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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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!

"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.