Tag Archives: Marin

Hilda’s Coffee Shop, San Anselmo

Hilda's Coffee Shop in San Anselmo

Hilda's Coffee Shop in San Anselmo

Our destination was Point Reyes for a day trip to look around some of the open studios. As usual, we had an early start so breakfast became a necessity round about 7:30. San Anselmo was a convenient place to stop so we parked the car and wandered around a bit before we found place open. Hilda’s Coffee Shop is a small establishment and there were a few customers already eating inside.

There were no tables outside and no waiting area anywhere but as there were many empty tables we had no wait. Our server was extremely friendly and welcoming and Tom soon had a hot cup of coffee placed before him in a yellow and white mug. The menus were on the table so we were able to order when the coffee arrived. Tom ordered French Toast ($7.95) with a side of sausage ($4.00) and for me it was the Homemade Oatmeal ($3.95) with walnuts ($1.00).

The furniture is basic – Formica topped tables and black chairs with no booths and ten stools at the counter. Decorating the walls were watercolor prints of cute children from an earlier era – a plump, red cheeked girl on a swing; a boy and girl chatting and smiling crossing the road with a grinning cop in the background; a smiling girl wearing a yellow dress on hands and knees in a patch of white daisies, etc. There were also hanging baskets planted with green, trailing plants.

My oatmeal came in a large shallow dish on a doily lined plate. Around the rim of the plate two navy blue lines with one small, navy blue anchor between the lines. Tom’s French Toast was arranged elegantly on his plate covered in melted butter, powdered sugar and cinnamon, accompanied by the maple syrup in a stainless steel jug.

So how did it taste? Tom enjoyed his French Toast but the sausage and coffee were just average. My oatmeal was delicious. It filled the dish to the rim but the rim was wide and when I poured the milk on top it didn’t overflow the edge. The walnuts on top were candied and, as I don’t put sugar on my oatmeal, the sweetness from them was just right.

Now the restroom. Tom made the trip before I did and warned me that the facilities were basic, so I was prepared. Basic they certainly were but there was one picture on the wall and the water was hot.

Our overall verdict – food and service good but the whole place, especially the restroom, needs refurbishing.

Hilda’s Coffee Shop
639 San Anselmo Ave, San Anselmo CA 94960

Dipsea Cafe, Mill Valley

The Dipsea Cafe in Mill Valley, California.

The Dipsea Cafe in Mill Valley, California.

Once again I am attending a course in Sausalito, leaving Tom to go off and take photos. The course started at 9.30 so, of course, we had to have breakfast beforehand. I found found an interesting sounding breakfast place in Mill Valley called Toast but somehow we got completely lost. Time being of the essence, we headed for the Dipsea Cafe. We had passed the Dipsea Cafe many times. In fact, it is hard to miss. If you are traveling north over the Golden Gate Bridge, turn off 101 towards Highway 1 and Stinson Beach and the Dipsea Cafe is less than a mile on the right hand side, straight after crossing the slough. There is no parking at the front but plenty behind the cafe.

It was pouring with rain so we hurried into the restaurant sheltered by an umbrella. We used the entrance at the back. While Tom was buying a newspaper from the stand outside I had time to investigate the waiting area just inside. The first thing that caught my eye was an antique blue stove in the corner with a green plant standing on it. Not far away I spotted an old coke dispensing machine, the like of which I have never seen before. There were a number of old metal advertising signs displayed on the wall. Also on the wall were a series of photographs, all of the same theme – pictures of the Dipsea winners. I had no idea what the Dipsea Race was. I asked Tom when he came inside. By this time I was seated in a booth with a view over the slough. He told me it was a race from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach which is held every year. When I looked at the menu there was a little bit more information and I quote:

‘The Dipsea Café was named for the seven mile Dipsea trail which begins in downtown Mill Valley, goes up 672 wooden steps, winds up and over Mt. Tam, and ends at Stinson beach. Held every year since 1905, the Dipsea Race is one of the oldest foot races in the US, second only to the Boston Marathon. Calling themselves the “Dipsea Indians,” the Dipsea Race was started by a group of hikers from the Olympic Club. At the end of the race these hikers would congregate at the Dipsea Inn, where all would partake of lunch and grog.’

Of course I did a bit of searching on the internet to find out more about the Dipsea Race when I got home. It sounds intriguing. I looked at photos to the course and it looks really grueling. The race is held every June. It is a handicapped race and the winner last year, which was the 100th race, was Reilley Johnson who was just eight years old.

Our server was very chatty and it was fun talking to her. She commented on my accent and said she had been to England several times. She was a very seasoned traveler and had been all over the world.  The menu was extensive with both the breakfast and lunch menu.  Tom ordered  the Joe’s Special for $12.95 and I ordered the oatmeal at $5.50 with fruit $4.50. The coffee was $2.50.

The interior was as fascinating as the waiting area. Apart from more photos of Dipsea winners, there were cute objects on shelves and attached to columns. Behind the counter, displayed on more shelves, were huge tins, ceramic chickens, geese, rabbits and a watering can plus old coke bottles. On a waist high ledge were painted wooden animals – a pig,  a cow and a sheep. The pig was almost life sized.  On the far wall was a cheerful fire burning which gave the place a cozy feel. After the cold and wet outside it was a welcome sight.

Our food looked good when it arrived and tasted even better. A nice big bowl of oatmeal and a fair sized bowl of fresh fruit. The milk came in a lovely heavy stainless steel jug. Tom really enjoyed his Joe’s Special.

The restrooms were difficult to find. When I eventually located them I was fairly impressed. The stalls were very clean and were robustly elegant. I was impressed with the copper sink bowls. No decoration of any description though which was a disappointment.

We will definitely come here again and are happy to recommend it.

The Dipsea Cafe
200 Shoreline Highway
Mill Valley, CA 94941

Breakers Cafe, Stinson Beach

Breakers Cafe in Stinson Beach, California

Breakers Cafe in Stinson Beach, California

We were on our way home from our fantastic weekend in Dogtown and stopped for breakfast in Stinson Beach. I noticed the Breakers Cafe on our way to Dogtown on Friday and it looked good enough to try out.

