When I want to spend a low-key day moseying around a cool neighborhood in Santa Rosa, I head to the SOFA district.

SOFA cool neighborhood in santa rosaSOFA, or in layman’s terms Santa Rosa’s South A neighborhood, is found on…well, South A Street, at the intersection of Sebastopol Ave. This smattering of small businesses and art galleries qualifies as a bona fide cool neighborhood in Santa Rosa and is the perfect place to take your time, visit with friends who you’ll almost surely run into, or just grab a coffee. Plus, there’s free 2 hour parking so you don’t have to panic about the meter.

Criminal bakery cool neighborhood in santa rosaEarly in the day I like to start at Criminal Bakery at 463 Sebastopol Ave. They open at 7:30 AM weekdays, 8 AM weekends, and only stay open until about 2 or 3 depending on the season. So it’s a perfect place to stop in for something delicious to nosh on before perusing other shops. Criminal uses locally sourced ingredients so their bakery and casual eatery menu items are on constant rotation, always giving their patrons something to look forward to. They are friendly and familiar with their regular customers, asking about upcoming trips or recent visits from relatives, and the selection of baked goods makes my eyes all a­goggle. Here’s a short video of Dawn from Criminal Bakery talking about the SR foodie scene.

Criminal1 cool neighborhood in santa rosaSadly I can’t eat sweets first thing in the morning, but luckily they have a dangerously tempting selection of warm, savory items as well, including Huevos Rancheros, frittatas, English muffin sandwiches, and more. I pair it with a glass of hot tea and I’m good to go!

Jeramiah2 cool neighborhood in santa rosaA few doors west and directly on the corner is the aptly named Jeremiah’s Photo Corner, a small shop full of every element of a photographer’s needs: film, backdrops, tripods, various things I don’t know the use of because I’m not a photographer and, of course, cameras.

Jeramiah cameras cool neighborhood in santa rosaIn the back, Jeremiah has a studio where he takes the most exquisite and striking tin-type portraits, among other things. It’s worth a stop in to see the photos taken over the years…or buy a camera themed tote bag or necklace for the picture taker in your life.

JamJar1 cool neighborhood in santa rosaFrom Jeremiah’s, I always turn right like a moth to a flame and head to JaM Jar, ­a gorgeous little jewelry and art boutique owned by friends Jamie Jean Wilson and Molly Perez. Wilson makes the jewelry, while Perez creates the art found on the walls throughout their small shop. The place is teeming with creativity and the heart and passion these ladies feel for their crafts is fully apparent in every detail. They’ll be celebrating their three year anniversary this coming Friday, January 29. I’m sure they’d love it if you stopped by.

JamJar2 cool neighborhood in santa rosaThese artsy ladies are in perfect company; the SOFA district houses around 30 artists’ studios tucked inside its unassuming buildings and down its alleys. That’s more than anywhere else in Sonoma County, and when the studios are open, it is an unforgettable visual treat.

Atlas1 cool neighborhood in santa rosaSince shopping makes me sleepy, after I leave JaM JAr I turn right again and walk until I get to the alley where I’ll find Atlas Coffee. This place reminds me of being an angst-y young teen who spent hours upon hours writing emo poetry in the corners of my favorite coffee shop. The music sways between rockabilly and punk on any given day, there’s always new art on the walls, and there’s a spacious courtyard for those with kids, dogs, or the need for a good healthy debate with friends.

Juliard park cool neighborhood in santa rosaCoffee in hand, I might walk a little through Julliard Park if the Bocce league is out in their all whites playing a game, or if there’s live music or another event happening. Otherwise, a walk down Art Alley is a must.

ArtAlley2 cool neighborhood in santa rosaEverywhere you turn in the SOFA district you’ll find a mural, a yarn bombed bike rack, a sculpture, or any other manner of art being fueled into whatever form it can find.

ArtAlley1 cool neighborhood in santa rosaIt can take some time to see it all, especially if you enter one of the warrens of artists’ studios ­but it’s worth it.

mural cool neighborhood in santa rosaIf you don’t have time for all the galleries, you’ll still see plenty just walking around.

Spinster sisters cool neighborhood in santa rosaOn the southwest corner of South A and Sebastopol Ave (directly kitty corner from Jeremiah’s) is The Spinster Sisters.

spinster2 cool neighborhood in santa rosaIt’s an open plan restaurant with bar seating in the middle where locals ­or tourists who’ve done their research come for an incredible meal, or just a glass of wine or beer. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with a smaller bar menu between later services, this place is always high on our go-to list. And yes, there’s always a rotating art show up on the walls.

Imaginist1 cool neighborhood in santa rosaFinally, if you’re lucky, there will be a performance happening at The Imaginists, Santa Rosa’s most avant-garde theatre company. They’re right next door to Criminal Bakery, which is good because I’m a fan of full circle days. The Imaginists team, headed by founders Brent Lindsay and Amy Pinto, is continually breaking the norm and blowing expectations out of the water with their innovative, political, provocative and inclusive style of theater. For me, it doesn’t matter what production they’re performing,­ every one is a thought-provoking masterpiece not to be soon forgotten.

Next time you wake up at a reasonable hour and think “I’d really love a muffin,” find your way to South A, and see where the day takes you.

In the meantime, if you want to keep up with the goings on in this cool neighborhood in Santa Rosa, you can keep up with events like Winterblast, gallery openings, and monthly art walks by visiting SOFA’s Facebook page*