Petaluma Historical Library & Museum

Sonoma County is home to one of the state’s oldest and most historic cities: Petaluma. It boasts a well-maintained downtown that is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

First settled in 1851 and chartered in 1858, Petaluma straddles the Petaluma River and has been prosperous from its early days, thanks in large part to its importance as a shipping port. That prosperity translated into beautiful homes and impressive commercial buildings, all of which managed to survive the 1906 earthquake that devastated many other Bay Area cities.

Petaluma has evolved through the years, and today it combines the best of the 21st century with a deep respect for the past.

In the historic downtown, beautifully renovated 19th century buildings hold acclaimed farm-to-table restaurants and cafĂ©s, modern art galleries, unique clothing boutiques, and the small-but-fascinating Petaluma Historical Library & Museum, which is housed in a former Carnegie Library building. The museum offers docent-led tours of the historic downtown area.

Before exploring Petaluma, you may want to drop in at the Petaluma Visitors Center, located in a renovated Mission Revival train depot just steps away from downtown. They’ll provide you with maps, self-guided tour itineraries, and lots more.

Here are five things to do while you’re in town:

Visit Location Scenes from Famous Movies

With immense small-town charm and historic buildings that include an array of architectural styles, Petaluma has often been used for location shoots for classic films such as American Graffiti, Basic Instinct, and Peggy Sue Got Married.

A self-guided walking tour will take you to key locations for these and other films, most located in and around the historic downtown area (which has a walking tour of its own). You’ll encounter many entertaining diversions along the way, including antique stores, art galleries, excellent restaurants and cafĂ©s, and even an heirloom seed store. 

Explore the Petaluma Adobe

The Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park was the main residence of Rancho de Petaluma from 1834 to 1846
Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park

Visiting the Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park is like being transported back to the great rancho era: Most of the adobe bricks are original, farm animals roam the property, authentic period furniture and equipment fill the rooms, coyotes and foxes can be spotted in the grasslands, and on Living History Days, docents in period dress perform chores in the good ol’ ways. 

In the 1830s and -40s, this adobe compound was known as Rancho Petaluma. Now a National Historic Landmark, it was then the largest privately-owned adobe building in what would soon be known as California—and ranch headquarters for the region’s most important early historic figure, General Mariano Vallejo. The park is beautifully situated amidst quiet farmland and oak-studded hills, and the shaded tables are perfect for picnics. 

Browse Antique Shops

Petaluma’s compact downtown is home to an unusually large number of antique shops, each with a distinct personality.

Housed in a magnificent 1926 Neo-Classic Revival bank, Vintage Bank Antiques offers three floors crammed with paintings, jewelry, furniture, and objets d’art. The Military Antiques & Museum sells everything from battlefield relics to antique firearms, and bayonets.

Some 20 independent dealers contribute to a giant collection of goods at the Petaluma Collective. And at Doll Mercantile you can find dolls made with China heads, German porcelain, hard plastic, and tin; the store also restores or repairs dolls. 

Paddle the Petaluma River or Petaluma Marsh

A group kayaks in the Petaluma marsh with Clavey Paddlesports in Petaluma
Clavey Paddlesports

If you’re into stand-up paddling or want to give it a try, Petaluma Stand Up Paddle will rent you a paddle board, give you a mini-lesson (if you need it), and get you paddling away on the river.

Prefer a kayak? The Petaluma Marsh Tour at Clavey Paddlesports takes you out on the Petaluma River and into the peaceful waters of the nearby marsh to explore grass- and reed-lined sloughs alive with waterfowl.

Enjoy a Bit of Nightlife

A group of friends enjoys drinks at the bar at Brewsters Beer Garden, Petaluma
Brewsters Beer Garden

A night on the town in Petaluma covers everything from pub quizzes to painting nights to karaoke, and whether you’re a beer, wine, spirits, or soda pop person, there’s a guaranteed good time for you here. 

Petaluma is the proud home of some world-class brews, at places like LagunitasTaps Beer Co. & KitchenBrewsters Beer Garden, and The Block Petaluma. Wine lovers should check out La Dolce Vita Wine Lounge, and Vine & Barrel Wines. There’s also live music at the jazz club The Big Easy and Jamison’s Roaring Donkey, which offers a dozen variations of the Moscow Mule and two dozen beers alongside an impressive cocktail list.

For more details, read An Evening in Historic Downtown Petaluma.

Written by Sonoma Insider Jessica Quandt.

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