Which brings us to treehouses. At their simplest they are for
kids, at their most complex, for Tarzan and Jane. Or they were until
Blackthorne Inn. At the core of the house is a spiral staircase
spinning off room after room until it culminates in an octagonal
chamber encased in glass, topped by a treetop-high private sundeck.
The appropriately named Eagle's Nest.
In 1973, Susan and Bill Wigert bought a cabin in the woods above
Tomales Bay. Four years later they embarked on a one-of-a-kind inn
with 5 unique guest rooms. Beneath the Eagle's Nest are chambers with
stained glass windows, private balconies and one in its own cozy
garret. These are furnished with fine oak antiques, wicker chairs and
queen size beds. All have bathrooms of wood and country tile.
Though the Blackthorne Inn grows out of an unruly forest of firs
and oaks, inside it is neat as a pin, proving that rustic can also be
elegant. Of course there's a hot tub and the lavish buffet breakfasts
are a delight. But the ultimate treasure lies at the top of the
stairs. Treehouses were never like this.
In this early April, California Poppies shocked the eye with
electric orange pinpricks in meadows of vast sea green. On the Tomales
Point Trail fields of wildflowers exhibited themselves shamelessly to
anyone happening by.
For fauna there were herds of elk moving in slow motion on nearby
knolls. And fat black cattle on ranches that predate the National Sea-
shore by more than a hundred years. The trail loped over soft round
hills until a crash of surf drew us to precipitous cliffs battered by
the Pacific. Then the fog attacked, thick and solid, obliterating sky,
walkers, cliffs, the very future in a single stroke.
But not the past. "When we took off the wall paper there was a
newspaper base from 1900," said Ron Nowell, the owner with his wife
JoAnne of Bear Valley Inn. The simplest of the six Inns of Point Reyes -
- "The shared bath cuts out a lot of business but everybody who comes
is pretty easygoing" - the three clapboard-wall rooms are farmhouse -
style, with early American furniture and a very laid-back feeling.
Next door Ron operates a bike rental shop. "This is a great
biking area, too," he said. "There's a real range of trails in the
park, some relaxing and gentle, others with a pretty good altitude
gain." With the main visitor center only a half mile away, athletes
are advised to check in with Ron.
"The variety is nice," said Inger Fisher, when I mentioned how
different Ron's inn was from hers. "Lots of people love something in
every nook and cranny," she added. "Others don't," making it clear
that she was one of the latter. Roundstone Farm was built specifically
as a bed and breakfast with certain requirements in mind.
"I felt it was important to have private baths with large
counters," Inger said. "I wanted a fireplace in every room, a good
reading light and space. I made sure that each guest has a view clear
out to Tomales Bay, four miles away."
A weathered deck overlooks a pond to Inger's Arabian and
Connemara horses, the famous Irish wild ponies. The pond itself
contains frogs large enough to belong in a story by Mark Twain. When
the sun goes down the night resounds with duels of basso profundos.
"We bought the land for the horses," Inger said. "They're old
friends." Roundstone Farm came later, named after a village in
Ireland. Two of her early guests - "I didn't know they were writers" -
included the inn in "Recommended Country Inns" and "Best Places to
Stay in California." "We were busy right from the beginning."
Inger smiled a warm California smile. "We really have wonderful
Three nearby clusters of habitation, Point Reyes Station,
Inverness and Olema, are almost too small to be called towns, but at
least they're bigger than Dogtown: "Population 30, Elevation 180
Feet." Guided by our hosts we found several restaurants of exceptional
quality among their handful of stores and homes.
Denis Bold has presided over the kitchen of the Station House
Cafe (415 663-1515) for more than a decade, and though he's won
praises from Gourmet Magazine, the New York Times and others, he
refuses to rest on his laurels. Drawing on local purveyors of organic
meats and vegetables, farm raised oysters and offshore fish, he puts
his West Coast sensibility to work on remarkable culinary creations at
remarkably reasonable prices.
The dining areas of the 1876 Olema Inn (415 663-9559) reminded me
of my native New England in their classic purity. Here the salmon
grilled with sundried tomato-lemon butter made me wonder again how
chefs of such extraordinary talent were lured from the fame and
fortune of major cities to this beautiful but remote outpost.
Manka's (415 669-1034) was the most ideosyncratic of the local
eateries. Lounging cozily before the fireplace with a glass of wine,
we took in the vintage photographs, hand painted lamp shades, old
fishing gear and hundreds of other bizarre and interesting touches.
Interesting also was the wild boar and venison and very, very good.
Since Napa Valley was only an hour away, one evening we made a
pilgrimage to the Auberge du Soleil (707 963-1211), a member of the
prestigious Relais and Chateau group. There we feasted on grilled
quail and rosemary crusted ahi on a heated balcony overlooking a
pastel blossomed garden. A word of advice: Save room for the chocolate-
caramel-walnut tart with creme fraiche.
The wine lists at all these fine restaurants featured the best
that California produces, and, as the French know all too well,
California's best is the best.
Casa del Mar is the most southerly of the Inns of Point Reyes, a
beige stucco beauty that sits above the community of Stinson Beach.
From its balconies we spied the ocean in front and Mount Tamalpais in
back. Not very high, I thought, until we drove to the top and looked
south to the Golden Gate bridge and north to forever.
