Artists began occupying A Street in 1997 and spurred its much-needed transformation from what peope could only describe as “a ghetto” into an artist’s utopia with small gardens dotting front yards and murals plastered across nearly every vacant wall.
Eight years later, Winter Blast began; an event of local music, food and art that centers on the decoration and parading of couches down A Street. This is when the neighborhood attained its current moniker of the SOFA District. Before then the district was known as the Empire district because of the prominent position of Empire Cleaning there.
Carnivores, Paleo, gluten-free, vegans and vegetarians are all welcome on Sebastopol Avenue and South A Street.
From the farm-to-table fancies of Naked Pig to the peccant pastries of Criminal Baking Company, the art district is awash with delicious, local fresh fare.
The restaurant crawl started at the Spinsters Sisters, a wonderful New Age restaurant serving American cuisine with a rustic twist and a social atmosphere. The restaurant opened in August, 2012, and Executive Chef Liza Hinman has dished out unique and beautiful meals ever since. With an ever changing menu for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, each visit to the Spinsters Sisters is sure to be different and pleasant in a million miniature ways. They also have prices that won’t break the bank; $5-18 for breakfast/lunch and $7-27 for dinner. The Spinster Sisters is a great place for a casual date or night out with friends at their wrap-around bar.
The goat chevre and soco bacon scramble dazzles. The flavors are an adventure of sweet, salty and sour, every bite is another step toward bliss. For happy hour enjoy the onion dip with bagel chips, kim-chi and bacon deviled egg and kennebec fries, all for only $14. If you have only one day in Santa Rosa, Spinsters Sisters is the place to go.
The Naked Pig, an ambitious farm-to-table breakfast/lunch establishment that serves as the district’s frontal attraction, is the first building when turning down Sebastopol Avenue. The atmosphere of the restaurant is indie and homey, almost as though you are sitting in someone’s personal kitchen. Brunch and lunch entrees run from $11 to $15. Everything at the restaurant is fresh and locally sourced. The restaurant’s staff is friendly, welcoming and eager to please customers and make them feel at home.
Atlas Coffee is a utopia of pastries, coffee and local art that serves as a hub for locals to mingle, caffeinate and enjoy awesome music. The owner, James Podchernikoff, opened the establishment several years ago with the goal of serving local coffee, pastries and tea to people in the community. Atlas Coffee also hosts a number of local musicians, DJs, and artists who perform shows and exhibit their work.
The people make the place and the SOFA district is no exception.
The district is an enclave of creative minds and artistic hands that culminate in a storm of entertainment, love and life.
One of these interesting minds is Jeremiah Flynn, local photographer and owner of Jeremiah’s Photo Corner, quite literally on the corner of Sebastopol Avenue and South A Street. His photography shop is quaint, full of old cameras, photography backdrops and small dogs. It is one of the last local businesses where Polaroid film is still available.
Two neighborhood natives own Jamie and Molly’s Jewelry Art Retail (JaM JAr), an artsy boutique just up A Street. JaM JAr is a little shop where handmade Valentines gifts are available for your significant other for around $20 or a full canvas painting, possibly by Jamie Jean or Molly Perez themselves, can be found for a higher price point.
“We really support local independent artists and so I think we’re doing what we’re passionate about,” Jean said.
This establishment exemplifies the district and serves as a poster child for the types of businesses many denizens of the area would like to see more of. “More retail, more restaurants, more foot traffic, just more,” Jean said.
Another neighborhood staple is the Criminal Baking Company and Undercover Noshery. This little closet of a café sits proudly at the beginning of the row of shops on Sebastopol Avenue and has served guests for three years. Executive Chef and owner Dawn Zaft wants to create “an atmosphere that is like an extension of your best friend’s kitchen.” Zaft refuses to let labels confine her, although she uses the term noshery, a slang word from the ‘60s to describe snack bars and other eateries where small bites were prevalent. She describes many of her baked goods as “big bites.”
Many restaurants of this sort, such as the Naked Pig, tend to use only organic or local ingredients, but Zaft, again, does not confine himself to these standards. “We do everything from scratch. We’re a blend of organic and non-organic, of local and non-local, but whenever the choice is there for us we go for local.”
Over the years Zaft has been at this location she has seen the area evolve. “The seedier element has left,” Zaft said. “But it’s not become overly gentrified, I kind of like the middle ground.”
One cannot talk about the SOFA district without mentioning a couple who has been quintessential in its development over the last three years. Simmon and Robin Factor own the Chroma Gallery, a showcase for local art and hub for community gatherings and art classes. Robin said the Chroma Gallery is “a community-based gallery for the arts community of Sonoma County and the Bay Area.”
The Factors’ gallery has hosted a number of events at Chroma. They did a series of concerts this summer to benefit local artists as well as KRCB, a local public radio station, which sponsored the event.
They want to continue these benefit concerts and support local visual artists in future events. They will have a live performance of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” Dec. 11. They also showcase new art on the first Friday of every month and encourage mingling and socializing among community members. The entire district is encouraged to participate in these events, and many other galleries are also open to promote the social atmosphere.
The Factors are gearing up for the 11th annual Winter Blast on Nov. 14 and Robin encourages attendees to “Just show up. Get a freebie sofa off the sidewalk somewhere, put wheels on it, put some decorations on it and get someone to push you down the street.” The Factors expect nearly 1,000 people to attend and enjoy live music, fire dancers, cabaret acts and delicious food. All of the galleries in the area are open and will exhibit their best work during the event, which will last from 5-9 p.m.
Another important destination in the area is The Peace and Justice Center, where people can go to feel safe in a positive space that promotes community awareness and education on social justice issues. A board of 10 community members governs PaJC with coordinator Shekeyna Black running the center.
PaJC has a library of social justice pieces, civil rights works and other literature important to the mission of the center.
The organization has been around since 1983, and at its current location in the SOFA district for the last 10 years. The center’s mission is to “support and energize the Sonoma County community to create peace and social justice through active non-violence,” according to their website. PaJC sponsors educational events and publishes a bi-monthly newsletter to inform the community.
“People can come in with any kind of question…if we don’t have the answer here or we’re not the right place we can direct people toward the right direction,” Black said.