RVing in Sonoma County.
Okay, so the title of this post might not be the best advertisement for the Petaluma/Sonoma area; but I’ve got to be honest – it was no bed of roses. The smell is even known locally as the “Sonoma Aroma”.
The area has a lot of cattle/dairy farms around it and they use the manure to fertilize their land. Having grown up in a rural area, I know about this practice; but have never been as affected as I was there. After a little research, I found that it has to do with the weather patterns there. Of course, the wind was just right most of the time to blow the manure dust from the nearby farms right through our campground. Many times, it was bad enough to affect my sinuses and require us to shut the windows and run our air purifier.
If you plan a visit to Sonoma County, and you really should, I suggest finding a location farther away from the farms and/or bringing an air purifier just in case. Or maybe there’s a way to find out when certain farms will be fertilizing their fields? Just be prepared to not have your windows open while you’re there.
That said, we stayed at the KOA there, which is beautiful. It has lots of Redwoods and other shade trees, a nice pool, movie nights, as well as tons of activities for the kids including a small petting zoo. They even had a little train that they’d pull around the campground with one of their golf carts. So cute! They were setting up for a month of Halloween-themed activities the weekend we left and had swapped the train for a hayride. Really, the Petaluma KOA has it going on.
We didn’t do much in Petaluma itself other than basic errands, work/study, and handle the awning repair. That’s been a long, ongoing issue. I explain it all in detail below.
One cool thing we found in Petaluma is a great little café/bistro called Wishbone. They raise their own meat, bake their own bread, and make everything from scratch. Brian had rabbit crepes, which he said were very good, and I had sourdough hotcakes as a nod to my childhood. Wishbone had a totally relaxed vibe and funky décor. I loved it and would absolutely go back.
Sonoma – The Town
We spent a day in Sonoma, which is about 30 minutes from Petaluma. There was no smell while we were in town, but they apparently do get it sometimes. 😉 We started off at Sonoma Springs Brewery, co-owned by a friend of Brian’s who was, unfortunately, not there that day. Brian tasted several beers, pronouncing them all good to very good as I recall. Then we did a short hike in the Montini Open Space Preserve, which is just outside of town – literally right next to the residential area and a small farm that are a few blocks from the main street. The trail takes you up a bit so you can get some great views of the Sonoma Valley. The birds and squirrels were too fast, but I did get lots of great tree pics and some of the neighboring farm and cows.
The funny thing is I got better photos of a hummingbird while eating dinner in town. We randomly picked Sonoma Grille (after checking their ratings, of course) and ate on their patio. They have a fence with Wisteria crawling all over it, so the hummingbird was enjoying a meal of its own. The food and service at Sonoma Grille was wonderful and I definitely recommend eating there if you’re in the Sonoma area.
San Francisco – The City
The next day, we drove down to San Francisco to have dinner with friends. We decided to spend some time exploring on our own before that, so left earlier in the day; but between traffic and one-way streets, it took us nearly three hours to get to our first destination – Golden Gate Park. Because of that, we mainly stuck to the park. We hit “Hippie Hill” and Sharon Meadow (which I think is now dedicated to Robin Williams.) This is the area made famous by the Summer of Love, where the flower children made love, not war, and Janis Joplin sang with friends. Hippies were still on the hill and musicians were still jamming in the meadow. It was pretty cool to see that bit of history. We also visited the AIDS Memorial Grove, though part of it was in use for a wedding; so we stuck with the outer edge. Still, we were able to sit among the trees and quietly reflect on the early years of AIDS, friends we’ve lost to it, and those we know who are surviving and even thriving as HIV positive people. It didn’t feel right taking photos of the actual memorial pieces, but the trees below are part of the grove and the engraved rock is on the path into it.
We walked a bit more, then decided to grab a beer at Anchor Brewery, which is just a few blocks from where we were meeting our friends. Anchor is one of those breweries that has the wide open, warehouse-style interior with an assortment of tables. The only food they offer is tiny bags of party mix, but they do have a food truck that seems to be there regularly. It sits just off their tiered patio, so you can enjoy the sun and have some good food while you’re trying out all their beers.
Dinner was at the fabulous Peruvian restaurant, Mochico. Seriously, whether you want to try Peruvian or already love it, Mochico is a good place to go in San Francisco. The ambiance was casual and lively, but not loud. We had excellent conversations and the food and drink was amazing. Thanks to J and M for introducing us to it and for such a great conversation!
