This past month, I set out on a three-night road upon Northern California’s coast. It’s one of the most beautiful drives, starting in Point Reyes Station and up into Mendocino. Along the way, pastoral landscapes, wild coastline, and some of the most incredible places to stay and dine. Something unique to this part of California is these hotels that not only can you stay overnight, but enjoy world-class cuisine. So as I set out to build my road trip itinerary, I anchored it on three hotels that did exactly that.
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Over the course of four days, I passed through three counties on the coastline of Northern California. Starting in Marin, then Sonoma, and ending in Mendocino County, I was amazed by their diversity in landscape. Having been to each one individually, I had never truly experienced the three together. There’s a certain magic to each, a recognizable difference in climate and views. But one thing that ties each together is the drive to remain local.
To highlight what comes from the soil and sea, embracing what comes from their region through good food and drink. Hotels that stand out in experience yet blend into their surroundings. It’s something truly special about Northern California’s coast — the ability to draw you in, slow you down, and appreciate the smaller moments. There’s not a better way to do it than through a road trip. So here’s a look at the itinerary, the places to stay, and the experiences not to miss.
Dine and Stay: A Three-Night Road Trip On Northern California’s Coast
Night One: Point Reyes Station, Marin County
If you’re local to San Francisco, then I’m sure you’ve heard of Point Reyes Station. It’s where most of your local oysters come from, with institutions like Hog Island or Tomales Bay. This part of Marin County is home to a wonderland of outdoor adventure, also known as Point Reyes National Seashore. It’s a protected outdoor space of over 22,000 acres that is home to beaches, wildlife, and some of the happiest cows in California. The anchor to Point Reyes Station and Tomales Bay, it makes for the perfect spot to start a road trip.
Where to Stay in Point Reyes Station
I couldn’t imagine a better place to stay than Nick’s Cove. Nestled on Tomales Bay, the beautifully maintained seaside cottages are idyllic. Micheal Bauer said it best in the SF Chronicle, “It seems impossible to believe it’s still in the 415 area code.” I couldn’t agree more — these cozy, well-appointed cottages take you worlds away. Staying in the two bedrooms and two baths “Bandit’s Bungalow,” I settled in for a night disconnected. The plush bed, the clawfoot tub, and a crackling fire were anchors to the experience. In the morning, breakfast was delivered with hot coffee while birds grazed over the glassy waters of Tomales Bay — I could have sat on that deck forever.
Nick’s Cove is also home to the Croft. Their own vegetable garden produces many of the ingredients found in the restaurant. I loved dining that night in the restaurant, catching the sunset over the water, and then settling into my room for the night.
Where to Dine in Point Reyes Station
- Nick’s Cove Restaurant. One meal you can’t miss is lunch or dinner at Nick’s Cove. Whether you dine inside or enjoy their terrace with bbq’d or oysters on the half shell, it’s a stunning setting. Their food is everything Marin County — fresh produce from their own garden, local ingredients, and very much seafood oriented.
- Bovine Bakery. Head here to grab a pastry and coffee to go for an afternoon adventure.
- Cowgirl Creamery. If there’s one creamery you can’t miss in the area, it’s Cowgirl. You could work your way through the cheese trail or pop into their shop in Point Reyes Station. Hint: they also serve great sandwiches.
- Side Street Kitchen. For a sit-down meal in town, I loved this diner experience where you order at the counter.
What to Do in Point Reyes Station
- Point Reyes National Seashore. Home to everything you could imagine, you could easily spend a few days here. Some of my favorite highlights here include seeing the Point Reyes Lighthouse, the Cypress Tree Tunnel, seeing the elephant seals at the overlook, exploring the Elk Reserve, and hiking out to Chimney Rock.
- Shop the Tomales Farmer’s Market. Started by Brendan Thomas of Nick’s Cove and friends, you can find local producers and produce from the Croft here. *Saturdays only.
- Explore the town of Point Reyes Station. The small town is quaint and has a few local boutiques and restaurants. I would head here and go for a stroll through the shops and local businesses.
- Taste meads at Heidrun Meadery: Unique to this area, is the local meadery, Heidrun. It’s a beautiful setting and not many meaderies are in the area so it’s a chance to taste mead made with local honey.
Night Two: Timber Cove, Sonoma County
The coast starts to change as you get into Sonoma County. The cliffs get higher, the beaches wider, and the horizon seems to disappear. Coastal towns dot Highway 1, making for postcard pitstops along the way. Surrounded by mountains and pine trees, the contrast between the ocean and forest is easily noticed. In one breath you can sit on the beach and in another, in the redwoods.
Where to Stay in Timber Cove
For a second night on Highway 1, look no further than Timber Cove Resort. Perched upon a steep cliff, its views can’t be beaten. Their 25 acres spread along the ocean, where you can explore and go for a guided walk. The design is one to take note of. Built in 1963, the original owner was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s style for architecture, and designed that iconic A-Frame entrance you can’t miss. Inside, a spacious lobby and lounge centered on a three-story fireplace. The rooms 46 new guestrooms have been beautifully updated, with amenities like a Crosley LP record player, a pour-over coffee station, and plush linens.
