An hour north of San Francisco, the Point Reyes National Seashore is a lovely place to unplug from your regularly-scheduled lives. Cell phones hardly work and there’s not much to do but hike, comb beaches, taste cheese, oysters and a little wine. Wander a secret garden, gaze out at a silvery bay…and fall in love with Northern California.
The Seashore is so close to the Bay Area — just over an hour’s drive — that you could absolutely make a day of it. When we came here with Adam’s mom and our dog in July 2008, that’s what we did. For details on how to follow our big, gorgeous loop from/back to San Francisco, see A Dream Drive Through Marin County.
Just recently, though, we returned with Adam’s mom and stepdad to spend a couple of nights and explore the area more fully. Here’s how you can do the same:
Start your journey in San Francisco. On a truly stunning Spring day, we snaked through the city and Golden Gate Park, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and wended our way along Highway 1 through Marin County’s Mt. Tamalpais State Park (pronounced Tammul-payiss and called “Mt. Tam” for short). After an hour’s hike through the forest and alongside waterfalls at the Cataract Trail near Alpine Lake (post to come), we pulled off Ridgecrest Road on the grassy bluff at Ballou Point for a picnic with an endless view of Bolinas Lagoon and the silvery Pacific.
Stay in the bayside village of Inverness. In a happy coincidence, it turns out that the Inverness Secret Garden Cottage is not only perfect for a couple but is also owned by my dear friend Amy’s Aunt Patty and Uncle Phil. A couple years back we purchased a gift certificate from the Cottage for my in-laws (who are deeply in love with this area), and this time around my mother-in-law returned the favor for us.
This one-bedroom idyll is 3/4 of a mile above Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Inverness’s woodsy version of a main drag. The romantic garden is full of fragrant surprises like a soaring, lemon-scented Himalayan magnolia that can probably be seen from space. The bathroom is tiled with deep green serpentine, the California state rock found clustered all around Mt. Tam. Though there’s an indoor shower, you could also take a bath for two out in a clawfoot tub perched above the garden with a soft, gauzy view of Tomales Bay. The brass bed is cozy (and also has a bay view), the kitchen fully outfitted, and the sitting room perfect for stretching out. A wide deck is set amongst the flowers, trees and twittering birds.
Breakfast here is little more than do-it-yourself coffee and a choice of milk or cream, however, so lucky that the Busy Bee Bakery is just down the hill. Four words: sticky buns and quiche. (Two more: You’re welcome.) A few doors away is Vladimir’s Czechoslovaki Restaurant, which, though never well-reviewed, seems popular with folks who like to sit outside and have an Eastern European beer…followed by another. For actual food, Phil and Patty recommend a bayside Thai restaurant called Thepmonggon (12938 Sir Francis Drake Blvd.)
Also in Inverness, you’ll find the local icon known as Motel Inverness, but is now used exclusively as the Lipnoskys’ retreat. (pronounced Dah-tcha), an onion-domed replica of a Russian summer home that’s owned by the local Lipnosky family (12830 Sir Francis Drake Blvd.) The 3-bedroom Dacha used to be available for rent through the
Right nearby, though, is the Dancing Coyote Beach, an inn with its own private wildflower-rimmed beach; in-room fireplaces and decks with Tomales Bay views create the perfect opportunity to get on a more tidal schedule (four guest rooms, $175-$250). Not far down the road, our heads were turned by the Abalone Inn, a sunny Victorian B&B with an eco-friendly ethos and organic breakfasts (three guest rooms, $110-$150).
Explore Point Reyes Station, the biggest town around these parts. It’s home to:
Cowgirl Creamery at Tomales Bay Foods…or as I call it, “The Temple of Cheese” (80 4th Street, Point Reyes). You can find all your picnic needs at this gourmet grocery, but the star attractions are nationally renowned cheeses made on-site with names like Mt. Tam and Inverness. If you plan to be in the area on a Friday morning, be sure to book an 11:30am tour and tasting for $5 a person.
Around the corner on State Route 1, comb through Point Reyes Books‘ well-culled inventory, try Bovine Bakery‘s enormous chocolate-dipped macaroons, and pop into the Cabaline Country Emporium, which sells everything from cookies for horses to the miraculous Avon Skin-So-Soft. For a peek at local artwork both fascinating and quirky, wander a block down to Gallery Route One.
The most coveted table in Point Reyes is Osteria Stellina, on the same row. , Stellina features a constantly-changing seasonal menu and (unfortunate) tin-ceiling acoustics. Cross your fingers that they’ll have cauliflower-smashed potatoes and know that everything here, per the Marin Organic collective, is locally-sourced (dinner for two with wine, $130).
Here’s what else we’d suggest in the Point Reyes National Seashore area:
Go to the…seashore. Along wide, sandy beaches like Abbott’s Lagoon and dog-friendly Kehoe, and the calm cove at Hearts Desire you could spend hours wafting past windswept dunes and staring longingly out at the Pacific. Always bring an extra layer: it doesn’t tend to get very warm here, even in summer.
Visit the Point Reyes Lighthouse. On weekends and holidays during whale-watching season, the road to this 1870 lighthouse is closed to private vehicles and you have to take a shuttle bus. (Peak whale-viewing times are mid-January, mid-March and late April to early May.) For timely information on whale and weather conditions, contact the Lighthouse Visitor Center.
Take a hike with a view. Rising hundreds of feet above the ocean, Tomales Point Trail is gorgeous, dramatic and even at a third of its 9.5 miles, a great workout. Starting at the end of Pierce Point Road at the Historic Pierce Point Ranch, the hard-packed Trail wends through a tule elk reserve and seasonal profusions of wildflowers; late March to late April is peak season for deep-blue wild irises.
Taste some local wine. You could stay the night at the Point Reyes Vineyards or admire their tasting room’s collection of limited edition Grateful Dead vintages, but we went to laterally sample a few mid-2000s Quail Hill Cabernets. Some of the wines are too dry for our taste, but the big fountain courtyard, friendly winery dogs and lush, green farm setting certainly take the edge off. (12700 State Route 1, Point Reyes Station)
Dine in style. Book a table at the Olema Inn for what we’d argue is the most elegant dinner in these parts. A full-service inn since 1876, the period dining room has the original floorboards and invites peaceful conversation. As another supporter of Marin Organic, the kitchen shines in entrees with fish, lamb, Niman Ranch beef, and any vegetable you know to be in season. This is a great place to sample wines from all across Northern and Central California (dinner for two with wine, about $150).
Get your oyster on. 15 minutes north of Point Reyes Station, try fresh Hogsheads and delicious clam chowder while sitting out bayside at The Marshall Store (19225 State Route 1, Marshall). To see oyster production up close, stop by Drakes Bay Oyster Farm (17171 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Point Reyes). For several years, this family-owned farm has been at the center of a struggle to return all of the Seashore area to untouched wilderness. For the time being, you can still come here to visit the resident boxer dog and enjoy a paper plate of farm fresh oysters. In addition to nets full of mollusks and a retail store with a save-the-farm petition to sign, you’ll find peaceful marshland and chalky white mountains of discarded shells.
Just thinking about the Seashore area, my head tilts to one side, and I can’t help but smile. Both of you should go and rediscover your will to wander.