First impressions were good. Even though it was a damp morning it looked bright and inviting. Inside it was large but not crammed with tables and chairs. In one window was a comfortable sofa and two easy chairs with books and magazines to hand. Unfortunately that area was already occupied but we found a table right next to a gas fired stove.

Food is ordered at the counter and served to the table. Thank goodness they had oatmeal on the menu. For $7.95 it comes with cranberries and walnuts, plus the usual raisins and brown sugar. Tom ordered a Sammy’s Special which consisted of chorizo and eggs with black beans, salsa, rice and tortillas for $8.95.

I really liked the way the walls were decorated. The theme was definitely nautical – a sharks head; a large wooden propeller; a surfboard; a large fish suspended from the ceiling; a lifebelt; a collage of shells and small rocks round the self serve coffee area; another collage, but larger, over one of the windows with a net as a background and large bits of driftwood and flotsam mounted on it. The art work varies – small oil paintings of local scenes; two of old woodies (for the benefit of non US persons, a woodie is an old estate car with wooden panels on the side); a couple of black and white photos of buildings, presumably in Stinson Beach; plus one which depicts a policeman and two scantily dressed men outside a house. But what really caught our attention was a collage made up of white plastic rubbish which had been washed up on a beach. A brightly colored but very unhappy mermaid had been painted over the rubbish giving a powerful message.

Now for the food. My oatmeal was great. A nice full bowl liberally covered with fruit and nuts. The milk was warm, foamy and served in a fair sized stainless steel jug. Tom said his chorizo was the best he had ever had. Everything on his plate was good. The salsa was hot and spicy, just how he likes it.

There were separate restrooms for men and women. The women’s was large, clean and smelt nice. There was an old wooden cupboard in one corner with a marble top. An antique looking coat rack was on the wall. Also on the wall was a large painting of an orchid. The facilities though were a little primitive.

Our overall assessment of the Breakers Cafe is very positive and we will certainly visit again. This visit was on a Monday and not crowded at all. I expect it would be a lot busier at the weekends.

Breakers Cafe
3465 Hwy 1
Stinson Beach, CA 94970

Dogtown, Marin County Part 3

Tomales Bay.  I always liked this building.

Tomales Bay. I always liked this building.

It was raining once again when we woke up. We stayed in bed drinking coffee and tea. I read about the history of the ranch and Dogtown in a brochure found in the loft which was compiled by Anne and Russ.  It contained both personal memories, photos and newspaper articles. The original inhabitants were the Coast Miwok Indians. The land became part of a Mexican land grant which was called Rancho Baulines and given to Gregorio Briones in 1846. In the 1850’s a thriving settlement named Woodville grew up around a sawmill. One of the descendents of Gregorio Briones lived on the property during the first half of the 1900’s. Lots from the Rancho Baulines began to be sold off in the 1950’s. In the 1960’s the property was bought by a couple who built the original house. There were two more owners of the property before Annue and Russ bought it in 1992 after reading a small ad in the local paper.

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

Dogtown acquired it name in the latter part of the 20th century due to the number of dogs local hunters owned. In the early 1900’s the name was changed to Woodville because the residents, mostly lumberjacks and miners, wanted a more decorous name. In the early 1970’s another resident petitioned and won the right to change the name back to it’s original name of Dogtown.

This was the day of our ninth anniversary. My present to Tom was this weekend. His present to me was a lovely new watch. I lost my previous watch back in May when we were in Grass Valley for the weekend. This new watch has a titanium strap and is gorgeous.

Lying in bed I could see the bare patches in the corrals were now extremely muddy. The horses don’t seem unduly concerned about the rain. Again we heard them pawing the floor of the barn while they waited for their breakfast.

Over breakfast we discussed where to go that day. We had the same dilemma as yesterday, except all of the trails would be even muddier today. We decided to head to Point Reyes and Drakes Bay. We planned to take a walk along the beach where we would be protected from the elements as the beach does not face the open ocean.

The sun was shining when we left with lots of blue patches in the sky. It feels a bit cooler than yesterday though. Hopefully the rain would stay away until later in the afternoon. Once again we drove north along Highway 1. Everything looked clean and fresh after the recent rains but the grass is very wet. The sun makes all the difference, giving a sparkling effect as its rays reflect off drops of water on the leaves of trees and bushes.

At Olema we turned left making our way past the road to Bear Valley Visitor Center and past a road to Olema Marsh. Even though we left a lot later than usual, there were not too many cars on the road. I expect the rain had dampened the spirits of the tourists.

Mountains of oyster shells at Drakes Bay Oyster Farm

Mountains of oyster shells at Drakes Bay Oyster Farm

Passing Rogers Ranch brought back memories of our visit in September. We could not see any chickens out in the field today but saw some of the grass fed beef. We took the short detour to Drakes Bay Oyster Farm. The drive skirts Schooner Bay and there were quite a few ducks and coots on the water and egrets standing in the water  close to shore. As we got out of the car we saw an egret very close. Too close in fact because as soon as we started to walk it flew away. It land a short way away and just behind it stood a blue heron. Tom, of course, had to take some photos.

Afterwards we walked towards the shop. Tom carried on towards the mound of oyster shells. Another photo op. I went into the shop. The oysters here were cheaper than the ones on sale at Tomales Bay Oyster Company. I told the girl behind the counter that I had never had a raw oyster and she was glad to answer my questions. She explained they came in four sizes, small, medium, large and extra large. The smaller ones are younger and best eaten raw. The larger ones are older and best cooked. She told me how to open them. Special shucking knives were on sale there but a butter knife or screwdriver would work just as well. Oysters should be opened with the side on top so the juices stay in the bottom. The knife should be inserted into the gap and worked around a bit and then twisted to open the shell fully. The oyster dies as soon as it is exposed to the air. It is attached to the shell at the bottom and this has to be cut free. They can be eaten by just swallowing them almost whole but that seems such a waste to me. How can you know what they taste like? The girl told me she likes to chew them a bit before swallowing. She also recommended serving them with a squeeze of lemon or tomato sauce. As I was determined to try oysters on this trip, I bought half a dozen small ones. The girl put them in a bag with lots of ice.

