There’s a famous saying around Sonoma County that you can pet a llama, but you can’t pet a luma. And when you think about it, Petaluma is a funny name for a town, though when you consider the origin, péta lúuma (hill backside), in Miwok, it makes sense.
As a teenager, Petaluma made me think of two things. One, it was where my parents liked to go antique shopping. Two, it was where the Phoenix Theater was, the venue where local and touring bands alike always played—the center of the Sonoma County music scene. Hell, AFI even wrote a song about it. It also has a reputation as the “Chicken and Egg Capital of the World,” due to the large chicken industry that was established in the city in the late 1800s.
But suddenly, at age 23, I found myself living in Petaluma, after accepting a job straight out of university in the neighboring city of Novato. Since then, I’ve come to realize it’s more than a small little farm town with a good venue. It is those things, but it’s also a uniquely preserved and historical town, so I was excited to show those things off when M. and I visited in March of 2013.
After a delayed flight from Tennessee, an overnight layover in Texas with little sleep, a full day of going place to place in San Francisco, and dinner and drinks with various friends in Petaluma, M. was looking forward to relaxing, but was (not unreasonably) upset when our first night in Petaluma consisted of fragmented sleep due to my friend’s loud roommate and crazy kitten. To make matters worse, we had morning plans to get breakfast downtown at the Tea Room Cafe, and then go hiking… plans which quickly fell apart when M. revealed how tired and cranky he was at breakfast. So I had to be flexible and let go of my pre-planned schedule, and instead we opted for a slow-paced day in Petaluma.
After my friend left for her classes, we were out on our own, and I was fully expecting a cranky mood all day, when we stumbled across some gorgeous flowers next to the cafe. Considering that it was still below freezing and snowing in Berlin, M. was quickly cheered by the warm, t-shirt weather and the signs of Spring all around us. Like that, he was back to himself, and with heightened spirits, we set off to explore the streets of West Petaluma.
While my time in Petaluma was spent living in East Petaluma (the newer side of town, on the other side of the 101 freeway that cuts through the middle), if you really want an authentic taste of Petaluma, it’s best to stay downtown, which is full of old historic buildings and Victorian homes, and still has that small-town vibe. Additionally, there are tons of great places to eat and drink, and lots of boutique shops, making it a perfect shopping or foodie destination. Certainly it’s not the most exciting place to visit, but a two-day stopover is the perfect way to stroll its streets and soak up all Petaluma has to offer. While I don’t miss living there, I do appreciate how great a place it was to live.