What do Petalumans do for summer vacation?

Petaluma residents tend to choose this town purposefully, and are generally glad to call Petaluma their home. But in spite of that - and this may come as a shock to some of us - many Petalumans do occasionally like to visit other places. Especially during the summer months, locals pack up their bags, and venture off on camping trips to the Sierras, family rendezvous at beloved theme parks or festivals. Some even travel (gasp!) outside of California.

We asked readers to let us know which out-of-town destinations rank among their favorites. We quickly discovered that the lakes of Lake County (about two hours), the rustic beach towns of Mendocino County (about two-and-a-half hours), the theatrical offerings of Ashland, Oregon (six hours), and a certain Magic Kingdom (about 10 hours) keep appearing as the more popular places to go for residents of Petaluma.

“Melanie and I like to go to Ashland every couple of years or so,” Ken Gallegos says, pointing out that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is the primary draw to Ashland. “We are big theater fans, but we kind of gave it up when we had kids, then rediscovered it when our son Dezi started doing theater at Cinnabar. It only takes about six hours to drive to Ashland, we can catch two or three shows in a short period of time - we usually go up for about four days - and we really like it there because, to us, Ashland has the same charming vibe that Downtown Petaluma has.”

According to Gallegos, they always stay at the same bed & breakfast inn, though when asked, he good-naturedly admits he can’t quite recall the name of it.

“Melanie remembers those things better than I do,” he says with a laugh. “But whatever it’s called, it’s right downtown, and it’s very, very nice. And there’s a breakfast place we always go to that’s very popular. It’s on the second floor of this building not far from the main drag.” Once again, the name of the place escapes him. Laughing again, he says, “But the food is very good, and we eat there early, because we like to get up early when we’re on vacation, so we can start exploring as soon as possible.”

Since the Gallegos’ like to walk at least three miles a day when they are at home in Petaluma, they tend to not shirk from walking everywhere in Ashland, and have recently discovered a network of pleasant hiking paths that rise up from the downtown area’s historic Lithia Park.

“We love walking through Lithia Park,” Gallegos says. “And there’s a great little bookstore with a café upstairs where you can drink coffee, have a sandwich, and read a book. But what’s that place called? The bookstore?” It comes to him after a few seconds. “Bloomsbury Books!” he exclaims. “It’s such a great store. It reminds me of Copperfield’s, though it’s a little smaller than Copperfield’s - but it has a coffee shop.”

One tip Gallegos has for those who’ve never visited Ashland is to consider going in non-peak parts of the year.

“We’ve gone in the summer, we’ve gone in the fall, but this year, we went in March, and it was great,” he says. “The weather was nice, and the place wasn’t as busy as it gets later in the year. It’s a long festival, not just a summer thing.”

This year, for the record, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival runs through Oct. 27.

Because of its length, Gallegos points out, what is true of the fall in Ashland - shorter lines, easier parking, fewer people vying for reservations in the restaurants before curtain time - is also true of the period that follows Labor Day, when the theaters are still open but the crowds have significantly shrunk.

Of the shows that the Gallegos’ saw when they visited this year, his favorite was the drama “Cambodian Rock Band,” by Lauren Yee. They also enjoyed a lively production of the musical “Hairspray,” and a world premiere of a new play by former Californian Octavio Solis, “Mother Road,” a sequel, of sorts, to John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath.”

With their love of theater now fully reignited, and the kids now off on their own life adventures, Gallegos says trips like Ashland - and his family’s other favorite, to Southern California’s Oceanside - are a great way to escape. Even if Ashland does remind them so much of their home in Petaluma.

“I guess it is weird, but it’s true that a major draw of Ashland, for us,” says Gallegos, “is that we get to get away from Petaluma for a few days, and at the same time feel like we haven’t really left Petaluma, because it has a lot of the same things.”

For William Desenberg, of Petaluma, it would not feel like summertime without the family’s annual trip to Southern California, and in particular, Disneyland. The Desenberg’s have, in fact, just returned from their yearly visit to the Happiest Place on Earth, where they especially enjoyed exploring the park’s brand new “Star Wars” themed land, Galaxy’s Edge.

“It’s incredible,” Desenberg says of the 14-acre environment that includes a Millennium Falcon-themed ride, multiple interactive attractions, and a place called Oga’s Cantina, where a DJ robot with the voice of Paul Reubens (aka Pee Wee Herman) entertains revelers. “Very detailed,” reports Desenberg. “Doesn’t feel like you are at Disneyland at all once you are in the area.”

Outside of the new “Star Wars” stuff, Desenberg says his family was particularly excited to be there for the reintroduction of the beloved Main Street Electrical Parade at Disneyland. The iconic procession was relocated for a while to the adjoining California Adventure Park.

“This was a factor in the week we choose to go,” Desenberg allows, adding, with a hint of anticipation for the next family trip in 2020, “California Adventure is building Marvel Land now, opening next summer.”

To be clear, Desenberg, who grew up in Southern California, makes sure to save time for other non-Disney activities, and over the years, the family has developed a number of favorite events and destinations South of the Grapevine. For example, says Desenberg, “We also saw the Festival of Arts/Pageant of the Masters show in Laguna Beach.” The Pageant is a one-of-a-kind production that runs concurrently with the annual Arts Festival throughout July and August. In the show, notable classical and modern artworks are recreated live on stage, with actors and sets bringing the paintings and scuptures to vivid life, all with live narration and a full orchestra. “The living paintings!” says Desenberg. “It’s a definite hidden gem we like to see every the summer in Laguna Beach.”

For the family of Petaluma’s Laura Cox Shooter, meanwhile, no summer is complete without a trip to Blue Lakes, in Lake County.

“We’ve been going with my husband’s family since before we were married 26 years ago,” she says. “His family grew up on the lake, as did his mother’s family. They used to have a permanent campsite at Le Trianon but now they have a cabin at the narrows.”

Shooter says they try to go up to Blue Lakes a few times a year, but always plan a trip, with a couple of other families, for the Fourth of July holiday. We go up several times a year with our daughters, other family and friends. It’s a family tradition, and that’s not the only, Shooter points out.

“We have matching tank tops for the occasion,” she says. “Red, White and Blue Lakes!”

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