Pick up an organic handcrafted chai latte with ethically-raised goat’s milk and a virtuous muffin — it’s time to head over to knitting class in historic downtown Petaluma.
San Francisco-based Michael Franti was in Petaluma last night for an amazing concert at the historic Mystic Theatre. (You may remember Michael from the Napa Rocks Benefit Concert in September.) Just in case you missed his performance — or if you saw the show and just can’t get enough Franti — here’s his 2002 hit, Ganga Babe, from the acoustic collection, Songs from the Front Porch. The music is set to start automatically, but this feature is not available on some handheld devices. In those instances, just give a gentle tap on the arrow below.
Walking past Steven and our friend Julia sitting in the living room caught up in Steven’s new favorite pastime, knitting, it occured to me how knitting and the soft-as-a-cat scarf he is struggling to create (this is his very first project) are apt metaphors for Petaluma. As you approach the town, rolling hills loop across the horizon appearing deceptively soft in the shorn brown days of summer and brilliantly textured during the rain-green winters when a contrasting blanket of mustard flowers covers the lowlands. Arriving in Petaluma’s historic downtown, the community gathers like a Revolutionary Knitting Circle, where the words organic, ethically-raised, locally-harvested, reclaimed, adaptive, sustainable and wholesome, are the most popular adjectives in the vernacular, describing everything from a cup of coffee to new housing developments. But they’re not just descriptives – they are familiar calls to action for the more than 57,000 area residents. Once known as the World’s Egg Basket, Petaluma’s history and prosperity grew out of a few hundred small chicken ranches. Though egg production is now a largely consolidated industry, some of the hatcheries, creameries and grain mills established in the early 1900’s are still active today, and the town continues to attract entrepreneurial stewards of the land who knit together ethics, quality, and fresh ideas in pastures full of grains, goats, sheep, cattle and the occasional llama or alpaca. Whether it’s an heirloom vegetable, a new cheese, bread, ice cream or yarn, it’s been produced with a good measure of hard hands-on work and Petaluma pride. To be sure, it’s not all pastoral perfection. Sometimes in creating the town a stitch has been dropped or a row has been added that is just plain wonky. Some of those mistakes have been frogged, with a great deal of scrutiny and discussion about where things went wrong. Others remain and give the town character – it is, after all, handcrafted — and are, like HenHouse Brewing Company’s Oyster Stout, perhaps a matter of taste.
A well-made woolen scarf, provided you don’t lose it, won’t go out fashion and with care should last a very long time. Much of the early 20th century architecture of Petaluma survived being lost to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake or the wrecking ball of progress and stands today to create a fantastic, creative town center. Formidable banks and stately mercantile buildings have been to a great extent preserved. The Sonoma County National Bank has become The Seed Bank – the main floor and vaults housing thousands of seeds from around the world as well as agriculture and gardening supplies. The American Trust Company has become Vintage Bank Antiques, and the Mystic Theatre, built in 1911 as a vaudeville house is an important North Bay live music venue. Hosts of other antique stores, jewelers, clothiers, and restaurants fill the town with a personality and diversity that only the passage of time can create. In the district along the Petaluma River, corrugated buildings which were former poultry storage facilities create an interesting community where housing, artists’ spaces, feed stores, restaurants, and light agri-industry intertwine. On the western edge of town, gorgeously restored Victorian mansions form a genteel diffusion of city dwelling and country living, as the road out of Petaluma slowly twists and turns toward the ocean.
The making of Petaluma into the innovative, creative, intricately patterned Northern Californian town it is today, took perseverance and patience. Some may call it a unique heirloom pattern, crafted with durable, colorful, mismatched skeins, but in the end, it’s surely a warm and friendly place that generously wraps itself around you and makes you feel at home. Let’s be careful not to ever lose it.
This post is dedicated to the memory of our Petaluma friend Caroline “Coco” Lewis. We can’t visit, or even pass by the town, without thinking about her strength, style, humor and boundless generosity.
To learn more about the Petaluma resources recommended by Zippertravel in the list below, please click on the links to their websites in bold. Don’t forget to click on the back arrow in the upper left to return to this page.
- Maude’s rare finds has a beautiful selection of women’s and children’s clothing and accessories. You’re sure to be taken with the artful, and sometimes amusing, but always amazing displays.
- Thanks to our friend, Julia Strohm, Steven has recently become a knitter. His g0-to place for soft woolen yarns made from local sheep, as well as much-needed help and advice is Knitterly. A terrific selection of yarns that won’t make your head spin.
- Vintage Bank Antiques is housed in the former American Trust Company building. Built in 1926, the neo-classical revival architecture is a browsing bonus.
- Sienna Antiques, also housed in an historic building, has a fantastic selection of furnishings and accessories creatively staged, making it a popular Petaluma destination for designers and celebrities.
