One of the most dependable Bay Area weekend escapes, perfect for dads and grads, is a journey along Marin County’s Pacific coast to enjoy the bounty of the Pacific.
Once the hotbed of hippie culture, Marin County now houses iPhone toting lawyers and execs who populate the drool-inducing houses lining the hills. Lucky for us, some of the best real estate in the county is reserved for parks and public spaces.
Follow the signs to CA-1 north and wind along the lip of CA-1, which offers splendid views of the Pacific raging below, for almost 15 miles to reach Stinson Beach—an oceanfront community that popped up after the 1906 earthquake, when refugees started planting roots outside of San Francisco. Today, traffic creeps through the smattering of seaside shops and seafood restaurants as travelers look for parking to gain access to the stretch of beach connecting Stinson with her illusive neighbor Bolinas. On warm days, gaggles of beachgoers congregate on the sloping sand to frolic in waves and construct sandcastles.
Farther north, the town of Bolinas doesn’t bother letting you know you’ve arrived—well, to be frank, the county lets travelers know by hanging a sign, which locals quickly discard. The innards of Bolinas house renegades shacking up between the sea and the lagoon—a great location to spot seals and rare birds. For those in good shape, the trek to Alamere Falls is a worthwhile hike. Turn left on the unsigned Bolinas Road and veer right for 1.8 miles to Mesa Rd (turn right); travel 4.7 miles to the Palomarin Trailhead. For this hike, you’ll need plenty of food and water, and probably your swimsuit as the journey to this dynamic waterfall spilling onto the beach is 8.7 miles round trip, passing wildflowers, a popular swim-lake, and if you are lucky, plenty of wildlife, including (in winter) views of spouting whales.
Back on CA-1, continue for 9 miles north to Point Reyes National Seashore—a Bay Area treasure. Exploring Point Reyes is best experienced with extended time. Inside the park, you may camp (though you need a permit) or stay at the Point Reyes Hostel. Just outside the park, cozy up in a cottage in the town of Point Reyes Station at One Mesa. Or for a real treat, check into Nick’s Cove, a fanciful collection of fishing cabins transformed into chic urbanite retreats on the shores of Tomales Bay.
The village of Point Reyes Station brings to mind a time before cell phones and social networking, when people met at the local feed barn (which also houses the Saturday farmer’s market, a coffee shop and an organic grocery) and chat about everything from the weather to the new David Sedaris book. To boot, your cell reception likely won’t work here. Luckily, the effusive locals will point you to the best morning pastries (Bovine Bakery), the choice spot to grab picnic fixings (Cowgirl Creamery), and the best dinner within miles (for this you’ll get a split result, either Osteria Stellina’s farm to table Italian cuisine, or impossibly good oysters at Nick’s Cove, just up the road on Tomales Bay). Point Reyes Books hawks good reads in addition to hosting world-renowned authors.
After morning pastries, grab picnic fixings and head out to explore the National Seashore. At this 71,000-acre parkland, that John F. Kennedy saved by calling it a “national treasure”, you can drive past bucolic settings populated with dairy farms, visit a working lighthouse, view whales spouting in the distance, hike through abundant wildflowers to wetlands and beaches, and spot elk. Check into the Bear Valley Visitor Center for trail information and a map to get your bearings. Favorite destinations include Limantour, the lighthouse (though it is helpful to know that the trip from the visitor center to the lighthouse is about one hour), Pierce Ranch, and Drake’s Beach.
Just north on CA-1 you’ll feel as if you stumbled upon a secret society at the Tomales Bay Oyster Company. On summer afternoons, masses of oyster lovers populate the picnic tables, the muddy beach and the not so grassy hill to shuck their own freshly harvested bag of oysters. This is no white tablecloth affair. You either bring your own oyster knives, or purchase them from the farm. Picnickers are responsible for lugging in their own sauces, charcoal for the barbeques, drinks and side dishes (all of which can be purchased in Point Reyes Station). Tables fill quickly on weekends (as does the parking lot). But the views, the insanely fresh shellfish, and the fun crowd make this a definite stop on Marin County’s oyster trail.
For more Northern California oyster destinations as well as 13 other themed itineraries to the Golden State, purchase the Backroads & Byways of Northern California.