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An Evening in Historic Downtown Petaluma

Spend a night out on the town in Petaluma's newest beer garden, Brewsters Beer Garden.

Finally, for a real taste of local culture, check out Aqus Café in Petaluma.

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About a 45-minute drive from San Francisco, Petaluma gives visitors their first taste of Sonoma County: Rolling dairy land, artisan foods and craft brews, and historic architecture and landmarks.

But “P-town,” as locals often refer to it, is more than just a gateway to adventures found in the rest of Sonoma County. It’s a destination in its own right, and if you happen to make it your basecamp, Petaluma has plenty to offer.

Nightlife in the city of eggs and arm wrestling 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. This list compiles some of the best — and some of the more unique — nightlife spots in Petaluma that are all within walking distance of the historic downtown.

For Beer Enthusiasts

Any beer geeks out there itching for something other than wine in wine country? Petaluma is the proud home of some world-class brews (here’s looking at you, Lagunitas), and there are a few places to put on your list for a night in the downtown.

Situated right on the Petaluma River, Taps Beer Co. & Kitchen features dozens of ciders, ales, lagers, sours, and, on occasion, meads to try. Have fun sampling and learning or just get a pint and kick back for some good conversation. But whatever you do, come ready to enjoy hearty pub food with a local twist, and be sure to snag a seat on the deck overlooking the river.

brewsters beer garden petalumaFeaturing over 30 rotating craft brews, Brewsters Beer Garden on historic Water Street is another good venue for quenching a beer lover’s thirst. And if craft cocktails are more your thing, they’ve more than got you covered there, too (a Petaloma, anyone?). More than “just” good brews though, family-friendly Brewsters delivers a California interpretation of southern barbecue with plenty of open-air seating, a bocce ball court, and a fire pit to cozy up to on those chilly Petaluma nights. And don’t forget to check their calendar for the latest music gig — they offer live entertainment every Thursday through Sunday night.

Just across the Petaluma River, The Block Petaluma is another beer garden and community staple not to be missed. Constructed specifically as a gathering spot for food trucks and families, this open-air venue boasts fire pits, games, live music, and dozens of beers on tap. Catch a rotating offering of award-winning food trucks or enjoy the resident pizzeria while catching up with friends.

For Wine Lovers

Whether you’ve been enjoying local wineries all day or you’re getting ready to start your night with some tasting, now’s the opportunity to refresh that palate with some experiences only available in Petaluma.

la dolce vita petalumaTucked into Theatre Square next to the Faces of Petaluma fountain, La Dolce Vita Wine Lounge gathers boutique wines from near and far into one place where people can sip and savor from the comfort of couches. With a cozy atmosphere and knowledgeable, welcoming staff led by the inimitable Sahar Gharai, La Dolce Vita easily accommodates connoisseurs and casual imbibers alike. Order flights of wine, wine by the glass, or a half-carafe or bottle for the table whilst enjoying a rotating menu of Italian-inspired local cuisine. Thinking of dinner and a movie? La Dolce Vita’s got you covered there as well with a nightly classic film, often of the 1950s and 60s persuasion.

If you’re looking for some late-night wine education and shelves of wines to choose from, head on over to Vine & Barrel Wines, where you might find proprietor Jason Jenkins ruminating with regulars about up-and-coming Petaluma Gap wines. Enjoy a glass before continuing your night out or stay and enjoy the tapas bar in the back.  

For those who like to be in the middle of it all, Incavo Wine Tasting & Collective has incomparable open-air lounge seating with views of the historic clock tower. Against a backdrop of early 20th century architecture, enjoy the hustle and bustle of main street while tasting flights of some of the best Sonoma and Napa wine country has to offer. Or relax inside what has aptly been decorated as a wine cave and chat with the wine lovers behind the bar.

Spirits and Food

When it comes to signature cocktails and late-night bites, Petaluma doesn’t disappoint.

drawing board sonoma county

For some of the most creative cocktails in downtown, head over to The Drawing Board, another bona fide flag bearer of the community-driven local foods movement. If you didn’t think activated charcoal, bee pollen, yarrow, or snap peas would ever get their due bar side, think again. Here you’ll find creations such as the Petaluma Bouledardier and the Widowmaker alongside an impressive wine list and a savory selection of salads, soups, small plates, and seasonal entrees.

If you’re up for a wee walk across the river, go check out some classic concoctions at the long-beloved watering hole, Mario & John’s Tavern. Since opening in 1946, Mario & John’s has consistently delivered comfort drinks with a lively, warm atmosphere.

With all these craft cocktails, grabbing a bite to eat isn’t such a bad idea. And Speakeasy, a gastropub located in Putnam Plaza in the heart of downtown, is a must. Whether it’s their famous lobster macaroni and cheese, their respectable taco assortment, or a combination of the hearty starters, all served until 2 a.m., the tapas-style Speakeasy experience is a late-night gastronomical godsend.

Activities and Events

Near the Speakeasy in American Alley is sister restaurant and jazz club The Big Easy. With a full calendar of nightly shows (excepting Mondays), this “underground” venue showcases both local and national talent and always delivers a great time. Enjoy dinner and drinks with a comedy show, theatre performance, or, most often, music sets of varied genres.

the big easy in petaluma sonoma countyAnother, perhaps unexpected, place to find an array of community activities and events is Jamison’s Roaring Donkey. Yes, they feature a dozen variations of the Moscow Mule and two dozen beers alongside an impressive cocktail list, but they also provide a space for live music, dancing, trivia nights, open mic nights, and even painting nights. Check their event calendar and let your creative side loose.

Finally, for a real taste of local culture, check out Aqus Café, perched near the Petaluma River. Featuring literary open mic nights, Celtic music sessions, trivia nights, writer and artist meet-ups, classical music concerts, language lessons, and more, this art gallery and bistro showcases the pulse of Petaluma. Check their calendar for upcoming events.

Written by Sonoma County Insider Sierra Downey.

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