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How to Experience Petaluma, California Like a Local…

Petaluma California River

My name is Annette and my city is Petaluma, California.

I have lived in my city Petaluma for a total of 29 years.

My city is best described by these five words: charming, gardening-haven, historic, diverse, and community-driven.

The most famous thing about my city is that the movie American Graffiti was filmed here in 1972. Every year Petaluma pays tribute to the movie with the Salute to American Graffiti event. The downtown streets are blocked off and attendees can view classic cars, listen to rock n’ roll music and cruise the main drag.

The best way to explore my city is on foot or by car. You must stroll through the Historic downtown for shopping and eating, then, drive through the beautiful Victorians that line the West Side.

When my girlfriends come for a visit, I always take them to Hiro’s Japanese Restaurant for the Red Dragon Roll, Ahi Poke and a Sake Cocktail.

The best place to take a guy on a date is to Taps. They are known for their huge selection of beers on tap and loaded hot dogs. It won’t be the most romantic date, but he’ll be happy to see that you can hang drinking brews with the boys.

When I want to eat Thai food, I always go to Lemongrass. They are tucked in the corner of a nondescript strip mall, but have the best Thai cuisine. My favorite is the Som Tum, papaya salad and pad eggplant. But, you must get the crab pad thai when it’s on special!

The most random thing about my city is that every year Petaluma hosts the Ugliest Dog Contest. Dozens of the most beastly looking pups compete for the coveted trophy and $1,000 prize.

Only the Rivertown Revival could happen in my city. It is an arts-based event that celebrates the Petaluma River. It features acrobats, circus performers, 3 stages of music and art boat drag races. The event raises money for The David Yearsley River Heritage Center.

The best place to shop is in the unique stores in historic downtown. Stop by Ooh La Loft for trendy clothing, I Leoni for your Kitchenware’s and Paperwhite for beautifully letterpressed cards and stationary.

A good walking tour is to start at the West End of D Street walk, heading East through the rows of Historic Victorians. Take a left at the old Post Office and North on Kentucky Street for unique shopping, make sure to stop by Tuscan Gardens for beautiful accents for your garden and yard. Go back South down the main drag, Petaluma Boulevard, for more shopping and a scrumptious a lunch.

The best museum is the Petaluma Historical Museum located in the heart of the downtown. The neo-classical style museum was a former library, but now is home to dairy, Petaluma poultry and Miwok Indian history exhibits. They also feature a rotating calendar of unique exhibits and concerts throughout the year.

But for hands on crafts go to the Knitterly for learning the basics of crocheting and knitting. Their selection of unique and plush yarns will no doubt inspire you to create the perfect winter scarf.

The best way to get outside is to go for a hike at Helen Putnam Park. This 260 acre park features panoramic views, a gazebo, children’s playground and a large fishing pond.

For a fun and FREE activity head to Shollenberger Park for to walk (or run) the 2 mile loop. This park has 165 acres of wetlands and 16 acres of accessible trails. The wetlands are a bird watching mecca filled with over 195 species of birds.

For a unique shopping experience hit up HeeBe JeeBe’s and browse their quirky selection of gift ideas. It is one of the few places to find a giant stuffed sock monkey, camouflage rain boots and a devil rubber ducky all in one shop.

Food & Drink

The best breakfast is at the Tea Room Cafe. And make sure to order the Mascarpone toast with sliced strawberries and honey or the Apple and Brie Baguette. But, everything else is just as delicious.

For the best burger go to Sugo Trattoria. Yes. It is an Italian Restaurant. And it happens to be the Italian Restaurant that I own. But, we really do have the best burger. It starts with a half pound Angus Beef patty. Add thinly sliced prosciutto, balsamic caramelized onions and a mound of Gorgonozla cheese. Put that all on a grilled rosemary ciabbatta bun. Yum!

The best place for coffee is Acre on Kentucky Street. Acre is independently owned serving single origin, direct trade coffee sourced from small farms. Yep. They are also the coffee shop that makes pretty coffee art with the foam of your cappuccino. Though their pastry selection is small it is memorable, I always order a cappuccino with the gluten free English muffin with artisan jam.

For a sweet treat head to Lala’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlour and Soda Fountain. The ice cream is produced in small batches in-house. You can’t go wrong with the chocolate raspberry, but for something unique try the ‘honey and tea’.