The beach at Drakes Bay.  The scene hasn't changed much since the days when Sir Francis Drake landed.

The beach at Drakes Bay. The scene hasn't changed much since the days when Sir Francis Drake landed.

Our next stop was Drakes Bay. The wind whipped the door out of my hand when I opened it so decided to put my warm, fleecy jacket on. Tom being more hardy, didn’t bother with a jacket. Even though it was chilly the sun felt warm.

I wandered down the beach, which is long, curved and sandy. Along the edge of the shore a host of birds were busy. The sanderlings were probing with their long bills into the sand and seemed to be having a lot of success. There was also a flock of dunderlings busily running around. It is so amusing to watch them. They stand near the edge of the water in a group with their backs to the water. When the next wave roles in, they wait until it has nearly reached then and then collectively they take off, running just in front of the water and chirping excitedly like day old chicks. It’s like watching a group of silly little girls who love to be frightened by the water by running away from it and squealing at the same time as though they love to be scared. I stood watching for a good ten minutes before I moved off.

The cliffs here are very fragile and resemble compacted mud. It looks very much like shale but lighter in color. It reminded me of the cliffs in Lyme Regis in the UK, which are good for fossil hunting but try as hard as I could there were no fossils between the thin layers. The rock, if that is what it is, is fragile and almost crumbles to the touch. As I walked along the bottom of the cliffs every so often there would be a clatter as a scattering of rocks came lose and tumbled down to the sand.

This is where it is reputed Sir Francis Drake spent a few months back in 1579 when he stopped on the circumnavigation of the globe to repair his ship, the Golden Hind. He wrote that the cliffs reminded him of the White Cliffs of Dover. He claimed the area for Queen Elizabeth I and named it New Albion.

Just mesmerized by the waves, the sun and Drakes Beach.

Just mesmerized by the waves, the sun and Drakes Beach.

I almost had the place to myself as I wandered further on down the beach. When I came to an area with a flat rock extending into the sea I walked out onto it. It was full of little rock pools but there were no crabs or small fish lurking in them. The waves breaking just offshore were magnificent to watch, Rising and curling before toppling over, the waves rushed to the shore. It was a wonderful place to be with the sun shining down and warming me up.

Tom caught up with me and we spent about ten minutes just contemplating the crashing waves and enjoying the scenery. We then made our way back towards the car. We were walking into the wind and talking became difficult.

Back in the car park, Tom put his camera away and we walked to the cafe which is right on the beach. There is also a visitors center though we did not go inside. We did read a series of information boards in a small courtyard about Sir Francis Drake and they were interesting. In the cafe we bought a couple of hot chocolates and sat outside on the patio in the sunshine. Fortunately we were sheltered from the wind. It was great, just sitting there enjoying our drinks and soaking in the views.

Afterwards we climbed up the small headland called the Peter Behr Overlook. The climb to the top did not take long but it was very steep.  The view from the top encompassed the whole Drakes Bay so the effort was worth it.

At 1.30 we started back to the ranch. For a late lunch we ate the oysters. Tom struggled valiantly to open them and I tasted my first ever raw oyster. It was not at all as I expected it. I imagined the oyster to be bigger, plumper and whiter and did not realise there would so much liqud that went with it. The liquid though tasted just like sea water. The taste of the oysters was not unpleasant but not something I would want to eat every day.

Just after 4.30 we set off towards Point Reyes Station but before we left we had to give the horses a snack. They wolfed down the carrots in no time at all. We arrived at Point Reyes Station just before 5 and filled up with gas before heading for Point Reyes Books to spend the interim time browsing books before heading to Osteria Stellina for dinner. Once again we had an amazing meal. I had roasted brussels sprouts and toasted hazelnuts to start with, followed by pork tenderloin, potato gratin and kale; finishing up with the three artisan cheese dish. Tom had something completely new for the starter – marrow bone jelly with capers and lemons. His main dish was ahi tuna with mixed vegetables and he finished up with chocolate cake. To drink Tom had a glass of red wine and I a glass of chardonnay. While I was eating the cheeses, our server brought me a glass of port as a complimentary drink. He asked Tom if he would like one as well and he of course said yes. All in all it was another fantastic meal at the Osteria Stellina and a perfect way to round off our anniversary weekend.

Dogtown, Marin County – Part 2

The view from our bedroom at Woodville Ranch

The view from our bedroom at Woodville Ranch

During the night it rained heavily. Several times we woke up and each time we could hear the rain steadily falling. It was so nice to be snuggled up in bed.

At 7 we were woken by the sound of the horses moving below us in the barn. It was breakfast time for them. Outside it was still overcast and we could hear water dripping from the eaves but the heavy rain had ceased.

We decided to go into Bolinas for breakfast. There is only one cafe in the town – The Coast Cafe- and that is where we headed. We have had breakfast here several times but it must be under new management. It’s called brunch now not breakfast and the menu has definitely gone upmarket. I had French Toast with organic pears with a side of apple chicken sausage and Tom had Fish Tacos. Our food was good if a little pricey.

When I planned this weekend, it was with the idea that we could be doing a lot of hiking. But the rain during the night made a change of plan necessary. All the trails would be too muddy now. We ended up taking a drive north along Highway 1 to Bodega Bay.

Our first stop was by the Bolinas Lagoon. The day was beginning to brighten up and there were bits of blue sky to be seen. The outside temperature was only 52 degrees though. The lagoon was beautiful. This time our view had the hills in the background.

Our next stop was just before the Woodville Ranch. I wanted to get a photo of the green Dogtown sign (see part 1 for a photo of the sign). The population was originally 30 but it had been crossed out several times. The total population is now 33.

The views towards Olema and Point Reyes Station were outstanding. The recent rains had turned the grass green. On one side of the road is the Point Reyes Natural Seashore and on the right the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Everything is pristine. We drove through Olema and then Point Reyes Station, the latter being busier than the former. Today Point Reyes Station were holding its weekly farmers market. All along the way were trail heads. Point Reyes is a walker’s paradise. So many places to explore.

