Coastal California Drive
By Joel Stein
Very few romantic things have happened in cars since 1959. However, as I’ve learned from being lost, late, and mistaken about the distance to the next rest stop, many unromantic things have. So it probably wasn’t wise to take a 6½-hour drive from Los Angeles to Point Reyes—where my wife, Cassandra, and I would then spend the weekend driving around the northern California coast. Our odds of romance would have been better had we stayed at home and talked about how similar we are to our parents.
But our blast up the state was surprisingly pleasant, and when we hit Point Reyes, we immediately discovered the first key to its allure: no cell service. No BlackBerrying, no texting, no calls. There is nothing quite as sexy, I quickly discovered, as a woman with no choice but to listen to me.
Just north of San Francisco, past Muir Woods, the Marin roads wind through Ewok forest that opens into deer-, sheep-, and cow-studded farmland and then magically folds back into dense forest, until eventually you come to the Pacific spread out under the cliff—as if someone has tried to cram all of America into one place. Though the Point Reyes National Seashore is only 71,000 acres, we drove by herd after herd of tule elk, which—knowing well the fragility of a romantic weekend—I successfully pretended not to be scared of.
We checked into Manka’s Inverness Lodge, which specializes in coziness, with fireplaces, flannel curtains, shelves of old books, and an arkful of taxidermied animals. I pretended to not be afraid of them.
Though the eight-course Saturday-night dinner sounded awesome—heavy on game, with organic produce and abstruse wordplay on the menu ("the bean of coastal dairy cream over local figs on a mission")—we learned long ago that huge meals are the enemy of sex, so we went to the room before dinner. But when we returned after eating, there were two plastic sticks of local honey on the bed and a note that read "Honey: You know what to do." You cannot imagine the pressure of having a pimp for a pillow mint.
The next day, after the best breakfast I’ve ever had (an omelette with homemade wild boar ham, French toast with cream and blackberry syrup), we headed to Point Reyes Station, an Old West-meets-crunchy yuppie town lined with cutesy storefronts. Like every community in this area, it is minuscule and yet has a bakery. I don’t truly understand the area’s economy, but bakeries seem to be the slot machines of Point Reyes.
We loaded up on picnic supplies at the Cowgirl Creamery, inside Tomales Bay Foods, and took them to a picnic table at Dillon Beach, a 150-year-old summer resort and surfing cove. After lunch, we walked along the ocean, across rocks that were covered with sea anemones, mussels, and starfish. These I actually wasn’t afraid of.
On the drive from dinner at the Olema Inn & Restaurant—where we ate the famous Hog Island oysters and had a bottle of winemaker Sean Thackrey’s stunningly original Pleiades blend from nearby Bolinas—the full moon was peeking through the trees, bouncing off Tomales Bay bright as the sun. And Cassandra put her head against my shoulder and said how happy she was. And for a moment, I thought I knew what 1959 felt like.
Additional writing and reporting by
Christine Ajudua, Richard Alleman, Stirling Kelso, Shane Mitchell, Bridget Moriarity, Celeste Moure, Suzanne Mozes, Nelson Mui, Kevin Raub, Bree Sposato, Gisela Williams, Elizabeth Woodson.