October 1, 2007
Steven W. Ells
You'll like Petaluma. Regardless of whether you know it as the "Town made for walking," "Tree City USA," or "River City," even the most travel-jaded visitor will enjoy taking in the variety, beauty, activities, and history that seem to be tucked into every corner of this friendly city on the Petaluma River.
Movie locations; an historic downtown; funky and fun citywide festivals; beautifully kept Victorian homes; and a clean, well-run airport are a few of the pieces that set the stage for a city that prides itself on the caring, helpful attitude of its people. It's a friendly and invigorating place.
Located just a little more than 30 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Petaluma's modern history began in the 1830s when Gen. Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was awarded a land grant in the Petaluma area. After nearly 10 years, a large adobe house and workshop, located 2.5 miles east of downtown, was completed. This structure forms the centerpiece of the Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park.
Petaluma was first surveyed in 1852 and incorporated in 1858. Simple math reveals that 2008 is Petaluma's 150th birthday, and the celebration plans are already underway. The city's sesquicentennial celebration kicks off on April 12, 2008. Events include the celebration of Petaluma's agricultural past during Butter and Egg Days on April 26. Other uniquely Petaluman celebrations include a huge antique fair and chili cookoff scheduled for April 27, Living History Day at the Petaluma Adobe park on May 10, and an annual Salute to American Graffiti days — held May 15 through 17, 2008 — celebrating the part the city played in the staging of George Lucas' immortal film of the same name.
A listing of events scheduled during Petaluma's 150th celebration is posted on Petaluma's visitor program Web site.
There are lots of other events that will take place in and around Petaluma during 2008. The twentieth annual World's Ugliest Dog contest will be held during the Sonoma-Marin Fair from June 18 through 22. In 2007, Elwood, who flew in with his owner from New Jersey, took home the blue ribbon.
Infineon Raceway, known in the past as the Sears Point Raceway, is located 17 miles from the center of Petaluma. This road/drag track hosts a full season of Winston Cup, NHRA, and Superbike races. The Point Reyes National Seashore, which is always worth a visit, is located less than 30 miles west of Petaluma.
Having escaped damage during the catastrophic San Francisco earthquake of 1906, Petaluma's downtown gives visitors a chance to look over structures that made up a turn-of-the-century California city. The city's downtown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Petaluma Visitor's Guide contains guide maps for area tours. The first is a 17-block downtown historic walking tour. Architect and native son Brainerd Jones played a very significant part in the design of many of Petaluma's most important buildings, including Petaluma's 1920 post office and the Carnegie Library located at the corners of Fourth and B streets. Other prominent and noteworthy buildings include the Great Petaluma Mill (now a shopping center), the Hill Opera House (currently housing the Phoenix Center), and the buildings of Petaluma's Iron Front Row. These buildings, constructed in the 1880s, are excellent examples of the once-popular style of cast iron fronts, which were believed to be fireproof.
A few blocks away is the start of the Victorian Homes of Petaluma walking tour. This 10.5-block tour weaves its way along tree-lined 5th and 6th streets between Western Avenue and D Street. Styles such as Queen Anne, Gothic Revival, Greek Revival, Colonial Revival, and Spanish Colonial are featured in 19 beautifully maintained homes built as early as 1860.
The visitor's guide also has a Hollywood Tour section that details notable film locations for well-known films such as Peggy Sue Got Married, Basic Instinct, the 1997 remake of Flubber, and Howard the Duck. The last Petaluma walking tour features the trees of Petaluma.
There's also a 23-mile driving tour, which starts at the train depot (now the visitor center) before visiting local sites such as the marina, the Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park, and the Old Redwood Highway. Pilots will probably notice the Rooster Run Golf Club adjacent to the east side of the airport. It and the Adobe Creek Golf Club — it's located directly below the straight-in approach path for Runway 29 — are both very reasonably priced tests that stretch out nearly 7,000 yards from the championship tees.
Like all self-respecting — and well-respected — airports, Petaluma Municipal Airport (O69) has a diner on the field. The Two Niner Diner is open every day except Monday for breakfast and lunch until 3 p.m.
According to Dick Hodge of Petaluma's flight school Aeroventure, the summer months bring fog, which typically covers the airport until mid-morning, when it burns off to VFR conditions, only to return in the late afternoon. Typical winds are gentle and favor Runway 29. Pilots seeking weather information from the ASOS at the Santa Rosa airport — located 17 nm north — for conditions at Petaluma should be aware that a local condition usually dictates that Santa Rosa airport traffic typically lands to the south while Petaluma winds favor a landing to the northwest. The Petaluma windsock is located on the east side of the runway in the large segmented circle. Right traffic for Runway 29 is preferred.
Petaluma is a quiet yet lively town that has taken excellent care of itself. As a result, visitors are privy to a unique opportunity to look back at yesterday's California, while enjoying an eclectic selection of restaurants serving delectable and delicious food and a wide variety of accommodations that are the signature of today's California.
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