Everything You Need to Know About Tomales Bay (and the Best Oysters You'll Ever Have)
When San Francisco locals want to get away, they head for Tomales Bay. The long, slender bay separates the Point Reyes Peninsula from the mainland. On the western side of the bay, the Point Reyes Peninsula is primarily dedicated to a 71,000-acre park, complete with pristine beaches, hiking trails, and unobstructed views of the coastline. On the eastern side, a series of small communities line the waterfront. You can find a wide selection of cozy B&Bs, delicious dining establishments, and a variety of activities, entertainment, and cultural attractions to suit every interest.
Please note: due to the COVID-19 crisis, many B&Bs are not open at this time, and restaurants are only available for takeout. It's best to check with individual businesses before you make your plans.
How to Get There
You will want to have a car for your trip to Tomales Bay. It's not well serviced by public transit, and some of the beaches and parks are best reached by car. From San Francisco, cross the Golden Gate Bridge and follow Route 1 north through the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. The road hugs the coastline and travels past Muir Beach and Stinson Beach before turning slightly inland. Pass through Five Brooks and Olema to Point Reyes Station, which serves as the gateway to Tomales Bay. If you stay on US 1, you will travel up the east side of Tomales Bay through the towns of Marconi, Marshall, McDonald, and Nick’s Cove. If your plans take you to the west side of Tomales Bay, turn left on Sir Francis Drake Blvd., which will take you through Inverness and Seahaven. As you continue north, Sir Francis Drake Blvd. turns into Pierce Point Rd., which winds its way through Tomales Bay State Park.
Where to Eat
There are dining options for every taste in the Tomales Bay area, but the main reason to visit is the oysters. Many portions of Tomales Bay are just 10 feet deep, which makes it an ideal location for cultivating and harvesting shellfish. Locals and visitors agree that the Hog Island Oyster Company (20215 Shoreline Highway, Marshall) is the best spot for fresh, sustainable oyster dishes.
Hog Island isn’t the only place for great oysters in Tomales Bay. The Tomales Bay Oyster Company (15479 CA-1, Marshall), established in 1909, is the oldest continuously run shellfish farm in the state. Purchase your oysters (they have five varieties to choose from) and a shucking knife, and then head to the beach to enjoy them at an oceanside picnic. There's no picnicking at the establishment itself, but with the gorgeous beach just five minutes away, why would you stay put? If you are new to shucking, don’t worry; the staff can give you pointers.
Once you have fulfilled your oyster obligation, it’s time to check out some other options available. One of the most popular is Rosie’s Cowboy Cookhouse (11285 State Rte 1, Point Reyes Station), which specializes in southwest comfort food. Couples on a romantic getaway prefer the ambiance of Sir and Star at the Olema (10000 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Olema), which has a carefully curated menu of dishes. For a decadent breakfast or afternoon snack, visit Tomales Bakery (27000 CA-1, Tomales). These light pastries have a large fan base among both locals and visitors, so you have to stake your claim early if you want to get a taste. If you are planning to explore one of the national parks, or you are spending the day at the beach, stop by Tomales Bay Foods (80 Fourth Street, Point Reyes Station). You will find everything you need for a gourmet picnic.
Where to Stay
The top lodging choice for most Tomales Bay visitors is the renowned Nick's Cove Restaurant, Oyster Bar and Cottages (23240 Highway 1, Marshall). Dating back to the 1930s, this establishment is a Tomales Bay institution. In addition to enjoying water views, Nick’s Cove has a number of activities on-site. Stay entertained with paddleboard rentals, an oyster shucking demonstration, bocce ball courts, and cornhole boards.
If Nick’s isn’t quite what you had in mind, there are a variety of other inns and B&Bs to choose from. Consider Apple Garden Cottage (3875 Tomales Petaluma Rd., Tomales), where you will wake up among the apple trees.
The Tomales Bay Resort & Marina (12938 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Inverness) is a waterfront hotel just four miles from Heart’s Desire Beach. If staying in the forest appeals to you, you will enjoy the Osprey Peak Bed & Breakfast (10 Miwok Way, Inverness). Manka's Inverness Lodge (30 Callendar Way, Inverness) is known for its hospitality combination of rustic and chic.
