Stretched along the Petaluma River between the Pacific coast and California Wine Country, Petaluma earns high marks for its pastoral setting and small-town vibe. About 40 miles north of San Francisco, the community also has cultural and culinary highlights well worth a journey. “Petaluma is on the way to a lot of really great local wineries and the Sonoma Cheese Trail, so it’s easy to stop by on the way to those,” says Angelo Sacerdote, who opened Petaluma Pie Company in 2010 with his life and business partner, Lina Hoshino. “There’s real natural beauty here and a great agricultural history that people are working to keep alive as well.” To explore Petaluma’s noteworthy attractions and new additions, plan a day or a weekend trip to the Sonoma County city.
Where to Eat
This time of year, holiday treats top the list of popular items at Petaluma Pie Company. The cafe’s pumpkin pie recipe, reformulated for the 2017 season, features a swirl of maple syrup and brown sugar; the apple pecan crumble with salted caramel is a reported favorite of staff members and guests alike.
Petaluma Pie sources organic butter, eggs, milk and other ingredients locally, working with First Light Farm, Devil’s Gulch Ranch, Cowgirl Creamery and additional regional partners to create its sweet and savory menu items. Sacerdote says customers appreciate the bakery’s commitment to local producers, and his team enjoys the opportunity to serve fresh flavors while supporting neighbors.
Travis Day of Petaluma’s Thistle Meats also values the accessibility of farm-to-table elements.
“We are right down the road from most of the farms we work with,” he says. “Because we’re sandwiched between Healdsburg, San Francisco and Napa, it seems inevitable that this community would have a significant culinary scene.”
Day took over Thistle Meats earlier this year, and his whole-animal butcher shop and salumeria serves fresh meats, charcuterie, prepared foods and a petite lunch menu. He brings an extensive culinary background to his work, which means that customers will find more than just traditional cuts and cured meats.
“We make our own sauerkraut. I’ve fermented a ton of green tomatoes. We’ve canned Bolognese and tomato sauce, too, so we can carry those products through the winter season. We’re constantly pushing the envelope to see what else we can bring to the market,” Day says.
The Drawing Board also opened in downtown Petaluma in the past year, introducing another sustainably minded option that showcases the area’s orchards, ranches, dairies and vineyards. Not far away, Vine and Barrel holds tastings and special events at its bottle shop and wine bar, focusing on local blends and spotlighting boutique reds and whites through its wine club. Brewsters Beer Garden + Restaurant rotates regional selections through its 30 taps and offers cocktails, lunch and dinner in a family-friendly setting that has open-air Beer Garden + Restaurant rotates regional selections through its 30 taps and offers cocktails, lunch and dinner in a family-friendly setting that has open-air tables, a bocce court and a children’s play area. Lagunitas Brewing pours its signature and seasonal brews and serves food in a lively setting on the edge of town.
Things to Do
Petaluma’s postcard-pretty, pedestrian-friendly downtown district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A former Carnegie Library built with locally quarried stone now houses the Petaluma Historical Library & Museum, with exhibits that spotlight local Native American culture, industry and heritage. The 1904 structure centers on a striking leaded-glass dome and also retains round leaded-glass windows and original interior woodwork. McNear’s Mystic Theatre, built in 1911, and the adjacent McNear’s Saloon & Dining House remain popular more than a century after rising on Petaluma Boulevard. Vaudeville acts were the Mystic’s original headliners. Today, the venue hosts performers ranging from Jackie Greene to Colin Hay to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
Just across the river, the Petaluma Arts Center holds concerts, film screenings, theatrical events and rotating exhibitions in a historical railroad station freight building. The neighboring Petaluma Visitors Center, set up in a 1914 train depot that’s also adjacent to the downtown SMART (Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit) station, is a good place to seek out additional information and itinerary suggestions.
Stroll Petaluma’s downtown streets to explore galleries, antique shops, clothing stores and specialty shops. At the Petaluma Seed Bank, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds sells non-GMO seeds, gardening tools and gifts in a stately former bank building. (The company has announced plans to move to another Petaluma Boulevard North location in the spring of 2018.) Copperfield’s Books brings an array of new, used and rare titles together in 10,000 square feet of retail space spread over multiple floors. To the north, off Highway 101, more than 60 major brands offer clothing, shoes, home goods and other items at the Petaluma Village Premium Outlets.
Petaluma Calendar: Winter 2017
Holiday Lighted Boat Parade
Brightly lit boats travel the Petaluma River Turning Basin, treating downtown guests to a festive holiday gathering. Dec. 9
My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra
Learn about the life of the beloved American singer and actor while enjoying performances of some of his most beloved songs at the Cinnabar Theater. Dec. 15-Jan. 14