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Petaluma's Salute to American Graffiti: A Movie Buff’s Dream Getaway

If your search for the perfect vacation destination includes beautiful surroundings, friendly people, stunning architecture, and plenty of great activities, then Petaluma, California, is for you. Ever since the California Gold Rush of the mid-19th century, Americans have been drawn to California and the Petaluma area. Settlers looking for a fresh start loved Petaluma's rich soil, moderate temperatures, proximity to rivers, and infrastructure. Different periods of growth in the city left their lasting impression, and today you’ll find many historic buildings, landmarks, and museums that highlight the rich history of the area. The scenic natural surroundings, combined with the well preserved historic buildings, made Petaluma a prime spot to film movies beginning in the 1940’s. A few movies filmed here that you may recognize include: Hulk (2003), Pleasantville (1998), Basic Instinct (1992), Cujo (1983) and perhaps the most widely acclaimed film made here, American Graffiti (1973).


From exploring the area's beautiful natural landscapes to visiting the previously mentioned historical sites, Petaluma has something for everyone to enjoy. Guided tours of the can't-miss sites and locations are a perfect way to get the lay of the land. The art scene is vibrant, large, and on display all over the city. Without traveling far you’ll have ample opportunities to soak in the art and culture at various galleries, exhibits, shows, theaters, and live entertainment venues. The dining scene here is comprehensive and you’ll encounter everything from cutting edge culinary experiences to some great local bar food. Don't forget your proximity to California Wine Country, where you’ll find an impressive selection of tastings and tours. A great way to meet new people and have a unique experience is to visit during one of the big local events like Petaluma’s Salute to American Graffiti.


When it comes to unique and/or rare event experiences, Petaluma's Salute to American Graffiti is a prime example. Petaluma has been the home to this cinema-themed celebration for over a decade. This family-centric event draws nearly 30,000 people into the city to celebrate the movie and cultural movement that was and is American Graffiti. The event is anchored by a classic car show, where participants come from across the world to help recreate the atmosphere that the movie highlighted. The event is also packed full of fun games for kids, refreshments, food and the opportunity to see the stunning town of Petaluma first hand. If you're a fan of the movie, or cinema in general, this festival is for you! got the opportunity to interview Colleen Rustad, Representative for Petaluma's Salute to American Graffiti, to talk about his unique event.


RAL: Tell me a little bit about the event.

CR: Petaluma is among the most picturesque towns in all of California. Our iron-front buildings from the late 1800’s, immaculate Victorian mansions and small town charm make it the perfect filming location to represent “Hometown America.”


It’s no wonder that director George Lucas chose Petaluma as the setting for his iconic movie American Graffiti. Filmed during the summer of 1972, director George Lucas used Petaluma streets for many of the iconic movie’s most memorable scenes.


In celebration of our place in cinematic history, a group of classic car enthusiasts and fans of the movie created “Petaluma’s Salute to American Graffiti.” Now in its 11th year, the free family-friendly, no alcohol event draws 30,000 people from across the country and even internationally for the car show and recreation of those happy days.


RAL: Take me through a day at the event.

CR: The centerpiece of the event is the car show on May 21st in historic downtown Petaluma. More than 450 classic American cars and trucks will be in place by 10:00 am with hoods open and polished chrome sparkling in the sunlight. Enjoy chatting with the owners until 4:00 pm; that’s when engines will rev and roar as the cars take to the street to cruise the boulevard just like they did in the movie.


Appreciating the skill and artistry on display in the beautifully restored vehicles is just one way to experience the “Where were you in ’62?” retro vibe. Tune your radio to XERB 88.1 FM all day for some great oldies, visit with American Graffiti stars Candy Clark, Bo Hopkins and Lynne Stewart, shop for a commemorative souvenirs at Cruiser Retail, let the kids jump to their hearts content at Toads Jump, and enjoy classic drive-in fare at Mel’s Burger City. Or dine at one of Petaluma’s amazing array of restaurants. Some have said that we have more restaurants per capita than any city in California!


RAL: What can an attendee expect to find for local lodging?

CR: Petaluma is big enough to have lodging options to suit every travel style and budget yet small enough that the number of choices isn’t overwhelming. In addition to the Sheraton that has guest service scores in top 10% of all Sheratons nationwide, Petaluma has several boutique hotels. Visitors can stay in the heart of the American Graffiti fun at Hotel Petaluma in historic downtown;  the hotel has recently been restored to its 1925 glory. Or just a few blocks away, the Metro Hotel offers “a little trip to Paris in Sonoma County.” Guests can even stay in an Airstream trailer on the property…it doesn’t get more unique than that! A mile up the road is the Petaluma KOA featuring several deluxe cabins with fully-equipped kitchenettes.


RAL: What does this event mean to the community?

CR: “Petaluma’s Salute to American Graffiti” is produced by Cruisin’ the Boulevard, an all volunteer nonprofit. The proceeds from the event are reinvested back in the community. One of the organization’s primary projects is raising funds to place Automatic External Defibrillators (AED) in all Petaluma police cars, with high school coaches and senior housing locations. At the 2016 event, the organizers will present four AEDs to a local non-profit that provides affordable housing for seniors. They also award scholarships to high school seniors. Additionally, the event creates awareness for Petaluma and the influx of visitors has a very positive economic impact on Petaluma businesses.


RAL: Why should people come to your event?

CR: The view from Petaluma Boulevard is an image that visitors won't soon forget. Hundreds of immaculately restored classic cars line the streets of picturesque Petaluma. Chat with the car owners or just soak up the atmosphere. Friendly, warm and welcoming – it’s a what Petaluma does best!

For more information about Petaluma’s Salute to American Graffiti, please visit their website.