Where to Go for Water Sports
The bay is a popular choice for water-based activities year-round. There are opportunities for fishing, kayaking, and boating. If you plan to fish, be sure to get a fishing license, which can be purchased online for $16.20 per day. Lawson’s Landing (137 Marine View Dr., Dillon Beach) has all of the equipment you need, including boat rentals, and they operate a variety of tours and expeditions for fishing, clamming, and more.
Rent kayaking equipment for independent exploration or book a guided tour at Blue Waters Kayaking (12944 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Inverness) on the west side of the bay. On the east side, you can rent from the company’s location at 60 Fourth Street, Point Reyes Station. Point Reyes Outdoors (11401 CA-1, Point Reyes Station) has similar services, along with stand-up paddleboards, and classes for those who have never used one.
Summer is the best time to visit Tomales Bay, because you have the opportunity to see one of nature’s most remarkable shows. During this season, bioluminescent dinoflagellates, a type of plankton, are plentiful. When disturbed, the plankton glows brightly. On moonless nights, the bay lights up as fish move about. Nighttime kayaking through bioluminescent waters is a once-in-a-lifetime experience you can only have here.
If sailing is more your style, enjoy a guided catamaran tour from Tomales Bay Sailing (11401 CA-1, Point Reyes Station). Those that arrive with their own water craft can access the bay at Miller Boat Launch (23240 CA 1, Marshall). The parking fee is $5 per day.
Where to Go for Hiking, Biking, and Horseback Riding
The Point Reyes National Seashore and Tomales Bay State Parks are crisscrossed with hiking trails of varying lengths and levels of difficulty. Explore the Cypress Tree Tunnel or watch for wildlife at the Drakes Estero State Marine Conservation Area. Hike to the end of the Point Reyes Peninsula, a spot known as Tomales Point. To the north, you can see Bodega Bay. To the west, the Pacific Ocean stretches on for miles. Tomales Bay is to the east.
Rent a mountain bike for a self-guided tour or sign up to bike the wilderness with a group at Black Mountain Cycles (11101 Shoreline Hwy, Point Reyes Station). Point Reyes Outdoors Hiking Tours offers experienced guides to help you reach the parks most popular features. If you prefer to see the parks by horseback, check out the options available from Five Brook Ranch (8001 Highway One, Olema) and Point Reyes Arabian Adventures (11925 CA-1, Point Reyes Station).
Where to Go for Sun and Sand
There are beaches along both sides of Tomales Bay. The waters are warm and calm, making the bay ideal for family swimming. On the mainland side, visit Alan Sieroty Beach, Brazil Beach, Lawson’s Landing, and Dillon Beach.
On the peninsula side, from south to north, try Chicken Ranch Beach, Shell Beach, Pebble Beach, Heart’s Desire Beach, and Indian Beach. If you go farther north, you will come to Long Cove Beach, Marshall Beach, Tomales Beach, Blue Gums Beach, and Avals Beach. Any of these make great stops on your way to the very tip of Tomales Point.
Where to Go for Golf
The lush greens of the Bay Area make it a paradise for golfers. When visiting Tomales Bay, try the world-class San Geronimo Golf Course (5800 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Geronimo), a top choice for experienced golfers.
Where to Go for Wine & Cheese
Wine lovers have plenty of choices for tasting and touring vineyards. Heidrun Meadery (11925 State Route 1, Point Reyes Station) is unique in its production methods, so the sparkling varietal meads have subtle aromas and flavors you won’t find elsewhere.
Point Reyes Vineyards (12700 Highway #1) grows grapes for ultra-premium wines, and the results are often award-winning. Choose from a selection of cabernets, chardonnays, pinot noirs, syrahs, desert viogniers, and sparkling wines. If you can’t get enough of this romantic landscape, there is a Mediterranean-style inn onsite where you can choose rooms overlooking the vineyards.
Pair these wines with craft cheeses from one of the local creameries. Get the details on Tomales Bay’s best cheesemakers from the California Cheese Trail experts, then plan your route to include stops at Cowgirl Creamery (80 Fourth St., Point Reyes Station) and the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co (14700 Shoreline Hwy, Point Reyes Station).