By SHELDON BERMONT/Petaluma Towns Correspondent
The Petaluma Visitors Center is 24 years old, retired elementary school teacher Sybil Sullivan is 93. They were a perfect match when they joined forces in 1988, and she’s still greeting newcomers to Petaluma with her charm and knowledge.
Sullivan’s years as a Petaluma teacher left her with a love of people that still needed feeding. She found her sustenance at the center, which welcomes 500 people a month in the winter, 1,000 during the summer tourist season.
“I’ve always taken an interest in people,” she said. “They all have their own interesting stories to tell, especially those who are able to spend a lot of time traveling.”
We asked Sullivan for the most commonly asked questions and her answers. A lot has changed since she and her husband, John, moved to Petaluma in 1954, but as the changes occurred, her answers get updated.
What is there to do and see in Petaluma?
The downtown area, because people feel like they’re stepping back in history because of the architecture. The fact that Petaluma was scarcely damaged in the earthquake of 1906 allowed many of the original buildings from the late 1800s to remain intact.
Where can we go that’s children-friendly?
There was Elliott’s Candy (long since closed) on Washington Street near Volpi’s. They made their own brand of candy and sold ice cream in special shapes, like eggs for Easter and Santas for Christmas.
There is Mrs. Grossman’s, mrsgrossmans.com, a sticker manufacturer that children always find fascinating at 3810 Cypress Way, next to Shollenberger Park. It offers tours that end with free stickers for the kids.
There’s also the Petaluma Wildlife Museum on Petaluma High School’s grounds, http://petalumawildlifemuseum.com, that includes a taxidermy exhibit from around the world that is improved on and added to yearly.
Where’s a good place to eat?
The three most often recommended were the ravioli at Mr. McGoo’s, 1375 Petaluma Blvd. N., letseat.at/MrMcgoos; the Fontana cheese dishes at Volpi’s, 124 Washington St.; and the French bread hot from the oven at Lombardi’s Bakery, which closed in 2008.
We are interested in buying a home in the Petaluma area. Do you have any information that would help us?
We have access to all the Chamber of Commerce materials designed to help newcomers, including a list of major employers, how to register for schools, real estate directories and listings for doctors, churches, hospitals and rentals.
Are there any dairies or farms we can visit?
McClelland’s Dairy at 6475 Bodega Ave., mcclellandsdairy.com, has free weekend tours. And Tara Firma Farms at 3796 I St., tarafirmafarms.com, which specializes in organically grown crops. Tourists from other states are always curious about Tara Firma’s forward-thinking concept.
We’ve heard about Petaluma cheese. Where can we go to see it being made?
The Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station, cowgirlcreamery.com, and the Marin French Cheese Factory on Red Hill Road, marinfrenchcheese.com. Clover Dairy used to show tourists the entire process, but discontinued the tours.
What’s the best place to go swimming?
The Petaluma Swim Center, www.marinswimschool.com/dirpsc.shtml,900 East Washington St., 778-4410, which allows day passes for travelers, and various sections of the Russian River for day trips.
Where can we go hiking and biking?
Tourists are always pleasantly surprised at the accessibility, size and beauty of Helen Putnam and Shollenberger parks.
We’ve heard there’s a paddle boat that serves dinner and tours the river. Can you direct us?
At one time there was a floating restaurant called “The Petaluma Queen” that toured the river from here south and back. They even had live bands playing on board. They’ve been closed for over half a decade but My husband and I went several times and enjoyed it immensely.
You can contact the Petaluma Visitor’s Center at 210 Lakeville St., 769-0429 or visitpetaluma.com with your own questions, and they won’t mind if you already live nearby.