The best happy hour is at Rosso Pizzzeria. $4 glasses of wine, $6 Sausage pizza, crispy housemade arancinis, meatballs and battered green beans. Need I say more? Yes. All of the food is excellent. You will find me there at least once a week.

For a romantic dinner go to Central Market in the heart of the historic downtown. Ask for a two-top table in the window and start your romantic evening by sharing the oysters from the raw bar menu. For a more quaint experience, head to the warehouse district for a dining experience at Luma. Share the forest mushroom savory bread pudding, it is possible you will fall in love over (or with) this dish.

For 24 hour eats, take the 45 minute drive to San Francisco, because you won’t find anything in town. Though, for late night eats make your way to Speakeasy who is open until 2am. They are an international tapas bistro with a creative menu and out-of-this-world crab cakes.


The best place to go for ladies night is to La Dolce Vita Wine Bar. It is the perfect beginning…or middle…or end to any girl’s night out. There’s nothing like sitting on the patio with a cheese plate and glass of jammy red.

For live music go to Mystic Theater. With a capacity of only 515, just about every seat is a great one. As well as many cover bands, you can hear tunes from many recognizable artists too. The locals (mostly females) flock to the concert hall when the cover band Wonderbread 5 does a show. They entertain with everything from Motown to Bean-town and back.

Our fun festival is the Butter & Eggs Day Parade which draws over 30,000 people. This parade celebrates the town’s history, as the Egg Basket of the world, with egg related floats, marching bands and a ‘cutest little chick’ contest.

The best (& only) movie theater is Boulevard 14 Cinemas. It is located in the theater district amongst several delicious restaurants. This makes it convenient for the perfect date night of dinner and a movie.

For a live show, go to the quaint Cinnabar Theater, a tiny playhouse that features professional operas, musicals and drama. For a special treat, go to a show put on by the Cinnabar Young Reparatory where all the performers are children starting at the age of four.

If my city were a song, it’d be Petaluma Afternoons by Susan Werner which perfectly sums up spending a lazy sunny afternoon soaking up the rays.

Girls of All Ages

The best place to take girls under 10 is Jacqueline’s High Tea where the girls can participate in a fancy afternoon tea party. The young ladies can even dress up in pretty dresses and hats.

However, young teens girls love to go to Powell’s Sweet Shop to load up on modern and classic candy before heading across the street to the cinema to see the latest movie.

Ladies 21 and up should go to the bar at Graffiti for fancy cocktails and then head over to the Tres Hombres bar for a Tequila tasting.

And women really love a $25 foot massage at Jessie Jings. The massage is an hour long and concentrated on making your tootsies feel amazing.

For a fun girls getaway, go to Yountville (about 45 minutes from town) to spend a day at the Bardessono Spa. Spend some time in the infrared sauna to detoxify or indulge in a 90 minute soothing warm stone massage. Afterwards, head to Michael Chiarello’s Bottega restaurant for a wonderful patio dining experience.


The best place to meet a guy is at Lagunitas Taproom on a warm day. Dozens of people, a majority of men, pack into Lagunitas for their made-on-premise beer and music. Pick a seat at one of the communal picnic tables right next to a cutie, chomp on peanuts and drink beer out of their famous dog jar.

The best place to meet a woman is at the bar at Social Club after 10pm. The ladies love hanging out around the bar while sipping on the Tuttle’s Elixirs.

Lot’s of people from my city say that even though the morning blanket of Petaluma Fog is a town trademark, they would never stop calling this quaint town their home.

You can spot a local by the Giants and San Francisco 49er t-Shirts worn at any time of the year. We have die-hard fans here.

The famous person who lived in my city was Actress Winona Ryder who made her debut in Lucas in 1986. Since then she has been in dozens of feature films.

If my city were an animal it would be a chicken because we were know as the egg capitol of the world.

Get Pampered

If you want to get pampered go to Soft Shell  for pampering head to toe. Indulge in a Lavender Bliss Facial or a Body Salt Glow with Light Moisture Massage.

The best mani/pedi salon is Spatini in the old Petaluma Mill. They offer a 60 minute Spatini pedicure that is sure to make your feet smooth and toes pretty.

For a cut and color go to the hip Joe Hamer salon. The stylists are uber-trendy and consistently being trained on the hottest new techniques. Also, if you are a dog lover, you can always find a pooch or two hanging around. They allow the staff to bring them to work.

Whenever I need a massage, I go back to the Soft Shell for the quick fully-clothed chair massage. At $1 per minute, it’s perfect for a fast lunch-time break rub down.


