The first time I visited West Marin I was participating in a weekend field trip with my college geology class from Berkeley. Most, including me, had signed up for the class because it satisfied the Geology course requirement, and didn’t require attendance other than the mandatory field trip - characterized as an overnight party in the Marin Headlands. Needless to say, the trip was an easy sell and the only thing I recall from the class is that the San Andreas Fault, which separates the Pacific and North American techtonic plates, slices through Stinson Beach, and neighboring Bolinas is the only town in North America that is not situated on the North American plate. In case your memory needs jogging, the shifting of the San Andreas fault in the Santa Cruz Mountains is what caused the massive earthquake in San Francisco in 1989. Anyway, enough of Geology 39….I hadn’t been back to the coast of Marin County since my days living in San Francisco after college, but sure enough, driving over the headlands from Mill Valley, the ocean breeze and the familiar smell of the eucalyptus trees filled the car and reminded me of why this place is so magical.
Stinson Beach: Stinson Beach is located 35 minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge. While it boasts a full time community of approximately 700 people, Stinson is home to many part-time residences that line both the sandy beach on the Pacific Ocean, and the lagoon just to the east. Stinson Beach is a great weekend spot and a getaway for visitors from all over the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. Its long sandy beach is easily swimmable and boasts excellent surf breaks at its northern end. Stinson makes a great base for exploring the larger area of West Marin.
Bolinas: Just north of Stinson Beach, Bolinas is the oldest coastal community in Marin, and is separated from the North American continent by the Bolinas Lagoon and the San Andreas Fault. Bolinas is a community of artists, surfers, and environmental activists who, over the years have successfully prevented large development and road improvements, thereby maintaining the pristine nature of the beach, redwood forests, and fertile land that surround the town. As a result, there are no road signs indicating the turn off to Bolinas, so pay attention and drive slowly.
Inverness: A small community of charming cottages located on the southwest shore of Tomales Bay.
Point Reyes Station: The hub of commerce in the area, Point Reyes Station has shops, restaurants, a grocery store, farmers market, and a large full-time residential community.
Marshall: Marshall is a tiny enclave located on the northeast shore of Tomales Bay and is known for a its oyster and clam harvests.
Pelican Inn: Just over the hill from Mill Valley and a stones throw from Muir Beach is the Pelican Inn. Intimate and homey, the tutor style and gardens of the Pelican Inn are reminiscent of the English countryside. With only seven rooms, the Inn is small and cozy and features a welcoming restaurant serving English country food - think bangers and mash and shepherd’s pie! Muir Beach, $$
VRBO: 20-minutes up the coast on Highway 1 from Muir Beach brings you to Sintson Beach. There are few nightly hotel accommodations in Stinson Beach, but there are a host of great houses that are offered for rent on VRBO. The best rentals in Stinson Beach are homes in the Sea Drift community that are situated on the lagoon. This location gives you great access to calm waters for swimming and paddle boarding on the lagoon, but is also a short walk to the surf of the Pacific Ocean. Stinson Beach, $$-$$$$
Mankas Inverness Lodge: Mankas is the 5-star spot for a relaxing weekend away. Approximately 30-minutes north of Stinson Beach on Tomales Bay, Mankas consists of a number of rustic-luxe cabins and a boat house with a commanding view of the calm waters of Tomales Bay. The actual Lodge at Mankas burned down a number of years ago, but the cabins have slowly been renovated and the property returned to its original beauty. While the restaurant at the Lodge is no longer, the owners have moved their food operation down the road to Sir and Star at the Olema Inn. A meal not to be missed if you are staying in Inverness. Inverness, $$$$
Nick’s Cove: Across Tomales Bay from Inverness and north of Point Reyes Station is Nick’s Cove. Hanging over the waters of Tomales Bay, the cottages at Nick’s Cove are a great place to stop for the night, especially if you are road-tripping up or down the coast. A perfect stop at Nick’s would involve pulling up at one of its beautiful cottages, throwing the bags inside, grabbing a beer, and sitting on the dock while the sun goes down. So good! And when the sun is gone, Nick’s features a fantastic restaurant known for it’s outstanding seafood and the oysters it pulls out of the Bay. Marshall, $$$$
Parkside Cafe: If you are tired of cooking for yourself, the only place to eat out in Stinson Beach is Parkside Cafe. Grab a seat at one of the outdoor tables, order a bloody mary, and settle in for as long as you like. The menu is extensive, from burgers and sandwiches, to fresh seafood, salads, smoothies, and pasta. And for offering such an extensive menu, the food is surprisingly excellent! Kids are welcome. If you are looking for takeaway, Parkside has a walk up shack next door that offers burgers, hotdogs, and the like. Stinson Beach, $$
Osteria Stellina: The best place to eat in Point Reyes Station is Stellina, where rustic Italian fare is the name of the game. The menu features wood-fired pizzas, pastas, and salads using locally sourced and seasonal ingredients. At our recent lunch at Stellina, I went for it by ordering the pasta with water buffalo ragu. It was insanely delicious!! Go out of your way to eat at Stellina! Point Reyes Station, $$$
Nick’s Cove: See above. Marshall, $
Sir and Star at the Olema Inn: The chefs from Manka’s have finally found a new kitchen at Sir and Star. California comfort food with ingredients sourced from West Marin is served in the quaint dining room of the Inn. If it’s a cool night, sit by the fire and enjoy the warm ambience of the peaceful space. Olema, $$$
