Santa Rosa, an area of rugged hills and valleys north of San Francisco, is the commercial center of a broad set of suburban communities and small towns making up Sonoma County. Geographically this area is just north of Marin County, the upscale set of San Francisco suburbs, and extends into open and unsettled areas far north of the city. Santa Rosa itself lies along U.S. 101 near the communities of Rohnert Park, home of a California State University campus and some high tech industry, and Petaluma, a growing former agricultural center. Just east across a low mountain range is the wine-growing center of Sonoma, and west the area extends to the rugged Pacific coastline.
Downtown Santa Rosa is modern and very pleasant, and has a surprisingly strong arts base considering its size and proximity to the San Francisco powerhouse. The area has a complex and mixed economy, partially self-sufficient and partially dependent on San Francisco and other Bay Area cities. Proximity to San Francisco and popular areas south, a relatively bucolic setting compared to those areas, and an excellent climate has brought considerable growth pressure. This has been managed fairly well, and the area has avoided some of the sprawl explosions seen in other parts of the region.
Health statistics are affected by poor air quality and exorbitant health care costs. Many parts of the area are quite rural in character, but that drives living and housing costs up. Finding local work is possible but challenging, many do commute towards “the City.” For those who can establish themselves economically and avoid the commutes, this area is one of California’s best.
Valleys are attractive and mainly flat, and surrounded by low, forested hills near the coast. The climate is Mediterranean marine with consistently comfortable summer temperatures and cool summer evenings. Winters vary from pleasant and sunny to chilly and wet. Most rain falls during winter and can be heavy, although the mountains reduce the force of Pacific storms. Freezing weather occurs occasionally.