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Coastal Drift

Several years ago one of Martha Borge's Point Reyes canvases won the top prize in a contest co-sponsored by the National Parks Foundation for the best painting of a U.S. national park. At the time, she had numerous offers to show in big-city galleries. But she turned them all down because, as she says, "My husband and I are trying to preserve a way of life here. We want to keep our lives simple and yet productive."

Behind the house stands a storybook clapboard cottage that Martha Borge rents to travelers for $95 a night. Called the Gallery Cottage, it's neither large nor fancy, but basically a one-room affair with a queen-size bed, a kitchenette and dining area, and a tiny patio in a garden of nasturtiums, geraniums, rosemary, and lavender. "At first I served breakfast", Borge says, "but I felt as if it was invading the guests' privacy. So a few years ago I took ten dollars off the price and just stocked the cottage with fresh-ground coffee. The Bovine Bakery is a block away. So far, nobody has complained."

Artists are doubling as innkeepers all over Point Reyes these days. On the edge of town, painter Karen Gray's Jasmine Cottage is another one-room hideaway in a sweet setting amid flower and herb gardens and fruit trees; the low price includes a big breakfast.

My favorite spot is out on Tomales Bay, not far from Manka's: Marsh Cottage, so close to the water that sitting on its tiny front deck feels like being on a private houseboat. It's simply furnished by artist Wendy Schwartz, whose house and studio are next door, and whose pastoral paintings of cows and Point Reyes ranches hang inside. Marsh Cottage is the kind of place you'd love to rent for a couple of months so that you could finish-or start-your novel.

Schwartz and her reporter husband left San Francisco for Point Reyes 14 years ago. "Before I moved out here, I never understood how attached you can get to a place," she says. "This peninsula is very powerful."

You don't have to be a local to appreciate the power of Point Reyes. After only a few days here, I share Schwartz's reverence for this stretch of northern California. Back home in New York, I find that I have only to close my eyes and I am again combing Drakes Beach or floating on Tomales Bay or dining at Manka's. Occasionally I see myself on the deck at Marsh Cottage, working on that novel.

Five Ways To See Point Reyes

Hike the 12-mile loop from the Bear Valley Visitors Center. The magical trail takes in the best of Point Reyes: forests of fir and bay laurel, wildflower-filled meadows, dramatic beaches.

Cycle the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, for pastoral scenery and challenging hills. Recharge at the Marin French Cheese Company.

Paddle a sea kayak in the early morning on Tomales Bay, with Blue Waters Kayak Tours.

Take Five Brooks Ranch's six-hour horseback Wildcat Beach Ride. Gallop over mountains, along beaches, and under waterfalls.

Picnic on Drakes Beach, with fixings-perhaps a niçoise sandwich or an oyster loaf-from Tomales Bay Foods in Point Reyes Station.

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