For many years it was my tradition to attend the annual Santa Clara County Master Gardeners Heirloom Tomato Plant Sale. It was a huge event with people arriving long before the gates opened and descending on the plants in hoards, scooping up wagon’s full of tomato plants. It was a phenomenal event. Then I moved to Petaluma and though my garden space is greatly reduced, I still plan on planting at least six varieties of heirloom tomatoes. So I had to do a little research on where to go. Here are my top three sources.
Seed Bank – The Baker Street Seed Bank sells a selection of tomato plants that are specifically chosen to thrived in the north bay climate. They grow most of their plants but also carry plants from another local, organic grower.
Cottage Gardens – Cottage Gardens grows their own tomato plants and their selection is huge. If you can’t find it here then you probably shouldn’t be growing it in this area. The plants are healthy and detailed descriptions are posted over every variety, making it easy to choose.
Of all the things I love about Petaluma, the thing I love most is being able to drive a mile or two in any direction and encounter dairy cows. Today I was driving too slowly along Bodega Avenue and in order to get away from a tail-gater I turned left on Middle 2 Rock Road. I found myself on a beautiful stretch of road, lined with goat and dairy farms and open fields (one with a family of deer standing in it). The views of the rolling hills were stunning. I parked my car and walked in about a mile to get up close to the cows.
I never tire of the seeing the massive Holstein cows grazing in the fields. There is just something appealing and arresting about the glossy black and white cows standing in a field of bright green grass.
There are dozens of dairy farms in Petaluma and surrounding area. There are the large dairies like Clover Stornetta, Strauss (my favorite), Petaluma Creamery and McClelland’s.
Then there are all the smaller dairies many of which are suppliers to the big dairies.
The cows fascinate me. One evening I was standing on a country road watching a herd grazing away when suddenly, en masse, the herd just started walking to the barn. I was delighted to witness this phenomena. I can’t wait to take a tour of a dairy farm and learn more about dairy farming and “my” beautiful cows.
Has anyone ever told you to “Look up!”? Looking up is a common strategy for enjoying the scenery or your surroundings from a different perspective.
In Petaluma, “Looking up” pays off big time. The buildings in downtown Petaluma are packed with intricate architectural detail and lovely color combinations.
Because Petaluma was spared destruction during the 1906 earthquake, its downtown, with its hundred and fifty year old buildings (65 of which are historic properties) has maintained its old fashioned charm. I never tire of strolling through downtown and discovering something unusual and beautiful each time.
I was heading west on Washington Street, with a plan to go buy a few plants for my garden, when I got sidetracked by a yard sale sign. I followed the yard sale sign but made a wrong turn onto Park Street and ended up at Oak Hill Park. This beautiful park, with its majestic oak trees, is tucked into a quiet neighborhood at the end of Park and along Howard Street.
The name “Oak Hill” and the large pieces of hewed granite suggested to me a cemetery. Sure enough, Oak Hill was at one time, in the 1800’s, a “burying ground.” When a more suitable place for a cemetery was established (Cypress Hill Cemetery) burials ceased around 1879 and remains were removed. Historical references suggest considerable doubt that all remains were removed and there are most certainly grave sights still there today.
Oak Hill Park has some pretty special features. Besides the stately oak trees, there is the most attractive dog park I have ever seen.
There is also a labyrinth, several picnic tables, a wooded trail, a petanque court and basketball courts.
My little granddaughter loves to swing in those little bucket swings and so I am always on the hunt for them. Oak Hill has some very nice little bucket swings at the end of the large, updated playground. So all in all, this park seems to have something for everyone.
One of the things I love about Petaluma is its contrasts. I love its industrial beauty alongside its natural beauty. I love that it is at once progressive and nostalgic. No where are these contrasts more apparent than the “trail” that meanders through Steamer Landing Park.
The park entrance is on Copeland, just off of East D. The park itself is an “arm” of land that extends out through the Petaluma River. Its weedy and wild landscape silenced me with its soft splendor. I want to go back and sit all day on the little platform with the two plastic patio chairs that sits right on the edge of the river.
As you walk along the very unofficial looking trails you’ll see a restored livery, charming old beached rowboats surrounded by wildflowers, the hull of the shipwrecked shipping vessel (during low tide), countless red-winged blackbirds, the backside of the heart of downtown and a little pond full of squawking geese.
It is hard to believe this park is right in the middle of the city because when you are there you are transported to a peaceful sanctuary.
By the time I moved away from San Jose, my favorite taco truck had long disappeared. I’m not even sure what the name of the truck was. We just called it the Gordita Truck because they had a large selection of these fantastic vegetarian gorditas – $1 each. My mouth still waters thinking of them. Reliably and predictably the truck showed up every evening at a empty parking lot on McKee Road near 101. And then it didn’t. And I mourned.
Luckily, I discovered a worthy replacement here in Petaluma for my old favorite taco truck. One night after enjoying a night on the town at the Mystic Theater, my friends and I were looking for a late night snack and we pulled into the parking lot of Craftsman Floor Coverings where El Roy parks their truck. I ordered 3 shrimp tacos and they were delicious. The sautéed shrimp is piled onto doubled-up grilled corn tortillas, smothered in a thick, creamy hot sauce and topped with freshly chopped cilantro and onion. At $2 per taco they are an amazing deal. I have only tried the shrimp tacos, fish tacos and goditas but friends and family members who’ve gone there with me were all very pleased with their food. And judging from the ever-present long line of customers, we’re not the only ones who love El Roy.
It’s a late night kind of place and the mood of the crowd that surrounds the truck is always happy and festive. Even when it’s cold and there is no place to sit except the cement retaining wall, the people are happy. If you want to sit down at a table, you can go to their newly opened restaurant at 210 Edith, right behind the Valero station.
We are fortunate here in Petaluma to have two extraordinary bakeries. We have Bovine Bakery with its homey, country decorations and fabulous mural and we have Della Fattoria with its elegant Italian china cups and bowls, beautiful French towels (for napkins) and their incredibly skillful barista.
Although I have been diligent in my quest to eat my way through Petaluma, I try not to indulge in pastries too often. However, I’ve eaten enough from each bakery to conclude that every single thing they bake is sensational.
I’ll start with Bovine. They make every imaginable pastry, every day. In addition to their mind-boggling variety of cookies, cakes, pies and breakfast pastries, they feature a different quiche, muffin, savory and sweet croissant, savory and sweet scone, slipper and coffee cake every day. One of my favorite items is their daily pizza slice. The pizza slices are huge and loaded with cheese and veggies (or meat if you prefer) and browned to perfection. At $5 a slice it makes a very satisfying and reasonably priced lunch.
Della Fattoria is known for their large-loaf artisan breads. One of my favorites is Rosemary-Meyer Lemon bread. They use high quality, natural, organic ingredients such as locally produced olive oil. Instead of commercial yeast, Della Fattoria uses their own fermented starter. The breads are baked in wood-fired brick ovens and have that crunchy crust that is so valued by bread connoisseurs.
Breakfast at Della Fattoria is a real treat. Order a Salted Caramel cappuccino or a honey-lavender latte and one of their toast breakfasts such as “Trio of Toast” or “Della Breakfast Toast” or any of their egg dishes and you will be in heaven.
Now I feel like I need to do a shout-out to my newly found donut place -Keny’s Donuts. Although not a true bakery, Keny’s has the friendliest owners and the most puffy, moist, tender, sweet donuts imaginable. I am posting a picture of Keny’s storefront because it is in such an improbable location. Keny’s occupies one part of Petaluma Schools Administrative offices!