The perfect small town, Petaluma has managed to retain its old-school rural charm ― squint down Petaluma Boulevard, and it could be 1900 ― while adding the best from the modern world: stylish boutiques, great restaurants, and a few flower-child echoes from the '60s.
The town turns 150 this year, and it has a lot to celebrate; it's Northern California's finest from every era. Take a self-guided tour of a neighborhood where historic mansions sit next to Craftsman beauties.
From San Francisco, take U.S. 101 north to the E. Washington St. exit. Head west on Washington, then make a left on Petaluma Blvd. to reach downtown. You can pick up a walking-tour map at the very helpful visitor center in the Historic Depot Building (210 Lakeville St./State 116; visitpetaluma.com or 877/273-8258).
Central Market An open, exposed-brick bistro emphasizing organic foods. It's all delish, but for a taste of the area, we especially love the simple romaine salad with chopped egg and buttermilk–blue cheese dressing ― all local, of course. INFO: 42 Petaluma Blvd. N.; 707/778-9900.
Della Fattoria After a recent visit, Sunset food editor Margo True said, "How can bread be that good?" Start with a sandwich at an outdoor table and finish with the strawberry chiffon cake. Thank us later. INFO: closed Mon; 141 Petaluma Blvd. N.; 707/763-0161.
Splendid Little Shoppe This bright boho-chic shop ― filled with retro aprons, mod-print pillows, beachy sundresses, and weathered antique furniture ― is so charming, you'll want to move right in. INFO: 140 Petaluma Blvd. N.; 707/763-7467.
Tall Toad Music Even if you're not a musician, this throwback, where gleaming guitars hang from every surface, is worth a visit. Sheet music galore and instruments for all ― anyone can play a tambourine! INFO: 43 Petaluma Blvd. N.; 707/765-6807.
Cowgirl Creamery tasting room The Point Reyes Station artisanal cheese phenomenon is expanding to a new facility, set to open next month along the Petaluma River. Reserve now for a tour of the cheese-making process, complete with tastes of aged Red Hawk and triple-cream Mt. Tam cheeses. INFO: Tours $30; reservations required; Foundry Wharf, 419 First St.; 866/433-7834.
STAY AFTER DARK
Boogie down every weekend to local bands and national acts like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band or Junior Brown at the historic Mystic Theatre & Dance Hall (from $12; 23 Petaluma Blvd. N.; 707/765-2121). Grab a pre- or post-show burger and a pint at the adjoining McNear's Saloon & Dining House (same address and phone), where every inch of wall space is covered with music and sports memorabilia.