Bolinas: Fiercely Guarded Enclave of Serenity
- November 03, 2017
- Sophie Maarek
Bolinas, the Perfect Getaway Spot
As a bohemian coastal village in Northern California, Bolinas exudes serenity. Far off the beaten track, it’s discoverable only to those who specifically seek it out. The initial thought of a first-time visitor might be to sing the praises of this free-spirited community, but you’ll soon realize it’s better to keep quiet and let the village continue on as it is. So tick a lock: You didn’t hear it from us.
The small paradise of Bolinas hides in Marin County, about an hour’s drive north of San Francisco. A reclusive oasis of calm and nature, the town’s approximately 1,600 citizens attempt to keep it that way by regularly tearing down road signs that lead to the community. One sign on State Route 1 has never stayed up more than 36 hours. The county replaced them for 40 years before finally throwing in the towel, reluctantly giving in to residents’ preference for sign-less surroundings.
Townies have always been desperate to preserve this beautiful beach village, nestled between mountains. Their mayor calls the village the Republic of Bolinas, and proclaims to the press that “there is no reason to come here.” Many of its residents came from San Francisco in 1971 to clean the beach that had been contaminated by a large oil spill. These hippies and nature lovers never left, rebuilding stilted fishermen’s houses one by one. Artists, writers, and performers have taken up residence, drawn by the open-mindedness, eco-awareness, and ethical values by which the occupants live. Some celebrities have also made Bolinas home, including Alice Waters, Joel Coen, Frances McDormand, and Harmony Korine. Even as houses sell for a small fortune, Bolinas has retained its cool, libertarian spirit. The townspeople are extremely sensitive to environmental problems and they incorporate a rigorous ecological model of governance. In 2003 a resident suggested the town publicly recognize its love for nature, including bears, foxes, and blueberries, and the proposal was adopted on a referendum by a large majority. This resulted in the display of a sign saying, “You enter a socially conscious and nature-loving village” (which, like most signs in Bolinas, has since disappeared).
The village is best explored on a walk down the town’s only avenue, with quirky houses in the Mesa area and mom-and-pop shops downtown. The Bolinas Museum, open three afternoons a week, exhibits the sculptures, landscape paintings, and photographs of regional artists. The only restaurant, the Coast Cafe, sits in the heart of the village. It’s a laid-back place where locals come to dine, with a menu of grilled oysters with bourbon butter, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and barbecued beef. Got a sweet tooth? It also serves homemade apple pie and root beer floats. Opposite Coast Cafe, Smiley’s Saloon boasts of being the oldest tavern west of the Mississippi. In true small-town fashion, the saloon has some rooms to rent if you’re too knackered to make it home. Down the avenue is the People’s Store, an organic coop that offers locally sourced produce, meats, and cheeses, as well as homemade soups and custom sandwiches.
A visit to Bolinas would be remiss without a trip to the beach. Known for gnarly surfing, it also offers beautiful hikes and an immense lagoon where fertile waters attract seabirds and fishermen. The Bolinas beaches are part of the area known as the Red Triangle, home to a variety of marine mammals. Watch out, though—it’s also home to one of the world’s largest populations of great white sharks. In contrast to their usual anti-sign policy, Bolinas residents have let “Beware of sharks” signs remain.
The inhabitants have done a bang-up job of preserving the authenticity and harmony of their town, making a visit to Bolinas the perfect chance to take a break from the digital age and focus on community and nature. Just don’t say we told you so.