The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
Bolinas and Stinson Beach
Sitting at the southern end of the Point Reyes peninsula, Bolinas is a small town with a well-earned reputation for discouraging tourists. The signs leading you here from Hwy-1 are regularly torn down by locals bent on keeping the place to themselves. It’s blessed with one of the coast’s best tide-pool areas in Duxbury Reef, which curves around the western edge of Bolinas. The town itself is little more than a general store, a bakery, some cafes, and a bar. The 1850s saloon Smiley’s Schooner (41 Wharf Rd., 415/868-1311) offers live music and few upstairs rooms.
In contrast, the broad strands of Stinson Beach, four miles south of Bolinas along Hwy-1, are the Bay Area’s most popular summertime suntanning spots. A grocery store and deli, the Live Water Surf Shop (which rents boards and the essential wetsuits), and a couple of outdoor bar-and-grills along Hwy-1 form a short parade at the entrance to the beach. The best place to eat hereabouts is the Parkside Cafe (43 Arenal Ave., 415/868-1272). If you want to stay overnight, try the pleasant Sandpiper Inn (1 Marine Way, 415/868-1632, $125 and up), just west of Hwy-1.
If you have the chance to plan ahead, try to book a night at the Steep Ravine Cabins (800/444-7275, around $100), just over a mile south of Stinson Beach on the ocean side of Hwy-1. Now part of Mt. Tamalpais State Park, these 10 rustic redwood cabins are very basic, roof-over-the-head accommodations (bring sleeping bags and food; water faucets are just outside the door) in an absolutely beautiful coastal chasm. These very popular cabins (originally owned by Bay Area bigwigs like Dorothea Lange) sleep up to five people.