Tomales Bay Oyster sign along Highway One

Tomales Bay Oyster sign along Highway One

We stopped at the Tomales Bay Oyster Company where it was a hive of activity. Oysters were being brought in from the beds, placed into large tanks to be rinsed and then sorted into sizes. A dozen small oysters sell for $10 and a dozen large for $18. The oyster beds are out in the bay and are clearly marked with colored buoys. We were chatting with one of the oyster sorters. They were expecting a busy day. The sun was shining and they were planning on a lot of customers that day. They have lots of picnic tables, all with their own BBQs. I guess people come, buy the raw oysters, cook them and then eat them. In fact several groups were already arriving and laying claim to their tables and starting to light BBQs.

Highway 1 swings inland for a bit and we were driving along by the side of a creek. In the small town of Tomales we took a detour to go see Dillon Beach. There were some amazing views of the Point Reyes headland and the entrance to Tomales Bay. We stopped by some rock formations so Tom could take photos. I stayed in the car because I could hear the wind whistling around the car.

It didn’t take long from there to reach Dillon Beach. It is a small town with narrow streets. There was only one place to park but the charge was $7, which seemed an awful lot of money for a five minute stop. We carried on driving to the end of the road and ended up at Lawson’s Landing. The road dead ended at a trailer park with an entrance fee. We turned around. Driving back through Dillon Beach, we had to slow down to negotiate a couple of the bends because two pickups towing trailers were taking up most of the road.

Instead of retracing our steps to Tomales, we took a short cut back to Highway 1 along Valley Ford Road. This time the spectacular views were inland and we could see for miles. At the small hamlet of Valley Ford we turned right onto Highway 1.

Western sandpipers hunkering down waiting for the storm to arrive

Western sandpipers hunkering down waiting for the storm to arrive.

Bodega Bay is a strange place. We never found a downtown as such with shops. Along the shore there were lots of restaurants with their own parking lots but there was nowhere we could stop to look around. We drove to the end of the town and then turned towards Bodega Head. We did park for a while in the marina but didn’t stay long. The weather was beginning to deteriorate. At a small inlet at the beginning of the marina was a mud flat. A host of water and wading birds were busy searching for food but what amazed us were a flock western sandpipers.  At first they were difficult to spot as they blended in with the vegetation but they were all standing facing in the same direction and hardly moving. They were bracing themselves for a storm.

We headed back to Dogtown. The rain started to come down as soon as we left Bodega Bay. We could see down towards Tomales Bay a huge rain cloud and the rain falling in the distance.  We thought about the Tomales Bay Oyster Company and thought they would not be too happy.

In Point Reyes Station we stopped to buy food for our evening meal. We bought wine, olive oil, spinach and bread at the Palace Market on the main street; cheese at the the Cowgirl Creamery on 4th Street and a small filet mignon and a rib eye steak in the Marin Sun Farm butcher’s shop.

Tom cooked our meal and it was superb. We finished the bottle of wine and chatted while the rain beat down. We were content.

Dogtown, Marin County – Part 1

Dogtown, California

Dogtown, California. Population 30, oops, I mean 33

For an anniversary surprise I booked a weekend away in Dogtown. Everybody I told had no idea where Dogtown was. In fact I had never heard of it until I picked up a book at Point Reyes Books in Point Reyes Station on our last visit. It was called ‘The Dogtown Chronicles – Our Life and Times with Sheep, Goats, Llamas, and other Creatures’ by Doris Ober. It was a fascinating read about a couple in Dogtown and their animals. When I went online to find out more about Dogtown, I found a vacation rental, The Loft at Woodville Ranch, and decided it would be the perfect location to spend our anniversary.

Update 1/21/2013: Sorry to say that the loft is no longer available.

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

Where is Dogtown I hear you ask? It is on Highway 1 just north of Bolinas. When we set off after the rush hour on Friday morning, Tom had no idea where we were heading. After crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, I told him to take the Highway 1 exit towards Stinson Beach. That narrowed the choice of our eventual destination.

The forecast for the weekend was not very promising. Rain was likely Saturday, Sunday and Monday. That Friday morning it was overcast and once in Marin it started to rain.

We stopped at the Pelican Inn for a drink and hurried inside out of the rain. The Pelican Inn is the nearest to a British pub I’ve seen in California. The bar is small and the furniture, with its pew like seats around the wall and small round wooden tables, feels like home away from home. The barmaid even knew what a shandy was without me having to explain how to make it. On the walls were black and white photos of the Royal family from a few years ago. A sign in the restroom amused me which warned that the plumbing was ‘Authentic English Tudor style.’ Obviously tongue in cheek as there was no such thing as plumbing in Tudor times. A mass communal pit would have been more authentic.

Bolinas Lagoon

The beautiful Bolinas Lagoon

It had stopped raining by the time we left The Pelican Inn and we enjoyed the ride along Highway One. The road twisted and turned with occasional glimpses of the ocean. Even though it was still overcast we were able to see the Farallon Islands quite clearly.

Tom thought our destination would be Stinson Beach but we drove straight through. The tide was in and the Bolinas Lagoon was full. It was an amazing ride driving the length of the lagoon and observing all the birds on the water. We drove past the turning to Bolinas and Tom was puzzled. Where else was there to go? The next stop, he thought, was Olema.

When I saw the small green sign which announced we were entering ‘Dogtown – population 30, I told him to get ready to turn left. Then when I saw the sign saying ‘Woodville Ranch’ I asked Tom to turn into the drive. We had arrived. To the left stood the main house and ahead was the barn. Our home for the next three days would be the loft above the barn.

The Loft at Woodville Ranch

The Loft at Woodville Ranch. Beautiful setting, beautiful place. Everything was perfect.

