Take a couple of days to rediscover this region of natural beauty and culinary bounty in West Marin.
On one of the first clear days of spring, Olema Creek tumbled past the gnarled gray tree trunks, its waters clouded with mud. In the weeks prior, it had risen and crept up the back lawn at the Olema House inn, and although it still moved fast, nothing about it felt fierce. Its burbling flow drew inn guests outdoors to the Adirondack chairs and picnic tables, where they chatted or read or simply closed their eyes to the sun.
The community of Olema, which lies about two hours from Sacramento near the Point Reyes National Seashore, is a great jumping-off point for a visit to the area. With just a couple of inns and restaurants, a campground, and not much else, it’s quiet. It’s also less than a mile from the Bear Valley Visitor Center, where you can pick up maps and information, walk some trails, learn about the park’s history and flora and fauna, and see some truly gasp-inducing insect taxidermy. (Tarantula hawks, anyone?) You can also figure out the best beach for a day’s outing, and find out about the status of the lighthouse—open or closed. It’s been undergoing restoration and closed since this past August, and the updates have been coming all winter and spring, extending the closure, which is now running through June 21. These things take time!
The lighthouse is just one of many destinations in the area, which is home to lots of trails, beaches, ranches, farms, restaurants and inns. Let’s start in quiet little Olema, as we check in on what’s happening out in West Marin.
This 4.5-acre property at the junction of Highway 1 and Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, encompasses a 24-room inn, an onsite restaurant, a market carrying local picnic ingredients, and expansive grounds that run right down to the creek. Formerly The Lodge at Point Reyes, the inn changed ownership in October 2018; it’s now run by the Mosaic Hotel Group, known for other upscale inns around California and in Mexico, including El Dorado Hotel in Sonoma and the North Block Hotel in Yountville. At Olema House, you can reserve a room or a suite, or go for one of the two cottages. We had an upstairs king room with a fireplace and a deep, plush window seat overlooking the grounds and creek. Four people can comfortably stay in the suites and the Casa Olema cottage, and six people sleep well in The Market Flat (located above the market) and the Creekside Cottage, which sits—as you might expect—along the creek. Rates start around $225 a night and include a breakfast spread of pastries and breads (including locally baked Brickmaiden), cheeses (including some from nearby Marin French Cheese Co.), hard-boiled eggs, granola, fruit and locally roasted Equator coffee. Sit by the indoor fireplace or head out to the patio to listen to the creek.
Speaking of the creek, there’s talk of a bridge that will be built on the property soon—maybe this summer—leading to a planned trail that will cut through the meadow on the other side to access the Bear Valley Visitor Center.
Adjacent to the inn, Due West restaurant—housed in a building dating back to 1865—beckons with a menu that includes housemade tater tots served with crème fraîche and caviar, and the clam chowder comes with whole clams in the shell and is a meal in itself. As with any Point Reyes restaurant touting local fare, Due West serves oysters—straight from Tomales Bay—and in this case several ways: raw, fried and grilled. olemahouse.com
SIR AND STAR AT THE OLEMA
Across the highway from Olema House, on the corner of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and Star Route (Highway) 1, Sir and Star (get it?) is located in a circa-1876 house and serves dinner Thursday through Sunday evenings during the spring and summer months. (It will soon add lunch service on Saturday and Sunday.) The menu changes regularly, depending on what’s available and what can be “grown, raised, foraged and fished within reach.” In other words, this is as local and seasonal as local and seasonal gets. Previous menus have included oysters (of course), heritage lamb, sea bass, salmon, Point Reyes cheeses and lots of locally grown organic greens and veggies. The Olema also operates as an inn, with five individually decorated rooms upstairs from the restaurant; the property is owned and operated by Margaret Grade and Daniel DeLong, chef/operators at the beloved Manka’s Inverness Lodge. Call for more information about lodging; you won’t find it on the website. (415) 669-1034; sirandstar.com
POINT REYES STATION
It’s June, and almost time for the farmers market to start up again at Toby’s Feed Barn on Saturday mornings. It’s a summer favorite, a small gathering of local farmers and purveyors with piles of organic lettuces, greens, tomatoes, herbs, cheeses, eggs, meats, hummus and salsa . . . you’ll also find wool (local!), soaps and lotions, and sometimes kittens. We particularly love the grilled cheese station that flips the Golden Brown Delicious: Brickmaiden bread piled with Cowgirl Creamery cheese, spread with Straus Family Creamery butter, and griddled to into a melty, crispy dream.
