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

  • Near the town of Marshall the view is classic Tomales Bay: morning fog old buildings on stilts and the hills of West Marin rising across the water.

    tomales-fog

    Thomas J. Story

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We stroll two blocks to another town institution, Tomales Bay Foods, housed in a graceful old barn. Dreamed up by Sue Conley and Peggy Smith, both former Bay Area chefs, it's a showcase for Marin County organic produce, cheeses, meats, breads, and wines. It's also where Conley and Smith produce their Cowgirl Creamery cheeses ― seven or eight knockouts, all from Straus Family Creamery milk (you can watch them being made through a long window near the barn entrance).

Red Hawk, a meltingly delicious triple cream, gets its russet-colored rind ― the color of the big birds that soar over the bay ― from microorganisms that float naturally in the air here. Firm, complex Pierce Point is rolled in herbs gathered from its namesake spot on the tip of the Point Reyes peninsula. These cheeses are about as pure an expression of place as you can find.

We buy both of them at the cheese-sales counter, then check out what's on offer at Cowgirl Cantina, the barn's take-out counter. Chef Paul Buscemi makes picnic food, mainly from ingredients sold in the building, that's so inventive and good I get dazed trying to choose.

Luckily, Peter helps, and we get juicy sandwiches of Marin Sun Farms' grilled lamb, feta, tomatoes, and cucumber; a buttery tart of Point Reyes Original Blue, the only blue cheese made in California; and a compote of ripe figs and strawberries, plus a moist, almondy polenta cake.

We take it all a short drive north to Heart's Desire Beach, put our toes in the sand, and eat our feast in a state of bliss.

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