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About two hours to our west, Tomales Bay extends as a finger of the Pacific Ocean into the Point Reyes National Seashore in west Marin County. As a calm saltwater inlet, it’s a prime spot for raising oysters—the beds bob on the water in Marshall on the eastern shores of the bay, where several oyster houses serve them several ways; on the western shores, past Inverness, beaches and trails beckon. A longer ride takes visitors out to the Point Reyes beaches and lighthouse, but you can stay right along the shores of the bay for an easy day trip.
In Marshall, the oyster beds of Tomales Bay and Hog Island oyster companies sparkle in the sun. Stop in at one of the farms for a tour or to fill your cooler with the rough-shelled mollusks. You also can let someone else do the shucking and belly up to a table at one of the eateries. Hog Island Oyster Co.’s restaurant, The Boat, maintains outdoor tables, including a long picnic table between the water and the road—make reservations in advance for one of these prime seats. Menu items include raw oysters on the half shell and barbecued oysters with Hog Island’s famous chipotle bourbon butter; also find the cheese plate (loaded with West Marin cheeses) and salads—green and grain. Table service: Friday through Monday, rain or shine. You also can reserve a picnic table and do it yourself, with access to shucking tools, grills, lemons and hot sauce. Hog Island recently acquired Tony’s Seafood, which will close in January for renovation. Watch for a grand reopening in spring. Tomales Bay Oyster Company’s Marshall Store serves oysters all ways: raw, barbecued, with chorizo, Kilpatrick (with bacon and Worcestershire), Rockefeller (spinach, cheese and bread crumbs) and simply smoked. Other items on the menu include Dungeness crab, fish tacos and smoked-meat sandwiches. Oysters grace the menu at Nick’s Cove, too, but the favorite there is the clam chowder. Thick with potatoes, celery, bacon and clams, it’s a meal.
Tomales Bay Sailing.
On the Water
Tomales Bay, 15 miles long and a mile wide, ebbs and flows with the tides, and its surrounding hillsides teem with dairy cows, tule elk and countless species of birds. The bay provides plenty of opportunities for watercrafting, including kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, sailing and boating. It is particularly suited to the quiet dip and pull of canoeing and kayaking, and a couple of outfits operate in the area, including Point Reyes Outdoors, which rents kayaks and SUP boards. Join a kayak group that runs from Nick’s Cove past Hog Island (keep an eye out for harbor seals) and over to White Gulch for a picnic beside white sandstone cliffs. Watch for (harmless) leopard sharks and bat rays in the water. Also, Blue Water Kayaks, in addition to renting kayaks and SUPs, runs oyster tours—paddle from Inverness over near to the oyster beds, learn about these beautiful, tasty mollusks, then head for BWK’s private beach for oysters and local Brick Maiden bread. In the spring, Tomales Bay Sailing takes to the waters with Tomcat, a 1995 Maine Cat 22, a 22-foot catamaran that can carry six people—an exhilarating way to see Tomales Bay.
Tomales Bay Foods. Photo courtesy of Chole List.
Not far from the shores of Tomales Bay lies the hub of the Point Reyes area: Point Reyes Station, population 850, with a main street that includes several restaurants and boutiques. Grab picnic items at Tomales Bay Foods, where Cowgirl Creamery cheeses fragrance the place, and the sandwiches and salads from the deli pack neatly to the beach. Winter produce lines the entrance to Toby’s Feed Barn— part community gathering spot, part art gallery, part gift shop and part feed store—and the coffee window outside whips up mochas and lattes sure to warm cold bellies. Try the breads or cookies from Bovine Bakery, a tiny place often brimming with cyclists. Next door, Point Reyes Books is under new ownership, and Stephen Sparks and Molly Parent celebrate one year this month. Stop in to say hello and pick up the latest best-seller—or something more obscure.
Tomales Bay State Park spreads from one side of the bay to the other, and both sides invite visitors to park the car and take to the trails. At Millerton Point on the Marshall side, a dog-friendly loop trail runs for 1 mile through grassy, shrubby pasture and affords views of the bay and across to Heart’s Desire Beach. On the Inverness side, up off Pierce Point Road, Heart’s Desire Beach offers several trails, including one that runs for half a mile through the forest—beneath aromatic bay trees and eucalyptus—to secluded Indian Beach, reachable only by foot or kayak. Tromp along the crushed oyster shells to peek inside the beachside teepee. In the other direction from Heart’s Desire, the Johnstone and Jepson trails take you a bit farther—3 miles round trip to Jepson Memorial Grove (majestic Bishop pines), 8 miles round trip to Shell Beach, and if you take a few side trails, you can find yourself on as many as four beaches along theway: Hearts Desire, Pebble, Shallow and Shell.