A Walk in Petaluma’s Historic Downtown

Petaluma River

A leisurely walking tour of historic Petaluma, stopping along the way for lunch, is a great way to explore the area while relaxing with family or friends.

People walk by historic buildings

First settled in 1851 and chartered in 1858, Petaluma is one of the state’s oldest cities. From early days it was prosperous, thanks in large part to the fact that it straddles the Petaluma River, making it an important regional shipping port back in the day.

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.

Before starting your excursion, you might want to drop in at the Petaluma Visitors Center. It’s located in a handsome renovated Mission Revival train depot just off the freeway and on the way to the historic downtown area. The enthusiastic volunteers can answer any questions you have, provide maps and brochures, and give you tips about where to park and things you shouldn’t miss.

A clock tower is reflected in the windows of a Victorian building

Then head off to explore Petaluma’s downtown streets and alleys on foot. A good deal of this area — filled with ornate iron-front buildings from the 1860s-1890s — is  listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A few of the highlights include:

  • American Trust Company, 101 Petaluma Blvd. North: It’s a tribute to Petaluma’s wealthy agricultural beginnings that it could support magnificent bank buildings anchoring each end of one commercial block. Built in 1926, this building is now Vintage Bank Antiques. Every inch of its three floors, including the former vault, is crammed with furniture, bibelots, memorabilia, paintings, and more. 
  • Temperance Fountain, Corner of Western Avenue and Petaluma Boulevard: Erected in 1891 by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, this solid-marble fountain makes no bones about one of the day’s major issues. Engraved in bold letters across its face are the words “Total Abstinence is the Way to Handle the Alcohol Problem.” That probably didn’t put much of a dent in the business that Petaluma’s 50 saloons were doing at the time. And it didn’t stop residents from making bootleg booze — not to mention drinking it in speakeasies — decades later, during Prohibition. Here’s a good read on Petaluma’s Prohibition days.
  • Clock atop the Masonic Building, Western Avenue and Petaluma Boulevard: The city’s Masons were obviously prospering when they erected this impressive Masonic Lodge in 1882. But the real talking point here is the huge clock atop the building. Built in Connecticut, it shipped ’round the Horn to San Francisco. From there it traveled over the Bay and up Petaluma Creek, somehow making it onto the roof.
The museum is surrounded by colorful trees in the fall
Petaluma Historical Library & Museum

There is much more to marvel over here. In addition to exhibits on local history, the Petaluma Historical Library & Museum offers free guided walking tours of the historic downtown led by a costumed docent on Saturdays from May to October. 

The Visitors Center offers a list of 38 historic stops in the space of just a few blocks, as well as directions for a self-guided tour of the city’s stunning Victorian-era homes, with architectural styles that include Queen Anne, Victorian stick, Gothic Revival, Colonial Revival, and many more (they just don’t build ’em like that anymore!).

Two people smile as they talk to their server in a restaurant
Della Fattoria

The most difficult aspect of your visit will probably be in choosing where to eat. Petaluma is a foodie haven, offering a bit of something for everyone. In the old U.S. Bakery building (circa 1860), Della Fattoria café and bakery offers delicious, wholesome meals and baked goods, beautifully prepared and presented. And in the Great Petaluma Mill building, Wild Goat Bistro uses local, fresh ingredients in a variety of culinary traditions to create specialty Neapolitan-style pizzas, innovative salads, scrumptious main dishes, and sharable small plates. For other lunch options, read Where to Eat: Restaurants in Petaluma

Although not historically known as a ‘wine country’ destination, vintage downtown Petaluma has long been home to some of Sonoma County’s finest wine country cuisine.

People sip on wine at a table along the river
Adobe Road Winery Tasting Room

In the Petaluma Mill, Adobe Road Winery pours their Cabernet Sauvignon and other award-winning wines. 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.

A stylish wine bar in Petaluma’s theater district, offering tempting food pairings, La Dolce Vita stocks a good selection of the Petaluma Gap region’s hard-to-find wines.

People smile and walk in the historic, stone courtyard
Hotel Petaluma

Restored to recall the grand old days of hotel travel, Hotel Petaluma is the region’s newest, and perhaps most stylish option in lodging.

And for more ideas about how to explore Petaluma, check out Getting Around Petaluma, 5 Fun Things to Do in Petaluma, and Guide to Wine Tasting in Petaluma.

Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez.

You Might Also Like

Hamel Family Wines, wine tasting and non-alcoholic tasting

With a massive flood of zero-proof beverages recently hitting the market, it’s become fairly easy to find nonalcoholic alternatives on…

handmade pizza at Glen Ellen Star
Trip Itineraries

As a Sonoma local, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing Sonoma County’s finest offerings and generally end up with the…

Movie Prop Car On Display at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Occidental

As you meander the wee 60-yard block of downtown, strolling its wooden sidewalks past 19th-century, false-front buildings, you’ll feel as…

Winter scenery at Luther Burbank in Sebastopol CA
Outdoor Activities

Lush greenery, foggy coastlines, seasonal harvests and unique wildlife sightings – Sonoma County in winter is a place where visitors…

Hot air balloon ride in sonoma county
Sightseeing & Tours

Without a doubt, Wine Country is one of the world’s most breathtaking regions to travel through whether you are looking…

Girls Getaway in Sonoma County
Food & Wine

Winter might be considered the off-season for many of the world’s hottest travel destinations, but a Wine Country visit between…

Wine tasting at sunset.
Trip Itineraries

Fall is a busy time in Sonoma County — from colorful hikes to the perfect pumpkin patch, discover what locals…

Pig at Charlie's Acres
Sustainable Travel

Need a pick-me-up? These nonprofits offer ways to spend time with cute animals — you could even try some goat…

Yellow wildflowers covering field
Outdoor Activities

Springtime offers a brilliant array of things to see and do in Sonoma County, from wildflower walks to cheese crawls!…

Wingo, California, Sonoma County’s Ghost Town, photographed by @chrisjkam
Outdoor Activities

Traveling mindfully to Sonoma County allows us to have experiences that can be savored in a place focused on and…

See What’s Happening

Share your experience using #SonomaCounty or #LifeOpensUp