Plan a trip to Sonoma wine country

Of all California’s wine regions, Sonoma may be the easiest to fall in love with. Visit this laid-back land of vineyard-rich valleys, from Sonoma to Dry Creek to Alexander, with the Russian River thrown in

Savor Tomales Bay

Just north of San Francisco, take in the beauty of the coast and sample succulent oysters, cheese, and more

Where oysters and family farms thrive

Tender, meaty burgers of fresh-ground local sirloin are an auspicious first meal at Nick's Cove, where the menu could almost be a guide to local producers: Cowgirl Creamery cheese; tender, perfect lettuce from Star Route Farms; Brickmaiden Breads' and Della Fattoria's fragrant, yeasty loaves; and butter that hints at the coastal grasses and herbs the cows graze on at Straus Family Creamery, the first organic dairy in the West.

The restaurant itself evokes the local scene so strongly that it's hard to believe it's just a few months old. The vintage marble oyster bar, with its coiled rope detailing, is still there, as is the original (skillfully retouched) taxidermy, including a regal moose head over the entrance.

"You walk into Nick's Cove, and it's 50 years ago," says Kuleto, who's here in between meetings with staff. "Spiffed-up, but otherwise going back in time." Kuleto is cooking up all sorts of plans: delivery of fresh fish right to the dock outside; an organic farm across the road just for the restaurant; its own oyster beds.

We're eager to check out the source of all these oysters ourselves, so early the next morning we paddle kayaks out into the bay with Scott Terriberry from Point Reyes Outdoors, a veteran kayaker and seasoned naturalist. He has the vision of an eagle, pointing out snowy egrets on the bank and, barely visible above the surface of the water, the sweet whiskered face of a harbor seal, blinking wetly at us.

"Look!" he says as we're gliding over a shallow, sandy patch. Not 2 feet below, a baby leopard shark swishes by. On the other side, we see bright orange sea stars on the rocky banks. Finally we head back past Hog Island and its smaller sidekick, Piglet Island ― and, of course, oysters: thick plastic-mesh bags filled with them and laid flat on racks in shallow, nutrient-rich water.

Once you start thinking about oysters, it's hard to stop. And if you're slightly cold and wet, nothing beats a barbecued oyster. So right after we're out of the kayaks, we're at the Marshall Store, a breezy, sunny box of a building on stilts next to a boatyard, chowing down on the best in the bay ― meaty little nuggets doused with garlic-herb butter and spicy chipotle sauce. Then it's off to the town of Point Reyes Station for the finest produce around.

Held at Toby's Feed Barn, the local farmers' market is sponsored in part by Marin Organic, a visionary group that wants to make Marin the first completely organically farmed county in the nation. We snack on incredibly sweet, fragile strawberries and juicy dry-farmed cantaloupe, then wander inside the barn, where posters of heroic-looking farmers hang on the wall over the local jams and dairy products.

We do see feed here ― towers of hay bales in a big open passageway ― but also a yoga studio, organic coffee shop, garden store, community garden, and art gallery. I ask Chris Giacomini, the barn's soft-spoken owner, about his unusual creation, and he smiles and says, "Toby's is a reflection of the community."

That community, where wise agricultural practices mean it's steadily gaining family farms at a time when they're vanishing everywhere else in the United States, prompted a visit two years ago from Prince Charles (who owns one of the largest organic farms in England) and the Duchess of Cornwall. "Everyone got a haircut," says Marin Organic executive director Helge Hellberg, laughing. "We're still flying on it, on local food being held up this way and recognized."

 

 

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