Thanks to the generosity of friends, we escaped the fog of San Francisco and spent a week in Tomales, CA. It was a beautiful week. The weather was perfect: the sun was shining, the birds were singing, the cows lowing, and honeybees flitted through the gardens. For the most part, the only sounds interrupting the quiet in this small town were the nighttime hooting of an owl from the trees across the street, and the crowing of a nearby resident rooster.
Weekends, however, are a slightly different story. Shops and other businesses open up to visitors passing through town on Highway 1. Last weekend, antique cars met on the roadside in the heart of town, before heading off in parade-like form to nearby Dillon Beach. Motorcycles, some unmuffled, passed through in droves, stopping at the town’s excellent Route One Bakery for pizza, croissants, breads, muffins, and other pastries. It’s a tradition.
Tomales Bay, Inverness, Pt. Reyes Station, and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) in California’s west Marin County have always enchanted me. The deep waters of the Bay, dotted with kayakers, hiking trails near the coast, and options for locally grown and produced organic food are legend. For the most part, I have been attracted by the beautiful scenery – tall, winding hills formed by volcanic eruptions that occurred centuries ago, a rugged coastline, and beautiful beaches.
Until recent years, however, I was mostly unfamiliar with the east side of Tomales Bay, including the small town of Tomales (approximate population 200). The town, established in 1850, originally served as a port despite being six miles from the ocean. Early pioneers founded the agricultural industries that thrive today, including dairy and beef cattle, butter and cheese. Other industries included oysters, lumber, and railroads. Ranching continues to be a big part of this semi-rural life. The town, limited in size and growth by choice, is surrounded by open fields of grazing cattle.
What specifically brought us to Tomales was a tiny kitten, Cocoa Bean, who was recently found sitting by herself along a roadside. She is approximately eight weeks old, healthy, friendly, and affectionate. Tussling with my hand and arm and chasing after toys served as a substitute for playing with her missing mother and litter mates. My friends, her new guardians, were away for the week, along with Bean’s beloved “sibling,” a chocolate lab. This left us to enjoy country amenities in their modernized turn-of-the century Queen Anne-style home in the heart of Tomales while cuddling with a delightful tortoiseshell kitten.
There is nothing quite like the joy and exuberance of a baby animal. Little Bean entertained herself by playing with shoelaces (including on the shoes one is wearing) or sitting inside my slipper. She chased jingly balls, ate voraciously, and raced up and down the length of the house. She napped in the sun or in a human lap. She purred and snuggled, and seemingly grew each day. In short, for a kitten of unknown origin, she is quite the survivor.
One thing Tomales lacks, like most of California, is an abundant supply of water. Water comes from individual wells, and due to the ongoing drought, residents have let their grassy yards burn dry. The surrounding hills, normally golden in the summer before turning green in the fall, are currently brown and grass is sparce. This must be a difficult time for the surrounding ranchers and their cattle in this ecologically conscious town.
While the beautiful beaches and hiking trails of the GGNRA on the other side of Tomales Bay can be reached in half an hour (or more, depending on location), we made the decision to stay local. Dillon Beach, located on the east side of the mouth of Tomales Bay where it meets the Pacific Ocean, is just eight minutes away. Billed as a private resort, Dillon Beach is open to the public, with a modest fee for parking. Arriving early one weekday, it was just us and the surfers. Soon after, we were joined by a plethora of dogs of all sizes and breeds, joyfully racing along the ocean shoreline to fetch the balls tossed by their humans. Following a three mile walk along the shore, the human population was growing exponentially, with babies, toddlers, preschoolers and their families joining the fun.
In addition to differences in terrain, most of the land west of Tomales Bay is public land, managed by the National Park Service, whereas the east side of the Bay is privately owned but protected from development through the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), first established by ranchers and environmentalists in 1980. Thanks to the vision of the founders, the charming and bucolic nature of Tomales and the surrounding ranch land has not changed significantly over the years. However, homes in town and nearby, as in much of the Bay Area, have risen exponentially in price in recent years due to limited supply.
Our week in Tomales ended all too quickly. It is a magical place, a short distance from San Francisco, yet a different world. On our final morning, we were greeted by a flock of wild turkeys walking down the street. Tomales and Cocoa Bean, we will miss you.
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