Santa Rosa's Railroad Square draws tourists, locals with its shops, eateries and nightlife
Anchoring the west end of Santa Rosa’s historic Railroad Square district is the former Northwestern Pacific Railroad depot, a pillared stone building constructed by local stone masons in the early 20th century.
Yesterday’s narrow-gauge train is long gone, replaced by today’s SMART train, which stops right behind the depot. Commuters to Marin County hop on, while tourists hop off and spend a few hours in Railroad Square shopping, noshing, and snapping photos of the buildings, some on the National Register of Historic Places.
Buildings that once served as warehouses, canneries, macaroni factories, breweries and other turn-of-the-century enterprises now house small shops, antique emporiums, a wine tasting room, eateries and a few watering holes.
Want to explore Railroad Square? A good place to get oriented is the California Welcome Center and Santa Rosa Visitors Center in the train depot, where a small museum of old photos and memorabilia sets the scene of the historic district. Volunteers here are loaded with walking tour maps, brochures, souvenirs, and advice about the entire Sonoma County wine region and beyond.
Bordered by the SMART train, with a Marriott and a Hyatt Regency hotel on one side, and the AC Hotel by Marriott under construction on the other side, Railroad Square is entering a new era.
“We’re enjoying some new day-trippers from along the SMART train line, and look forward to visitors from San Francisco when the train is connected to the Larkspur Landing ferry terminal, within six months or so,” said Mike Montague, president of the Historic Railroad Square Association.
“In the meantime,” he added, “We are the same quaint, friendly neighborhood of restaurants and boutique businesses in wonderful historic buildings.”
Housed in a massive, circa-1920 brick edifice on Fourth Street, Whistlestop Antiques will be celebrating its 45th anniversary on Sept. 15 during the Santa Rosa Art & Antiques Fair. It’ll line Fourth Street and the block fronting the train depot. The free event will include a classic car show, food trucks, live music and numerous arts, crafts and collectibles vendors.
Inside the lofty, 10,000-square-foot halls of Whistlestop are vintage treasures to be discovered from more than three dozen dealers. Shoppers can find Bakelite jewelry, Native American handcrafts, model trains and toys, sports memorabilia, and furniture from every era.
“Besides our local browsers, we’re now getting a real boost in visitors, due to the SMART train. We call them our ‘train people.’ (They) are mostly retired, relaxed folks who have time to ramble around, shop, and eat and drink in our restaurants,” said Dee Richardson, store co-owner.
“We do expect an even more diverse demographic when the train connects to the San Francisco ferry, and soon when the new AC Marriott hotel opens,” she added.
Among a bevy of boutiques, Disguise the Limit Costumes on Fourth Street features crazy outfits, masks, wigs and makeup for merrymakers.
On the corner of Wilson and Third streets, Hot Couture has for three decades been famous for vintage clothing, hats, dresses and accessories from the 1920s through the 1970s. Its men’s aloha shirts are in high demand.
Just north, The Batcave Comics & Toys lures kids and comic fans into their basement lair; Old Town Furniture next door and Olde Towne Jewelers across the street, are popular stores.