Bolinas, California

The seaside community of Bolinas is the oldest town in coastal Marin. It is separated from the North American continent by the wildlife rich Bolinas Lagoon (kayak and canoe friendly), and the infamous San Andreas Fault line. Bolinas is actually not part of the American continent as it’s located on the Pacific plate. …with only one road in, it’s not quite an island, but a community with an island sensibility.

Finding Bolinas is part of your adventure: Turning left at the head of the lagoon, approximately 4.5 miles North of Stinson Beach, will take you to this once secretive village. With technology and on-line maps, the secret is out, though you still won’t see a sign indicating where to turn left from Highway One. This shouldn’t discourage visitors from straying off the beaten path and visiting this charming and eccentric village.

But, be aware that the beach is small, parking is very problematic and residents prefer a quiet and private lifestyle. If you find your way there, the community is friendly. Consider taking public transportation (the Stage Coach) or bringing your bike or good walking shoes and park in the large auxiliary dirt parking lot owned by Mesa Park, located on Mesa Rd. next to the Firehouse and Health Clinic and then biking or walking using the newly created bike/pedestrian path (easy to moderate, as there is a bit of hill on the way up – approximately a 1/8 mile hike) which links the Mesa to Downtown Bolinas. Be aware that Bolinas is a local-dog friendly town and local dogs are often free and unleashed. We recommend bringing only well-socialized dogs to Bolinas as there is no leash law.

Quick Links

Bolinas Bay Hardware & Mercantile
BO Gas (Gas Station)

Bustamante Dental Corporation

Sam’s House (Residential Care)

bo gas bolinas« Bolinas has one of the few gas stations on the West Marin coast, BO Gas.

The history of Bolinas is steeped in self- sustainability. The indigenous Coast Miwok people thrived here in a landscape of astounding natural abundance. The first non-native settlers were Spanish Californians on their spectacular Mexican Land Grant that defined the boundaries of Bolinas until Stinson Beach became a separate town in 1916. But it was the Gold Rush that defined the land’s fate.

Thousands of gold seekers poured into the little village of San Francisco creating an insatiable need for lumber and food. Proximity and easy schooner access of the Bolinas Lagoon brought loggers to the surrounding primeval forests. Today, as you look up from Bolinas to the Mt. Tamalpais ridge, you can see result –ancient redwood forests replaced by flowing grasslands. As busy schooner traffic between Bolinas and San Francisco served as the gateway to commerce for West Marin, the town grew around Wharf Road, today the downtown hub of Bolinas. Many schooner captains saw the fertile landscape of Bolinas and soon their ranches started an economy and community that defined the town. That tradition of producing good food began in 1834 and has continued into the 21st Century with outstanding Bolinas ranches and organic farms. Bolinas boasts roadside farm stands and local products sold in stores featuring fresh local produce. Bolinas’ organic farms have received international attention as models of sustainability, and the variety of organic food available from vegetables to fresh crab and fish, bread and eggs, local desserts and cheeses are a foodies’ dream.

The 1960s and 1970s were pivotal decades for this area, as savvy activists saved Bolinas, the Lagoon and the surrounding area from massive development that included four-lane freeway and luxury marina. In 1971, a dramatic struggle to rescue sea birds after a devastating oil spill attracted an influx of counterculture young people. Many stayed, purchased homes, became involved in the local community through volunteer efforts on the School Board, the local Water Board and other nonprofits and were instrumental in securing the future for Bolinas today. They brought controversy, lasting innovation and ultimately a community commitment to environmental preservation and individualism.

From the beginning Bolinas always attracted independent minded and creative people. Among its residents are families whose roots go back to the 1800s, organic farmers and an inordinate number of accomplished artists, writers, musicians, scientists, and entrepreneurs. Protected by surrounding national and state parks and nature preserves, Bolinas residents, visitors, hikers, bird watchers and nature lovers appreciate the natural beauty and wildlife of this landscape. From a Prince and a President, surfers to shamans, Bolinas welcomes all manner of visitors, but they do request that visitors respect their desire for privacy.

Bolinas is the birthplace of the internationally active Point Reyes Bird Observatory, and is a bird watchers paradise. Besides the two public access beaches near the downtown area, there is a County Park with a tennis court, free and open to the public with public restrooms, a new Downtown Park opening in 2012, Agate Beach, which contains ample parking and extensive tide pools that are protected as part of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. The town also hosts the Marin-Bolinas Botanical Gardens, and borders on the Point Reyes National Seashore to the north.

