A weekend getaway has many mental and physical benefits and has long been a popular choice for travelers, but in 2019, it is actually the number-one trend in travel. When deciding where to visit for the weekend, a couple of things might factor into your decision-making (as they did mine): proximity and a unique experience.
Feeling refreshed, recharged and re-invigorated are often top of the list when deciding on how to spend that precious time. So, a spa visit or a brisk hike might be penciled into the agenda. For me, as a chef, there is nothing more fulfilling than the chance to explore a terroir unhurried, to follow the journey of regional food from farm to table. The Point Reyes Seashore, just an hour north of San Francisco, though seemingly worlds away, is nothing short of spectacular.
Waves crashing onto rugged beaches can be viewed from dramatic cliff-tops as the briny Pacific air rolls over pastoral hills in wisps of fog. The explorer Sir Francis Drake landed here in 1579 to make repairs to his ship, The Golden Hind, and the unspoiled beauty of the national park lets you imagine for a moment that you might be the very first to discover the land.
Point Reyes’ breathtaking wilderness, with its farmlands and peninsula coastline, provides food in abundance.
Rural back roads curving through dense pine and cypress forests lead to beautiful, quaint, one-road villages where one can find an artisanal cheese shop or a cottage meadery, while several stops on the edge of Tomales Bay on Shoreline Highway (Highway 1) are home to rustic oyster farms.
The Cowgirl Creamery
There is a great dairy agriculture community on Point Reyes peninsula, and an early morning drive and hike to these headland pastures and weathered farms is a reminder that this is truly the perfect place for locavores.
Some of this milk ends up just a few miles away at the Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station, a must-see for cheese lovers.
A converted hay barn houses this cheese-making facility, cheese shop and cantina. Cowgirl Creamery could not be more local, since they make their product right there on the premises. Their award-winning cheeses are now sold in over 500 restaurants and stores around the U.S.
We were given some generous tastings, and it was fascinating to see the cheese being made and set in racks to be ripened and brined.
From the cantina, we picked up some fresh, local bread and their best-selling Mount Tam cheese. This phenomenal triple-cream organic cheese is earthy and buttery with a bloomy rind. Since tasting it, I have begun to add it to my cheese and charcuterie boards, and it is always a hit. Guests continually ask about its origin or where they can buy it.
Rather than sit in the shaded picnic area outside to enjoy these delights, we delayed gratification and took them with us to our next stop!
Less than a 2-minute drive from Cowgirl is the Heidrun Meadery. A beautiful tree-lined drive leads to an archway of roses welcoming you to the light and airy tasting room, which was once a greenhouse.
Cut flowers are everywhere, and you can create your own bouquet to take with you. Grab a seat at the bar and prepare to be surprised.
Since it was my first time at a Meadery, I was expecting a sweet and earthy drink, but Heidrun uses the Méthode Champenoise, so their varietal honey wines are light, refreshing and effervescent. It was interesting to learn that the different tastes are solely due to the honeybees feeding on nectar from various flowers.
Wandering around the lush flower garden, with the hum of honeybees to and from the hives, I was impressed by the massive floral beds which reminded me of childhood summers spent in the Connecticut countryside.
We picked a perfect spot for our Cowgirl picnic under the shade of trees on the back patio, with my favorite of the sparkly meads, the California Orange Blossom, and a small jar of honey, which was a perfect complement to drizzle on the cheese.
The Hog Island Oyster Company
If you have ever sat at the marble counter of The Hog Island Oyster Co in San Francisco’s Ferry Building, marveling at the view of the bay as you savor the briny bounty on your icy plate, you almost owe it to yourself to trace their journey back to the little town of Marshall on the edge of Tomales Bay.
Two marine biologists started the oyster farm in 1983, planting their first oyster seed in this bay.
Today, you can order from their open-air Boat Oyster Bar, shuck your own oysters at the picnic tables (even roast them on a grill) or grab a bushel and take them home with you.
If you opt for the picnic option, you will also get a complimentary shucking lesson, along with a set of tools, lemons, hot sauce and their Hogwash mignonette.
As a mid-afternoon snack, we chose their raw oysters and the grilled BBQ Chipotle Bourbon Butter oysters; they are smoky, sweet and slightly spicy. A half-dozen is not enough! Even my road-trip companion, who is something of an oyster purist (raw only), overcame her hesitance and was completely converted. The oyster bar very generously shares this recipe on its Web site, so I have been able to recreate these grilled oysters at home, much to the delight of my husband and friends.
Another idea I took away from here—to recreate at home—were the House Olives: Castelvetrano, Cerignola, Cornichons, Caperberries, garlic, lemon zest, coriander, and Aleppo chili. They make the perfect hostess gifts when given in elegant French-made terrine pots.
The bay-side location is incredible, you can watch the mollusk farmers heading out in their little boats to tend to their crops, and with advanced reservations, your experience can include an hour-long educational tour.
