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Culinary Exploration in Marin, CA

Oysters and beer outside the 
Marshall Store, on Tomales Bay.

Photo: Thayer Allyson Gowdy

Geologically speaking, Point Reyes is basically a mountainous stretch of Big Sur that migrated up the coast. The Earth, always unusually active in California, is still rearranging West Marin: the land has been grinding northward for thousands of years, lurching a full 20 feet during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. (One inch every six months is average.) But the San Andreas Fault doesn’t feel sinister here. The rift valley is lush and shady, California folded up on itself.

We were staying at Manka’s, in Inverness, where the rooms are so peaceful they have an almost narcotic effect. The main lodge and its legendary restaurant burned to the ground in 2006, so we made the 15-minute drive to Point Reyes Station to grab lunch. Our plan was to go to Cowgirl Cantina—a deli counter opened by Cowgirl Creamery—and put together a picnic for a hike through the national seashore. But first we couldn’t help lingering at the farmers’ market that sets up next to Toby’s Feed Barn on Saturday mornings, sipping expertly made cappuccinos from the unassuming coffee stall, buying sackfuls of organic apples, and sharing a braised-goat sandwich.

The converted barn that houses Cowgirl Creamery and Cantina is just a block off Highway 1. There’s an impressive cheese shop, and you can spy some cheese making through plate-glass windows, but we were there to stock up for our hike. We chose from house-cured gravlax, fig-and-blue-cheese salad, seared day-boat tuna with fennel, assorted Fra’Mani charcuterie, duck pâté, and still-warm bread from Brick Maiden. We also picked up a bottle of a floral Pinot Noir from Pey-Marin, one of the more promising local wineries, and a piece of Pierce Pt., a Muscat-washed whole-milk cheese rolled in dried, local herbs. There was more to the menu, which changes daily, but my daypack had only so much room.

There’s no way to see all of Point Reyes National Seashore in one day. An elk preserve is located to the north; steep peaks are covered with pines to the south; coastal highlands are blanketed with brush. Then there are the roads to the ocean through a lunar landscape of rolling hills and active pasture. We decided to start at the southern end and loop down to the Pacific. For four hours we experienced what passes for paradise when you spend most of the year overworked in a busy metropolis: we didn’t encounter another human. Instead, we came across fallow deer, river otters, and a turkey vulture standing with outstretched wings. When we sat down for our picnic, we looked out on the ocean and, as if on cue, a school of gray whales appeared, migrating south.

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