Going to the Country

Find food trucks, kayaks, craft beer, and more in Petaluma.


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Enjoy the scenic Petaluma River.

Photo by Peter Salanki (CC)

Next door to a megachain shopping center and a humdrum office park is an epicenter of the Northern California craft-brewing scene: Every summer weekend, legions of beer fans crowd Lagunitas Brewing Company’s original and flagship location in suburban Petaluma. But residents of Sonoma County’s second-largest city—and others in the know—can still grab free seats and tasty drinks across the street.

Lagunitas anchors this evolving brewpub hub newly coined Maker’s Alley, where fellow hometown brewers 101 North and Petaluma Hills produce and serve top-shelf beers in cozy environs despite ambiguous warehouse exteriors hardly poised to attract tipsy tourists. Nearby are gin-and-whiskey maker Griffo Distillery, which hosts a tasting bar and drop-in tours Friday through Sunday, and Sonoma Coast Spirits, which produces craft cocktails, vodka, grappa, and liqueurs.

Profernity (CC)

Cold brew from Lagunitas Brewing Company.

Beyond Maker’s Alley, scattered across the town’s nearly 15 square miles—the vast majority of which is countryside—and adjacent county lands are dozens of commercial and small, family-owned wineries, nine of which have tasting rooms. These include Sonoma Portworks, based downtown; Kastania Vineyards, visible off the west side of Highway 101 south of town; and Keller Estate, found among grazing sheep and other vineyards along Lakeville Highway, a pastoral thoroughfare linking Petaluma with Napa and Vallejo.

In contrast to its unabashed love for beer, Petaluma has a somewhat shakier relationship with the Wine Country. Both geographically and philosophically, this town of 59,000 is closer to West Marin dairyland than to Calistoga and Healdsburg’s long rows of grapevines.

Nonetheless, Petaluma is on the verge of attaining its own AVA, or American Viticultural Area, to be named Petaluma Gap: A low span in the coastal mountains to the city’s west allows cool air to rush inland every evening, lending a distinctive character to the region’s grapes.

Sarah Stierch (CC)

Keller Estate winery.

But before drinking, earn your thirst by grabbing a bite at The Block, Petaluma’s brand-new food-truck market—which of course includes a localcentric beer garden hosted by San Francisco’s Firetrail Pizza—or paddling the Petaluma River from the docks downtown or the larger marina a couple miles away. After decades of turning its back on the river, which is technically a slough reaching 18 miles up from San Pablo Bay, the town is now eager to again face the waterway that enabled its birth, when during the early 1850s, local farmers floated agricultural products to San Francisco and its hordes of eager miners.

A new small-craft boating center is in the works at the Turning Basin downtown; and the David Yearsley River Heritage Center on the McNear Peninsula, which juts into the river where it was once split for shipping purposes, offers free canoe, kayak, and rowboat rides every Sunday morning.

Photo by John Ames (cc)

The McNear Peninsula is also where you’ll find the Rivertown Revival. Held this year on July 22, the Burning-Man-meets-steampunk-Ren-Faire for adults and families celebrates local artisanal food and drink, the river—don’t miss the Art Boat Regatta—and Petaluma’s general undercurrent of quirk. You’ll meet fellow tourists and day-trippers here, for sure, but also lots of locals.

 

Where to Hang

Lagunitas Brewing Company: 1280 N. McDowell Blvd., 707-769-4495, Lagunitas.com

Sonoma Coast Spirits: 1333 N. McDowell Blvd. F, 707-331-0718, SonomaCoastSpirits.com

Kastania Vineyards: 4415 Kastania Road, 707-763-6348, KastaniaVineyards.com

The Block: 20 Grey St., 707-775-6003, TheBlockPetaluma.com

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