Imagine a city in California’s bay area that is close enough to San Francisco’s bustling urban lifestyle to be convenient, but far enough away to be surrounded by the beauty of the mountainous west coast terrain. Lay a blanket of suburban comfort over it, nestle it into the southern tip of Sonoma wine country, and you’ve got yourself Santa Rosa, California. Once a tiny homestead settlement, Santa Rosa became a trading post and incorporated in 1868. It remained a slow-grow Northern California town until just after World War II, when the population took off and the city expanded. Even now, Santa Rosa is still seeing hefty amounts of growth, packing new buildings and amenities in amongst its historic neighborhoods. All this considered, it’s a great place for renters, so let’s get to it!
Santa Rosa has some typical pricing for California, in general, but compared to most other cities in the bay area, renting is really pretty cheap. Buying is a different story, but we’ll save that for another time.
Due to the population boom, it’s easiest to find new construction or renovated townhouses, duplexes, and larger apartment or condominium communities that are being rented out rather cheaply. These places can be a good deal because of their updated interiors and looks, but some of them have a habit of being pretty shoddily crafted due to how quickly they were thrown together. Of course, this isn’t true for every place, but just something to be aware of.
Rental homes or detached houses are pretty common, as well, but don’t expect them to be spacious lots or have large yards, especially in newly developed areas. They really try to make the most of the indoor space, assuming that you’ll go for a walk downtown or take a hike over at Annadel State Park or whatever if you’re looking to spend some time outside.
Santa Rosa has quite a few historic districts in town. Most commercial buildings were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, but oddly enough, most of the houses survived and are still standing to this day (Take THAT, plate tectonics). These tend to be owner occupied, but it’s always worth keeping an eye out if that’s your thing. Historic houses may not be quite as modern (obviously), but they’re a lot more spacious and many of them are in gorgeous, charming neighborhoods.
Smaller and older town houses and apartments can be found pretty cheaply (again, we’re going by California standards, so don’t get too excited) in the $600 - $1500 range depending on size and location. On the other hand, a larger house or apartment in a nicer place could set you back upwards of $2,300 a month. That’s a pretty generous price range, so let’s just say that, on average, don’t expect to find a lot of places for less than $1,000 a month. These places aren’t pits, though; most of them have spacious interiors, updated appliances, and convenient amenities, not to mention the gorgeous scenery. One thing you’re sure to find in a lot of these places though: carpeting.
In single-family homes, you’re less likely to find any utilities included in your rent. With other types of housing, however, it varies depending on your landlord. Also with apartment-like housing, you’d be hard-pressed not to find water included. For almost all types of housing, expect to have some sort of access to a garage or parking lot, especially with houses and town homes. As for the issue of pets, that’s another thing you’ll have to do some asking about before you rent. Santa Rosa has many pet-friendly places, but there may be restrictions as to the type of pet, or a hefty fee tagged on to your damage deposit.
The neighborhoods of Santa Rosa come in many flavors. Some are official historic districts, while others are simply colloquially recognized blocks or neighborhood associations that knit the community together. The city’s population growth hasn’t been entirely good news, meaning safety in some neighborhoods can be a bit questionable, though prices are cheaper. Locals recommend taking a look at Santa Rosa’s newspaper, the Press Democrat, to get a basic feel for where the high-crime areas are before you settle on a place.
Two major highways divide the city into four basic quarters. This will make navigation a little easier when you’re trying to find your ‘hood. Since Santa Rosa has about 30 or so smaller neighborhoods, let’s give you an overview of the city by quadrants to get you familiar:
Downtown: Ok, we lied a little. There’s a fifth “quadrant” in Santa Rosa: downtown. It’s at the center of the four, so it doesn’t quite fit into one entirely, but it was too important not to include. Right in the center of the city is Santa Rosa Plaza, a large mall with chain stores for most your shopping needs. Both major highways that split the city meet in this spot, so it’s easily accessible, if a little bit of a traffic jam sometimes. East and west of the plaza are more classically “downtown” areas with locally owned businesses, eateries and entertainment. The western portion is historic Railroad Square, which is a quaint little area of old buildings and family businesses. Downtown housing is a split between historic districts with large, beautiful houses, pockets of new construction, and many smaller neighborhoods of single-family homes. Good for those who like to be in the center of everything, and easily walkable to whatever you may need.