We knocked at the door of the main house. The door opened and Anne Sands greeted us. She took us to the barn and showed us the loft. On the way we saw the beautiful Arabian horses who reside there. The loft is a marvelous place – long and with lots of windows. At each end there are long windows which stretch from the ceiling nearly to the floor. In the bedroom, a four poster bed and antique furniture. There was a full size kitchen, a small eating area and a sitting room. Everything you could wish for in a holiday home.

Anne explained that there were a couple of stores in Bolinas, including a co-op behind the community hall which sold local organic produce. I asked about nearby walking trails and she showed me some beautiful, hand drawn maps of the property and surrounding area. There were a couple of trails on the property and many more in Point Reyes National Seashore.

After we’d settled in, we drove into Bolinas along Mesa Road. One of the maps was of Bolinas and showed that the Coastal Trail starts at the end of Mesa Road. Mesa Road turns into a gravel roadway running past the Point Reyes Bird Observatory and ended in a car park. We ventured only a little way along the trail. We would have liked to have gone further as it looked interesting but we thought it was gong to rain. We did go of on a short spur which led to a fabulous view from the top of a ridge overlooking the ocean. The Farallon Islands, although still visible, were slowing disappearing into the mist.

trunk of a eucalyptus tree

Foot of a giant prehistoric creature or the trunk of a eucalyptus tree?

We felt raindrops as we made our way back to the car and we were able to reach it before we got too wet. When we got to the sign for the bird observatory I noticed it said ‘Visitors Welcome’, so we turned into the driveway. At the end was a car park and a Visitors Center. Inside there was a lot of information of the work they do there to catch and band birds. They use a misting net. Most mornings the activities can be viewed but not at 4 in the afternoon unfortunately. We walked around the small museum with, amongst other things, a collection of bird skulls. On display were the skulls of a pelican right down to a hummingbird. It was amazing to see how small and fragile the skull of a hummingbird is. They also have guided bird tours from time to time. We plan to return for another visit sometime.

Back in Bolinas we found the co-op where we bought some organic carrots for the horses.  Feeling hungry, we went to the Coast Cafe for an early dinner but unfortunately it was closed.We went a nearby store and asked if they knew what time it opened and were told 5 o’clock. By this time it had started to rain in earnest and we did not really want to hang around for three quarters of an hour until the cafe opened. We decided to buy some food in the store and returned to the loft to cook our own supper. Earlier we had bought a dozen eggs from Anne and with an onion, a large potato and some mushrooms we made and enjoyed an omelet.

We spent a cozy evening watching a DVD and listening to the pounding rain outside. We wandered whether we would be able to get out for a walk the next day or whether the rain was set in for the weekend. We retired to our marvelous comfy bed for an early night.

Marin Cross Trail (Sir Francis Drake Bikeway)

Marin Cross Trail

Marin Cross Trail

On a beautiful morning in late fall we tried out a new bike ride (at least for us) in Marin called the Marin Cross Trail. When I did a little research I discovered it is also called the Sir Francis Drake Bikeway. Tom came across mention of the trail in ‘Weekend Sherpa’, which is free weekly email newsletter.

It took roughly one and a half hours to reach the beginning of the trail (not including our breakfast stop at The Barefoot Cafe). The trail parallels Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and the start is on Platform Bridge Road, which was a turning on the right not far past Samuel P Taylor State Park. We parked in a small pullout. There were no other cars there. To get to the trail we had to cross an aging concrete bridge with a 5 ton weight limit. The actual beginning was signposted at the end of the bridge where we turned left. The trail is along the track of the North Pacific Coast Railroad, which used to run from Larkspur to Cazadero.

There had been quite a bit of rain over the previous few days and the trail was wet and covered in damp leaves. In fact water could be heard dripping from the trees at the side of the trail. Down below the sound of a babbling creek could be heard. This was the Lagunitas Creek which flows into Tomales Bay. When Tom stopped to take photos I checked it out. The first winter rains had set the creek in motion. I could hear cars passing on the nearby Sir Francis Drake Boulevard but they could not be seen.

Fall Color along the Marin Cross Trail

Fall Color along the Marin Cross Trail

Tom is looking for fall colors but there was not too much be be seen. Towering redwoods were the dominant trees and they don’t lose their leaves in the autumn. Further along the trail we were out in the open. On our left, grassy hills rose steeply. Cattle were grazing. Here the sun could be seen and felt. Then we were riding through redwoods again where only the occasional shaft of sunlight found it’s way through the trees.

There was not much traffic on the trail – some couples taking a walk and the odd cyclist of two. Back in the shade again we passed a sign which informed us we were entering the Samuel P Taylor Park. Tom stopped to take some photos of some magnificent redwoods. The base of the redwoods were below the level of the trail and by running my eyes up the trunk of one of them I could only see the canopy by craning my neck. Looking back to the base I noticed that three huge trees formed a large circle. The first generation redwood originally stood in that circle and one can only imagine what the size of that tree would have been. We stopped again where there was a good view of the creek. At that point the creek was wide with trees leaning over the water. Upstream a whole tree had fallen across the creek.

The ride became more interesting as a series of information boards gave the history of the surrounding area. Back in the second half of the 19th century there was not only a thriving paper mill and a dam but a small town called Taylorville here. Although the boards described the mill, the railway, the ox cart trail and Camp Taylor, it did not tell me about the man. For that I had to wait until I got home. Samuel P Taylor was born in New York and came to San Francisco during the gold rush. He didn’t immediately rush off to the search for gold, although he did have some success in the 1850’s. He realized there was more money to be made in providing other commodities such as lumber. Once he had saved up enough money, he ventured into Marin and arrived in what is now Lagunitas. There he purchased some land and started building the first paper mill. Over the next few years he married and raised a family and developed other features on his property, including the first ever fish ladder in the west to enable the salmon to get over the dam he had built. When the North Pacific Railroad was built he encouraged holiday makers to come by building both a hotel and allowing people to camp on his land. One of the boards had a quote from ‘The Making of Marin’ by Jack Mason – “The mill, first class for its time….supplied every San Francisco newspaper with newsprint. If the Bolinas schooner was late, so were the papers.”

