A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, Santa Rosa, 95404

Location aliases: Usually referred to as "the Rural Cemetery." Note, however, that many locals have a vague understanding of the area and that name may include what is actually Santa Rosa Memorial Park, another cemetery adjacent to the Rural Cemetery, and also that the Rural Cemetery itself includes a number of different sections, some of which are referred to by other names, notably the Odd Fellows Cemetery, to the north and west, but bird watchers usually mean the wooded area of Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery proper when they say "the Rural Cemetery."

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Location: The entrance is at the intersection of Terrace Way and Franklin Ave. (the point at which McDonald Ave. becomes Franklin Ave.), Santa Rosa, CA 95404

GPS address: 1500 Franklin Ave. will take you close to the entrance to the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

GPS Coordinates: The entrance is at 38 27 14N, 122 42 14W

Access: Steele Ln. is the closest exit from Hwy. 101. Head east on Steele Ln. to Franklin Ave. Turn right (south) on Franklin Ave. (note that Steele Ln. becomes Lewis Rd. as you cross Mendocino Ave.). On Franklin, you will first pass another cemetery, Santa Rosa Memorial Park, on your left, but continue until you come to Terrace Way, a small cross street, also on your left. Beyond Terrace Way, Franklin will become McDonald Ave. (and you've gone too far). Parking on the street at Terrace Way. Alternatively, you can park on Monroe St. and enter through a gate close to the intersection of Monroe St. and Franklin Ave. (look for the Civil War Memorial). Otherwise, easily approached from the south, on McDonald Ave.

Suggested Route: I like to stay to the right after entering at the main gate from McDonald Ave. and then turn left to walk along the row of very tall mature eucalyptus trees on the east side of the cemetery, continuing roughly northwest along the trees until the small hole in the fence that gives access to the open grassy area with graves that is the Odd Fellows Cemetery. After scanning the Odd Fellows Cemetery, re-enter the wooded area from the other end (there is a second opening in the fence (on the Franklin Ave. side) that re-enters the Rural Cemetery proper). Pass through that opening and walk back on any of the paths through the graves and old oaks.

Habitats: Suburban park, mature oaks, mature evergreens, mature eucalyptus

Typical Species: Oak titmouse, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Western Scrub-jay, Steller's Jay, American Crow, House Finch, Dark-eyed Junco, White-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Townsend's Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Black Phoebe, California Towhee, Spotted Towhee, Northern Mockingbird, Western Bluebird, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Acorn Woodpecker, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Cooper's Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Golden-crowned Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Lesser Goldfinch, American Goldfinch

Unusual birds, sightings: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (3/12-3/17/17, Debbie Drechsler); European Goldfinch (3/16/17, Wendy Dandridge). Good spot to look for warblers during migration

Restroom facilities: None at the cemetery. Closest will be at Pacific Market (see below).

Restaurants Nearby: If you find yourself here just before or after lunch, the best bet may be sandwiches from the deli at Pacific Market, at 1465 Town & Country Dr. (at the corner with Elizabeth Way), Santa Rosa, CA 95404 (546-3663). The market is one block to your right on Terrace Way if you're facing the entrance to the cemetery. There is a bakery next door. There is also a burger joint and a pizza place in the same block, although I don't know anything about these. For sandwiches, there is a Safeway with a deli at 2300 Mendocino Ave. (569-3100), in the shopping center at the corner of Steele Ln. and Mendocino Ave., about five minutes away. There are other fast food places in the same shopping complex, as well as a Starbucks. There is a Peet's Coffee & Tea just north of the shopping center, at 2500 Mendocino Ave. (568-3464). Also see the Nagasawa Park page for other ideas in the general area.

Nearby attractions: The 17-acre cemetery, established in 1854, is of considerable interest in itself. Although the pathways are haphazard in places, many graves have fallen in, and there are obvious signs of vandalism, there are some remarkable headstones and inscriptions. Guided tours are often available in the summer months (look for posted signs).

Nearby McDonald Ave. was (and still is) where many of Santa Rosa's wealthiest people lived in the days of the city's early expansion. If architecture interests you, a drive down McDonald Ave. and some of the side streets can be rewarding. The house used in Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) is at 904 McDonald Ave. The grandest of the lot is the McDonald Mansion (1878-79), at 1015 McDonald Ave., home of Col. Mark Lindsay McDonald, the man that operated Santa Rosa's first water company and the builder of the Santa Rosa Street Railway (defunct). The mansion, originally called "Mableton" and sometimes referred to by that name, has recently been splendidly restored. Birder's may enjoy knowing that Santa Rosa's Lake Ralphine was named after McDonald's wife. Lake Ralphine was originally built as a reservoir to supply McDonald's water company.

A bit further away, Paradise Ridge Winery at 4545 Thomas Lake Harris Dr. Santa Rosa, (528-9463) is worth a visit. The giant oak tree at the entrance to the winery is used by an acorn woodpecker colony. The views from the winery are excellent. The winery also has an extensive outdoor sculpture garden.

Related bird watching spots: Closest to Nagasawa Park, but most of the Santa Rosa locations listed on this site are within about 15-30 minutes by car. See individual location pages for details.

Notes: High school students from the area often hang out here, but I've never heard any reports of trouble. Many people walk dogs here unleashed, which is an annoyance.

All photos by the author, unless otherwise indicated

Maps by Google Maps