The garden at Casa del Mar is nothing short of stupendous, a
fantastic kaleidescope that changes with every turn in the winding
stone path. "My fantasy was to be the gardener," said Rick Klein,
fisherman turned innkeeper. "I didn't know there'd be cleaning and
cooking and booking."
"For me it's lightness and openness," Rick said. "I like bright
cheery things and nature. We had the beds built specially so that when
you wake in the morning you look out at blue ocean and sky."
Add to that a reputation for the most outrageous breakfasts in
the business - apple and ricotta cheese pancakes, huevos rancheros
atop whole wheat tortillas, homemade blueberry and poppyseed coffee
cake - and you get an idea of what this man has wrought.
A few miles west we read this enigmatic message: "What a romantic
place to spend with your lover before you have to say goodbye." It was
written in the guest book at Vision Cottage, one of 3 owned by Diane
and Tom Baloch, proprietors of Holly Tree Inn. Though its two bedrooms
were perfect for families, apparently only one was used that night.
Vision Cottage is Nirvana in the woods. Queensize beds, soaring
ceilings over a Franklin stove, refrigerator stocked with lucious
breakfasts and, as someone else wrote, "simmering in the wonderful hot
tub under a starlit sky."
"We were part of the generation that left the city to find a new
lifestyle in the country," said Diane. "We came to Point Reyes and it
was so gorgeous that we bought 19 acres and started the first B. & B.
in the area." In each corner of the clapboard family-style farmhouse - "We've
always welcomed kids" - is a large room charmingly furnished with
country antiques, painted bedsteads, Amish quilts and bouquets of
freshly cut flowers. Around the circular driveway are holly trees, bay
laurel, weeping birch, wild cherries and plums. "All the trees change
color and are gorgeous in the fall," Diane said.
Certainly the testimonials bear her out. Including this one we
read in Vision Cottage: "Had a lovely time. Especially enjoyed the
wakeup call from the woodpecker of happiness."
The central number to call for reservations or information about
the Inns of Point Reyes is 415 663-1420.
HOW TO GET THERE: The Point Reyes area is about one hour north of San
Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. From Highway 101 North take Sir
Francis Drake Boulevard to Olema. Turn right on Highway 1 to Point
Reyes Station. Detailed maps are available at each inn.
To Casa del Mar, take Highway 1 a half hour from the bridge to
"Save plenty of film," a woman said as I bent over to photograph
a California Poppy.
"Is it that good?" I asked.
So I continued on the narrow path toward the snubnosed tip of
Chimney Rock. As I walked, poppies were joined by wild hollyhocks,
iris, beach strawberries, candyflower, western blue violets, yarrow,
seaside daisies - more than I could ever identify.
Bordering rugged cliffs they grew in flashes of reds, oranges and
purples punctuating brilliant carpets of yellow. In their midst a
father and daughter studied them intently with a magnifying glass.
Distant figures were silhouetted against fog that swirled in from the
sea. Below me cormorants perched on jagged rocks near scalloped bea-
ches and seals leapt from the water. I was glad I had saved some film.
Near these shores in 1603, on the twelth day of Christmas, Don
Sebastien Vizcaino celebrated the Feast of the Three Kings. Ship-
wrecked, marooned, but ever hopeful, he named Point Reyes for them.
I had come from San Francisco, an hour to the south, to stay at
three of the six "Inns of Point Reyes." A title reminiscent of roman-
tic Victorian novels, the kind that conjure up images of wind-swept
moors, crashing surf and quaint country cottages. And absolutely the
"What a lovely way to start the day," said one of Julia Bart-
lett's guests. Outside Thirty-Nine Cypress head-high bushes of
rosemary rose by the breakfast table while cattle and deer grazed on
the marshy flatlands of Tomales Bay and egrets and herons glided
toward a pond. Bounteous servings of fresh fruit, yogurt, croissants,
eggs, homemade sausages and potato pancakes were set before the lady
and me and four others.
As a self acknowleged ex-hippie, Julia has created in Thirty-Nine
Cypress a warm and unpretentious refuge, characteristics that clearly
are reflections of herself. Her love of flowers is everywhere apparent.
Anemones, aquilegia, and hibiscus are only some of the blossoms
that brush the feet of guests she leads down her garden path.
Inside is a comfortable clutter of family pieces - "My mom's
plates and cranberry glasses in the redwood hutch. My grandfather's
barometer" - and photographs and paintings by local artists. The three
guestrooms are wood panelled, skylighted and sliding glass doored for
views of distant fir-clad hills.
"We've been coming here for 8 years," said a psychologist from
Napa Valley. "As soon as I see Julia's gate, my whole body relaxes."
Thirty-Nine Cypress sits at the edge of the Point Reyes National
Seashore, created in 1962 by a stroke of John F. Kennedy's pen. It
consists of 80 to 100 thousand square miles of beaches, headlands,
forests and fields, depending on whom you talk to.
The great glory of the Seashore is its 140 mile network of
trails. To Limantour Beach, for example, on the bay where Sir Francis
Drake landed 40 years before the Pilgrims saw the rock at Plymouth.
One clear crisp morning only sandpipers skittering along the water's
edge on toothpick legs shared its wind-swept miles with us.
Another day we walked the 4 1/2 mile Bear Valley Trail, lined
with sky blue Forget-Me-Nots. It ended at Arch Rock, a granite
platform that towered above the sea while cliffs receded in either
direction and the entire sky opened its arms.