California Road Trip: Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park


After our day at the Point Reyes National Seashore, we didn’t really have much planned before heading into San Francisco.  Jon had originally thought he wanted to spend the day in Sonoma and do some wine tasting, but the day dawned and he just wasn’t feeling it.  So we decided to spend it a little more low-key.  We went and checked out the Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park, which is just outside of Petaluma.

The Petaluma Adobe was built and owned by General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo.  Vallejo was born in 1807 in Monterey, California, when California was a Spanish colony.  Once Mexico achieved its independence in 1821, he enrolled in the military and rose up through the ranks.  When the Spanish Missions were secularized, he oversaw the secularization of the Mission San Francisco Solano (in Sonoma), founded the town of Sonoma, and built the Presidio of Sonoma to guard against the nearby Russians at Fort Ross.  He was rewarded with a land grant that became Rancho Petaluma in 1834.  At its largest point, the ranch was 66,000 acres; approximately 100 square miles!

Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park

Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park

Vallejo built a large adobe ranch house in 1836 – the largest privately owned adobe building ever built – it was a quadrangle of two buildings on an open courtyard with a total size of 200 by 145 feet.  Sadly, the east wing of the adobe had fallen into disrepair and collapsed by 1880, so one U-shaped wing is what you see now at the park.  There is a photo of the adobe from 1880 that shows the crumbling ruined wall.  The adobe building has about 80% of its original adobe bricks, and 20% of the original wood.

Married Servants Quarters - Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park - The Married Servants Got Beds and Curtains to Divide the Their Part of the Room

Married Servants Quarters – Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park – The Married Servants Got Beds and Curtains to Divide Their Part of the Room

The park shows the Adobe as it was when Vallejo lived there, with servants quarters, storerooms and family rooms.  There is a clear distinction between the rooms that were occupied by servants and the rooms where Vallejo and his family stayed.  The servants rooms and work rooms were very plain, with the adobe walls visible and small, open windows.  The family rooms were much fancier, with plaster on the walls and ceilings,  paint, chandeliers (they would have been candles at the time) and glass in the larger windows.  They seemed like they would have been quite comfortable to stay in.  However, we do enjoy a different standard of living today, as back then all of the family (and their guests) would have slept in the same large bedroom, with blankets sectioning off different areas from view.  Contemporary accounts of the period describe visitors eating a late dinner in the dining room with Indians sleeping wherever there was an open space on the floor.

Dining Room - General Vallejo's Living Areas Had Plaster Walls, Paint and Real Glass Windows

Dining Room – General Vallejo’s Living Areas Had Plaster Walls, Paint and Real Glass Windows

General Vallejo's Bedroom - The Whole Family Slept in One Room

General Vallejo’s Bedroom – The Whole Family Slept in One Room

During its heyday, the rancho had about 12,000 head of cattle and 3,000 sheep; income was generated by the slaughter of about one quarter of the cattle each year and the selling of their hides.  Curiously, most of the meat was wasted.  The rancho was self-sufficient, and many of the 2,000 Indians who worked on the property also made tallow, candles, saddles, wool blankets and boots and shoes for military troops.  In 1846, once the Mexican American War began, Vallejo was imprisoned and American General John C. Fremont requisitioned most of the animals and supplies for his army in Vallejo’s absence.  Many of the Indians fled from the California 49ers on their way through the area to find gold.  At the end of the war, the rancho had already begun a long, slow decline, and Vallejo tried to lease it out for several years and finally sold it in 1857.  After Vallejo sold it, the building was used for other purposes.  In 1910 a group purchased it and preserved it – it was purchased by the state of California in 1951.

A Stack of Hides - Floor to Ceiling - At the Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park

A Stack of Hides – Floor to Ceiling – At the Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park

The Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park has a very reasonable admission price of $3;  and for that price you even get admission on the same day to the Presidio, General Vallejo’s home and the Sonoma Mission on the same day.  Sadly, it is one of the California State Parks that has been threatened with closure with the economic issues facing California.  I find it sad that there is so little interest in history (we were alone the whole time we were there, but there was another couple coming in as we were heading out) – because this park was well worth the visit.

After the adobe, we browsed in a few antique shops and shabby chic home decor shops in downtown Petaluma.  We weren’t feeling in the mood for a restaurant lunch, so we hit up Raley’s market for a deli lunch, where I had a delicious Cobb salad and Jon had some smoked turkey; we shared an Orzo pasta salad.  I also tried to find the Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc that I had enjoyed the evening before, but we had no luck.  Oh well, it was time to head to San Francisco!

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6 thoughts on “California Road Trip: Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park

    • It was a great day – the weather was beautiful and we had the place all to ourselves. It is nice to think that in 1910, people had the foresight to save this beautiful building.

  1. Agree about the lack of interest in historical sites, we have been to several where we have had the place to ourselves.

    Funny, we typically eat from the deli rather than restaurants – nice to know others do it too.

    • It is kind of a sad/happy scenario. Sad that there is nobody else there and what does that mean for our society, but good for me so I can have tourist free photos and Jon doesn’t freak out about the crowds!

      We both like to eat healthy and the restaurant meals can just start to get monotonous on a long trip! We’ve are known for our awesome “hotel ice bucket fruit salads”!

      • I worked the local home show this weekend. The only food available from the concessions was deep fried or very processed. My home prepared lunches were apple and cheese slices and almonds with dried cherries. Yes, we have made several lovely meals at hotels – especially when we have had a special bottle of wine to pair it with.

  2. Pingback: California Road Trip: The Long Road Home | Wine and History Visited

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