Tomales Bay, a rugged, earthquake-formed cleavage that splits west Marin County in two, invites exploration by land, water – and stomach.
The long, narrow bay begins in the marshy grass outside of Point Reyes Station and runs northwest until it opens to the Pacific Ocean, gateway for the occasional visiting gray whale, schools of herring and halibut. The water is also fertile ground for a thriving oyster fishery. The crushed oyster shells that seem to be scatted underfoot at every roadside pullout and vista point invite you to join the outdoor party: pick up a dozen or two oysters from a Hog Island Oyster Co. or Tomales Bay Oyster Co. and find your own bayside spot and admire the view and shuck and slurp away, tossing your shells in the direction of the same waters where the bivalves were harvested a few days earlier. All you need is an oyster knife and a tailgate.
"All you need is an oyster knife and a tailgate"
While traveling by sailboat or kayak gives you the best views of the bay and the dramatically rising headlands to the west, hiking trails abound. Millerton Point, part of Tomales Bay State Park, offers easy access to the water for kayaking, fishing, swimming and hiking along several miles of trails with sweeping view up and down the bay and across the water to the coastal town of Inverness. The park was once a stop on the North Pacific Coast Railroad that ran along what is now Highway 1. The train allowed local dairy farmers and rancher to send their fresh milk and beef to San Francisco and beyond. Thanks to restoration efforts, the scrubby, coastal bluffs are home to a thriving population of local plants and animals. Fish-hunting osprey and the occasional bald eagle make for great birdwatching.
"The scrubby, coastal bluffs are home to a thriving population of local plants and animals"
Given their beauty and easy access, Millerton Point and nearby Tomales Bay Trailhead get a lot of visitors, especially on weekends. For a smaller slice of the bay that’s no less stunning, there is a semi-secret trail just north of Marshall. The dirt pullout holds just a few cars. Chances are you’ll have it to yourself. The short, oyster shell-strewn trail leads to the water’s edge and splits north and south so you can find your own spot to enjoy this natural wonder.
Across the bay you'll see the inviting beaches and forests of Point Reyes National Seashore... but that's a story for another day.