Tomales Bay Oyster Company: Tomales Bay Oyster Company used to be that awesome rustic spot where you could pull up, buy some oysters and hang out at one of their self-service picnic tables for the day. Whether you like your oysters raw of grilled, the set up was awesome. Unfortunately, last year Marin County ordered Tomales Bay Oyster Co. to remove their picnic tables and barbecues, siting some ridiculous code, but you can - and are still encouraged - to stop in for oysters and take them to the nearby park to continue your picnic. Marshall, $
Hog Island Oyster Company: Hog Island has taken over where Tomales Bay Oyster Company left off. Not only does Hog Island have their stand alone Boat Oyster Bar and outdoor cafe, but picnic tables can be reserved for self shucking and barbecuing oysters. Marshall, $$
Cowgirl Creamery: I’ll never forget when a dear friend brought me my first wheel of Redhawk cheese from Cowgirl Creamery. She presented it to me as a hostess gift, triple wrapped in foil to conceal its stinky smell from other passengers on the plane she had just flown in on. That was years ago, and many wheels of Redhawk later, I still crave this delicious cheese and buy it on the rare occasion that I see it in the cheese case. Redhawk is not the only fantastic cheese made by Cowgirl Creamery - Mt. Tam is another incredibly creamy variety that is readily available in most high end grocery stores. The original creamery and cheese shop for Cowgirl Creamery is located in Tomales Bay Foods, a restored barn in central Point Reyes Station. Not only can you see their cheeses being made, but Tomales Bay Foods is the perfect place to stop in for picnic supplies. Cheese, cured meat, bread, jam, wine….need I say more? If you have a hard time getting creative on a picnic spot, they have a lovely deck with tables out back. Point Reyes Station, $
Bovine Bakery: Excellent bakery offering fresh bread and pastries. Point Reyes Station, $
Smiley’s Saloon: Smiley’s has been around forever. It is the place where surfers gather for a beer at the end of the day, and where locals congregate to listen to live music. Smiley’s also offers a couple of rooms for rent, but be warned, this isn’t exactly a quiet spot to spend the night. Bolinas, $
ON THE SIDE
Live Water Surf Shop: If you are looking to rent a surf board or paddle gear, stop in at Live Water and they will set you up. Stinson Beach
Point Reyes National Sea Shore: Point Reyes is a prominent cape that juts out from the Northern California coast into the Pacific Ocean. Once you leave Highway 1 and head west towards the cape the landscape completely changes. Dense Eucalyptus forests give way to windswept tundra characterized by low shrubs and rolling hills. Sparsley populated by working dairy farms dating back hundreds of years, Point Reyes is windy, wild, and lonely. At the end of the road is the Point Reyes lighthouse, built in 1870. The lighthouse isn’t open everyday, so if you hope to avoid tourists and don’t necessarily care about seeing the inside of the lighthouse, try to visit on an off day. The views are spectacular 365 days a year!
Gospel Flat Farm Stand: The de facto farmers market for Bolinas is the Gospel Flat Farm Stand on the side of the road as you make your way into town. It’s an honor system at Gospel Flat so bring cash, record what you take, and leave your money in the jar. Bolinas
Stinson Beach Books: A visit to Stinson is not complete without stopping at the local bookstore. Newly acquired by a fourth-generation resident, Stinson Beach Books has all of the usual best sellers but also stocks a wonderful collection of local writers and books pertaining to the area. 3455 Shoreline Highway, Stinson Beach
Coyuchi Outlet: Luxe linen manufacturer Coyuchi just happens to have a factory outlet in Point Reyes Station. Great prices on beautiful sheets, towels, and other fine linens. Point Reyes Station
Heath Ceramics Factory Store: Just over the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito, be sure to stop at the Heath Ceramics Factory Store for seconds and great prices on beautiful dishes and ceramics from the cult Bay Area artisan. Sausalito
Bolinas Museum: Take a quick, quiet moment and stroll through the Bolinas Museum. This step back in time gives you great perspective on the impact the surf and artisan community have had on Bolinas and the surrounding area. Bolinas
Point Reyes Farmers Market: The Saturday morning farmers market brings farmers and crafts people from all over West Marin. If you're passing through in June or July, we sure to pick up some delicious local berries. Point Reyes Station.
If you would like someone else to show you around, consider booking a tour with Food and Farm Tours, a local group that will gladly curate an unforgettable experience of West Marin. Whether you want to see the oyster beds up close, or visit the dairies of Point Reyes, the kind people at Food and Farm Tours know their community and are eager to share it with like minded visitors.
West Marin is approximately 1.5 hours from San Francisco International Airport, and roughly 45 minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge. Patience is key, because traffic in the area is highly unpredictable and can cause your journey to take twice as long as it should. Rest assured, you will get there, and the ocean breeze makes it all worth while. If you are like me and get car sick easily, I would suggest volunteering to drive or sitting in the front seat - the road from Mill Valley is VERY curvy.
If it isn't obvious, bring a car. This is not uber territory and if you hope to experience all that West Marin has to offer, you must have wheels.
Cellphone service in West Marin is extremely spotty so be prepared to truly unplug!
Weather in West Marin is unpredictable. If you plan for fog and don't expect to see the sun, then you will be pleasantly surprised when its 80 degrees outside and the sky is a striking blue. But it is the coast, and it's northern California....so you never really know what you are going to get. Make the most of it, and pack accordingly.
If you are looking to kill time on your way back to San Francisco, stop for brunch/lunch on the porch at Cavallo Point next to the Golden Gate Bridge. Great food and an awesome setting under the Bridge.
Remember to relax, explore, take your time, and have fun.
Whats to Come:
Oregon Coast ★ 09.16
read. share. travel. repeat.
W A N D E R L U S T