If you’ve never heard of Petaluma or have only come across its name on menus — the charming town is known for its exceptional chickens — allow us to fill you in. Located 40 minutes north of San Francisco on Highway 101, Petaluma is quickly becoming wine country’s hottest new region — in fact, the Petaluma Gap is set to become Sonoma County’s newest AVA (American Viticultural Area).
While it’s not as well known as nearby Sonoma or Healdsburg, a historic downtown with destination breweries, antique shopping and ample restaurants make it a place worth visiting. Here are our top tips for exploring Petaluma.
The best place for breakfast is Della Fattoria. Housed in a 150-year-old building, this delightful bakery and café churns out crisp, chewy baguettes and salty rosemary Meyer lemon boules. When baker Kathleen Weber started making loaves 21 years ago, Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star The French Laundry was among her first clients.
Order the beans on toast — a thick slab of housemade bread is topped with a chunky puree of cannelloni beans with roasted garlic and chèvre.
For lunch, head to Thistle Meats, a beloved artisanal butcher shop owned by chef Travis Day. Not only does Day have grass-fed, pasture-raised beef, poultry, lamb and pork, but he also makes pâtés, salumi and terrines that are turned into mouthwatering sandwiches.
Also on offer are salads, soups and other food items like local cheese from Cowgirl Creamery and Andante Dairy. The menu changes often, so be sure to pop in a few times to see what’s available.
Or time your visit to one of Day’s monthly Sunday Supper Series, where his chef friends from San Francisco stop by and cook a five-course, family-style meal.
There are plenty of wonderful restaurants for dinner; just walk up and down Petaluma Boulevard or Kentucky Street and you’ll come across Mexican eateries, pizzerias and even a corner spot devoted to oysters called The Shuckery. In the Great Petaluma Mill, directly on the riverfront, you’ll come across Wild Goat Bistro, an intimate place that offers something for everyone, from gluten-free pizza with housemade fig spread and prosciutto to red-wine-braised short ribs with a potato leek cake.
Central Market turns out wood-fired, farm-to-table cuisine in a relaxed, but refined setting. Order a salad of gem lettuce with Point Reyes blue cheese followed by ocean trout crudo with jalapeño guacamole or Italian sausages with cheesy baked polenta.
At newcomer The Drawing Board, enjoy a plant-forward menu that showcases Northern California ingredients. Although it’s not strictly vegan, you can indulge here with a more mindful and healthy outlook. Devour carrot lox with vegetable cashew cream cheese, chickpea fries with green goddess dip and roasted vegetables with warm anchovy garlic sauce.
Looking for an excellent coffee? Acre is where you’ll find it. The local roaster has multiple locations in Petaluma where you can sip an expertly made cappuccino or Instagram-worthy latte.
Though the coffee is a highlight, another brew is also famous — Petaluma is something of a beer town. Lagunitas Brewing Company was born here and its taproom and beer garden is a destination for many beer lovers. Live music is on the agenda and a kitchen pairs the beloved brews with hearty pressed sandwiches and other foods that soak up beer, like decadent nachos.
There is also 101 North Brewing Company, a craft brewery that specializes in IPAs, stouts and red rye ale.
If you’re more into wine, Keller Estate should be on your radar. The winery is just outside of town on top of a hill overlooking seemingly endless rows of vineyards. Tastings are by appointment only and include a tour of the facility. Because of the distinct winds in the Petaluma Gap, chardonnay and pinot noir grow best here and that’s exactly what you’ll taste at Keller Estate.
Don’t have time for an appointment? Enjoy a glass of the estate’s vino at La Dolce Vita Wine Bar, a quaint spot with couches and bar tables and classic movies projected onto the wall.
You could spend all day walking the streets of Petaluma’s adorable downtown. There are galleries, antique shops and clothing boutiques offering endless hours of browsing. At the Seed Bank, an heirloom seed company housed in the 1920s-era former Sonoma County National Bank building, there are more than 1,800 varietals on hand. While you’re here, shop for other gardening tools, books and gifts.
Also of note is Copperfield’s Books, a two-story bookstore that’s been around since 1981. Upstairs you’ll discover all the latest and greatest tomes, along with magazines, journals and cards, while downstairs you can search for ancient treasures among the used volumes for sale.
Those who prefer the outdoors should drive through the rolling hills to the west of Petaluma and visit McEvoy Ranch. One of the largest producers of estate-grown, organic extra virgin olive oil, the ranch offers a variety of experiences, from walking tours to sit-down tastings.
The sustainably farmed property features 550 acres of olive trees, grape vines, flowers, fruit and vegetables. Many of these products are used in a high-end body care line called Ode. We’re huge fans of the olive oil salt scrub; it’s a great souvenir to remember your trip to Petaluma.
If you need accommodations, check into The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa, which sits 13 miles east of the city. After a day of sightseeing, the newly renovated hotel is a welcome respite, especially its refreshing pool, calming Spa at Renaissance Sonoma — a local favorite — and the rooms’ pillow-top beds.