If open space, endless vistas, tule elk and oysters are on your list, then head west – to West Marin that is. Cross the Golden Gate Bridge and it’s less than 20 minutes to Muir Beach. Once there, explore the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and drive farther north along Highway 1 to Tomales Bay and the Pt. Reyes National Seashore for more adventures.
Along the way, discover small towns, local oysters, cheese, wine and cuisine. At the end of the day, my husband and I returned to Muir Beach and settled into the popular Pelican Inn.
During the day, The Pelican Inn is the gathering spot for cyclists and hikers looking for a cold brew and tasty food – either shoulder to shoulder in the tiny bar or spilling onto the lawn in front. But in the evening, the white-washed Tudor-style inn offers a romantic setting with just seven rooms. Nestled in Muir Beach, the Inn exudes old world English charm.
Throughout English history, coastal inns have been a haven for travelers and the Pelican Inn doesn’t disappoint. In fact, during the 16th century, Sir Francis Drake sailed his “Pelican” to the shores of Muir Beach, and it’s in his honor, that the Inn is so lovingly named.
The rooms are located above the bar and restaurant – each with canopied beds, period furnishings and English prints on the walls. In our small room, French doors with leaded windows lead to a small deck overlooking the back. Low ceilings and uneven wooden floors add to the appeal. Each room has an en suite bathroom. Overnight guests can relax in the “Snug,” a cozy room with fireplace, comfortable chairs and an assortment of books and games.
PLAY & SHOP
The California coast is a great playground. Within walking distance of the Pelican Inn is Muir Beach, part of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The small cove that makes up Muir Beach is a perfect spot to watch birds, people and the waves. Hiking trails start and stop from there with beautiful vistas along the way. If you drive too fast, you may miss the turnoff for Muir Beach Overlook, a cliffside park with stunning views of the ocean and miles of coastline – all the better to whale watch during the winter migration.
Other trails lead from the Inn to Green Gulch Zen Center where one can indulge in the programs and enjoy the garden, and through the grounds of Slide Ranch for more great views. Muir Woods is located nearby with its towering redwoods.
Once back in the car travelling up Highway 1, pass Stinson Beach with its surfer vibe, alluring beach and an unmarked road to the haven of Bolinas. Stop at the Bear Valley Visitor Center for maps and information about the Pt. Reyes National Seashore including the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse. Discover miles of hiking, tule elk, dairy farms, crashing waves and unforgettable views.
West Marin favorites – Point Reyes Station and Tomales Bay – are farther north still. Pt. Reyes Station buzzes on weekends with locals and tourists alike. Artisans abound and visitors enjoy restaurant meals, but also have many opportunities to take products home.
Set among the rolling hills, the family-owned Pt. Reyes Winery began in 1990. Since the first harvest, they’ve gone on to win medals in Marin, San Francisco and Sonoma Counties as well as at the California State Fair. Start with the NV Blanc de Noir. Then taste the 2008 Flocchini Vineyards Syrah, a vertical tasting of the Quail Hill Cabernet and the 2011 dessert Viognier.
Tomales Bay Oyster Company, just off Highway 1 at Millerton Point, is the oldest continuously run shellfish farm in California. It’s a local favorite and now unfortunately the center of a dispute. Forced to close their long time picnic area, they must begin the permit process all over again. Show support and sign their petition on their web site.
Topped with whatever you like, the oysters are divine – creamy, salty, succulent. The same family supplies oysters at The Marshall Store, a fun place farther up the road in Tomales Bay.
Nestled in a secluded valley, the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company has been run by the Giacomini family over several generations. Known for their passion and commitment, they use some of the latest technologies to farm sustainably. They breed, raise and milk hundreds of cows to produce their selection of cheeses: Original Blue, Toma, Baby Blue and Mozzarella. Recently, the family opened The Fork, a center for classes, dinners and more.
In the heart of Pt. Reyes Station, Osteria Stellina offers delicious Italian fare using local ingredients. With large windows overlooking the main street, it’s a relaxed place to savor the food, the ambience and the scene. One of the dishes we enjoyed was a pineapple guava salad – the chef picked this unusual fruit from a neighbor’s tree. Sweet and luscious oysters are plentiful. Known for their pasta, the Bucatini with veal ragu was rich with layers of flavor. The 2013 Girolamo Russo ‘a Rina Etna Rosso from Sicilywas paired with the meal. For dessert, we tasted a sweet selection of homemade gelatos.
Both breakfast and dinner at The Pelican Inn are served in the cozy dining room and adjoining covered patio. A large Inglenook fireplace is the center of attention, and with dark woods, exposed brick and beams and old paintings and farm tools, you feel as though you’re in an English country pub. Overnight guests partake in a hearty breakfast buffet including an assortment of smoked bacon, eggs, bangers (pork sausage), creamy oatmeal, scones, fruit and more. At dinner, we chose the very British Beef Wellington (wrapped in pastry) and the curry blackened lamb sirloin. And for dessert, the Granny Smith hot apple crisp.
OTHER ESSENTIALS: Marin Visitors Bureau
PATTY BURNESS can be found @pattygb