Stinson Beach, California

Sausalito was laid in 1871, and soon after surveyor Alfred Easkoot was renting tents on the beach to tourists while adopting the pose of an waggish sea salt. Within a decade, “Captain” Easkoot’s encampment was challenged by a resort built by Nathan Stinson, whose Willow Camp also included a dance floor. On the beach itself, the sand dollars and limpet shells wash in for the taking. Surfers and boogie boarders often rule the surfline (despite the occasional white shark encounter).

Stinson would end up owning some 1,700 acres, including what’s become the town center. More than century later, perhaps Easkoot would be satisfied that at least the town’s creek carries his name. All the parking is near the southern end of the strand, which is owned by the federal government.

North of that, the County of Marin owns a stretch of it (technically called Upton’s Beach) and dogs are allowed there. Beyond that, to the mouth of Bolinas Lagoon, the beach is owned by the residents of the Seadrift subdivision.

There’s no direct public access to Seadrift Beach, and years of legal battles between various entities and Seadrift homeowners has yielded a compromise only a committee could love. Essentially, the public may use the beach, or at least the part below the mean hightide line (unmarked), and as long as they sort of keep moving. In practice, the arrangement works with few problems, which is surprising since on a clear on day, some 15,000 beachgoers might descend on the 1,000-person town.

The magnificent ridge that rises above Stinson is, like the beach below, federally owned as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. A trail upward – the Matt Davis Trail – can be picked up near the community center. South of town along Highway 1 lies the bottom end of the two-plus-mile-long Steep Ravine Trail, which as the name implies, offers a easier hike downhill than up. Those wanting to tackle the trail from the other direction can start the descent from the Pantoll Ranger Station (altitude around 1,500 feet) on Panoramic Highway, which leaves Highway 1 in Stinson and scales the shoulder of Mount Tamalpais.

The town itself benefits from the healthy boosterism of its residents. A town park – the Village Green – is largely a product of volunteerism. So too is the new library in the unmistakable shell of an old convenience store. And where else could you find a place with no gas station and one ATM machine but several dynamite restaurants?