Bel Marin Keys

As the birth of their second child approached, Rick and Kristen Addicks knew they’d soon have to end their eight-year love affair with Stinson Beach. “We needed a larger home and realized we’d been priced out of the beach’s expensive housing market,” Kristen now wistfully recalls. “We also knew it would be hard to replace the sense of community and great neighbors we enjoyed in Stinson.” A week later, the Addicks family reluctantly went house hunting in Bel Marin Keys. “I could leave the beach for this,” Rick whispered to Kristen on seeing the lagoon-front four-bedroom they eventually purchased.

“Like most everyone who comes here, we fell in love with Bel Marin Keys the first time we saw it,” says Rick, an attorney and full-time firefighter with the Ross Fire Department. Now the couple not only have two children but also a sailboat, a ski-boat, two kayaks and a canoe. “This is Marin’s best-kept secret,” a contented Kristen concludes.

When it was conceived in the early 1960s, Novato’s Bel Marin Keys was a striking departure for Marin County developments—its 720 waterfront home sites would each be oriented toward water, facing either Novato Creek or onto one of four man-made lagoons. “Before developer Jack West broke into Novato Creek and dredged the lagoons, this was nothing but farmland,” Madeline Thomas recalls.

Thomas remembers it well: in September 1963, her family was among the first to move in. And as fate would have it, after dozens of years of volunteering in the community, she’s now interim general manager for the county’s Bel Marin Keys Community Services District. “It’s a fun job,” she says. “The neighbors get along, nothing can be built anywhere near us, and our two locks keep the entire development free from tidal fluctuations.” The locks also provide boating access to Novato Creek, Petaluma Creek and San Francisco Bay.

Water sports on the lagoons include fishing, sailing, waterskiing and wakeboarding as well as kayaking, canoeing and paddle-boarding. “However, no jet-skiing,” Thomas says, “and no yachts over 60 feet or wider than 18 feet. They can’t get through the locks.”

As for land-based socializing, both Kristen Addicks and Madeline Thomas proudly point to a schedule that includes a Christmas boat parade, June community-wide garage sales, a Fourth of July parade and barbecue, summer band concerts and tennis tournaments, plus the Bel Marin Keys Yacht Club and a men’s and a women’s club. “Rick says the requirement for getting in the men’s club is, ‘Just tell a good dirty joke,’ ” Kristen says.

Bel Marin Keys’ demographics range from retired doctors and dentists to professionals working in San Francisco to small business owners and those employed in the nearby industrial park. And, unsurprisingly, kids: the community’s flat-as-a-pancake streets and many cul-de-sacs seem made for such pursuits as riding bikes, dodgeball and shooting hoops.

As for buying a home here, the lowest price one could hope for is around $650,000 for “a three-bedroom in original condition facing Novato Creek,” realtor Curt Proaps reports. From there prices go as high as $1.5 million for a “totally remodeled lagoon home with a nice dock and desired orientation for sunrise and sunset views,” his partner Verna Eisen says.

“Regardless of the listing price,” she adds, “the first thing buyers do here is walk straight through the house to check out the water, the dock and the view. If that passes muster, then they’ll look at the home.” Both Eisen, who’s a past president of the women’s club, and Proaps are longtime residents. “Added all together,” Proaps says, “we’ve lived here 80 years—and still love the place.”Bel;