Lagunitas Creek winding along the Marin Cross Trail

Lagunitas Creek winding along the Marin Cross Trail

As we cycled on we caught the smell of wood smoke and then we passed a campsite. Even though the weather was mild I was surprised at the number of people camping. It is nice to know that people still come to this area to camp, so carrying on the Camp Taylor tradition. The asphalt road ran out soon afterward and we were on a gravel road. We spotted some blue plastic tufts planted in the roadway and were curious as to what they were. There were about four in a line. Soon we saw some more and then we kept seeing them.  They were obviously markers of some sort but we are still wandering what they could have been marking.

We didn’t quite make it to the end of the trail because our time was running out. The ride back was exhilarating for two reasons. The first being we had views of the creek nearly all the way and the second because it was mostly down hill. I had not even realized that we had been traveling up hill on the way south because it seemed level but there must have been a slight rise.

The Marin Cross Trail is a very good bike ride and we would love to come again some time.

Barefoot Cafe, Fairfax

The Barefoot Cafe in Fairfax, California

The Barefoot Cafe in Fairfax, California

Last month we attempted to have breakfast at The Barefoot Cafe in Fairfax but it was closed. This trip we were more successful.  The Barefoot Cafe is easy to find in the middle of Fairfax and right on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. Parking is a doddle on a large parking lot in the middle of the street.

Inside we were shown to a table towards the back and next to a window. Two cops sat at the table behind us. There were a fair number of customers already having breakfast and a low hum of conversation permeated the air. Music played in the background but I could not really make out what kind it was.

The menu was extensive – they also serve lunch.  Tom chose from the specials list – Crab Benedict. As for me, I honed in on the oatmeal because, wonder of wonders, they serve steel cut oats. It was not cheap at $7.95 but it sounded irresistible – ‘Organic Steel Cut Oatmeal topped with strawberries, blueberries and flaxseed served with brown sugar, honey or maple syrup.’

Decoration was minimal. A few medium sized pumpkins were placed here and there. No little knick knacks anywhere but several tasteful oil paintings hung on the walls. The only deviation being a map of Italy displayed nearer the bar.

The presentation of the food was fantastic. Tom’s Crab Benedict came stuffed full of fresh Dungeness crab and accompanied by an excellent hot sauce. My oatmeal had sliced strawberries and blueberries on top with a sprinkle of flaxseed. Two things could be improved to make everything perfect. I had to ask for milk and it came in a small cup which was difficult to pour. I asked for the honey instead of brown sugar or maple syrup but I was not expecting the honey to be Smucker’s in pre-packed plastic containers. Surely in Marin they could serve real honey? Tom wanted to add that he thought that the coffee was really good. Certainly as good as the coffee he makes at home.

The restroom was unisex, clean and smelt nice. On the wall hung a small framed print of bicycles parked in the shade against a building. It was signed David Knoll and date 10/06.

Would we come back? You bet.

Fueled by our Eggs Benedict and oatmeal, we were on our way try out the Cross Marin Trail on our bikes.

The Barefoot Cafe
1900 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard
Fairfax, CA 94930

Duxbury Reef at Agate Beach County Park, Bolinas

Duxbury Reef

Duxbury Reef

Neither Tom nor I had ever heard of Duxbury Reef so we were intrigued when we saw mention of it. Once we found out where it was – Bolinas, and there were some wonderful tide pools there, we just knew we had to check it out.

If you are going to explore tide pools, then the best time to visit is when there is a low tide. A minus low tide is even better. To find out about tides, you have to consult the time tables. An online timetable is here. Consulting the tide tables can be a bit confusing. First you need to know where the nearest tide readings are taken. For Duxbury Reef it is either Point Reyes or Bolinas Lagoon (both of the links will open up in Bolinas Lagoon). Then you look for the date. As we have to visit on a Saturday or Sunday, it narrows our choices considerably. Then you check for time of day you will be visiting and look for a minus sign which denotes a minus tide. One other thing to check, make sure the year is correct. First time around on another site, it was for the year 2006 so I had to search to see how to change the year. The Saturday of our visit the tide was -0.7 at 7.29 a.m. – the lowest early morning weekend tide for the rest of the year.

Saturday morning we were up at 4.15 and on the road by 5. Tom checked the weather so knew we would probably encounter fog. And we certainly did. San Francisco was shrouded with the stuff. Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge the towers were lost to view with only the merest hint of Alcatraz off the the right. Negotiating Highway 1 in the Marin Headlands was a challenge and as we zig-zagged our way along the coast we were aware that the ocean was nearby but only caught odd glimpses of the water through breaks in the fog. The steep drop-offs were passed without my stomach plummeting.

It was gratifying to see that indeed there was a very low tide, especially when we drove past Bolinas Lagoon. Vast mud flats were visible out in the middle. Lots of egrets were paddling in the mud searching for their breakfast.

Just past the end of the lagoon, we turned left towards Bolinas. There aren’t any signs, you have to know that Bolinas is there. At the next junction, where we turned left again, there was a sign which simply said – ‘Entering a socially acknowledged nature-loving town’. This sums up Bolinas.

Of course we checked out where Duxbury Reef was and even looked at a map. It seemed easy enough to find but, you’ve guessed right,

Heading down to Duxbury Reef

Heading down to Duxbury Reef

we became a little lost. We took a few wrong turns and ended up a couple of times in a cul-de-sac and once the road was completely closed off due to a landslide. Eventually we returned to Mesa Road and somehow found our way to Elm Road. At the end of Elm Road we turned left onto Ocean Parkway and ran into a fairly large car park at the end of the road. Success, we had reached the right place.

There was just one other car there. I did expect there to be more people around. After all it is the weekend and a minus tide so why weren’t there more people? I can only assume that it is a combination of not many people having heard of Duxbury Reef and it being difficult to find.

A short trail led down to the beach and there in front of us was a large area of exposed tide pools. Only one other person and his dog were in sight. It was a bit chilly on the beach and visibility out to sea was not good but with my hooded sweatshirt on it wasn’t too bad.

