A mere 24 miles from the famous Napa Valley, Petaluma is the unassuming cousin in Sonoma County — the place to go for less fuss, more chill, but never sacrificing on the quality of the food and drink. With wineries, breweries, award-winning restaurants, and local activities, there’s plenty to fill your weekend itinerary. Here are some of our favorite places to eat, drink, and adventure in Petaluma.
Group of friends drinking beer. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Where to Dine
In the heart of downtown Petaluma is Central Market, a restaurant with a philosophy of finding ways to make the familiar new, combining traditional American recipes with a Wine Country sensibility. Housed in what was once the Old Petaluma Opera House, this California-Mediterranean eatery emphasizes farm-to-table fare — everything is made in-house or grown from their organic farm nearby, including their bread, made from scratch daily.
Seared is a local favorite, and the winner of 11 Best of Petaluma Awards since opening in 2013. Chef Joe O’Donnell takes care to source from local Petaluma farms, vendors, and markets. This effort also extends to the drinks, with wines from the Petaluma Gap, craft beer from local breweries, and premium cocktails using spirits from Petaluma distilleries. And with daily happy hours from 4-6 PM, there’s something for everyone at every price point.
In the morning, stop by Tea Room Cafe to break your fast with their hearty on-site breakfast and lunch offerings. Or go for an espresso and a treat from their in-house bakery, which produces goodies such as gluten-free brownies, croissant bread pudding, and seasonal fruit tarts in addition to their signature scones.
Walk into Sax’s Joint, and step back into your friendly neighborhood ‘50s diner. Drive too fast and you’ll miss it, so slow down for breakfast and lunch here with diner favorites such as the corned beef hash, cinnamon roll, and the proprietor’s homemade jam.
Where to Grab a Bite
For some lighter fare, head to Marin French Cheese. Over 150 years later, it’s still operating in the same location in which it started. Sample their cheeses and pick up some things from the retail shop to picnic by the pond — warm soup, wine, local cider, sandwiches, and of course, their soft-ripened Brie, Camembert, and the Breakfast Cheese. Liked something from the tasting but don’t have room in your suitcase? You can always buy online, which will save room in your bag for that extra bottle of vino. And because one can never have enough cheese, there’s also the Achadinha Cheese Company. This family operated ranch began three generations ago and now continue to primarily make blended goat and cow milk cheeses. Tour the farm to learn more about ranch life, or satisfy the connoisseur in you and take a cheesemaking class. After all, they say it tastes better when you’ve made it yourself.
To satisfy a sweet tooth, head over to Petaluma Pie Company, where they make both sweet and savory pies. Owner Angelo Sacerdote recalls a moment in his home in New York City where he thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a restaurant where everything is a pie?” And thus, Petaluma Pie Company was born. You could conceivably have a pie for lunch and then a pie for dessert, because their menu of pies include everything from chicken pot pies to mushroom and goat gouda pies, from classic apple pie to banana cream pie.
Where to Drink Vino
Many Petaluma vineyards grow in the distinct terroir of the Petaluma Gap — a region that has two major maritime influences: the San Pablo Bay to the south, and the coastal hills in the northwest, which allows the Pacific fog banks to flow into the valley. This creates a long, cool growing season, which is ideal for pinot noirs and chardonnays. This is particularly true for Keller Estate Winery & Vineyard, whose winemakers specialize in those varietals. Enjoy a seated tasting on the beautiful terrace or a walk through the wine cave. You can even tour the expansive vineyards in their Classic Van Vineyard Tour — as close to a vineyard-to-glass experience as you can get.
For those who don’t want to leave downtown Petaluma for a glass, Adobe Road Wines is an excellent choice. This boutique winery maintains collaborative relationships with their growers, and their wines are handcrafted in small lots with minimal intervention, including fermentation with native yeasts. Pop in for a glass before (or after) dinner before you continue strolling around downtown Petaluma.
Where to Drink Brews
We spend a lot of time talking about what our favorite wine-tasting places are (we are in Wine Country, after all). But for the lovers of hops and local brews, Petaluma has an excellent selection of beer establishments. Lagunitas Brewing Company is a local favorite. They’ve got a huge, ever rotating selection of sours, ciders, ales, and stouts. Enjoy it in their taproom or nab one of the many picnic tables outdoors. It’s pet-friendly, so there’s usually at least a handful of dogs enjoying the sun while their humans listen to the live music in the beer garden. And with a food menu of nachos, burgers, chicken wings, and other tasty pub fare, you could easily while away an afternoon here. In fact, we recommend it.
For a little bit of everything, we recommend The Block Petaluma, a food truck market with a constant rotation of cuisines, perfect to satisfy the munchies while you’re sipping from their extensive menu of brews. Enjoy the indoor dining area, or the outdoor patio, or around a firepit, and cheers to some new friends.
Things to Do
Operating since 2013, Petaluma Stand-Up Paddle is Petaluma’s premiere paddling outfitter on the Petaluma River. They specialize in kayak and stand-up paddle board rentals, tours, and lessons for all ages and ability levels. Book a tour, and visit the underexplored parts of the Petaluma River and the northern reaches of the San Pablo Bay. Get back to nature with Petaluma Stand-Up Paddle, no matter if you’re optimizing for sightseeing, birdwatching, fishing, or just for enjoying the glide.
After some physical exertion, you might be ready to take in some human-made beauty at the Petaluma Arts Center. Celebrating a decade of community building, the center started as a grassroots effort to acknowledge and celebrate local artists and their contributions. With events, exhibitions from local artists, classes and workshops, it’s a great way to get a taste of local art.
Speaking of local: we’ve all heard for years now about farm-to-table, sustainable agriculture, but at Green String Farm, you have a chance to see it in action. Green String is a sustainable farm in Petaluma focused on aiding, rather than fighting, natural processes to grow healthy and happy fruits and vegetables. They grow by the motto, “50% for humans, 50% for nature”, maintaining an important balance between crops grown for human enjoyment and those grown for soil improvement. If that philosophy isn’t enough to convince you, the people behind Green String have an impressive pedigree with big names in sustainability, as produce providers to Alice Waters’ famous Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, and as the founder of Cline Cellars in Sonoma.