The historic downtown buildings were mostly built between 1850 and 1920 including the saloon that has been in business since 1851(they claim to be the oldest in California!). The grocery store has changed little since it was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake. The gas station was opened in 1906 as a livery stable and converted to a full service gas station in the 1920’s. Bolinas shops offer excellent variety for such a small village, including one of a kind items made by local artisans, art galleries, a hardware store with sundries and even pet supplies, surf rentals, sales, lessons and summer surf camps, a natural food store, comfortable clothing, world-source gifts, books, a café which emphasizes local fresh food, an organic smoothie lounge with home-made baked goods, the only gas station between Mill Valley and Pt. Reyes (open 24 hours with a credit card or debit card – critical if you misjudged your gas use), and an outstanding fine arts museum with an exhibition gallery and an exhibit space featuring artifacts and photographs devoted to the fascinating history of the town.

Wharf Road dead-ends at the mouth of the Bolinas Lagoon which is actually an estuary designated as being of international importance to the natural world, while Brighton Avenue dead-ends at the Tennis Park and the Brighten Beach entrance where you can walk to Duxbury Reef and visit tide pools at low tide (Stay off the reef during high tide! )

Downtown Bolinas is a lovely place to stroll and shop, people watch and picnic. It is unique in that so many of the downtown buildings are non-profits providing services for local citizens that enhance the community’s economic viability, while still maintaining a vibrant visitor’s corridor. From the gas station that is owned and operated by a local nonprofit that provides affordable housing (the Bolinas Land Trust), the Community Center with adult and children’s classes and events including music, plays and film, the Library, the Bolinas Museum and the three community parks, this small enclave is known for its connectedness to the land that surrounds it and for supporting the diversity of the people that live and work in this very special village.

There is a small 4 room motel and various B&B and vacation rental options for lodging. Please note that there is NO camping or fires allowed in Bolinas and this is enforced seriously for the health and safety of the community. Bolinas: An on-going experiment in diversity, volunteerism, sustainability and cooperative attitudes, and a true West Marin destination.

"The national seashore begins 25 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, and it must drive developers crazy to see it just lying there, virtually empty. Its natural state is a tribute to former President John F. Kennedy, who declared that the peninsula should be saved as a national treasure. He set aside nearly 80,000 acres for public use. The largest town at the edge of the park, Point Reyes Station, consists of a couple of dozen buildings that line both sides of Route 1."

- Washington Post

"Take the roads less traveled on this coastal road trip. From San Francisco, head north to discover secret wine country, driftwood strewn beaches and romantic coastal hamlets like Mendocino. Escape to cosy B&Bs and exclusive inns, paddle along a secret river, watch the horizon for spouting whales and watch the fog roll in at sunset."

- Visit California

"Making the world your oyster in Marshall (
West Marin's coastal landscape, dominated by grazing land, dairy farms and the vast Point Reyes National Seashore, is the antithesis of the county's affluent inland cities. Marshall, at the north end of Tomales Bay, is where Marin's dairy industry started. Today, though, its fortunes rest with mollusks – about half the state's shellfish producers grow oysters, clams and mussels on the bay floor here. Buy them along the road to take home or rent a picnic spot to shuck and grill them yourself (shucking lessons available on request). Or splurge on a night or two in one of the impeccable stilted cottages over the bay water at Nick's Cove, which includes oysters upon arrival and has an oyster bar in the restaurant."

- SF Chronicle

" Stinson Beach, California - As with most West Coast shores, the hunting on Stinson Beach doesn't compare with that along the Gulf. Still, this beach just north of San Francisco does supply limpet shells and sand dollars―plus lots of surfers, a couple of nice seafood restaurants nearby, rugged natural beauty, and endearing small-town quirkiness."

- Coastal Living

From Travel & Leisure Magazine

Sun worshippers ready to escape San Francisco’s foggy wrath tend to fall back on familiar options, like the lovable but insanely crowded Stinson Beach to the north, or Santa Cruz’s classic boardwalk to the south. This Memorial Day, veer ever-so-slightly from the beaten track for these alluring, under-the-radar beach town alternatives:


Just 10 miles up the coast from its touristy neighbor Point Reyes Station, Marshall lures locals for its water-to-table fare and panoramic views of Tomales Bay. Watch fisherman haul in buckets of fresh shellfish from your perch on the sprawling deck at Nick’s Cove restaurant, or buy a sack of buttery-briny kumamoto oysters at Hog Island Oyster Co. and shuck them yourself at their bayside BYOP (Bring Your Own Picnic) tables.


Notoriously reclusive residents and unmarked roads deter the masses from Bolinas, leaving its enchanting beach and meandering coastal trails pleasantly void of Memorial Day crowds. Two Mile Surf Shop provides surfboard rentals for cruising the beach break, or trek one of Northern California’s most photogenic coastal hikes by following the Palomarin Trailhead at the end of Mesa Road to the remote and swimmable Bass Lake.