Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery – A peaceful oasis in the middle of the city

This week I would like to talk about one of my new favourite hangouts in town. I first became intrigued by the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery when I passed it in a car – it looked very mysterious and inviting from the outside, like a forest in the middle of the city, and the name was interesting to me. When I read on the excellent birding website Sonoma County Birdwatching Spots that it was a great birdwatching location, I was even more keen to visit as soon as possible.

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, Santa Rosa, California

The main entrance to the cemetery at the end of McDonald Avenue. Doesn’t that windy path look enticing?

My new friend from Malaysia who I took with me to visit the cemetery thought it was decidedly odd that a cemetery would also be a park, but I spent a few happy years of my childhood living next to the Camp Hill Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia (she is obviously not a Smiths fan, either!). As we lived in an apartment building it doubled as a bit of a backyard, I was even taught to ride a bike there! What do you think, my friends? Let me know in the comments if you think it is weird to enjoy wandering about in cemeteries? I love it!

Back to this cemetery…the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery is a 17-acre historical site, which was founded in 1854 and most of the graves are from the 1850s to the 1930s. The cemetery suffered from neglect and vandalism during the mid century, until the city took it over in 1979. Things really improved in 1994 with the formation of the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery Restoration Committee, which made great progress in clearing overgrowth, repairing damage and planning for future maintenance. Today the only new burials are those of the descendants of families who held deeds to the existing burial plots. There are over 5,200 graves in the four cemeteries which are collectively known as the Rural Cemetery. Docent-led tours are held during the summer and lamplight tours with historical reenactments are held each September as fund-raising events (source: City of Santa Rosa).

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, Santa Rosa, California

The central path, not far from the entrance.

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, Santa Rosa, California

My favourite part of the cemetery by far (and the place with the best birdwatching opportunities) is the mature eucalyptus grove which is off to the right of the cemetery from the main entrance. The trees are HUGE, and the atmosphere is so serene and peaceful. There are bee colonies inside the trunks of the trees as well, which is nice to see.

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, Santa Rosa, California

Here are a few photos of some of the graves I found interesting (click on any photo to see a larger version):

Once you walk through the eucalyptus grove, you can continue on to a more open area where there are several more traditional “golf course” style cemeteries (i.e. they cut all the trees down and maintain grass everywhere):

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, Santa Rosa, California

Check out the moon! 🙂

Coming back out to the main entrance, I discovered McDonald Avenue, part of a historical district I had not been to before. This is a wide boulevard with huge houses where some of Santa Rosa’s wealthiest residents have lived since the city’s early expansion in the 1870s. Notable buildings include the Mableton mansion built by the McDonald family in 1879, and a house that was used by Alfred Hitchcock as the principal location for his 1943 thriller Shadow of a Doubt. Many houses on that street were used as filming locations, for other films as diverse as Scream (1996) and All My Sons (1948) (source: Dear Old Hollywood blog). I didn’t know this when I visited, so the only photo I got there was of me enjoying some beautiful roses on a street corner!

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, Santa Rosa, California

The Details

Location: The Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery is located on Franklin Avenue. There are entrances at Monroe Street and at MacDonald Avenue. Parking is on neighboring streets or near the Town & Country shopping center.

Hours: Daily from  6am-9pm (PDT) and 6am-6pm (PST)

Further information

City of Santa Rosa’s Rural Cemetery website

Colin Talcroft’s birder’s information on the cemetery

Robby Cress’ excellent guide to McDonald Avenue filming locations

Thank you for stopping by! I look forward to our next virtual encounter, my friends – in the meantime you might find me happily locking my bike at the Cemetry Gates (sic) for another visit!