By Jessica Rogers
I made plans for my escape to Tomales Bay in May. I knew I needed something on the books later in the year to break up the monotony of being a shut in during the pandemic. I’d fallen in love with the charming cottages at Nick’s Cove on a day trip long ago, but the waterfront cottages book up so far in advance that I never had the timing right. My plan? Come back one day to spend a night or two here and soak up the salt and rocks. In a rare stroke of luck in 2020, I was able to secure a reservation for two nights during the Halloween weekend. Even luckier, the weather was gorgeous.
We hit the road on a Saturday morning, driving further and further away from the crowded communities, each town smaller than the last along the windy country roads leading away from the Bay. Despite stopping for a pleasant lunch at Two Bird Cafe in San Geronimo, I knew we needed oysters immediately upon arrival. I booked a post-lunch snack at the Hog Island Boat Oyster Bar on Resy. It’s a pilgrimage of sorts to eat these shellfish where they are pulled fresh from the sea.
I had avoided the ubiquitous Hog Island in the past as it was always a crowded mess of people shucking their own oysters and fighting for table space. Now, they required reservations and had shucking service. The vibe was festive as I think most people were as overjoyed as we were to be sitting on the water on such a gorgeous day.
We ordered drinks and Sweetwater oysters at the bar and settled in to enjoy the view. Inexplicably, my husband isn’t a huge oyster fan so I ordered just six, but after trying one I had to order another round just to have more Hogwash, their distinct rice wine vinegar mignonette with jalapeno and cilantro. I could have stayed the entire afternoon sitting there on the bay but the bar was closing, and we had to check into the hotel.
We booked Al’s Cottage, one of the rooms directly on the water. The decor was deliberately rustic, but had modern amenities like heated bathroom floors and a fully stocked minibar (a glorious rare joy in COVID days). The cottage had a living room with a big leather couch and fireplace, and a bedroom with a comfy king-sized bed, both with a direct view out onto the water.
At the end of the long pier at Nick’s Cove, there is a little boat shack designed for parties, complete with an old piano and a phone to call for food and beverages. Someone was hosting a gathering and the sound of laughter and clinking glasses in the distance made it feel like life was normal again. As the fog arrived, the merry party departed for the evening. The silence set in as the sun faded, and I felt very far from home, even though I was only an hour’s drive away. I headed inside for a nice soak in the deep claw-foot tub.
Given the pandemic, there was no dining service, so we ordered at the front window and ate outside on the deck with the heaters. The food was unremarkable, but the bar was still serving and the martini I ordered was the perfect ending to a beautiful day.
The next morning, we took a short drive to Dillon Beach, a small community tucked away down a rambling road. A new resort of sorts dominates the town with its tiny houses, overlooking an expansive beach with expensive parking. We spent the day reading on the beach and had takeout lunch from the Coastal Kitchen.
For our second dinner, we drove up windy Highway 1 to the town of Tomales for dinner at William Tell House. That night it was just us and another table braving the cold outside dining. The heat lamp helped, as did the amazing fish tacos. The menu was simple, but what lacked in description made up for in flavor – the most
perfectly crisp battered with a mix of vinegary and spicy toppings.
In no rush to get home the day of our departure, we stopped at Tony’s Seafood for lunch, which is also owned by Hog Island. It had a more extensive menu than the Boat Shack so I tried the Earthquake Bay oysters for the first time, which are grown in bags that tumble the oysters as the tide rises and falls. The result is the most tender oyster. We paired this with the decadently rich Cowgirl Creamery grilled cheese sandwich and sipped our wine watching the sun reflect off the water. In that moment, I was filled with gratitude, for the oysters and sunshine and a dream weekend fulfilled.