Brian flew to Connecticut for work the next morning, returning on Friday. This was the first time he’d left me and the cats alone for more than a day, so we were both a bit nervous. Nothing crazy happened (hooray!) and the only thing outside of ordinary that week was me having to talk with the RV Tech about the awning. Brian emailed him with details of his troubleshooting work, so the rest was pretty easy.
The Awning Story
Okay. Here’s the whole scoop, so far, about our patio awning. Skip through if you already know it or don’t care. The awning wouldn’t retract using the motor when we were leaving our campground in the North Seattle area. We were late getting out of our spot because of it, so we stopped futzing and manually rolled it and strapped it down. When we got to Seaside, we had someone come out to take a look and they said the motor was dead, so we ordered a new motor that arrived just before we were leaving. The next couple of campgrounds didn’t have space for us to put out the awning and work on it, so Brian installed it when we were in the Ashland area; but the awning still wouldn’t work. He did a bunch of testing but couldn’t quite figure out the issue other than it was likely some internal wiring. He re-rolled it manually, leaving the new motor in it and we waited again for a spot where we could get the awning out and bring in another mobile RV tech. That was in Petaluma.
On our way to Petaluma, just one mile from our exit and less than two miles from our campground, the awning started unraveling and billowing in the wind! Oh yes. I was on the phone in a heartbeat telling Brian to pull over and he was already looking for a spot to do that. Luckily, the awning’s arms hadn’t come undone and it was only part of the awning material. Nothing got ripped or torn or ripped off – no damage, believe it or not. We spent the next 45 minutes on the side of Highway 101, in the sun and wind gusts, trying to figure out how to secure the fabric. The problem is that there’s no space between the awning and the side of the RV except on the very ends where the support arms are located. Otherwise, there’s no way to get a bungee or rope around it. Brian finally decided to try to tape it to the roof with duct tape and drive very slowly with our flashers on the final 1.8 miles to our destination. Thank goodness we knew we’d be able to have someone look at it!
We called around and finally were able to get a mobile RV Tech out the Monday that Brian left for Connecticut. Eric arrived with his brother-in-law, Derek, who’s an electrician. (Yes, they both think the rhyming is funny.) After a little troubleshooting, they said the motor was dead. What?! That was the new motor! That gave them a clue as to the root of the problem and they spent some additional time troubleshooting, eventually finding two wires that had been touching and keeping power on to the motor all the time. This, of course, is what burned out both motors.
So, I bought another new motor and this time was able to have Eric install it to ensure the problem was really resolved. It wasn’t. Of course. More troubleshooting. He finally found that the relay box was also burned out. We’d just spent a lot of money on the new motor and all the troubleshooting as well as some large deposits for future campground reservations, so we decided to hold off on purchasing the relay for a couple of weeks knowing that Eric could make the awning secure.
Eric applied external power to the motor and retracted the awning, locking it in place; then he disconnected the wiring from the relay, so there would be no motor burnout this time. He had me take photos of the relay and wiring and gave me the very easy instructions on replacing it. I’m very hopeful that all will be resolved once that’s done, which should be this month. Big shout out to Eric of Golden State RV Repair!
Farewell to Petaluma
Brian returned home on a Friday and I wasn’t feeling awesome from the poor air quality, so we hung out around the RV that weekend preparing for our drive on Monday. Usually, we travel on the weekends, so Brian doesn’t have to take a day off; but our next campground didn’t have available space until Monday. As much as we wanted to explore Santa Rosa a bit and maybe Sonoma a little more, I just wasn’t up for it and Brian was still recovering from the time difference. We did all that normal, mundane stuff like laundry and some cleaning, and relaxed before heading farther south. That’s RV life!
All in all, the Petaluma area is nice. It’s a great place to stay if you’re wanting to explore Sonoma in an RV. We’d checked out a couple of RV parks closer to Sonoma and they either had bad reviews or not enough Internet service for us to work. My guess is prices are about the same. You can easily get to Santa Rosa and Bodega Bay as well, while San Francisco is a bit longer of a drive. If we didn’t have our cats with us, we may have spent a night somewhere in San Francisco just to have more time in the city. I can easily see spending three or four weeks in the area, especially if you’re a digital nomad; so that you have time to really explore the area.
That’s our Petaluma story. Be groovy, friends, and remember to live your journey…