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Inverness (West)

The local seaside hamlet with the Scottish name



Photo by Tim Porter

Yes, there is a city in Scotland named Inverness. Its name means, basically, mouth, or inver, of the River Ness (similarly, Loch Ness, of monster fame, means Lake Ness). Actually, there are also Invernesses in Nova Scotia, Montana, Florida, and Illinois.

How West Marin’s Inverness got its name goes like this: In 1889, Judge James Shafter subdivided land he owned along the west shore of Tomales Bay. He hoped to sell the lots to San Franciscans looking for a slower lifestyle. Judge Shafter was a Scotsman. End of story.

But that was just the beginning for the town that ensued. What followed was the building of homes and storefronts, many of which are still standing more than 100 years later.

Inverness is easy to find: hop on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, Marin’s primary east-to-west artery, and head west. Depending on where you start, it can take up to 40 minutes; there’s a jig then a jog at the stop sign in Olema. But Drake Boulevard is Inverness’s main street, and it’s well worth the trip. As you head into town, in Inverness Park, stop and say hi to Cindy Pool, owner of the Busy Bee Bakery. Her screen door has a bell that rings as you enter and, once inside, you’ll be greeted by the aroma of, and I’m not making this up, freshly baked apple pie. “That one came out of the oven at one-thirty this afternoon,” she said when I questioned the authenticity of her “Fresh-Baked Apple Pies” sign. (The time of my inquiry: 2:45 p.m.) Other Busy Bee specialties include delicate cupcakes with to-die-for icing, Cindy’s own bread pudding, and pecan sticky buns, served up with freshly ground Jeremiah’s coffee. “I’m kind of a coffee snob,” Cindy admits, “but that’s just me.”

If you want to step into one of those 100-plus-year-old homes, continue on into Inverness, turn left on Park Avenue and go one block to the yellow cottage with white trim on your right. This was once a residence named The Gables, built by Alexander Bailey back in 1893; now it’s home to the Inverness Public Library and the Jack Mason Museum—both with scads of historical West Marin photographs on their walls.

If you’re seeking more action than a library and historical museum might offer, get back on Drake and travel outside town to Blue Waters Kayaking, where a three-hour morning, afternoon or sunset paddle on Tomales Bay costs but $68. Or push on a few miles more to the controversial Drakes Bay Oyster Farm for a quick lesson in shucking.

Is hiking your passion? Then go to Drakes Beach, where heading north brings you through fields of wildflowers, and going south means enjoying one of the world’s most spectacular beach walks. When you’re finished, Drake’s Beach Cafe will provide a wonderful meal—
with a nice wine.

Another option is to continue on to the very end of Drake Boulevard and visit the Point Reyes Lighthouse, built in 1870. Fair warning: be prepared for 40-knot winds, a brisk walk and more than 300 steep steps before you reach the actual light and its jewel-box-like gear mechanism. Prepare yourself also for a possible whale sighting, and maybe a glimpse of the Farallones, which are 20 miles due south.  

If at the end of the day you’ve overextended yourself, worry not: Inverness is most hospitable. The Inverness Valley Inn, with its saltwater pool, hot tub and tennis court, will likely have a weekday vacancy. More private (but less likely to have an opening) is the Inverness Secret Garden Cottage. And for a place to both eat and sleep, consider the recently renovated Tomales Bay Resort (formerly the Golden Hinde Inn). That is where you’ll find Lulu’s (formerly Thepmonggon), a “Pan-Asian seafood smokehouse” offering everything from sushi to tacos. “We serve only local seafood, meats and produce,” owner Anthony Walker says.

Incongruously, Inverness also has Czechoslovakian fare. “We serve kielbasa, Weiner schnitzel and a nice cabbage roll,” says Vladia Nuevo, who now runs Vladimir’s Czech Restaurant, the 50-year-old iconic West Marin restaurant and bar started by her father, Vladimir, who recently passed away. At the other end of town (we’re talking two blocks) is Priscilla’s, with patio dinning and an extended menu of pizza, fresh fish and oysters “raw, BBQ or Rockefeller.”

On your way out of town, back in Inverness Park, be sure to stop at Spirit Matters, a shop that owner Nonnie Welch says specializes in “oddities, deities and all things spiritual.” Of current interest are metal pieces of art fashioned from reclaimed oil drums, priced from $26 to $118. “They’re from Haiti,” says Welch. “They were shipped the day the earthquake hit.” Also available are tiny artistic horsehair witch figures made in central Chile. “I only have three left,” Welch says. “They’re part of a small shipment made after that devastating earthquake hit.” Even eerier: her shop—just like the hamlets of Inverness and Inverness Park—sits right near the San Andreas Fault.

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