Petaluma is easy to find, straight up Highway 101, 32 miles north of San Francisco. It is the portal to Sonoma County, making Petaluma an ideal base for excursions to the Wine Country, the dramatic Sonoma Coast, and the majestic redwood groves.
The Petaluma area was part of a 66,000 acre (270-km²) 1834 Mexican land grant by Governor Jose Figueroa to Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo called Rancho Petaluma. In 1836, Vallejo ordered the construction of his Rancho Petaluma Adobe a ranch house in Petaluma, which his family often used as a summer home, while he resided in the neighboring town of Sonoma. Vallejo's influence and Mexican control in the region began to decline after Vallejo's arrest during the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846.
Pioneers moved to Petaluma from the eastern United States after James Marshall found gold in the Sierra Nevadas in 1848. The town's position on the Petaluma River in the heart of productive farmland was critical to its growth during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Sailing scows, such as the scow schooner Alma (1892), and steamers plied the river between Petaluma and San Francisco, carrying agricultural produce and raw materials to the burgeoning city of San Francisco during the California Gold Rush.
Petaluma soon became known for its grain milling and chicken processing industries, which continue to the present as a smaller fraction of its commerce. At one time, Petaluma was known as the "Egg Capital of the World," sparking such nicknames as "Chickaluma". Petaluma hosted the only known Poultry drugstore and is the place where the egg incubator was invented by Lyman Byce in 1879.
One of the largest historic chicken processing plants still stands in the central area of town; this 1930s brick building is no longer used for the chicken industry, but is being evaluated for preservation and change of use. Even though it is no longer known as the Egg Capital of the World, Petaluma maintains a strong agricultural base today with dairy farms, olive groves, vineyards, and berry and vegetable farms.
Petaluma is today the location of many distinguished, well-preserved pre-1906 buildings and Victorian homes on the western side of the river. In the 1960s there was a counter-culture migration out of San Francisco into Marin County and southern Sonoma County, looking for inexpensive housing in a less urban environment. The old Victorian, Queen Anne and Eastlake style houses were restored. Historic iron-front buildings in the downtown commercial district were also rescued. Traffic and new home development for the most part was rerouted to the east of downtown by the construction of the 101 freeway. The downtown Petaluma Historic Commercial District is on the National Register of Historic Places.