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Santa Rosa is oft maligned as a place to stay when visiting Sonoma County. The frequent criticism is that it does not have the "ambience" of wine country and thus is not a suitable location. It is a misconception that one cannot have an enjoyable experience unless they stay in a cozy inn or quaint hotel that is located near the wineries. Visitors have different travel styles and needs and not everyone can afford the cost of "wine country ambience", so please don't be too quick to tag the town of Santa Rosa as unsuitable.
Things about Santa Rosa that make it a great location to base your Sonoma County visit: it offers a wide price range of lodging choices and styles, from inns to resort properties, mom and pop places to chain hotels; the array of dining options runs the gamut from fast food to gourmet fare, brewpubs to award winning fine dining; it is centrally located in the county which provides easy highway access to all routes to wine country; aside from food and lodging, there are museums like the Schulz and the Burbank home and gardens to explore.
One of the unique areas to stay in Santa Rosa is Railroad Square area - there is a good mixture of lodging, restaurants, shops and more. This area has modern hotels to classic historical hotels such as Hotel La Rose, a charming place for a wine country vacation.
Santa Rosa is a college town as well so there is a number of student oriented coffee houses, restaurants, and more.
Reasons folks give for not staying in Santa Rosa: its urban, and thus lacks the ambience of wine country; its noisy; it represents sprawl;Santa Rosa is within a few miles of many wineries, with several wineries being in Santa Rosa. It is right by highway 101 - and you can be in Healdsburg in about 20 minutes (give or take dependent on traffic.)
Its true that Santa Rosa isn't for everyone; but that doesn't mean it can't be just the right place for some people. There really is nothing wrong with staying there. Its probably not the place to "find wine country", but its a GREAT place find your way to wine country.