The best season to visit my city is the Fall. This is when the leaves on the trees and vineyards change colors. Locals love to drive down D Street just to see the beautiful colored trees that will line the road.

When it’s hot out, I always go to Dillon Beach for a walk along the ocean and or to hang outside eating oysters Hog Island Oyster.

But on a rainy (or snowy) day head North 35 minutes to Healdsburg to the Hotel Healdsburg to sit on their cozy couches by their blazing fireplace. Order a Kahlua Coffee cocktail to sip while watching the rain fall.

Off the Tourist Trail

The best park is the Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park. Here you can tour the old adobe rooms which will bring you back to the 1830s-40s and learn about its history, as well as have a picnic.

For a good walk/hike, do the Petaluma River Walk which goes around the Turning Basin and Harbor, then across the drawbridge. It is a peaceful walk along the riverfront and through parts of the downtown.

If you want peace and quite, drive West on D Street 12 miles to the Marin French Cheese Factory. Go inside the shop, purchase all the makings for a picnic and sit at a table in front of the pond. Don’t forget to share with the ducks!

To escape the crowds, I take a drive through the country roads where mostly cow roam. Typically, I will head out Bodega Avenue then cut over to Spring Hill Road and then head back into town.

Locals always skip the Premium Village Outlet Malls and opt for either downtown shopping or a visit to a neighboring cities mall.


The most iconic structure is the Clock Tower right in the center of the historic downtown, the corner of Petaluma Blvd and Western. The clocks, built in Connecticut by the Seth Thomas clock company, sits atop the Masonic Lodge.

The best photo opportunities are from the top floor of the Theater Square parking garage. Really! Take the elevator to the open-air 4th floor and get rewarded with a stunning view of the historic downtown and the rolling hills. Many people head up here on the Fourth of July to get a dazzling firework show.

Be sure to get your picture taken with the Wristwrestling Statue at the corner of Petaluma Blvd and Washington. The statue honors local columnist Bill Soberanes, who was the founder of the famous World’s Wristwrestling Championships held in petaluma.


The best book about my city is “Petaluma: A History in Architecture”

To get info on events and activities, read

The best radio station for current hits is Hot 101.7, if you are looking for easy listening turn the dial to KZST at 100.1

My city should be featured on your “Local City Guides” because Petaluma is filled with charm and history. It is also centrally located between the beach, wine country and larger cities, such as San Francisco. Though, you don’t have to leave town to get everything you need; unique shopping, trendy restaurants, beautiful hiking, fun events, etc.

About Me

The furthest place I’ve traveled was a 14 hour plane ride to Florence, Italy. Though, I just booked travels to Chiang Mai, Thailand which will beat Italy’s flight by almost 4 hours. Yikes! Luckily, I have just about mastered the art of entertaining myself while flying.

My favorite trip was to…ALL OF THEM. I am a travel junkie and love to experience new things, so most places are amazing to me. But, if I had to pick it would be London because of the busy pubs, trendy restaurants, easily accessible transportation and English accents. Add a bit more sunshine and it would be the perfect destination.

My least favorite trip was NOWHERE. I have never walked away from a trip wishing I had never been. They say that every person has a story and I think that every city is the same. Each has something interesting and new to offer.

Africa is my dream trip because of the safaris. I have dreams, literally, about watching the giraffes from outside my window.

I always pack a small surge protector, with 5 outlets, because there’s rarely ever enough outlets or adapters when traveling. And I travel with a lot of technology!

My favorite book is the Little Princes by Conor Grennan. It is a beautiful true story about a man volunteering at an Orphanage in Nepal and finding out that some of the childrens were not orphans at all. He then went on missions to find the families of these children.

If I had to give one piece of advice for women travelers it would be to not wait for the dream travel companion to be available in order to take your dream trip. There is nothing wrong with traveling, eating, going to see attractions or taking tours solo.

The most inspirational woman in my life is my Mother because she taught me that nothing can replace the rewards from working hard for something you want.

My Twitter handle is @BucketListJrny and website is Bucket List Journey.


  1. Great guide Annette! I’m going to have to try one of those tasty burgers from your restaurant Sugo Trattoria. They sound amazing!

  2. Annalee Mehling says:

    This is great, thanks Annette! Being new to Petaluma, I find lots of much needed stops to make from your guide. And, I will definitely be coming in for the burger 🙂

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