Discover the Hidden Delights of Downtown Petaluma

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Known as the hometown of Winona Ryder, the filming of American Graffiti, and its annual Butter & Egg Days Parade, historic riverside Petaluma is such a fun place to explore with your family. You’ve probably passed it on your way to redwoods country, but this close-knit community has hidden treasures for an exciting day trip. The relaxing drive there on US 101 past fields of grazing cattle will get you and the kiddos in just the right relaxed mindset for the mellow, yet friendly downtown vibe. And who knows, if you hail from a small town, a trip up to Petaluma might just make you nostalgic for that charming hometown of your childhood.

Go: Anytime, but remember that you’ll be wandering around outside so a non-rainy day is best.

Get there: Petaluma is located just 32 miles north of San Francisco. From San Francisco, drive on US 101 North and take the exit for Washington Blvd. Make a left on E. Washington Boulevard and then a left onto Petaluma Boulevard. Free street-side parking is available for two hours along Petaluma Boulevard. A free parking garage is also available on Western and Keller Streets. Click here for a map of downtown with directions.

What to wear: Dress in layers, especially if you’ll arrive early in the morning when temperatures are cooler. It also couldn’t hurt to slather on some sunscreen since you’ll be wandering around outside.

What to bring: Entertainment for the car ride and a small stroller or pack for little tired legs.

Where to eat: With so many lovely restaurants (Hallie’s Diner, Tea Room Café, Petaluma Pie Company) to consider, it’s hard to narrow it down to just one spot, but Della Fattoria is that rare find, a true family-friendly gourmet cafe. In Italian, Della Fattoria means “of the farm” and the restaurant sure lives up to its name. Munch on their famous artisan breads and pastries (the kiddos will love the unbelievably delicious peanut butter cookies), homemade soups and mouth-watering BLTs. Your kids will adore the PB&Js oozing with seasonal berry jam on soft rustic bread.

To satisfy your sweet tooth (and let’s be honest, what kid doesn’t have a massive sweet tooth?!), Powell’s Sweet Shop is a sure-fire crowd pleaser as its stocked full of retro candies from a bygone era. While your kids may be too young to remember Pop Rocks and Moon Pies it doesn’t mean that they can’t enjoy them. With such a large selection, it’s difficult to choose what to take home. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory plays on a continual loop in the back corner for those hankering for a taste of the wicked Veruca Salt.

For yet another sweet trip down memory lane, saddle up on a red leather counter stool at LaLa’s Creamery. Your kids will get a kick outta the old-fashioned ice cream parlor that offers everything from hot fudge sundaes to rum cokes for parents (that’s rum raisin ice cream in a Coke float). Moms and Dads, you can thank me later!

Things to do: Wander downtown on Petaluma Boulevard North to discover one-of-kind stores such as Tall Toad Music, which carries an impressive selection of stringed instruments and music books. You’ll walk into a winter wonderland at Marisa’s Fantasia of holiday ornaments and collectibles (not recommended for children under 5), but well-worth a delightful peek through the window. Jungle Vibes Gift and Toy Emporium, a funky old shop with loads of imaginative toys, eclectic gifts and books, also has a towering rainforest waterfall and super-helpful staff.

Children’s boutique Maude is known for its “rare finds” such as enchanting toys, Waldorf-inspired dolls your kids will cuddle, and clothing for both young and old by local designers like Erica Tanov. Stroll down Kentucky Street, which is yet another bustling tree-lined shopping area, perfect for people-watching and window-shopping.

Copperfield’s Books has a beautiful children’s reading room with playful murals and floor pillows and a fantastic selection of used books for the more budget-conscious downstairs. You can sink into a comfy bean bag and read Where the Wild Things Are together with your kids.

A truly original and kitschy gift shop, Heebe Jeebe General Store has a coin-operated Wild West pony your children will love to ride. Giddyup!

Bonus: A little farther afield is long-time Petaluma institution Mrs. Grossman’s. Tour her sticker factory for a fun-filled hour of demonstrations, a sticker art project and collect stickers along the way. Tours are Mondays through Thursdays at 10:00 am, 11:00 am, 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for kids under twelve and free for children three and under. Call 1-800-429-4549 to make reservations or for more information.

Cost of trip: Low to moderate depending on the amount you purchase in each store.


Nicki Richesin