Down the street, Point Reyes Books is under newish ownership, purchased by Steve Sparks and Molly Parent in early 2017. It’s a compliment to say it feels the same as before—warm and friendly, with good book recommendations tagged onto the shelves and well-organized tables with inspiring reads front and center. The sense of community remains as well, with local authors’ books highlighted and plenty about West Marin’s natural beauty—the sun, the sea, the forests and fauna. We couldn’t hope for much more, except maybe a bookstore cat!
Next door, Bovine Bakery teems with cyclists on weekends, there for a carb fix. If the line’s too long, head back to the coffee window at Toby’s and pick up a goodie there. The Bovine Bakery folks, aprons and all, are often spotted toting trays of scones, cinnamon rolls and cookies down the street to Toby’s Coffee Bar.
Walk the shops and boutiques—you’re sure to find one-of-a-kind items for your home, your garden, your sweetheart—and make sure to pop into the Palace Market for buffalo milk soft-serve gelato on tap (back by the deli). Stop by the Tomales Bay Foods building, ripe with the smell of Cowgirl Creamery cheeses, and pick up picnic supplies or sandwiches, salads and other delights from the deli counter. The mac and cheese (made with Cowgirl Creamery’s popular Wagon Wheel), topped with crisped bread crumbs and chives, tastes best gobbled up at one of the on-site picnic tables. If you’re going to be there on a Friday, sign up for the 11 a.m. cheese class and tasting. (Reservations are strongly recommended.) For $5, you’ll learn all about Cowgirl Creamery’s history in West Marin, see a curd-making demo, and taste the company’s cheeses.
A couple of favorite restaurants for dinner: Station House Cafe, which has one of the best burgers ever—Marin Sun Farms grass-fed beef and all the fixins on a sesame seed bun. Pile it high with avocado, bacon and cheese. Also in town, Osteria Stellina serves “Point Reyes Italian” cuisine, with locally grown and raised ingredients topping pizzas and making up housemade pasta, meat and seafood dishes.
A couple of miles outside Point Reyes Station, Heidrun Meadery is a bucolic grassy honey farm where they make sparkling mead, or honey wine. The tasting room/greenhouse is airy and industrially pretty with a long tasting bar, a collection of honeys to try, some kitchen goods and lots of flowers and plants. It’s a beautiful space—rustic and warm and splashed with natural light. Tours and tastings take place at 11:30 and 3 on Saturday, 11:30 on Sunday and cost $35 for an info-packed guided walk through the production facilities (bees at work!) and a tasting flight of Heidrun’s sparkling mead. Advance reservations are required. heidrunmeadery.com
The oyster houses line the roadway in Marshall. Hog Island Oyster Co. is back in business after contamination closed down Tomales Bay oyster harvesting in January. Everybody’s back in business, in fact, including Hog Island’s newly redesigned Tony’s Seafood. Hog Island’s The Boat Oyster Bar is always packed—in fact, reservations are required for hour-and-a-half time slots, and you must cancel by 8 a.m. day-of to avoid a $10 no-show fee. But whatever you do, don’t cancel. It’s too fun to sit beside the bay at communal tables, have oysters shucked for you, and feast on charcuterie, breads and cheeses—all with a glass of crisp white wine (or perhaps a craft brew) in hand. hogislandoysters.com
Just up the road, Nick’s Cove remains one of the best places to spend the night in the region. With a dozen cottages—five of them waterfront on Tomales Bay with a view of Hog Island—it’s almost like its own little community. Each cottage is very individual; for example, Big Rock with its copper soaking tub and mariner paraphernalia, or Nicolina, housed in a small building that was recreated from a 1930s ferry that hauled hay, or Bandit’s Bungalow, named for a bank robber movie filmed at Nick’s Cove. The property carries a rich history of hospitality—in the ’30s, it was a popular stop for Bay Area visitors seeking a meal and a cabin. We’re sure it’s more luxurious today—with crisp linens, heated bathroom floors, soaking tubs and wood-burning stoves—but the historic flavor has been held intact. The restaurant is a hot spot for oysters (served many ways), a thick clam chowder and a long list of local-and-seasonal menu items (with produce pulled straight from the on-site garden). There’s nothing like lounging, drink in hand, beneath the market lights out at the boathouse, at the end of the dock where the water laps the wood and the wind whips your hair. nickscove.com
WEST MARIN FOOD & FARM TOURS
Go for a concentrated day in foodie-heaven and sign up for one of these food-lovers’ tours and discover more about the famous goods produced in this region. On the Flavors of West Marin tour, for example, you’ll visit Bovine Bakery, Brickmaiden Breads, Cowgirl Creamery, Marin Sun Farms, Heidrun Meadery, Hog Island Oyster Co. and Table Top Farms in a five-hour tour that includes transportation and lunch for $195. Other available tours include the Oyster Lovers’ and the Cheese Lovers’. foodandfarmtours.com