Being booked into the Ocean Cove corner suite, I had never seen anything quite like it. Set with binoculars, I spent the early evening sitting on the couch with a glass of wine in hand, keeping an eye out for passing whales. Afterward, a soak in the tub set with a Fleetwood Mac record on, I couldn’t imagine a better way to end the day.
Where to Dine in Timber Cove
- Coastal Kitchen. Inside Timber Cove is their Coastal Kitchen. As the area is a bit more remote, you can find yourself easily coming here for most meals. I’d start with breakfast. Their hearty portions are cozy and of course, coffee strong. At night, the restaurant makes for a stunning scene with tall windows that peer over the ocean for sunset.
- Cafe Aquatica: Hop in here for a bite and an outdoor terrace.
- Spud Point Crab Company in Bodega Bay: Along the way up the coast, you’ll pass through Bodega Bay. I’d pop into the town just to eat here for their crab cakes (weekend only) or their crab sandwiches. Seriously delicious.
What to Do in Timber Cove
- Along the way there. As you make your way up the coast, a few spots shouldn’t be missed. I’d stop in Bodega Bay for lunch and then afterward pick a beach to go for a walk. There are many to choose from, one of my favorites is North Salmon Creek Beach and then taking in the views from Arched Rock Beach.
- Kayaking in Jenner. One experience that makes for a great excursion is kayaking with Watertreks Eco-Tours Jenner Kayaks. You can head up the river from the ocean, seeing wildlife like harbor seals along the way. Opt to rent your own kayak or book a guide.
- Wine taste at Fort Ross Vineyard. Who would have thought there would be one of the best vineyards around right above Jenner. It’s almost always sunny there as it’s perched up on the mountain and that windy road is well worth the drive. Come here for a tasting with a view that can’t be beaten.
- Hike in Salt Point State Park. If you’re looking for a state park to explore, I’d head to Salt Point. Park your car, bring a lunch and head out on the trail that winds along the ocean. It’s stunning here with panoramic views that wind through the headlands.
Night Three: Elk, Mendocino County
As you make your way to the final stop on this road trip, it seems only right to head somewhere you can rest. Of course, you can choose adventure, I personally found myself ready to drop my bags and sit a while. Elk, California is in the heart of Mendocino County’s coast. It’s a small town, and by small, I mean not a single traffic light. It’s cozy and intimate, in a good kind of way. You can almost reach out and touch the ocean, especially if you book one of those ocean view suites at the Harbor House Inn. So I’d kick off your shoes after a few days of road tripping and settle in.
Where to Stay in Elk
Ending my road trip at the Harbor House Inn in Elk was blissful. I found myself walking into the “Oceansong” room, dropping my bag, and heading straight for the private terrace that overlooked the ocean. I sat there for a while — soaking in the views, opening a bottle of wine, and taking in the fresh air. That’s what I loved most about the stay at Harbor House Inn. The ability to be immersed in the outdoors so easily.
The historic inn dates back to 1916 and was recently renovated this past year. With an ode to the past, their redwood library and dining room feel cozy as the fire crackles. Surrounded by the coastline and their garden that serves the restaurant, it’s an immersive stay. In the late afternoon before dinner in the room (I’d opt for this if you want a unique dining experience), I took the walk down to their own beach. Waves crashed on the shores as I looked for sea treasures like abalone shells. It couldn’t be a better place to unwind where good food, a luxurious stay, and the outdoors meets.
Where to Dine in Elk
- Harbor House Inn. Some places are a destination in of themselves, and Harbor House Inn’s restaurant is no exception. Chef Matthew Kammerer (formerly at three-star Michelin, Saison in San Francisco) heads up this restaurant. Just appointed a Michelin Star, their innovate menu and food is memorable. Using locally foraged ingredients, it’s a playful invitation to discovering the north coast of California. You’ll want to reserve in advance for this one.
- Elk Store. Head here for all your adventure’s needs like sandwiches made on the spot. They have their own smoker as well onsight, so I’d ask what’s fresh that day.
What to Do in Elk
- Along the way there. I’d stop in Sea Ranch to explore the architecture here. You could take the walk down to Pebble Beach that winds through the famous houses and ends at the beach. Other points of interest include the Sea Ranch Chapel, a serene spot with an interesting design. If you’re looking for another regional park, I’d go to Gualala Point and work around the coast there for a walk.
- Explore Greenwood State Beach. The anchor to Elk is the iconic Greenwood State Beach. I’d grab a sandwich in town from the Elk Store and head down for a picnic on the beach.
- Visit Mendocino. Further up the coast is the town of Mendocino that has many local boutiques and restaurants. It’s a great afternoon adventure and you could spend a few hours there wandering around.
- Rent an outrigger at Catch-A-Canoe. I’ve done this twice now and it never disappoints. These incredible outriggers float across the river easily, making for a great adventure near Mendocino. On the river, you’ll spot wildlife and beautiful scenery.
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