Paradise West

My wife and I love to travel—we have crossed China by train, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, trekked through Mongolia and hiked Patagonia. We like being outdoors and active, staying in small inns and enjoying a good meal along with a nice wine. For our 2008 adventure, though, we’re not going far.

We’re spending four days and three nights in West Marin. Don’t laugh until you’ve read this entire piece. The western part of our county has much of what many of us seek in far-off destinations: challenging activities, creative galleries, cafes, shops and comfortable but unpretentious lodgings. To make my point, I’ll describe our roughly drawn itinerary. Some spots, we’ve been to before; others are new. All the roads and byways are well mapped and almost all the attractions have websites.

Day one: Leave southern Marin after breakfast, pack light—hiking boots, running shoes, jeans, maybe a nice jacket. Head out Petaluma-Tomales Road straight to Dillon Beach for an entirely different way of life. Walk/run the desolate mile-long beach. Lunch at Dillon Beach Cafe; check out funky Lawson’s Landing boatyard and trailer park. Back in Tomales, see Mostly Natives Nursery, Diekmann’s General Store, Tomales Regional History Center and the pristine interior of Church of the Assumption. Check into the charming Continental Inn before heading down Highway 1 to Nick’s Cove for a seafood dinner. Back in Tomales, maybe a nightcap at the William Tell House (opened in 1877; live band on Saturday nights).

Day two: Breakfast at either Tomales Bakery for fresh-baked muffins or the Deli and Cafe for bacon and eggs (both across the street). Drive south 15 miles to Point Reyes Station; either have lunch at Marshall Store oyster bar on the way, or picnic with goodies from Tomales Bay Foods/Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station. Day’s big event: hike four miles on Bear Valley Trail out of Point Reyes National Seashore’s Visitor Center to Arch Rock. On return, maybe do half-mile Earthquake Trail, where placards talk about ’06 and San Andreas Fault (just below). Spend what’s left of afternoon in Point Reyes Station (great town!). Pop into Point Reyes Books, Toby’s Feed Barn (note art gallery) and Gallery Route One (local art, always good). Drive south four miles to Olema. If still in browsing mood, Epicenter, Vita Collage and Olema General Store are hard to beat. Lodging options: really nice Druids Hall, maybe do a suite; Point Reyes Seashore Lodge, less pricey; or Manka’s Inverness Lodge on Tomales Bay. Dinner at Olema Inn—new kitchen, local menu, great food. If nightcap needed, Olema Farm House is across the street: great old bar.

Day three: Full day! Leave early for long drive to Point Reyes Lighthouse. Route goes through Inverness and historic ranches (spectacular scenery). Remember, lighthouse steps are long and steep. Check out lenses and mechanism brought around Cape Horn from France in 1850. On return, lunch at nearby Drakes Beach Cafe. Maybe first walk beach or hike into hills—wildflowers should be great due to dry ’06, wet ’07. Again returning, maybe check out controversial Lunny oyster farm (disputing with park service over environmental issues). In Inverness, turn on Park Avenue to visit library built in 1893, then see cottage facility of Shaker Shops West. Final stop in Inverness Park at Spirit Matters (an inspiring Tibetan Buddhist store). Dinner and lodging: most likely, same as previous night.

Day four: After early breakfast, drive nine miles south, almost into Bolinas. Take Mesa Road to Palomarin Trailhead parking lot. Trek five miles past Bass and Pelican Lakes to Alamere Falls (on the beach—should be sensational!). Allow five hours for an out and back hike and photos. Lunch at Coast Cafe in Bolinas—all locally grown foods. Try to fit in Bolinas Museum (there’s always an excellent exhibit), the Bolinas People’s Store (organic/natural foods landmark) and Smiley’s Saloon (open continuously since 1851). Pass through Stinson Beach on way home; if energy remains, for sure see Claudia Chapline Gallery. If sun’s still out, maybe have patio dinner at Sand Dollar or Parkside Cafe.

I’ll put those four days up against any four we’ve experienced anywhere. And for us, it’s all only an hour away. West Marin, with its forested hills, farmlands colored in spring greens and mustard yellows, dramatic coastlines, open beaches, small towns, creative energies and relatively few people is an unbeatable adventure vacation destination for all who live in Marin. That’s my point of view. What’s yours?
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