Petaluma: Paying homage to stickers, Seuss' books, and shorebirds
By Kathy Chin Leong
Just 30 minutes south of Santa Rosa is the tony town of Petaluma, known for its historic downtown, the Petaluma River (pictured left), and an abundance of antique shops.
However, to kids, Petaluma is the home of Mrs. Grossman's Sticker Factory, comic books, and aviary wildlife both big and small.
When you plan your trip to Petaluma, you have to see Mrs. Grossman's. This fabulous, free one-hour tour is extremely popular, and visitors must book ahead of time.
Celebrating its 25th year in business, the sticker factory is fascinating as a business lesson as well as a visual treat in seeing the operations and the sticker store. In 1979, Mrs. Andrea Grossman began the company from her dining room table. She cut out a heart shape that mistakenly became a sticker due to a printing error. Yet, the heart sticker became so popular she launched the business with the help of her family and friends.
Today, she still goes in to work at her Petaluma headquarters, which is also the location for the factory. Unlike other companies, employees are encouraged to bring their dogs to work, and to date, the company welcomes 25 pooches inside and outside the premises. This pet-friendly environment also maintains doggie houses, water, and pet bowls outdoors.
During the tour, our humorous guide named Robert doles out stickers galore. You see the inks, the laser-cutting tools, and the packaging machines in operation. One of the best tours in the region, Mrs. Grossman's is well worth the visit, for you can observe and learn about the entire process from beginning to end. And, your kids will see dogs on the plant floor with tails wagging!
While there is no fancy cafeteria like the Jelly Belly Factory in Vacaville, the generously sized lunchroom for tour guests come equipped with a sink, microwave, napkins, complimentary paper plates, cups, and utensils, and vending machines.
When you get hungry, go to Dempsey's. Dempsey's Restaurant & Brewery is a popular local hangout. Casual and festive, the restaurant prides itself on its signature fried onion rings with chipotle ketchup ($5.95).
When we went there and ordered, we were blissfully stuffed, and we even had to take food home. Portions are generous, the menu creative, reflecting the freshest ingredients used from the owner's farm. We feasted on the ceasar salad ($7.95), Pizza Red Rooster with hand-picked basil ($10.95), the classic pork chop ($13.95), and peppery roasted chicken ($14.95). When our entire family of four enjoys the restaurant, you know you've got a hit on your hands. And for nature lovers, the restaurant overlooks the gorgeous Petaluma River. In the spring and summer, you can eat outdoors.
If you walk through downtown, you'll find a huge selection of bakeries, delis, grills, ethnic restaurants, and fast-food fare. There seems to be no end in sight when it comes to food establishments.
Downtown Petaluma is a historic district with buildings dating back to the early 1900s. It is quaint and old fashioned, this area has served as an authentic backdrop in movies such as American Graffiti, Peggy Sue Got Married, and Walt Disney's Flubber.
The town center is rife with great shops for kids to explore. First, there's Copperfield's Books, a fantastic bookstore with a collection of under-glass Dr. Seuss original books to view as well as other collectible children's editions. Downstairs, the used book area, has reasonable prices with volumes in excellent condition.
The HeeBeeJeeBee retail shop has off-the-wall t-shirts, wind up toys, and retro lunch boxes, and old-fashioned candies. It's one of those tongue-in-cheek outfits that carries sarcastic products such as a cat-a-pult toy, pig launcher, and t-shirts that say "Boys are smelly." If you are easily offended, don't shop here. However, HeeBeeJeeBee will the most serious member of your family crack a smile.
Nearby, Crackerjack is a traditional toy and children's clothing store. You'll find educational gizmos for kids of all ages, stuffed animals, nursery and decorative items, and a nice shoe and dress up clothing section with reasonable prices.
Jungle Vibes Gift and Toy Emporium also carries kitchy items such as Hello Kitty wares to crafts and sushi playing cards.
Around the corner, the Comic Book Box will attract kids deep into Japanese anime and Archie comics. Along with matching figurines and trading cards, this place will satisfy those Yu-gi-oh card collectors as well.
The largest patch of grass in Petaluma can be found at Shollenberger Park, a seasonal wetland with over 160 species of birds. Established in 1995, the area is home to swans, egrets, Great Blue herons, white pelicans, and black-necked stilts found throughout the marshland. There's a two-mile circular pedestrian trail, docent led tours on Saturdays from October through June, and portions of park that run alongside the Petaluma River.
The Official Petaluma Visitors Guide offers a self-guided tour map of the historic town's key attractions, from the 1914 train depot to the Oak Hill Park area which showcases magnificent Victorian homes in their splendor.
There is much to explore in downtown Petaluma, the outskirts including Shollenberger Park, and Mrs. Grossman's Sticker Factory. If you come, start early and stay until after you have had dinner at Dempsey's. You won't regret it.
Feb. - Petaluma Doll Show
Apr. - Annual Butter & Egg Days Parade, Antique Fair
May - Living History Day (Volunteers re-enact life in the 1840s Mexican era California).
May through October - Farmers Market in Walnut Park
June - Open Studios, Art & Garden Festival, Sonoma-Marin Fair at Petaluma Fairgrounds
* www.visit-petaluma.com - info on the town activities and attractions.
* www.petalumawetlandspark.org - for details on Shollengerger Park.
* www.mrsgrossmans.com - for tour information on Mrs. Grossman's Sticker factory
* www.dempsey's.com - for menus, prices, and location of Dempsey's Restaurant & Brewery
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