The West Marin area is, debatably, the most spectacular region in a county known for its scenic wonders. A truly rural section of Marin encompassing miles of open ridge tops, wild coast lines, and pastoral dairy farms, this area is home to such diverse wildlife as gray whales, tule elk, elephant seal, bobcat, fox, hundreds of bird species and the occasional mountain lion. Containing the Point Reyes National Seashore and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, almost all of West Marin is protected.
With the exception of Inverness, which is on the Point Reyes Peninsula, the coastal towns, from southernmost Muir Beach, going north through Stinson Beach, Bolinas, Olema, Pt. Reyes Station, Marshall and Tomales, dot Highway One all the way up to the Marin/ Sonoma County border. The small inland hamlets of Nicasio, Woodacre, Forest Knolls, San Geronimo and Lagunitas are all unique and remarkably beautiful in their various settings that range from redwood forests to open grasslands and rolling hills.
Muir Beach is a tiny enclave surrounded by GGNRA parklands. With the exception of the Pelican Inn, where residents and tourist alike go to dine, drink ale, and play darts, there are no commercial enterprises here (not even a gas station nor a grocery store). The residents seem to prefer it this way, holding very dear to their out-of-the-way lifestyle.
Stinson Beach, the most often visited of the coastal towns, is home to a lovely, three-mile long beach which is well kept, clean and accessible. Swimming, surfing and sunbathing are the favorite activities here, but Stinson is also the finish line for the famous Dipsea Race. Right next to the beach is a wonderful park area with trees, lawns, picnic tables and barbecues available for day use.
Bolinas, located just past the Audubon Canyon Ranch north of Stinson Beach, is a small town of about 1,100 residents; some of whom do their best to keep Bolinas a well guarded secret by continually removing the directional road-signs to the town. Bolinas is also home to Smiley's Schooner Saloon, the oldest, continuously operated saloon (this bar was open even during Prohibition) in California.
Olema, holding the distinction of being the epicenter of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and currently the gateway to Point Reyes National Seashore, was once a roaring pioneering town with seven bars, a racetrack, and a stagecoach that brought visitors from San Rafael on the weekends. Some of the old buildings still remain, including the Olema Inn, founded in 1876.
Nicasio is a very small town located between Highway 101 and San Geronimo Valley. George Lucas, famous producer of "Star Wars," built Skywalker Ranch nearby as the headquarters for his film operations. Also to be found in the area a variety of estate homes on many ranches. The rural beauty of Lucas Valley makes for a pleasant drive for the patrons of popular Rancho Nicasio, who come from all over Marin as to enjoy country dining and dancing.
Inverness, located on the west shore of Tomales Bay, was once a weekend retreat. Inverness is now home to many year-round residents that include artists, builders, tradespeople, and professionals who commute to the city. Although a few homes can be seen from the streets, most are tucked back among the trees. During the peak whale watching months of late fall to early spring, the numerous bed and breakfast establishments in and around Inverness are often full.
Point Reyes Station had its beginnings as a railroad town when the first train came through on its way to Tomales in 1875. The railroad disappeared in 1933, and although Point Reyes Station is now the largest town in West Marin, it is still only three blocks long and a couple of blocks deep. Within this quiet little town, coffee houses, galleries, bookstores, antique shops and restaurants lend a cosmopolitan flavor.
Marshall, Tomales, and Dillon Beach are popular tourist stops en route up the coast to Sonoma County. Marshall, which grew up as a resort for hunters and fishermen, today is well known for its oyster companies. Leaving the coast from Marshall and following the path of the long-gone trains, the road winds into Tomales. With many restored old homes and the steep-roofed Lady of Assumption church, built in 1860, the Victorian charm of Tomales beckons. Driving north on Highway One, Dillon Beach is the last town before the Sonoma County border. The community was named after George Dillon; arriving in the 1880's, he was the first settler in the area. Today, Dillon Beach is popular for its wonderful beach, sport fishing, crabbing, and clam digging.