Dillon Beach and Lawson's Landing

If you think tiny Tomales, in the northwest corner of Marin County, is a bit out of the way—consider Dillon Beach. When you are in Dillon Beach, Tomales is “in town.” Here’s the deal: Go north on Highway 101 to Petaluma, turn off on East Washington and go west 20 miles into downtown Tomales, then left again on Dillon Beach Road and 20 minutes later, viola, you’re in Dillon Beach.

Fair warning: your choices will be limited. For firewood, cases of Bud Light, funny T-shirts and Styrofoam surfboards, there’s the Dillon Beach General Store. For good food—breakfast, lunch or dinner—there’s the Dillon Beach Cafe. And for a cozy place to stay—like a cabin for a night, the weekend or even a month—there’s the Dillon Beach Resort (dillonbeachresort.com). And all are owned by the same person: Fred Kline of Kline Vineyards in Sonoma.

Dillon Beach will either grab you or you can’t wait to leave. Often people arrive, drive down to the beach and around funky-to-the-extreme Lawson’s Landing, and do one of two things: head straight out of town or fall in love with the place. If it is the latter, many go to Dillon Beach Cafe, order a glass of wine and talk about moving there. Okay, maybe they’ll do something between those two extremes.

Where will you fit in? Why not give it a try? Dillon Beach—including Lawson’s Landing—offers world-class beach walking (great for dogs), clamming (strict limits), surfing (gentle swells), camping (mixed reviews) and RV parking (no hook-ups). And if you want to do nothing, as in “just hanging out,” you might seriously look into Dillon Beach.

Gina Kindlespire was born in nearby Valley Ford and has lived in the area all her life. She might well be Dillon Beach’s one-person chamber of commerce. “I love everything about this place,” she declares. It’s the last beach where dogs can run free, the perfect place to really extend your four-legged friends.” Kindlespire, with Dillon Beach Resort, is happy to rent you one of three clean knotty-pine cabins located just steps from the wide sandy beach. “In the summer, they’re $250 a night and ideal for a honeymoon—or for sleeping a family of six,” she says, “Whatever.” Kindlespire also rents out ocean-view trailer spaces. “However, we have an eight-year waiting list,” she adds.

George Dillon settled Dillon Beach back in the 1880s. Then it mostly bumped along until the Roaring Twenties when Howard Lawson—he of Lawson’s Landing fame—appeared on the scene and promoted this seaside area as, “the Family Playground of Marvelous Marin County.” Many maintain it still is: on summer weekends, Dillon Beach gets downright crowded. “A lot of people from the Sacramento Valley come here,” says Pacific Union realtor Karen Karlow. “They come here because years ago they came here as kids.”

Karlow and her contractor husband, Tom, built their home in Dillon Beach in 2005. As a result, she keeps close tabs on the local real estate market. “Right now,” she says, “there are ten Dillon Beach properties on the market.” First and foremost, of course, are two properties she has listed. “In ‘the Village,’” Karlow says, “there’s a really nice one-bedroom, one-bath cottage with spectacular white-water views from a large deck for $585,000.” Karlow stresses that at 720- square-feet this may be small for a home, but that the lot, at 4,500- square- feet, is “extra-large” for “the Village” area of Dillon Beach and some “really nice garden areas.”

Meanwhile, in Oceana Marin, a collection of larger homes on a hillside above town, Karlow’s listing (shared with realtor Sharon Vallejo, also of Pacific Union) is a four bedroom, four bath, two-story home in “really nice” condition. Again, captivating ocean views are a feature and, according to Karlow, this home has been a popular item in the Oceana Marin rental pool. “So a family can have it both as a source of income,” she says, “and a weekend or week-long getaway.”