A town. A village. Two stops and 19 miles between them. The journey? Mostly scenic roadway, with the welcomed, contemplative fog one encounters driving country roads. This is what passes for bliss these strange days.
As a native Petaluman, now Pandemicaluman, I’ve added the road between Petaluma and Point Reyes Station to my list of quarantine “must haves”—next to movies, books, wine and takeout. Throw in brown paper packages tied up with strings and these are a few of my favorite things. And yes, I know I shouldn’t be driving around during quarantine, but I’m a newspaper editor and this is essential newspaper business.
Mind you, what follows is a highly personal list—drawn from my own reveries and pandemic-driven desires (mostly not to die). It is unabashedly idiocentric and reflects only those Petaluma and Point Reyes Station possibilities I have experienced first-hand or of which I’ve been made personally aware while writing. It is inevitable that your favorite haunt (or even your own business) has been left out. For this, you must forgive me—my ability to be here, there and everywhere has been kneecapped by dwindling resources, orders from the Governor and the laws of physics.
Seems Like Old Times
It’s still possible to replicate some of our pre-pandemic rituals—such as visiting La Dolce Vita Wine Lounge, the stylish wine bar that anchors downtown Petaluma’s Theater District (ldvwine.com). On pre-pandemic Wednesday eves, my companion and I sipped pinot noir in the lounge’s far couch as classic black and white movies played silently over the bar to the tunes of an ever-evolving Spotify playlist. Fortunately, we’re able to recreate the essence of that experience while quarantined—owner Sahar Garhai makes her extensive catalog of wine (in-house the selections decorate a wall the size of an arthouse movie screen) available for pick up. Ditto a revolving selection of delectable housemade hummus created by her wonderful mother. Our go-to wine in recent months is the Eric Kent Pinot Noir (recently featured in these pages, $25). To recreate the ambient, ever-screening quiet film fest, log into Kanopy.com on your laptop or on your Roku-enabled TV—it’s free via your Marin, Napa or Sonoma library card and features a robust classic-film collection.
If you prefer to pair pulp with your wine, Petaluma has that, too. Though my local Copperfield’s Books has yet to offer curbside pick up (at present writing, its Sebastopol, Napa and Calistoga stores do at select times—visit CopperfieldsBooks.com to learn when and where), they will deliver; and not just books, but online reader events, too. This Saturday, May 9 (or technically, “Mother’s Day Eve”), author Alia Volz will discuss her memoir, Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco (the title says it all), which was recently profiled by Jonah Raskin, our cannabis columnist.
Order Volz’s book online from Copperfield’s now and follow along. Whatever you can buy at Amazon you can buy there—but without giving your money to the billionaire who bought your local Whole Foods.
To that end, any Pandemicaluman worth their pink Himalayan salt has noticed that going to the supermarket is like participating in a historical re-enactment of Soviet-era Russia. Everyone is suspicious of each other and half the shelves are half bare. The most pleasant shopping experience in town is, hands down (and that’s very clean and rubber-gloved hands at that), the Petaluma Market. The locally-owned store was conscientious about contagion long before the chain stores. Employees wore masks and gloves much earlier than most, and it also has plexiglass checkout barriers that are still lacking at Whole Foods at the time of this writing (get it together, Bezos!).
I also pick up coffee by the pound from the Petaluma Coffee and Tea Company, and on some weekends I stop by our flagship bakery, Della Fattoria, which is open for take-out pastries, coffee and bread. If, like me, you miss the joyful clamor of baristas and patrons alike, at least one local cafe has attempted to replicate the vibe online.
“Our main focus at Aqus Cafe has always been to serve as a gathering space—one where people connect with each other and build connection and trust,” says proprietor John Crowley, who is quick to add that the cafe also prides itself on its entertainment and customer service. “The community-building aspect of what we do is so important during these times that we’ve tried to keep to our mission and replicate what we can in online forums.”
Their online activities—from a coffee group that meets at 10am every weekday, to Monday poetry and Friday storytelling evenings—are impressive and serve as a veritable, if virtual, hub for much of Petaluma’s social experience. Last Saturday, Aqus hosted the “Great Petaluma Beatles Singalong,” with over 130 people singing together online. This will be followed by a live Irish music session online on Thursday with participants joining in from as far away as New York and Ireland itself.
“We are social beings who need each other,” Crowley says. “If we cannot meet in person then the next best thing is to connect online and see the faces of our friends, acquaintances and fellow Aqus Cafe patrons and supporters. We need to continue to weave the fabric of community, now more than ever.”
Crowley encourages people to sign up for the Aqus Newsletter at aqus.com to join the online gatherings.
On the Road
If you’re departing from Petaluma, get gas before you leave—or you’ll have to wait until you arrive at Point Reyes Station, which, by ingenious design, is both the name of the village and your next opportunity to gas up.
Due to the relative lack of human interference, as with much of the Bay Area, local flora and fauna are making a comeback. This includes bicyclists, who have erupted like California poppies along the roadside. Just keep in mind that they’re more scared of you than you are of them. Proceed with caution.
Point Reyes Station is alive and well, not least of which because Toby’s Coffee Bar is still pouring the stuff between 6:30am and 1pm every day except Sunday and Monday. The popular spot is located in Toby’s Feed Barn, which shares its footprint with Toby’s Art Gallery. The art space is dedicated to the memory of Larry Bonham, a Petaluma artist who died of AIDS in 1990, and features the “The Art of Anna B. Francis”—a retrospective featuring over 50 works spanning Francis’ 40 years as an artist and educator—through May.
Meanwhile, the Station House Cafe is open for curbside service (and improvised curbside dining for brazen cyclists), and Cafe Reyes serves the best pizza margherita this side of Mount Tam (I literally just ate one in my car).
West Marin’s bookend to Copperfield’s in Petaluma, Point Reyes Books has long been “the little bookstore that could,” perhaps more so since Stephen Sparks and Molly Parent purchased it in 2017. The duo are not only tremendous stewards of the local institution, they’re great advocates of the indie bookseller cause.
“I’d say the best way for readers to support indie bookstores right now is to place orders, buy gift certificates, or in our case, open a Community Supported Bookstore account,” Sparks says, referring to the store’s new loyalty program modeled after the community supported agriculture movement. Information on the program as well as the bookstore’s “mystery box” promotion (“for those missing the serendipity of browsing!”) can be found at www.ptreyesbooks.com.