In West Marin, a Restaurant Renaissance Along the Coast

NIck's Cove BBQ, Rockerfeller and Mornay Oysters (Justin Lewis)

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Summer is West Marin’s season. The fog blanketing the coast tempers the season’s heat but often breaks by midday, giving way to brisk sunshine.  The fresh breeze and green hills are a reminder that you really are “over the hill” as locals say, in a bucolic locale with natural air conditioning and enough cows and goats to keep the local maker economy humming.

Stretched along the sweep of coastline that extends from the Sonoma County border along Tomales Bay to the town of Olema, a new form of West Marin crop is emerging: hip restaurants. Some with hotels attached, they hearken back (in a very modern way) to the days when West Marin served as a seaside vacation destination and refueling stop for those headed north.

And when the day calls for an adventure of the eating sort, West Marin’s bevy of new places has just what the day calls for.

Dillon Beach Resort

1 Beach Ave.
Dillon Beach, CA 94929

Restaurant at Dillon Beach Resort,
Restaurant at Dillon Beach Resort: photo Christina Mueller (Christina Mueller)

The speck of a town called Dillon Beach is home to Dillon Beach Resort, a recently refurbished resort in a 130-year-old building. Stand-alone cabins, perfect for an overnight after an all-day adventure, peer over the Pacific Ocean and the long beach that snakes along the resort’s 55-acre oceanfront property.  The restaurant, too, faces the ocean and enjoys its abundant breezes.

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The team here wisely extended the indoor space with wrap-around, clear windbreakers, doubling the interior space and providing a much-needed wind break. In the tiny kitchen, Chef Matt Elias (Saltwater Oyster Depot) built a menu that reflects the bounty of local seas and the sources pristine ingredients from local farms.

Of course, there are oysters and here, they are served on the half shell or baked. Local ingredients define the menu such as the Lasagna, made with Valley Ford’s Double 8 Dairy ricotta, colorful house-made pickles are a great introduction to the seasonal menu and Elias also knows his way around a beet, pairing golden ones with fresh labneh and greens from County Line.

For a touch of the Middle East in Marin, his falafel plate is made with fresh green chickpeas and is the essence of early summer. It will surely disappear before tomato season is in full swing.

William Tell House Saloon & Inn

26955 California State Route 1
Tomales, CA 94971

The 100 year-old bar at William Tell House
The 100 year-old bar at William Tell House; photo Angela DeCenzo (Angela DeCenzo)

Just a short drive up the hill from Dillon Beach is Tomales, the home of the William Tell House Saloon & Inn. Established in 1877, the William Tell Saloon & Inn is reported to be the oldest, continually operating bar in Marin. Perhaps knowing this, when East Bay-based restaurateur Ted Wilson took over the property in 2018, he kept the saloon running at full steam while he and his team renovated the restaurant and the lodge.

Along with Mixologist Ethan Terry, Wilson rebuilt the cocktail menu to include an apple brandy-laced beverage. It is an homage to the Swiss folk hero for whom the building is named (and who split an apple perched on a child’s head with an arrow), an ideal introduction to the tales sure to be spun at the revamped saloon.

The restaurant helmed by Chef Austin Perkins (Cyrus, Nick’s Cove) strives to anchor your eating experience to the farms and fisheries of Tomales. You can do no wrong with the Stemple Creek burger. Sourced from cows fed only on nearby grass and topped with cheese made down the road a stretch, the flavor is fresh, simple, 100 percent Marin. Or try the Tomales Bay cioppino with shellfish pulled from Tomales Bay and, in season, Dungeness crab. It’s a taste of old-time Marin that, in its simplicity, tastes utterly modern.

Nick’s Cove

23240 Highway One
Marshall, CA 94940

Nick's Cove Dungeness Crab Louie
Nick's Cove Dungeness Crab Louie; photo Kellie Delario (Kellie Delario)

It’s a windy, seven-mile shot down Highway One, skirting the shores of Tomales Bay, to reach Nick’s Cove. The cabins perched over the water and the room-warming, fog-evaporating log fireplace in the main building are a draw for the regulars who return here year after year.

The property’s Croft, a lush garden and sitting area across the street, is a not too secret hidden gem, a source for much of the restaurant’s produce and an escape from the bustle of the main dining room. Hang out and play a round of bocce or chill in the garden with the birds and the bees before heading inside to eat.

Executive Chef Kua Speer took over the reins in the kitchen after Chef Perkins’ departure for William Tell House. He has kept the classic dishes (oysters Nickerfeller with spinach and Pernod, crab mac n’ cheese) while updating the rest of the menus with seasonal dishes, many with Croft-sourced ingredients like the Fennel Risotto and Fork and Knife Salad.

While you're there, a stroll on the long pier or a pause in the enclosed Tule Deck is a great way to appreciate the body of water right in front of you and the glorious seafood it produces.

Hog Island Oyster Co.

20215 Shoreline Highway
Marshall, CA 94940

Hog Island oysters
Hog Island oysters from The Boat at their shuck-your-own-picnic; photo credit Remy Hale (Remy Hale)

Continuing south a few miles down the eastern shore of Tomales Bay brings you to Hog Island Oyster Co. This is the original location, the Hog Island epicenter, the farm from which the beautiful briny bivalves pulled from Tomales Bay are sourced, shuck central.

It’s a casual affair with reservable picnic tables and grills and a three-hour reservation window to enjoy your Hog Island picnic. From the Hog Shack at the front of the farm, purchase any amount of unshucked oysters and take them to go. Or book a table at The Boat Oyster Bar where trained hands will shuck oysters for you.

Can’t get the grill lighted? Chipotle Bourbon BBQ oysters can be purchased here as well as a few local cheeses, crackers, wine and beer. Get to know your neighbor and share a table­–they seat up to 15 people.

Seasonality is not a big issue at Hog Island–the farm pulls all varieties from these waters year-round–but “certain oysters respond to environmental conditions differently and therefore take on a seasonal aspect,” said Brenna Schlagenhauf of Hog Island’s communications team, “Our Hog Island Atlantics (Crassostrea virginica) are a beautiful 'summer' oyster here on the West Coast.”

Due West Restaurant

10005 Coastal Highway One
Olema, CA 94950

Due West at Olema House
Due West food and ambiance; photo credit Jamie Mesenburg (Due West.)

Continue south past the south end of Tomales Bay and through the town of Point Reyes Station to find more delights in Olema, the junction where Highway One doglegs with Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. This is the home of Due West Restaurant and the adjacent Olema House.

The Inn’s 22 modern rooms and two stand-alone cottages overlook four acres of planted gardens and a rambling creek that burbles all year long. A pop-up market inside an Airstream sells a finely tuned assortment of picnic and beach supplies until the under-construction Due West Market opens this fall. The wide bar beckons to visitors and the Reyes Cup with Pimm’s No. One, lemon and cucumber is a summery spin on the classic Pimm’s Cup cocktail for resting travelers.

Finish off a decadent day in West Marin with the House-smoked Chicken Salad. It artfully balances subtle smoky flavors with Point Reyes Blue cheese and currants, coming together to form a savory flavor that only cheese aged nearby can provide.

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It is the perfect ending for this Marin story.

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