Discover a trove of vintage finds—plus a booming food and drink scene—in the delightful towns of Petaluma and Sebastopol.
By Virginia Shannon
Treasure hunters, take note: The antiques capital of Northern California stands just a one-hour drive from the East Bay. In fact, the lovely city of Petaluma embodies vintage charm, thanks to its historic commercial district, which survived the 1906 earthquake largely intact. Today, rows of gorgeously preserved late 19th-and early 20th-century buildings line the downtown streets, flaunting grand period details such as ornate iron- and stonework and soaring ceilings.
Such tangible history lends itself perfectly to the antiques trade, which took over many of those stately buildings when the department stores and other retailers left decades ago. “Petaluma is the only city in Northern California that has [such a high] concentration of antiques stores,” says Patrick Easley, who owns the 30-year-old Chelsea Antiques, one of the city’s flagship shops. “There’s nowhere else like this.”
There are currently about 17 antiques stores in Petaluma—and another 15 or so in the nearby town of Sebastopol. Add in a thriving food and beverage scene (Sonoma County is famous for its farms and wineries, after all) and an influx of sophisticated lifestyle boutiques, and you’ve got a recipe for a perfect spring treasure-hunting outing. visitpetaluma.com, sonomacounty.com/cities/sebastopol.
Start your search on Petaluma Boulevard North, where you’ll find six large antiques shops clustered between Oak Street and Western Avenue. Many of them are collectives of independent vendors, each specializing in distinct periods, styles, and products. Don’t miss Chelsea Antiques, which encompasses 25 dealers. Its high-quality selection—ranging from century-old Asian furniture, to American industrial lighting, to farmhouse-style accent pieces—has been known to attract Hollywood set decorators and movie stars. Another top spot is Vintage Bank Antiques, a 25-dealer outfit housed in a spectacular, three-story bank building that dates to 1926. Vintage Bank is renowned for jewelry, paintings, and other fine collectibles. Additional antiques shops can be found on Western Avenue and Kentucky Street.
Of course, there’s more to this alluring city than just antiques. Around the corner from Vintage Bank sits Maude Rare Finds, a cozy boutique selling chic women’s and children’s fashions, jewelry, and artisanal goods. On Fourth Street, Bay-ti is a haven for vintage Moroccan textiles, ceramics, and furniture. Nearby, pick up locally crafted souvenirs and home-decor items at Field Works. maudeshop.com, baytihome.com, fieldworksshop.com.
Stay and Play
After satisfying your retail requirements, check into Hotel Petaluma. Built in 1923, this landmark property recently underwent an extensive renovation that beautifully melds original period details (including a fantastic vintage elevator) with stylish, contemporary design signatures. The glamorous lobby hosts wine-and-cheese receptions on Fridays.
If you prefer beer, head to Brewsters Beer Garden, an open-air venue overlooking the Petaluma River. The 27 brews on draft, barbecue fare, and live music make this a popular hangout. Wild Goat Bistro, meanwhile, is the place to sample the area’s agricultural bounty. Located inside a charming 19th-century mill, this welcoming eatery features a seasonal menu of creative salads, entrées, and pizzas that showcase local ingredients. Order the Hippie Caesar—a vegan and gluten-free twist on the classic salad, which uses curry, Worcestershire sauce, and almonds in its flavorful dressing and parsnips in lieu of croutons. In fact, most of the menu can be made gluten-free (including the decadent desserts—though you wouldn’t know it from tasting them), and vegan options abound too. But omnivores also love Wild Goat for its top-grade meat dishes. hotelpetaluma.com, brewstersbeergarden.com, wildgoatbistro.com.
Hit the Highway
In the morning, fuel up with breakfast or brunch at Della Fattoria, an award-winning bakery-cum-restaurant that serves delectable egg dishes, waffles, and toasts inside a whimsical, chandelier-strewn dining room. (One regular patron insists that Della makes the all-time best eggs Benedict.) Afterward, swing by Petaluma Pie Company to grab a tasty, fruit-filled mini-pie to go. dellafattoria.com, petalumapiecompany.com.
Then, head north to uncover more vintage finds. Driving along Gravenstein Highway between Cotati and Sebastopol, keep an eye out for antiques outposts dotting the roadside. Many are set up in barns or other rustic structures, which can signal lower prices than what you’d get in a more polished storefront. While they’re all worth a visit, Antique Society is the can’t-miss stop. This 20,000-square-foot space houses more than 125 dealers, whose offerings range from the high end (Danish teak furniture and hand-carved African benches), to the accessible (vintage toys, records, and comics), and everything in between (antique maps, first-edition books, even an early Apple computer).
Once you arrive in downtown Sebastopol, the options skew a bit more upscale. The well-curated boutique Retrospect, for example, is filled with midcentury modern furnishings. And the consignment shop Attico is a stellar spot to score beautiful furniture, rugs, and decor objects at surprisingly reasonable prices.
Across the street from Attico is one of the region’s hippest destinations: The Barlow, a 12-acre outdoor warehouse complex inhabited by artisanal-minded stores, eateries, breweries, galleries, and more. Sadly, many of its businesses sustained damage in February’s floods, but rehabilitation efforts are underway—and plenty of Barlow tenants are open now. antiquesociety.com, atticostore.com, thebarlow.net.
A Flavorful Finale
Don’t drive back to the East Bay without dining at Lowell’s. A Sebastopol mainstay for more than a decade, this farm-to-table Italian spot is beloved for its ever-changing menu of exquisitely fresh food and its giving-back-to-the-community ethos. Make sure to try the antipasti platter; brimming with seasonal veggies and cheeses, this standout plate showcases the region’s rich variety of produce.
While wineries are plentiful in Sonoma County, Sebastopol may be best known for its apple orchards, and many local vintners and brewers are capitalizing on that output by crafting hard ciders. Check out the trend at the Horse and Plow tasting barn, where you can sip flights of refined cider and organic wine produced using sustainable farming techniques. Pick up a bottle (or case) to bring home—if there’s any room left in the car after all that antique hunting. lowellssebastopol.com, horseandplow.com.