GETTING THERE: Many major airlines provide nonstop or direct flights from Dulles, Reagan National or BWI to San Francisco or Oakland, Calif., starting at about $99 each way. JetBlue, for example, flies nonstop from Dulles to Oakland; round-trip fare is currently about $218 with taxes. Connecting service from Reagan to San Francisco is frequently discounted; American, for example, was recently offering a round-trip fare of $194 including taxes.
In California cheese country, cows have the right of way.
Cowgirl Creamery, 80 Fourth St., Point Reyes Station, 415-663-9335, www.cowgirlcreamery.com. Open Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. You can watch cheese being made through the window or call in advance to arrange a short tour.
Marin French Cheese Co., 7500 Red Hill Rd., Petaluma, 800-292-6001, www.marinfrenchcheese.com. Open daily, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Spring Hill Cheese Co., 621 Western Ave., Petaluma, 707-762-3446, www.springhillcheese.com. Spring Hill is in the process of setting up shop at this address. Plans are to open in May and offer tours in the near future.
Cheesemaker's Daughter, 127 E. Napa St., Sonoma, 707-996-4060, www.cheesemakersdaughter.com. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday, 11 to 5. Not a cheese factory but a specialty food store. It also sells chocolates, gelato, picnic foods and cooking items, such as olive oil.
Vella Cheese Co., 315 Second St. E., Sonoma, 800-848-0505, www.vellacheese.com. Open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Bellwether Farms, Valley Ford, 888-527-8606, www.bellwethercheese.com. The company plans to open a retail outlet May 1 in a new gourmet marketplace at 106 Matheson St., Healdsburg, on the main square.
THE ROUTE: If you go on a Saturday, start at San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Farmers Market (Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street, 415-291-FARM, www.ferryplazafarmersmarket.com), where you can visit stalls selling Redwood Hill Farm's goat cheeses and Point Reyes Blue Farmstead Cheese. There also is a Cowgirl Creamery store. The market is open rain or shine Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. year-round. Seasonal Sunday and Thursday hours resume April 17, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Leave the city via the Golden Gate Bridge and take Route 101 north to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, which leads to Point Reyes Station, where you'll find the Cowgirl Creamery factory and retail outlet. Take Petaluma Road from Point Reyes Station. Just before the Nicasio Reservoir, you'll come to the Marin French Cheese Co. Nine miles up the road from Marin French Cheese is Petaluma. Coming into town on Red Hill Road, turn left on Fourth Street and left on Western Avenue to Spring Hill Cheese Co.
From there, Sonoma is about 15 miles away; take Lakeville Street (Route 116) out of Petaluma. When you reach Sonoma Plaza on Broadway, park and walk to the Cheesemaker's Daughter on the south side. The Vella Cheese Co. is around the corner.
WHERE TO STAY: San Francisco has a variety of lodgings in all price ranges; we liked the boutique Hotel Triton (342 Grant Ave., 800-800-1299, www.hoteltriton.com), which offers stylish rooms for as little as $99 per night. For a splurge, end your day at the MacArthur Place Inn & Spa (29 E. MacArthur St., Sonoma, 800-722-1866, www.macarthurplace.com), a re-created Victorian village with herb and flower gardens. The spa offers indulgent treatments such as a red wine massage or pumpkin facial ($115), and the inn has a steakhouse, Saddles. Rooms start at $225.
INFORMATION: Wine Country.com (www.winecountry.com) has maps and information about Sonoma and Napa artisanal food makers. For information on California cheese: American Cheese Society, www.cheesesociety.org. Other resources include the California Travel & Tourism Commission, 800-862-2543, www.visitcalifornia.com; the Petaluma Visitors Program, 877-273-8258, www.visitpetaluma.com; and the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, 707-996-1090, www.sonomavalley.com.
-- Jane Black