Whether it’s music, art, crafts, theater, or film, a vibrant arts scene is richly woven into the very fabric of Petaluma, a culturally diverse town in southern Sonoma County. Here’s a quick overview of a few of the possibilities.
Petaluma’s live music scene often surprises people with its depth and diversity. McNear’s Mystic Theatre in historic downtown Petaluma has been described by many as the North Bay’s premier music venue. It presents an eclectic variety of performances, including all types of rock, funk, blues, roots, reggae, ska, Western swing, and more, in a building that was constructed in 1911 to host live Vaudeville entertainment.
The Big Easy jazz club is an “underground” venue featuring live music six nights a week. It showcasies both local and national talent, with music sets of varies genres, as well as comedy or theater performances.
Live music is also offered most nights at Jamison’s Roaring Donkey, a quirky little bar in downtown Petaluma. Brewster’s Beer Garden, a large outdoor dining and beer garden experience, offers live music Thursdays to Sundays, with Bluegrass & Bourbon Nights on Thursdays.
Great local bands play almost every afternoon at the Lagunitas Brewing Co. TapRoom and Beer Sanctuary; from May to October the place becomes an outdoor amphitheater for a free concert series (tickets are required but free).
In August, the family-friendly Petaluma Music Festival offers a day of music for people of all ages, plus fine beers, premium wine tasting, and specialty food and craft vendors. Proceeds from the non-profit festival benefit the music education programs in Petaluma area schools.
Of course, this is just a sampling. Check our Calendar of Events for upcoming musical performances and other activities.
Petaluma boasts a number of art galleries that offer handcrafted jewelry, paintings, and sculpture by contemporary artists of local and international renown. Riverfront Art Gallery takes the lead in organizing the Second Saturday Art Walk, held March to November. The number of participating galleries varies, but there’s always a wide range of artwork represented — traditional, experimental, performance, decorative, and more. Each site hosts its own reception.
The Petaluma Arts Center hosts art exhibits, concerts, cultural performances, art classes, literary and film lectures, and community events in a former railroad train storage and repair building. The center presents six to seven exhibits during the year, each on display for four to seven weeks. There’s a youth show in March, a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) display in October and November, and a members’ show each December to January. To learn more, read A Storehouse of Creativity: Petaluma Arts Center.
And each September the Petaluma Arts Association presents Art in the Park, a free family event offering the chance to meet local artists and artisans, and see their work. For two days the work of local painters, photographers, jewelers, weavers, sculptors, and metal artists fills the city’s Walnut Park. The day includes live music and art demonstrations. Children are welcome, and get to create their own art.
Housed in a remodeled 1908 schoolhouse, Cinnabar Theater offers a mix of plays, musicals, operas, and concerts in a range of genres. This intimate, jewel-box theater has produced successful shows in Petaluma for more than four decades.
Each fall, the Petaluma Shakespeare Company presents the Shakespeare on the River Festival outdoors at the Foundry Wharf. Audience members bring lawn chairs or blankets and enjoy the free show, and a concession stand sells snacks and beverages. For 2018, the festival offers “As You Like It” and “Speechless Shakespeare,” a vaudevillian presentation of The Bard’s works performed without spoken words.
And for three days each October the Wine Country Spoken Word Festival presents some of the best storytellers nationwide in performances in various locations in Petaluma. The event includes workshops, and features local storytellers as well as national international spoken word artists, including comedians and poets. A relative newcomer to the Petaluma arts scene, the festival grew out of West Side Stories, the successful monthly story-slam at Sonoma Portworks.
Each spring, the Petaluma Film Alliance presents Film Fest Petaluma, which showcases the best new animated and live action short films from around the world. Films are shown at the Mystic Theater and the festival typically offers opportunities to engage the filmmakers in conversation.
As a side note, picturesque Petaluma has served as a location for many major films — American Graffiti (1973), Cujo (1983), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), Basic Instinct (1992), Scream (1996), Pleasantville (1998), Cheaper by the Dozen (2003), and many more. For details on these and other movies filmed in Sonoma County, read Sonoma County Movie Locations Tour Itinerary.
Of course, the arts are just one aspect of vibrant, dynamic Petaluma. For more ideas of what to see and do, read 5 Fun Things to Do in Petaluma, Guide to Wine Tasting in Petaluma, An Evening in Historic Downtown Petaluma, and 48 Hours in Petaluma.