Duxbury Reef tide pool

Duxbury Reef tide pool

I started out to explore the reef. The rocks were covered with slippery seaweed so walking and clambering over them was a slow process. It didn’t matter though as I was not in a great hurry. There were lots of lots of tide pools ranging from tiny crevices to larger expanses of clear water. Negotiating a route to the edge of the ocean was not in a straight line. Some of the inlets were quite large and finding an easy way across at a narrower point or by using stepping stones took time. Of course each tide pool had to be scrutinized as I passed. To get the most out of them, you have to stand very quietly for about five minutes as minute fish swim under cover and tiny crabs scuttle out of sight as you approach. By not moving for a while, they all venture out again and you can then study them.

At first I thought some of molluscs were attached to the rock but then noticed that some of them were moving very, very slowly. Then a tiny leg would appear and then another and I realized that they were hermit crabs. I read a fascinating fact about hermit crabs. As they grow larger they need to move into a bigger shell and a sort of line develops around an empty shell so when one hermit crab exits its too small shell for a larger one, there is already another hermit crab waiting to inhabit the one that had just been vacated. I wonder how they communicate to each other?

I noticed that there were a lot of one sort of mollusk which I couldn’t identify. When writing this post I tried to find out what they were. I can tell you what they weren’t – cockles, mussels, whelks, barnacles or limpets. Comparing our photographs with images online, we think they were sea snails but if anybody out there disagrees, please send a comment. We saw a lot of sea anemones clustered together on the rocks. When they are closed they look very nondescript and uninteresting. Brush against them with your shoe and they tighten up even further. But when they open up they are beautiful. We saw several large green sea anemones waving their tentacles. Don’t be tempted to touch them because they sting.

Bicycle and stuff in the charming little village of Bolinas

Bicycle and stuff in the charming little village of Bolinas

For most of our time there we had the place to ourselves, then a couple and their four children arrived and were busily exploring the tide pools. The children were fascinated by everything they saw. Not that they were close enough for us to hear what they were saying but could tell by the way they were crouching and pointing excitedly. It was a pleasure to watch them.

While Tom continued to take photos, I walked back up to the beach and wandered further along the sand. As it was called Agate State Beach Park, I was on the lookout for agate. I wasn’t quite sure what agate looked like but that didn’t stop me looking. I don’t think I found any agate but I may have seen a small piece of amethyst in a piece of honeycomb rock. Just wish I’d taken a photo of it. Tom caught up with me and I showed him the rock. He didn’t know whether it was anything to get excited about.

On the way back to the car we took a little detour along a trail that led to the top of the bluffs. We couldn’t see down to the beach very well but we think the reef extends some way down the coast. Perhaps we did not explore all the tide pools. Maybe if we had walked south along the beach we would have discovered more. The trail took us back to the car park.

Time to go and find something to eat . We drove into Bolinas and went into Coast Cafe. We have eaten several times there and like the food. Even though it is a little pricey, the quality of the food and the ambiance is well worth it.

Fairfax -Bolinas Backroad

View from the Fairfax-Bolinas Road looking down at the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge with Mt. Diablo in the background

View from the Fairfax-Bolinas Road looking down at the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge with Mt. Diablo in the background.

In Tom Steinstra’s SF Chronicle column last week, he wrote about the Fairfax to Bolinas back road.  As we have never driven it we decided to give it a go.  Today promises to be a little cooler and, as we have been enjoying/suffering a period of hot weather over the last couple of weeks, it will be nice to get out into the fresh air.  Let’s hope it gets a bit cooler during the night as it will be nice to get a decent night’s sleep for a change.

(Click on the images for larger versions)

We set Mollie, our GPS, for San Anselmo, where we intended to have breakfast.  She was directing us to take Highway 101 but we decided to confound her and take Highway 280.  To us, not only is it the most direct route to the Golden Gate Bridge but it is a better road and much more scenic.  101 is, after all, boring with lots of traffic and nothing to feast the eyes on apart from the dirigible hangers at Moffett Field.  Whereas on 280 there is a wealth of interesting things to look out for.  For a start there is the scenery – rolling hills, wooded hillsides, mountain ridges and Crystal Springs Lake.  As for man made structures there is the Maryknoll Tower in Los Altos.  On first sight it’s architecture looks Spanish Mission but on closer inspection you will find that the roof corners turn up a little which gives it an oriental look.  Passing Standford University in Palo Alto there is the the two mile long linear  accelarator tunnel which passes underneath 280 and the satellite dish on the top of a small rise.  There is a hiking tail up to the dish but we haven’t done it yet.  Between the Woodside and Edgewood Road exits there is the Runnymede Sculpture Farm.  It is a privately owned estate which has over 150 outdoor sculptures, some of which can be seen from 280.  I’ve spotted about five of them.  Then between the Bunker Hill and Black Mountain Road exits there are two things to look for.  If you are traveling towards San Francisco, watch out for the Flintstone or Bubble House as you cross the Eugene A. Doran Memorial Bridge on the right hand side.  It used to be painted off white but is now terracotta red.   The second object is the 26ft high statue of Father Junipero Serra, who is pointing westwards,  created by Louis Dubois.  Father Junipero Serra was a Spanish missionary who founded several of the Californian missions.

We leave 280 where it veers to the east and drive north along 19th Avenue through San Francisco.  There are a lot of traffic lights between here and the Golden Gate Bridge bit it is interesting to note the flavor of the San Francisco architecture.  At first the houses are mostly two stories high, with a garage on the ground floor, steps leading to the main entrance on the second floor which is next to a large picture window.  None of the buildings have a front garden and some of them are maintained very nicely.  Some, though, are not a very good shape at all.  On the other side of Golden Gate Park, the houses are larger and set back from the road.  No two buildings are alike.

Driving through the Gen. Douglas MacArthur tunnel, the anticipation of seeing the bridge in all its glory is electric.  It doesn’t matter how many times

Looking down at a lake with Mt. Tam in the background

Looking down at a lake with Mt. Tam in the background

we cross the bridge it always gives us a thrill.  Today though it was a little overcast – a typical summer day in San Francisco.  We can see Alcatraz but not the top of Angel Island.  The Bay Bridge and the city are bathed in light through a break in the cloud while everything else is shrouded in fog.   As usual the joggers are out in force crossing the bridge on one side and cyclists on the other.

