soft cheese
city, cycling, food, travel


I fully admit it: my primary goal for this last trip was to get a sandal tan.

Nonetheless, we got that and lots more out of our 5-day trip to Petaluma, California. Including eating and toting home more cheese than we can possibly eat in the 2 weeks that it’s supposed to be eaten (according to Vivien Straus – read on).

Our decision to head to the Sonoma Valley area for this August vacation was semi-random: part of our honeymoon was spent there, we knew there would be sun, good food and drink, and plenty of outdoor things to do. And I wanted to visit Pt. Reyes National Seashore; we were both due for a beach visit, and I’d heard good things about this national treasure.

So, the day after my Ragnar Relay event (prior to my fully catching up on sleep), we got on a midday plane and headed California-ward. I have a habit of stacking events within blocks of time away from work, and this was no exception. The hole we managed to poke in this particular plan was that it didn’t really allow for speedy recovery from a sinus infection. Will I learn? It just meant a few more hours of sleep, rather than carousing, in California.

Highlights from the trip:

  • We flew into San Francisco, which was fun because I haven’t been there in years, and this was Steve’s first time there. To get to Petaluma, where we had motel reservations, we drove through the city and over the Golden Gage Bridge, which was a scenic treat, even in somewhat busy traffic on our Friday morning return.

Fall Rainbows

  • A morning walk around Petaluma. We did a little shopping – found some seeds for a fall harvest at the Seed Bank – an old bank building re-purposed into an outlet for Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (which were oddly from Missouri). We cruised a few residential streets, as well, and loved the gardens. Everywhere, we saw naked lady amaryllis – a tall, leafless bloom that I hadn’t ever seen in the midwest. We stopped for a cup of coffee at Viva Chocolat – but ended up ordering (and loving) a cup of “European Drinking Chocolate” before lunch. Basically, this drink is the inside of a molten lava chocolate cake, with whipped cream on top. Lunch was surprisingly good at Dempsey’s, which we stumbled upon during our walk. Imaginative and local food. And beer: I loved their Petaluma Strong Ale even more than I loved the patio seat we scored.
  • Taking a suggestion from our lunch server, we headed for a beach, that first afternoon. It was great to stick our toes in the water and lounge for a bit at Doran Beach! We also enjoyed a brief walk along an estuary, and spied several crabs & some interesting plant life.


    Road To … Arch Rock

  • A day at Point Reyes National Seashore (hereafter referred to as a “park”). We picked the longer, mostly flat Bear Valley Trail, which took us through some meadows and forest to a beautiful ocean overlook. In August, evidently the main action in this park is the elk rut, so we headed to the corner of the park where several herds were located, and took to the Tomales Point Trail after a mini-tailgate party with wine, cheese, pasta salad and madeleine cookies. On our short hike we did spy – and hear- plenty of elk. Mostly elk sitting or standing still, with a little bugling and also a little bit of bull teasing one cow away from competing bull’s herd. Exciting stuff – but alas, no antler-tangling. We wrapped the day with a lovely dinner at Stellina, in Pt. Reyes Station, near the park. My fave there was the Italian barbera, though the shaved summer squash salad, with mint, pine nuts and chili oil was a very close runner-up.
  • A walk at the most excellent Shollenberger Park – a huge, restored wetland were we spotted some new (to us) birds: the black-necked stilt  and whatever sandpiper it was, there. There was also a huge flock of white pelicans, some swans, coots, other ducks: a crazy feather party was going on. That wetland must have been full of fantastic bird food.


