In the six seconds it takes to drive by Point Reyes Station on Highway 1, the town looks like one of a thousand sunny little stopping places with bucolic pastures, a gas station, a deli and a feed barn.
Ah, but this is Marin County, where a feed barn must stock organic mangoes as well as hay, the polenta must share menu space alongside heavenly bacon, and the local weekly (Point Reyes Light, www.ptreyeslight.com), wins a Pulitzer Prize in the 1970s for exposing a cult that sent a rattlesnake to an enemy.
Curled up amid rippling green slopes, Point Reyes Station remains beautifully pristine. As the name might indicate, the town used to be a stop for the narrow-gauge railroad that ran from Sausalito to Russian River and served the agricultural lands in Marin County and the lumber companies up in Sonoma County. Eventually, competing railroads and trucks made the station run moot, and the tracks were torn out in the 1930s.
The town could have folded up and died, or simply became another lonely gas station stop.
Ah, but this is Marin County, where the tiny four-block main street area with its art galleries and gourmet stores exudes an air of worldliness and aesthetic gentility, where Point Reyes National Seashore stretches a temptingly scant distance away, and the former railroad way station is a worthy stop unto itself.
A fry to die for: Sunny-side-up eggs, Maxwell House coffee and a crusty, beehive-‘do waitress ah, except this is Marin County. At Station House Cafe, I pointed out half in jest the Hangtown Fry to my highly carnivorous friend Ray. He wholly embraced the omelet with bacon and Johnston’s oysters ($7.60) and opted for house rather than the organic coffee, while I went for the double polenta and poached eggs ($6.75) and fresh-squeezed juice.
OK, so my fork strayed. Well, sure, my breakfast bordered on excellent, but the Fry had succulent bacon and moist oysters that practically swam over from nearby Tomales Bay onto his plate. I couldn’t even think about ordering the house desserts. Well-deserved praise from Gourmet and Zagat are framed on the wall of Station House Cafe, which commemorated its silver anniversary with a book, “The Best Recipes of the Station House Cafe, 25 Years, 25 Recipes.” The spacious cafe, which has a full-sized bar, also serves lunch and dinner indoors or in the garden area; it accommodates families very nicely and features music at night.
Other food options include the Pine Cone Diner and Western Saloon. For takeout, Point Reyes Whale of a Deli is across the street from the gas station. The Tomales Bay Foods and Cowgirl Creamery has market hall-style counters offering exquisite beef dishes from nearby Niman Ranch, homemade ice cream (try the vanilla bean), mind-blowing desserts and specialty coffee drinks. If you’re in the mood for shucking, pick up a dozen bivalves at Point Reyes Oysters, or get, as it says in the ad, “udderly divine” pastries at Bovine Bakery.
Racehorse pastures: Cockamamie, to revive a 19th-century term, is a good word for some of the future visions that 1950s developers had for West Marin, like a racehorse track in Bolinas. Fortunately, conservationists such as Ansel Adams helped created a pastoral safety zone by expanding Mount Tamalpais State Park and creating Point Reyes National Seashore. Today, half of Marin County’s 167,000 acreage is farmland. A plan to develop on 19 acres of land aims now to help people who can’t afford the area after all, this is Marin County. The affordable homes are said to add another 100 residents, making the population around an even 1,000.
Global village: In one month, the Dance Palace Community Center at 503 B St. hosted an Eastern European folk choir, a session on “Conflict Resolution in Developing Democracies,” a “septic” social, 4-H Club meeting and a World Trade Organization teach-in. No wonder organizations such as the Marine Watch Institute and Fund for Global Awareness settle into Point Reyes Station.
The town’s country store variety shops reflect a similar global practicality, with stock that includes saddlery with handmade candles, or office supplies with black-and-white postcards reprinting naughty photos of flapper girls and boys. In Zuma, decorative household furnishings come from around the world and local artists alike, and include whimsical sculptures made from dried vegetables. If your horses have a craving for organic fruits and vegetables with their hay, Toby Feed Barn happily obliges. It also carries books, cards, and a good assortment of local area preserves and jellies that just screams out to be assembled in a gift basket.
Hands on: After ranchers, artists and gourmet cooks, the fourth most popular town profession seems to be weaving. Black Mountain Weavers stitches together not only shawls and clothes, but also hooks people up with hooked rugs, tapestries, quilts and toys. Susan Hayes Handwovens, inside the same former hay barn as Tomales Bay Foods, does custom orders for men and women and specializes in silk blends and chenille fabrics.
Let sleeping dogs lie: When I first walked into Manfred’s Bookstore, I thought someone had propped up one of those massive, FAO Schwarz stuffed toys in front of the counter. The toy turned out to be Manfred himself, who could very well be the cutest brown-and-white Saint Bernard in the world. Although the sprawling 3-year-old pup could only manage a blink when the camera flash went off, Manfred does give rides to children and poses for the bookstore poster as part of his figurehead duties. The bookstore itself stacks used paperbacks and hardcovers and hosts readings and yes, it carries “Feng Shui for Dogs.”
Inn the know: About a dozen bed-and-breakfasts are scattered about the immediate area, including dog-friendly Point Reyes Station Inn, 11591 Highway 1, 415-663-9372, www.p-r-s-i.com. General lodging inquires can be made at West Marin Network (415-663-9543), Point Reyes Lodging (415-663-1872, 800-539-1872) or Coastal Lodging (415-663-1351).
Details, details: Take the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and exit Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. The drive passes through several Marin County towns and Samuel P. Taylor State Park; at Olema, turn right onto Shoreline Highway-Highway 1 and head north to Point Reyes Station. Details: the West Marin Chamber of Commerce at 415-663-9232 or www.
pointreyes.org. To inquire about Point Reyes National Seashore, you can reach the Bear Valley Visitor Center at 415-663-1092 or www.nps.gov/pore/visit.htm.