Unlike Sacramento’s Old Town, Monterey’s Cannery Row or Disneyland’s Main Street, the charm and energy of Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square hinges on the fact that it’s real. It's not a tourist center filled with cute little shops sporting fake facades and hawking overpriced wares. Instead, Railroad Square is where the locals—-as well as the tourists—-come to eat, shop, hang out and play. You can dine at one of the famous gourmet restaurants, find a refrigerator for your home, browse one of the trendy boutiques, people-watch while drinking a latte, and buy another chicken for your coop, all within the same few blocks. Could you find an appliance shop or animal feed store at Pier 39? I think not.
Each different section of the square has its own character. Each individual shop exudes the personality of its owners. This area isn’t completely pristine and color-coordinated. Yet, everything comes together beautifully, anchored by the commanding presence of the turn-of-the-century stone buildings. And the entire Railroad Square District is listed with the National Register of Historic Places.
We’ll start our walking tour at Depot Park, located west of Hwy. 101, where 4th and 5th streets dead end. (Not far behind the Santa Rosa Plaza shopping mall.) If you drive here, there’s parking in the area, but bring some change to feed the meters.