Once over the bridge and through the Rainbow Tunnel we look down on Sausalito and the ribbon of houseboats along the edge of the bay.  We notice that the tide is out.  In fact the seaplane which takes tourists over the city and which is normally afloat, was resting on mud.

With the infamous San Quentin State Prison in sight on our right, we turn left onto the Sir Francis Drake Blvd and drive through pleasant communities until we reach San Anselmo.  After breakfast we continued on to Fairfax, which is were the back road began.  The article mentioned the tricky connector to get onto Bolinas Road and we went slightly wrong.  We missed the left hand turn onto Pacheco Avenue and took the next left, where we immediately turned left again and soon were able to turn right onto Bolinas Road.

The first part of the drive was through the outskirts of Fairfax but within no time at all we were out in the country and climbing.  The whole length of the road is narrow with barely room for two lane of traffic.  It is also very twisty with steep drop offs on our right.  I was looking down into narrow valleys and on houses built precariously into the hillside.  There were a lot of cyclists around.  In fact, bikes outnumbered cars by about 50 to 1.  Although they were pedaling uphill at a steady pace, their speed was only about 15 miles an hour.  The curvy road and blind bends, along with the double yellow line down the middle of the road, made passing a risky business.   To make matters worse, quite a few of the cyclists insisted on driving two abreast.  But we were in no hurry so we only passed when it was safe to do so.

Along the way we passed the turn off to Lake Lagunitas and a little further the Center for Peace and Compassion.  Tom’s comment was ‘welcome to Marin’.  Marin County is avant-garde in the environmental movement and many ex hippies and wealthy commuters to San Francisco live here.  I always get the impression that the air is cleaner here.

We catch a glimpse of Mount Tamalpais, or Mount Tam as it is affectionately known, in the distance and pass the entrance to the Meadow Club golf course on our left.  Meadow Club was built in 1927 and was the first golf course designed in America.

The weather has improved greatly now we are not only north of the bridge but at a higher elevation.  We stopped and parked on a large gravel shoulder at the top of the hill.  Tom wanted to take some photos and I wanted to stretch my legs.  There was an unmarked trail in front of us so Tom set up his camera on the tripod and we set off.  The trail was a bit steep at first but worth the view a little later on.  We both noticed a wonderful herby smell during our hike but just could not work out where it was coming from.  It was great to be out walking on such a beautiful day, breathing in the good, fresh Marin air with nobody else in sight.  Tom stopped to take photos and I carried on making my way to a large boulder via a side track up a small rise.

Occasionally I heard rustling in the undergrowth and caught sight of lizards darting out of the way.  I tried to climb the boulder but decided it was just too high.  Besides, I might have had trouble getting down.  Nearby a found a smaller rock and sit down and scanned the view.  In the distance I could see the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge partially covered by a finger of fog with Mount Diablo rising above it.  On top of Mount Tam I could see the hut we climbed to in February 2008, when we witnessed a group of Mongolians celebrating their New Year.

Cyclists along Ridgecrest Blvd

Cyclists along Ridgecrest Blvd

It was so peaceful up there, gazing down on a couple of golfers at Meadow Club and listening to the hum of wasps investigating the skinny yellow flowers which proliferated at the moment.  Tom caught up with me and set up his tripod and took lots of photos of Mount Tam and the Richmond Bridge.  Then he climbed even higher and called out that he could see a lake.  He thought it was Lake Lagunitas but looking at the map I think it was Alpine Lake.  There was no clearly defined trail but by a dint of rock climbing I was able to join him.  The view was breathtaking.  Not only the sight of the sparkling blue lake surrounded by trees but also panoramic views.  It felt like sitting on the top of the world but knew it wasn’t as Mount Tam is definitely higher.

Earlier, down where we parked the car, we overhead a couple of cyclist, who were taking a break, talking about the flies.  At the time I did not know what they were talking about, but at the top of that hill I found out.  The flies were continuously buzzing around and were most distracting.  As far as biting me, I don’t think so but guess I will find out later.

I noticed a couple of concrete cylinders half buried in the soil, one with a stamp on the top which I couldn’t read.  Tom found a plaque on a nearby boulder which had the mark of the Corps of Engineers, US Army on it.  No elevation or date were noted on it.

We got back to the car and then continued our drive downhill towards Bolinas.  We negotiated a horseshoe bend and soon were driving through redwoods.  At first they were relatively small redwoods but further on we passed some larger specimens.  We approached a dam and the road went across the top.  It was difficult to negotiate our way across as it seemed to be a major meeting point for all the cyclists and there were several large groups straddled right across the roadway.

Beyond the dam there were several hairpin bends and soon we came to the junction with Ridgecrest Blvd.  If we had carried straight on we would have arrived at Highway 1 and the small town of Bolinas but we turned south along the Ridgecrest.  This is one of the most scenic roads in the area.  On a clear day there are wonderful views over Bolinas, Bolinas Lagoon and the ocean but today, although we are in the sunshine, all below is covered in fog.

We pulled over to take some photos and discovered a wonderful little trail.  It is the McKennan Gulch Trail and is only 0.12 miles long and very easy

Outlook at the end of McKennan Gulch Trail.  Its a real easy stroll.

Outlook at the end of McKennan Gulch Trail. It's a real easy stroll.

walking.  There is marked parking for disabled drivers and the trail could easily be negotiated by a wheelchair.  At the end is a stone seat.  As we approached it I thought it was just a cairn of stones and was pleasantly surprised to find a very convenient place to sit and contemplate the view.  Not that there was much of a view today but I can’t wait to come back here again on a clear day.  I can see this becoming another of our ‘must take visitors to’ spots.

Back on the road again we drove to the end Ridgecrest Blvd.  One word of warning, this road is only open during the hours of daylight and there are gates at both ends which presumably are closed at night.  Our journey continued through Mill Valley to Highway 101, back over the bridge and home.

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