Sacramento and Petaluma can relate to each other.
Both have suffered from inferiority complexes, sometimes seen as mere stopovers to other, more popular destinations. For Sacramento, one hears about its proximity to San Francisco, Lake Tahoe and Napa. For Petaluma, it’s San Francisco, Sonoma and Point Reyes. But like Sacramento, Petaluma boasts its own charms and attractions, all worthy of exploration.
Once known as the egg basket capital of the world (back in 1918, the town produced more than 16 million dozen eggs), Petaluma celebrates its agrarian roots every spring with Butter & Egg Days, highlighted by a parade through its historic downtown. And in an effort to keep big box chains out of downtown, where many buildings emerged unscathed from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, signs plead to keep Petaluma “eggcentric.”
Petaluma has provided the “Anytown, USA” backdrop for countless movies, the most famous being American Graffiti. Every spring, Petaluma’s Salute to American Graffiti celebration features crusin’ hot rods, live rock ’n’ roll and dancing in the streets.
Still, the city—celebrating its 150th birthday this year—is changing with the times: Modern live/work spaces are popping up, and the theater district, adjacent to downtown, was recently revitalized.
With its many attractive amenities, old and new, Petaluma provides for a pleasant getaway.
First Things First: Make the Visitors Center your first stop. Located at a renovated train depot, the bright-yellow building is impossible to miss. Friendly staff members can provide you with brochures, maps and guides to themed walking tours, from film locations to Victorian homes to trees. Pick up a copy of Visit Petaluma, which is packed with things to see and do. 210 Lakeville St./Highway 116; corner of Lakeville and East Washington streets
Historic downtown and theater district: While away the hours perusing antiques shops, art galleries and coffee joints amid well-preserved commercial buildings dating from the 1860s to early 1900s. Indulge your inner child (or, simply, your child) at Toys West (151 Petaluma Blvd. S), a family-owned business selling everything from stuffed animals to construction sets. A Man’s World Cigar Shop (106 Petaluma Blvd. N), peddles “anything for the smoker,” including pipes, humidors and, of course, cigars. Staying for the evening? Take in an indie-folk or roots-rock concert at the circa-1911 McNear’s Mystic Theatre (23 Petaluma Blvd. N). When hunger strikes, McNear’s Saloon & Dining House, a popular spot for pub-style fare, is right next door. Or if you’re craving Mexican, wander over to Tres Hombres (151 Petaluma Blvd. S) in the theater district. Weather permitting, sit outside and be lulled by water cascading from the plaza fountain designed by Davis-based artist Donna Billick. The popular libation on a Tuesday afternoon? Margaritas! We spied several people indulging.
Petaluma Adobe: This National Historic Landmark was once the largest and most prosperous private Mexican ranch in Northern California. Displays help you ponder ranch life in the mid-1800s. The tour is self-guided, though docents are available most Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 3 p.m. Fandango, a celebration signaling the end of ranching season, is recreated at the adobe Oct. 4 from noon to 4 p.m. Ten minutes east of downtown at 3325 Adobe Road
Garden Valley Ranch: Situated on 9 lush acres, this garden-rose ranch is a bountiful bouquet for the senses, open for touring most Wednesdays through Sundays. Roses abound here—10,000 rosebushes call the ranch home—but so do a variety of perennials, annuals and shrubs, and a 75-foot pond full of koi. The best months to tour are May through October, but call ahead as the ranch occasionally is closed for weddings. Don’t go home empty-handed: The on-site nursery allows you to purchase a fragrant keepsake. Ten minutes northwest of downtown at 498 Pepper Road