Picturesque Petaluma

Words by Sophia Markoulakis

Words by Sophia Markoulakis

Petaluma is a town with multiple personalities. Visitors willing to make a detour on their way to Sonoma County’s wine country will find a community that’s rooted in history yet focused on progress. Historic buildings hum with cutting-edge eateries and boutiques, while cultural attractions marry its agricultural past with modern art and innovative public spaces. It’s just one of the reasons why Petaluma has so many Peninsula transplants—the small-town charm lures both young couples looking to raise a family and recent retirees wanting to stay within reach of San Francisco. Spend a weekend here and you’ll find yourself planning your next trip to Petaluma before you’ve even checked out of your room.

Best Bites

There’s no shortage of fantastic food options in Petaluma. Several restaurants have San Francisco pedigrees like Table Culture Provisions and Pearl Petaluma. Restaurateurs Roberth and Andrea Sundell, who operated Pläj in San Francisco for 10 years, decided to bring modern Scandinavian cooking to Petaluma in 2018 with the opening of Stockhome on Western Avenue. “We fell in love with Petaluma the first time we drove through. We also wanted to raise our kids in a small town,” Roberth says. Stockhome’s menu, infused with Middle Eastern influences, pays homage to the Swedish capital’s contemporary cuisine.

Last spring, Julio Ortiz and his brother Jorge realized their dream of opening a restaurant in the town where they grew up. Since then, Quiote, their unassuming spot on Kentucky Street, has elevated the area’s Mexican dining scene. “Even though we serve dishes from the entire Mexican Republic, my family is from Jalisco, and the Jalisco dishes on the menu come from my mom,” he says of mother Gloria, who splits her time between the kitchen and the dining room. “It’s been fun to work with her and explore my roots through the food we serve.” Don’t miss Gloria’s mole, which is served over chicken enchiladas.

Stop & Shop

Petaluma remains an antique shopper’s destination but as the town changes, so have the tastes of its residents. As a result, you’ll find a wide range of stores, selling everything from vintage furniture and estate jewelry to modern furnishings and clothing you’d find in stylish L.A. or London boutiques.

The 1920s-era Vintage Bank Building on the corner of Petaluma Boulevard and Western Avenue is an exceptional example of neo-classical revival bank architecture. From 1995 to 2022, the building housed antiques dealers. Today, it’s occupied by the unique gift shop Au Thentic. Pop in to admire the building’s magnificent interior and leather goods.

A block away, stop by Avinage Wine Shop, run by husband-and-wife team Damien Carney and Shree Starkman, for Old World wines. Carney also stocks his favorite minimal-intervention labels from nearby vineyards. As a former wine buyer, he hand-picks each bottle and has a popular centerpiece table with wines priced at $25 or less. On the “Table of No Regrets,” find stellar selections from France, Italy, Spain and California.

Maude Rare Finds on Western Avenue carries bespoke and vintage clothing, home goods and children’s items in an ethereal space. Around the corner on American Alley, Pennyroyal offers a highly curated assortment of housewares, like locally made ceramics and leather goods. Home cooks should head over to Sonoma Spice Queen on 4th Street for hard-to-find spices, custom blends and gifty food items.

Gardeners won’t want to miss Baker Creek Seed Bank on Petaluma Boulevard, the place to plot out your late summer or fall garden with specialty seeds.

Hunting for European antiques? Head to French Salvage Antiques, just a couple of blocks from the main shopping district. Owner Laurie MacDuff carries an impeccable assortment of French country and provincial items.

Wine Tasting

Even though wine country is right on its doorstep, few visitors think to look for tasting opportunities in Petaluma’s vineyards. The area’s new Petaluma Gap AVA—which spans over 200,000 acres from Bodega Bay to Sears Point at Highway 37—aims to change that. Cheryl Quist, executive director of the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance, says the AVA is the only one defined by wind patterns. “Our signature wind and fog has a profound effect on grapevines, with smaller berries and thicker skins, producing richly textured and deeply flavored wines that have caught the attention of collectors and enthusiasts.”

Pinot noir is the predominant varietal grown here, with three-quarters of its crops devoted to this finicky grape. The rest is split between chardonnay and syrah. With tasting rooms like Brooks Note and Adobe Road downtown, plus Keller Estate and McEvoy Ranch offering tours and tastings nearby, you’ll have plenty of options to sip and swish.

For a unique experience, head just outside of Petaluma to Panther Ridge, where owner Suzanne Farver will guide you through her Sonoma Mountain vineyard and a tasting of award-winning pinots in her private residence. Farver, an avid art collector, has artwork displayed in her home and among the vines.

Settling In

Downtown landmark Hotel Petaluma is centrally located and a great choice for enjoying the commercial district’s shops and restaurants. Designed by San Francisco architect Frederick Whitton, the five-story Mediterranean-style structure has been the most exclusive spot to stay since the 1920s. In addition to updated rooms, guests can enjoy in-house oysters from The Shuckery and Barber Cellars’ tasting room and cheese shop.

Looking for somewhere else to lay your head? The Hampton Inn Petaluma, situated on the east side of downtown, is a fun option. The property, formerly the Petaluma Silk Mill, manufactured sewing products and silk threads for almost a century before it was transformed. BPR Properties retained the building’s Georgian Colonial Revival exterior and kept period touches in guest rooms, along with artifacts from its former life in the common areas. Those looking for something a little more unconventional should turn to the Metro Hotel & Cafe, a boutique property filled with antiques and the option to stay in Airstream trailers or a two-story cottage.

With memorable restaurants, charming shops and a selection of great vintages (of both the wine and antique varieties), pretty Petaluma has a lot to offer the weekend visitor.

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