    A Little Sumpin’ Wild

  • A foodie (gluttony?) day. First, we took a great tour and tasting at Cowgirl Creamery, which was well worth the $30/person cost. Our guide was Vivien Straus, whose family runs one dairy that supplies this creamery. We learned a lot about the history of this area, about the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, about cheesemaking, and that 1-day old Mt. Tam, a triple-cream Brie-type creation, is very tasty. So is ripe (4+ weeks) Red Hawk cheese – which starts with the same recipe as Mt. Tam but has an additional bacteria introduced at a late stage. A brief meander in the neighborhood took us to Real Döner for a lunch of Turkish food. I hadn’t sought to eat vegetarian on this trip, but after several meaty, cheesy meals, I was seeking beans, and got great ones in a felafel wrap. The hummus that Steve and I shared as an appetizer also satisfied veg cravings. After lunch we headed to a port wine tasting, and walked away with a bottle of yum. Later on in the afternoon, we headed over to the Lagunitas tap room and brewery, which was tucked away along a rather unassuming business park, not far from our motel. We took their brewery tour, which was fun, informational, and sometimes silly, which was expected from a place that prints stories on their beer bottles. Then, we repaired to the tap room and tried a few beers. Keeping them well in the single-digit realm, we then headed toward downtown Petaluma, to check out the Wednesday evening farmer’s market. There we saw surprisingly little produce, but plenty of food, nonetheless. We shared a cone of LaLoo’s Goat Milk Ice Cream, which I felt, and still feel, was possibly the best chocolate ice cream I’ve ever tasted. It wouldn’t be fair to compare it to a gelato in Torino, would it? Gelato isn’t exactly ice cream…


    Wild and Wooly Gardening

  • Foodie day number two included a bike ride from Sonoma down into the Carneros region. I don’t recommend that route, due to roads unfit for safe cycling, so I’ll just report that we had relieved and enjoyable visits to the Jacuzzi and Schug wineries, during our bike ride – and on this trip (versus our prior June trip), it was nice to see grapes on the vines, mainly as we rode up the very long driveway at Schug. After ditching the bikes, we drove up to Glen Ellen to visit the Audellsa tasting room, then back down into Sonoma to visit the  Sojourn tasting room. These winery choices were intentional, but in a fluid, social-media aided sort of way. We were familiar with Schug as some friends here in Minnesota enjoy their bubbly Pinot Noirs. Jacuzzi and Audellsa, I had read about, the prior evening, while surfing for recommendations. And Sojourn was a recommendation we got while at Audellsa, from two other travelers as well as from our host there at Audellsa. We tasted far better wines on this trip, than the last – I’m not sure if this is due to my actively seeking out wineries, rather than following the cyclery’s route, or if we’re just wiser and armed with one of us (Steve) now having read Dara’s fantastic guidebook for enjoying wines. They were such better wines that we came home with or shipped a total of 16 bottles!
  • Our final dinner on the trip was at Café La Haye, and it did not disappoint – though after drinking wine all day both of us would have appreciated a beer or two on the menu. We had no trouble appreciating the wine that we did order there, which went wonderfully with the mussel-saffron and corn-roasted red pepper soups we had as a first course. Second course, I stuck with seafood – scallops with quinoa; Steve enjoyed the vegetarian risotto special. Dessert was delish: Warm almond cake with honey poached pear & vanilla ice cream. Way to make a muffin look and be so much more than a muffin!

Trip: good. Made more so by great local food: for a few lunches/dinners, we just snacked on fruit (figs!), cheese and pasta salads that we’d stocked up on, the first day, at Petaluma Market. Yay for large fridges in motels.

On, to planning for the next trip, in October. We may head out with backpacks; this trip felt almost too web-connected and gluttonous. Stay tuned.

Late addendum: more of our trip photos can be viewed here. Enjoy!


2 thoughts on “Cheesy

  1. You did well on your trip to our neck of the woods, hitting some of my favorite places and foods. I don’t know Real Döner though, and will have to give it a try. If you ever visit the northern Bay area again, you should try kayaking one of the local waterways (Tomales Bay, Drake’s Estero, or one of the many others). They have easy access to Red Hawk cheese and Brick Maiden Bread (although for some of the best bread it is the brick oven Wild Flour bakery in Freestone).

    Also, you can kayak camp on Tomales Bay, selecting your own private beach for the night. Great way to do it.

    Your taste in adventure and food seems similar to my own, so I look forward to learning about other places around the country to visit if I find the opportunity.

    • Arah says:

      Galen- Thanks for the tips; we will surely return as we are addicted to California, to travel, and to food, for sure. I haven’t done much kayaking but I won’t rule it out. I have done some photography from a raft, on the Salmon River – and I have found that boats are a great way to get close to some amazing photography subjects.

      Love your egret photo, on your most recent post!

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