and most incongruous, building. The 14-story residential high-rise caters to low-income seniors. This housing explains why the median income in this neighborhood is $46,243, significantly lower than Santa Rosa’s median household income of $73,724.  Although public transportation availability is average, Burbank Gardens is delightfully walkable, and you’ll see friendly residents often out on a stroll with their dogs. Burbank Gardens has a walk score of 76/100, transit score of 47/100, and bike score of 71/100.

  • Population: 1,717
  • Median sale price: $480,000
  • Median rent price: $1560
  • Schools: Brook Hill Elementary School, Luther Burbank Elementary School, Herbert Slater Middle School, and Montgomery High School

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