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Scenic backroads part of Sonoma County charm
By CARY ORDWAY
The California wine country in and near Sonoma County is known for its world-class wines, but you don't have to be a wine aficionado to marvel at this area's scenic backroads and the abundance of historical attractions all within a short drive. Case in point: a drive up the central part of the county that begins in the historic city of Petaluma.

We had spent an enjoyable weekend on a previous trip in the town of Sonoma — the best-known visitor destination in the county and a less corporate, less developed version of nearby Napa — but this time we wanted to get off the beaten path a bit and experience the Sonoma Wine Country. Because we had heard about the historic downtown buildings there, we decided our first stop would be Petaluma, a city of about 60,000 people that is about 32 miles north of San Francisco.

Driving up from Southern California, we went straight to the Sheraton Petaluma to rest up and begin a day of exploration the following day. This particular hotel is located on the Petaluma River with its full-fledged marina providing both moorage for local boaters and ambiance for the hotel. The river also provides a pleasant backdrop for hiking trails that begin at the hotel and take you several miles into the local marshland — he perfect start to a sunny day in Sonoma Wine Country.

After a brisk morning walk we drove just a couple of miles to Downtown Petaluma, which was just as advertised. The small downtown area had the good fortune to survive the San Francisco earthquake of the early 20th Century and today offers the visitor a complete collection of historic buildings, both business and residential. It's all within easy walking distance and it was fun to pick up local publications and do our own historic walking tour of the area. The river adds a special feeling to the downtown area and it's apparent that the locals have put great emphasis on creating boardwalks, special docks and other amenities to add to the area's overall charm.

As we ventured outward a few blocks from the downtown, we were awed by rows and rows of Victorian homes, most in good repair. Petaluma's Historic Downtown, in fact, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It soon became apparent why so many people choose to use Petaluma as a base of operations for exploring nearly 200 wineries in Sonoma County.

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