Sure, we’ve all heard of Wine Country, but did you know there is a magical place less than two hours away that instead of Pinots, Chards and Merlots, invites you to taste Camemberts, Triple-Creams and Fontinas? Cheese Country is a slice of paradise between Point Reyes Station, Valley Ford and Petaluma. There are nearly 30 cheese producers in the area, almost 20 of which will let you behind the scenes, from watching the cheese making process to hanging out with the goats and cows that make it all possible. We’ve rounded up the best options for families and a few fun detours along the way. Say cheese!
Photo: Peter Alfred Hess via Flickr
From San Francisco, take Highway 101 north. Exit at Lucas Valley Road, just before reaching San Rafael. Follow the direction of Nicasio. Very quickly you’ll be surrounded by green hills, rivers and cows. On the road, packs of bikers may outnumber the cars. Once you reached the charming little town of Nicasio, you might want to do a first cheese stop at Nicasio valley cheese company. They don’t have organized tours but you are always welcome to come in the little shop displaying 8 different kinds of 100% farmstead cow’s milk cheese, and talk with the producer. Back on the road, keep going north on Nicasio Valley Road and take a right on Point Reyes Petaluma Road, which will take you to Point Reyes Station. This will be your official point of entry to California Cheese Country. Valley Ford and Petaluma will be the two other main towns of your itinerary. To get an overview of where are the farms are located, check out this California Cheese Trail Map.
This is one of the best-organized tours of the cheese country. Every first Sunday of each month, between 1p.m. and 3 p.m., Toluma Farms opens its doors to the public.You will get to see and pet baby goats, and walk among the herd on the hills of the property.Then comes the best part: the open buffet cheese sampling. It takes place in a country chic farm house on the property, which is also rented as an Airbnb.
5488 Middle Rd.
Tours: First sunday of the month, 1p.m.-3 p.m.. Adult $20, Children $10
Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company
Known for its Blue Cheese, Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company specialized in cow’s milk cheeses. On the tour you’ll get to see the cows who produce the precious milk and learn about the cheese making process. You’ll also have a chance to meet the family running the farm and creamery. Farm tours take place every friday at 1:30 p.m. Private tours, Saturday brunch, farm dinners and plenty other events are also available. Check their website to see upcoming classes and events.
14700 Shoreline Hwy.]
Point Reyes Station, Ca
Tours: Every Friday at 1:30 p.m.
Two Rock Valley Goat Cheese
At this kid-friendly farm your littles ones are encouraged to explore. Bonnie, the owner of the farm and caretaker of the animals, loves kiddos. She will explain how she raises the goats in simple words and let you touch them as much as you want. Unlike most of the creameries, tours are available pretty much any time any day and are free (just give them a call and make a reservation in advance). If you are interested in the cheese making process, mention it. Bonnie knows animals better than cheese, and she will make sure her husband is around to talk cheese to you.
Insider tip: Finding Two Rock Valley Goat Cheese farm can be tricky: From the road look for the sign for De Bernardi Dairy—that’s the family’s last name and this is the spot.
7955 Valley Ford Rd.
Tours: Free, tips welcomed.Think about bringing some cash with you.
Cowgirl Creamery is the destination for all the cheese lovers out there. They offer 60-minute guided tours at their original Pt. Reyes creamery every Friday at 11 a.m. You and your little one will not only see firsthand their curd-making techniques, but indulge in samples of all of Cowgirl Creamery’s fine cheeses. Pick up wine, sandwiches, salads, and of course, cheese, from the Cowgirl Cantina and enjoy it outside on the shaded picnic area.
Good to Know: Tour cost $5 per person, and maximum tour group is 15 spots. Reserve your spot online as they can sell out quickly.
80 4th St.
Point Reyes Station, Ca
Petaluma is a perfect last stop before heading home. The charming historic downtown isa lovely place for a stroll. The little square is full of antique shops, victorian buildings and the Putnam Plaza Park. Across from the patch of green tucked between Petaluma Blvd and American Alley is Lala’s Creamery, an old fashion ice cream parlor offering wonderful frozen treats and sodas. And if you need to do a little bit more cheese shopping, head to the Petaluma Market. On the left side of the entrance, you’ll find a huge cheese aisle featuring all locally made cheeses.
Highway 101 north, between San Rafael and Santa Rosa.
Valley Ford Hotel
A very charming hotel, the Valley Ford is ideally located in the heart of California Cheese Country. On the first floor you’ll find a reading/relaxation room where kiddos are welcome to play. You can even order food and drinks from Oyster Rockerfellers, the restaurant across the hallway, and they’ll bring it to you. The food is really delicious and there is live music on Sunday nights.
14415 Shoreline Hwy.
Valley Ford, CA
The Continental Inn
Take trip back in time at the Continental Inn, which was built as a replica of the original turn-of-the century of the hotel that stood in the same place. It is a perfect place to explore the historic town of Tomales, and is five-minute drive from Toluma Farm. There is no restaurant in the hotel, but you will find a bakery, a deli and a restaurant ijust a short walk away.
26985 Highway One at Dillon Beach
The Bovine Bakery
This bakery is a very popular stop for families in Point Reyes Station. Good for breakfast, lunch or a snack, everything here is handmade and super fresh. You will find pretty much every pastry, cake or cookie you can think of, from french croissants to the most inventive kind of breads. Our vote goes for the oat bran date almond muffin and the orange chocolate chip scone. For lunch, pizzas and quiches are perfect for families on the go.
Insider Tip: For early risers, this bakery opens at 6.30 a.m. (and closes at 5 p.m.)
Point Reyes Station, Ca
One of our favorite dining option in Cheese Country, Rocker Oysterfellers combines fresh, local dishes with great ambiance. The menu has a cajun flavor, with dishes such as Poboy, Gumbo (a sausage and seafood stew), grits and the most delicious bite-size beignet on the dessert menu. Drop by on Thursday night for $1 oyster night and or swing by for live music on Sunday nights. The restaurant is located in the Valley Ford Hotel, and is open Thursday through Sunday from 5 p.m. until 8.30 p.m., Saturday from 3 p.m. and Sunday for brunch form 10 a.m. to 2 p.m..
14415 Shoreline Hwy.
Valley Ford, Ca
The Marshall Store
Food is on everyone’s minds up here, from sublime dairy to organic produce—and of course, the area’s famed bivalves. At the Marshall Store, they’ll serve you your oysters any way you want em: raw, barbecued or with their garlic butter and House Sauce. Sit out on the deck overlooking the water while you snack on seafood stew, fish tacos and dugeness crabs. And for tikes who still get squirmy at the idea of eating fish, their turkey or veggie panini and a few strips of the heavenly house-made beefy jerky are sure to please. To get to Marshall Store, from Point Reyes Station take Rd 1 north towards Valley Ford. The restaurant will be on your left, overlooking Tomales Bay. Look for a smoker and some picnic tables next to a parking lot.
The Water Street Bistro
Ideally located by the bank of the Petaluma River, this cafe is a good casual lunch option. They serve generous salads, sandwiches, soups and also warm dishes. You can also just stop here for a coffee and pastry. There is an indoor sitting area, as well as a little terrace from where you will be able to check on kiddos playing on the bridge over the river. It is a super safe, all pedestrian area.
Great Petaluma Mill Shopping Center
100 Petaluma Blvd N # 106
Have you explored California Cheese Country? Do you have a favorite stop?
All photos by the author