Tomales & Dillon Beach, California

Warren Dutton – built neighboring settlements here in the 1850s. Keys’ was a port lined with warehouses. Small schooners hauled local butter, potatoes, hogs down the creek that for a time flowed freely more than a mile to Tomales Bay.

Dutton developed property on higher ground into a trading post and post office. Dutton’s “Upper Town” lasted. Keys’ “Lower Town” did not; its founder died youngish in 1873, and maybe it was the potatoes that did him in. By that time, Keys Creek had silted in, the victim of erosive potato farming practices.

Tomales currently has about 200 residents, although the town should have been larger. At times it was, with perhaps 2,000 residents at the height of the railroad era. However, Dutton’s town has periodically suffered from Keys’ luck. In 1877, a fire destroyed a hotel, the bank, a hat store, a drug store, and the watchmaker’s shop. In 1891 and 1898, fires did damage in the eastern parts of town. The 1906 quake leveled farm houses and a new Catholic church.

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AppleGarden Cottage


And in 1920, another fire almost leveled everything including three hotels, a restaurant, a saloon, the barbership, the butchershop, the blacksmith’s shop, the livery stable, and the bank.

Today the facades around the main crossroads remain true to the Frontier Victorian past. The general store still sells a bit of everything, and the Catholic Church still stands where it did in 1860. On side streets, plants hang above the squeaky porches of tiny Queen Anne cottages.

Tomales history can be plumbed a couple of different ways. Dates and dates can be pieced together from the worn headstones of the Presbyterian cemetery, which is a block up from downtown on Church Street. A more formal approach is to visit the Tomales Regional History Center, located in the auditorium of the old high school just south of the business district. Hours are 1 to 4 p.m., Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The number for more information is (707) 878-9443.

Dillon Beach is a short drive west of Tomales through pastoral hills dotted with farmhouses and grazing cows. Dillon Beach offers tide pools, grassy sand dunes, soft white sand, a surfer’s haven, and one mile of flat sandy beach – a must see on the Northern Marin Coast!