Nothing seems as simple yet simultaneously decadent as sitting in the Boat Shack at the end of the long wooden pier, looking out at the sun beginning to set over the hills on the opposite side of the bay.
As you sip your duck-fat-washed whiskey cocktail, which you ordered by picking up the old telephone in the shack and calling the bar at Nick’s Cove, you glance behind you to the shoreline where the restaurant sits, nestled alongside the old fishermen’s cottages dwarfed by giant pine trees (these rustic-seeming yet luxurious little cottages can be rented for your weekend stay.)
But back to that cocktail, the No Fowl Play: Redwood Empire Whiskey (distilled just 20 miles away), is made with burnt orange-peppercorn syrup and Dillon’s small-batch black currant bitters and the duck-fat wash gives the whiskey a surprisingly rich and silky texture while the burned fruit and spices act as the perfect balance.
As you make your way along the 400-foot wooden pier back to the restaurant for dinner, you can see The Croft on the hillside behind Nick’s Cove. The Croft is the lovely on-site farm and garden that supplies the restaurant their leafy greens, herbs and eggs. It is open to the public, and you can watch the bay from there or even work up more of an appetite on their bocce courts.
The restaurant is like an upscale hunting lodge, with its wood-burning stone fireplace, a mahogany bar and hunting trophies hanging on the walls. It is cozy and comforting, and those words could just as readily describe their delicious Tomales Bay Clam Chowder with applewood smoked bacon, served piping hot.
They are also known for their locally-caught seafood dishes, but the one I made a mental note of—so that I could recreate it at home—was the Roasted Cauliflower with Pancetta, Arugula and whole Grain Mustard Vinaigrette.
For dessert, the Rose Geranium Panna Cotta sounded divine, but when I saw that you could roast your own hand-crafted S’mores over their fireplace, that was it, decision made!
It is difficult to say goodnight to Nick’s Cove, the breathtaking view, and the unique dining experiences. Maybe next time a stay in one of the waterfront cottages will be on my menu. That way I can wake up to breakfast delivered to the door and drink coffee on the private deck overlooking the bay, to the call of loons echoing through the morning fog.
Sir and Star, The Olema
A one-horse town. Blink and you have practically driven through it. A crossroads, literally.
At the point where Sir Francis Drake Blvd and Route One meet, sits a historic inn, The Olema, now painted almost-black and, since 2012, the home of the restaurant Sir and Star.
It is almost as if they do not want to be found. But when we stumbled upon it on our second afternoon (when it was officially closed) a lady in a beret, who stopped tending to florals to take our dinner reservation for that evening, was THE most gracious host.
Non-plussed at our gasps of delight over the decor, she kindly showed us the amazing rooms available upstairs at the inn. I think she must have been a little enamored with our unbridled enthusiasm. She even took us across the road to the seemingly super-secret Druid’s Hall, leaving us to wander around the Victorian mansion at will. Unknowingly, we had been in the presence of Point Reyes royalty, for want of a better term. Our “host,” Margaret Gradé and her husband, chef Daniel DeLong, were the owners. They had previously presided over the legendary Manka’s Lodge, a pioneer in the farm-to-table movement, where Thomas Keller chose to celebrate his birthday and where Hollywood royalty and genuine royalty, Prince Charles and The Duchess of Cornwall Camilla, came to stay and dine while enjoying this tranquil spot on the Northern California coast.
We arrived a little early for dinner that evening to fully experience the haunting beauty of Sir and Star.
It is a unique and magical space, Shaker simplicity mixed with luxurious elegance and a hearty dose of wit.
A crackling fireplace welcomes you as you enter. Taxidermized geese take flight above the mantle.
Floor to ceiling linen curtains frame the doorways. Tree branches and seaweed bring the beauty of the outside in, and gothic candelabras cast a romantic glow over the entire theatrical scene, but do so effortlessly.
Nothing seems rehearsed, the local ingredients are only known that morning, and the menu changes daily. Reading that menu is an experience in itself, it is whimsical and poetic:
A particularly beautiful cut
of dry aged beef
Raised on coastal grasses
and great views
Now amidst a mash of Marin Potatoes
Reunited with its short rib, its tail
And marrow in the bone
That evening, we had the Buns and Butter laced with honey, sea salt and sage, followed by a soup of Crimson Bolinas Beets crowned with Spiced Apple Cider Crème. But the most memorable for me was A Neighbor’s Quail. Plumped with Sourdough stuffing scented with summer savory just in Thyme nestled in Grilled Bolinas Red Romaine.
The food is sublime, and the whole experience is inspirational. Lucky is the diner who manages to make their way here.
Setting off on the journey home is always a little bittersweet. The Point Reyes Peninsula is just remote enough for it to remain magical. Such breathtaking beauty allows for immediate immersion into tranquility. Becoming one with nature seems possible.
Perhaps the feeling is best summed up by John Muir, when he speaks of Our National Parks, “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”
I cannot wait to return, maybe longer than a weekend next time, perhaps to rent out the otherworldly Druids Hall. Stay tuned.