Northwest: The most typically “suburban” quadrant of the city. Subdivisions, parks and residential neighborhoods full of houses both big and small. Some smaller shopping centers, as well as recreational areas are scattered throughout. This is a great place for families with children or those who desire a quieter “tree-lined street” lifestyle. In short: Very safe, semi-affordable. That’s all you really needed to know anyways, wasn’t it?
Northeast: Certainly one of the most historic parts of the city, but also with some of the most popular neighborhoods, which means two big things: spacious and expensive. Closer to downtown you’ll see gorgeous 19th century homes and very affluent areas. To the north is the neighborhood surrounding Santa Rosa Junior College, which has a young and artsy population. Further out in all directions, new and expensive housing lines winding streets surrounded by gorgeous mountain views and California scenery.
Southeast: Speaking of scenery, the gorgeous outdoors you’ll find winding through the northeast side hit their stride on the southeast. Further out from the city you’ll find Annadel State Park, Hood Mountain Regional Park, and many other great areas for recreation, hiking, and general appreciation of nature. If you’re more the outdoorsy type, consider checking this area out. The housing here comes in all styles, from packs of middle class bungalows to brand new cookie-cutter town homes and condos. With the beauty if nature so close, this part of Santa Rosa is more distant and spread-out. As you near downtown, expect smaller dwellings, lower prices and more high-crime areas interspersed.
Southwest: A more rural area of the city, rife with fields and barren sections of undeveloped land. This quadrant also has a bit of a reputation for being one of the less desirable areas due to crime and gang activity, but also has some more affordable neighborhoods. While technically not part of Santa Rosa proper, the village of Roseland is nestled curiously close to downtown. Roseland and its surrounding area are considered a place to avoid if you’re concerned about safety. The southwest side isn’t entirely bad, but it’s definitely more touch-and-go, so it’s worth mentioning that there are some not-so-great places there.
Here are a couple other important tips and fun facts about the city of Santa Rosa.
The only part of the city to live in where it’s feasible not to have a car is the downtown area, but even then you’re at a bit of a disadvantage if you want to get anywhere else in town. Santa Rosa does have a bus system, The Santa Rosa CityBus, which has 17 fixed routes around the city but isn’t heavily used. To ease up some traffic congestion, a train line between other suburbs and cities in the bay area that runs through Santa Rosa (SMART/Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit) is currently under construction, scheduled for completion in 2014.
If there’s one thing I know you’re looking forward to in SR, it’s the weather. Like much of California, summers are hot, dry and brimming with sunshine. Winters are mild, wet and rarely include even a flake of snow. The only hazardous “weather” condition to be aware of is the possibility of earthquakes. Even though they’re not an everyday worry, Santa Rosa sits along the Hayward-Rodgers Creek fault system, and so is susceptible to a shake, rattle and/or roll every now and then, but this isn’t Virginia, so most quakes are slept through anyways. The fault may be to blame for a bit of mayhem in the past, but also a lot of beauty. The city is watched over by hilly nearby mountains, and its borders are abundant with (mostly) undisturbed nature, including the previously mentioned parks and preserves on the east side. Wildlife is a common sight here, in neighborhoods and even downtown.
I mentioned the population growth earlier, which is both a blessing and curse (much like the fault system, funny how those things work). Since Santa Rosa has so many quiet and quaint neighborhoods, it attracts a lot of families and married couples looking to settle down. Over half of households in the area are families with school-aged children, although there is not a shortage for young adults, college students and singles. On the whole, the population is relatively high income and well educated, however there are sections of the city that are working class, and a moderate immigrant population throughout.
Santa Rosa is often referred to as a suburb of San Francisco, since it’s only about 50 miles north via the Golden Gate Bridge. San Fran may be easily accessible, but the city is by no means dependent on it. Santa Rosa is its own independent city with its own unique features. So now that you know the lay of the land, it’s time to get out in the sunshine and get looking!
Apartment List is your go-to rental site for your apartment search. Browse thousands of new listings every day to give you the largest selection of cheap 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom and 3 bedroom apartments for rent in Santa Rosa. Find studios, condos, townhomes, and homes in your favorite neighborhoods. You can search for all utilities paid apartments, and pet-friendly homes with the tap of a button. With more available listings than Craigslist, you're sure to find a house for rent on Apartment List.