An Evening in Historic Downtown Petaluma
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 Restaurant and Tasting Room 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.
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.
Tucked 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.
Founded by a performance racing team leader and named for the main road to the adobe where General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo first planted wine grapes in the 1830s, Adobe Road Winery pours their Cabernet Sauvignon and other award-winning wines in the Great Petaluma Mill.
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.
Spirits and Food
When it comes to signature cocktails and late-night bites, Petaluma doesn't disappoint. If you're up for a wee walk across the river, go check out 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.
Another, 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.
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.
Written by Sonoma County Insider Sierra Downey.