The waterway now known as the Petaluma River is actually a tidal slough, a tributary of San Pablo Bay.
According to local historian Skip Somer, “In 1848, it was navigable at high tide for small craft and scows of shallow draft for about 16 miles upstream.” Within twenty years, it would become a route for commerce, as schooners, sloops, and other watercraft carried produce, poultry and dairy products from this fertile valley to the rapidly exploding populations of San Francisco and Oakland.
At one point, Petaluma was the third busiest inland port in the state, with more tonnage and dollar value hauled on the Petaluma River than on any other river in the state.
The increasing number of water craft, and the introduction to the Petaluma River of larger paddle boats, made for a congested port. The Turning Basin was developed in 1921 to enable boats to turn around and head back into the San Pablo Bay.
Today the Turning Basin is anchored on one side by Petaluma Yacht Club and the downtown riverfront, and on the other by the Golden Eagle Shopping Center, with a footbridge connecting the two. It serves as an unofficial water park and continues to be a hub for the community. Where once you’d see paddle boats and scows, you’ll now find watercraft of a different kind: kayaks, sailboats, even stand-up paddle boards.