- Tall Toad Music moved from San Francisco more than 20 years ago to become a Petaluma institution. A Gibson 5-star dealer, Tall Toad’s selection is impressive.
- Robindira Unsworth is a local jeweler whose handmade pieces are exotic and inspired and her store is comfortably sophisticated and naturally chic. In addition to her jewelry, you’ll find a selection of unique clothing lines and accessories for women.
- Bovine Bakery can be found in two of our favorite places — the original in Pt. Reyes, and it’s sister store across the street from Knitterly in Petaluma. Anyone up for a little knitting and pastries?
- Everyone in Petaluma raves about Della Fattoria, and now we know why. Their breads are delicious, and we give four thumbs up to their incredible sandwiches!
- Petaluma Pie Company offers an appealing selection of homemade pies daily. Try the crumbly-topped sour cream and apple mini-pie, only $5 and just enough for two.
- Independently-owned Acre Coffee is a meeting place for locals, serving organic handcrafted coffees and teas.
- New Kid on the Block: Thistle Meats is a new local butcher shop now open in downtown Petaluma and offering a selection of community, ethically-raised meats.
Worth a Visit
- The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is housed in the neo-classical Carnegie Library designed by local architect Brainerd Jones and built in 1904.The building is topped by the largest free-standing stained glass dome in Northern California. Admission is free.
Writer and critic Pauline Kael was born into a family of chicken farmers in Petaluma, Californin in 1919. Her family was a part of a Jewish intellectual and political enclave that was established in Petaluma by immigrants fleeing pograms in Eastern Europe and anti-Semitism in America. The story of this community is the subject of the 2002 documentary, A Home on the Range: The Jewish Chicken Ranchers of Petaluma, by Bonnie Burt and Judith Montell. The Kaels left Petaluma for San Francisco, where Pauline began her writing career, ultimately moving to New York City and into her tenure as film critic for The New Yorker from 1968-1991. Known for her brash, witty, insightful film critiques and inimitable writing style, Pauline Kael was described as courageous, uninhibited, merciless and a pop culture oracle. Prior to her death in 2001, the writer chose the best of her 30 years of reviews and essays about the movies to create the massive tome, For Keeps: 30 Years at the Movies. The book has become a classic compendium for film buffs and is an entertaining read for anyone who has ever loved a good — or for that matter bad — movie. Photo of Pauline Kael by Martha Holmes/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images.
Petaluma-born Bill Pronzini is an award-winning mystery writer known for his “Nameless Detective” series which began in 1971 and reached book #43 earlier this year. Intrigued by the idea of protaganist without a name, I suggest that those of us who are new to Pronzini’s work start with the first installment in the series, The Snatch, which follows the nameless detective as he untangles a kidnapping web involving the son of a wealthy San Francisco financier. Photo of Bill Pronzini courtesy of us.macmillan.com
MORE PETALUMA ON ZIPPERTRAVEL’S PINTEREST
Pinterest.com/zippertravel is the place to find more great images of Petaluma on the new board Petaluma: Happy Cows. You’ll also find photos of additional places to shop, drink and dine when you visit. Buit wait there’s more, Steven has also added a new board Knit Wit, featuring inspirational knitting projects and incredible yarns plus photos of some famous people who knit. While you’re visiting Zippertravel’s page, browse through other terrific boards dedicated to fashion, architecture, travel, design and style. You don’t have to be a Pinterest member to view Zippertravel’s boards. But if you enjoy pinning you can do so from this digital edition by clicking on the button in the upper left hand corner or selecting the Pinterest icon below. Please share our digital travel magazine with your friends on Facebook and Twitter or via e-mail. The icons below make sharing a snap.
Captions as needed top to bottom: Header: Wrist Wrestling statue in downtown Petaluma – from 1953 to 2002, the World Champion Wrist Wrestling Competition was held in Petaluma; No Regrets Tour: Suitcase of artifacts and paint at Maude’s; Essay: Steven and our friend Julia Strohm knitting after a day of yarn shopping in Petaluma; Fresh semolina bread at Della Fattoria; The Seed Bank in the historic downtown; Horse and pony figures at Tiz Whiz Feed store; Goodness Gracious: Early 20th century building called the Wickersham in historic downtown; Please hover over the grid of photos in Goodness Gracious for the captions, or click on a photo for a larger view; Likes and Links: Doorway to the Open Church — it was locked; Illustration print found at Vintage Bank Antiques; Book It Now: Photos of book jackets and authors from google images; Unless otherwise noted, photographs are the property of and copyrighted by Zippertravel.com
The photo of the Petaluma cat tunnels featured in the postcard section was provided by Jaquory Lunsford, a talented 18-year old photographer who lives in Petaluma and is practicing his craft in out-of-the way places all over the world. Thank you, Jaquory! firstname.lastname@example.org