Monday, March 7, 2016

Tomales Bay

A few weeks ago we decided to take advantage of the long weekend and head out to Tomales Bay. All of our trips to the area had been centered around Point Reyes Station and the National Seashore, so we were excited to explore a different slice of this stunning part of West Marin. I failed to do a ton of research beforehand and the result was considerably more time spent in the car than I would have hoped. With that said, we got to experience some beautiful scenery along Tomales Bay and definitely made some mental notes of places to return in the future.

Our first stop was the small town of Tomales. Boasting only a couple hundred residents, the town consists of a handful of store fronts, but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. We immediately settled in at Tomales Bakery and enjoyed some pizzettes and coffee from local roaster Taylor Maid Farms (If you find yourself in Sebastapol, a trip to their coffee house at the Barlow is a must!). After soaking up the sun in the adirondack chairs that adorn the front patio of the bakery, we crossed the street and picked up a pulled pork sandwich from K&A Takeaway. The sandwich was amazing, the price was reasonable and the ingredients were top notch (pretty much everything I look for in a meal!). My overall impression of Tomales was that it was a sweet town that would be the perfect place to unwind and slow down in. Definitely somewhere I would like to spend a night or two with the family.

After our late breakfast/early lunch we set out to explore the area. This is where a little research would have come in handy. We initially set out for Dillon Beach, but seeing as it was a long weekend (and Valentine's Day - oops!) we were met with a long line of cars also trying to access the beach. The combination of the traffic and very windy conditions had us quickly turning around and heading towards Point Reyes Station. What we could see of the beach looked lovely and I think it would have been a perfect pairing with our visit to Tomales had we gone on a less popular day.

Fresh Oysters are a huge draw along Tomales Bay and there are several popular restaurants to pull over and enjoy some fresh seafood while you take in the views.
The drive from Tomales to Point Reyes Station is about 16 miles, but don't let that fool you. It's a windy road that easily takes 30 minutes and potentially longer if you have passengers prone to motion sickness. With that said, the drive is picturesque and left me dreaming of a long weekend in one of the water front properties that dot the shore. Since it was a warm but windy day, we set our sights on Hearts Desire Beach which promised shelter from the wind and views of Tomales Bay. After an hour of maneuvering our way along the perimeter of the bay, we made it to the beach!

Located in Tomales Bay State Park, the beach is nestled in a small cove that has both a large grass area as well as a sand beach. There are a number of barbecue pits and dozens of picnic benches, making it an ideal place to settle in for the day or to visit with large groups. Parking is limited, but even on a holiday weekend we were able to find parking in the overflow lot and then make the short walk along a well marked hiking path down to the beach.

After our longer than anticipated morning of driving, the beach was the perfect way to cap off the afternoon. The waters were calm (ideal for younger kids) and there was plenty of space for the girls to build sand castles and explore. Had we planned better, a picnic basket of goodies and some wine would have been a nice touch and easily could have been gathered from one of the nearby markets. While the beach is nestled in a cove, the area is known for high winds and the encroaching fog bank as the afternoon wears on, so a beach tent and layers are always a good idea.

The drive home from the beach had us climbing to the top of the ridge before heading inland and the contrast in weather from the warm sand to the coastline engulfed in fog was pretty amazing!
Our drive home was one that I won't soon forget. We have NEVER encountered any traffic in the area, but apparently the combination of 70 degree weather in February, Valentines Day and a long weekend was a recipe for disaster. The drive home that would typically take an hour, was well over 3 hours. Aside from our poor timing, our trip was another successful day in West Marin. If you are planning a visit with kids, I would suggest making Tomales and Dillon Beach one trip, and exploring Point Reyes Station and the National Seashore in another trip.

If you are interested in more things to do in the area, you may enjoy reading about our trip to Abbott's Lagoon (unbelievably beautiful in Spring when the hills are green), our first visit to the area at Limantour Beach and searching for Elk at the Tule Elk Preserve. The cabins at Samuel Taylor State Park are also an affordable option for staying overnight in the area.

What are your favorite spots in West Marin?

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Tomales is about an hour and fifteen minutes from Berkeley. Sandwiches at K&A Takeaway were under $10. Parking at Tomales Bay State Park was $8 per vehicle (cash or check only).