I’m a walker. Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s I walked long miles to school and home (by choice) and by high school I regularly walked from my home in the Silicon Valley sticks to downtown Palo Alto or vice versa, a distance of 5 miles each way. I left home at 18 and everywhere I’ve lived since — Santa Cruz, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Alameda, Orcas, Santa Rosa — I’ve walked extensively. It’s what I do for fun, exercise and relaxation. When the coronavirus hit I plumb burned up all my usual local neighborhood walks in downtown Santa Rosa. In looking for new routes I rediscovered a network of paths sitting right beneath my nose.
In at least two of Santa Rosa’s central neighborhoods there exists an interconnected network of back alleys that are downright delightful to walk. These alleys serve as driveways to the backyard garages of many of the houses. I’m told, too, that in decades past they were used for garbage pickup. Some of them are paved, some are gavel and some are dirt. Some are pristine and some are so overgrown that they are only traversable by foot.
The first thing I notice every time I step into one of them is the silence and the clean air. Given that they see virtually no automobile traffic and are buffered from the surrounding streets by backyards and houses, they are delightfully serene. Backyard gardens lend to the clean air. My favorite stretches are the grassy, unpaved ones that are littered with beds of pine needles and shaded by tall trees. On hot days they provide respite from the sun and on rainy days they protect from the elements.
The architecture one encounters in these alleys is delightfully quaint and old-fashioned. It harkens back to another age. I’ve seen barns, old sheds with sliding wooden doors, boarded-up shacks, actual cabins and any number of interestingly constructed garages.
These alleys stretch as far as seven to eight blocks at a go. They are the very definition of quiet, country lanes.
If you choose to walk these forgotten back-alley lanes, please remember to show proper respect to all homeowners and their neighborhoods. Be quiet, don’t linger, don’t take photographs (it should be noted that the photos in this article were all taken from the street), don’t litter, be courteous to the people you meet and report any suspicious activities to the police.