If you’ve never heard of Bolinas in Northern California, it’s purposely done! It’s a fascinating town full of reclusive residents who try hard to dissuade uninvited visitors and unwanted traffic. I’ve never been to a place where locals would defiantly tear down any signs that lead to it and threaten reporters for writing about them. It’s not that they unwelcome visitors; the invited are welcomed. They value its preservation and exclusivity that too often over tourism can ruin. In other words, they want to keep Bolinas weird.
I honestly can say I don’t blame them. It’s absolutely adorable and uniquely quirky. It’s located in Marin County where George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, built Skywalker Ranch. It’s only an hour north of San Francisco and an hour southwest of Sonoma. If you don’t want to be disturbed but close enough to the action, visit Bolinas!
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What makes Bolinas a must place to visit?
As we got to know the town, we learned from locals that Bolinas is an unincorporated coastal community. This means they are governed independently with their own fiscal and administrative bodies. If you want to purchase real estate in Bolinas, you must follow the terms by the town’s Board of Directors. If you don’t, they can legally cut your water off in hopes to run you off. I imagine it’s like an HOA on steroids.
The real estate prices are astronomical. Take a look at this shack selling for $2.2MM at 1k sqft. The population is only around 1600.
Many of the locals are super wealthy but you’d never know it. Some even look like indigents and then you realize they’re incognito gazillionaires.
We had no idea the cottage we rented was actually owned by Sid and Nancy Ganis. Sid Ganis is a retired movie producer and was Senior VP for Lucasfilm, President of Paramount Pictures and Vice Chairman of Colombia Pictures. He’s launched movies like The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Top Gun, Ghost, Fatal Attraction, and bought the underlying rights to Forrest Gump. His wife Nancy is a film publicist, writer and producer. Her most recent work was on Akeelah and The Bee.
We saw one of his quirky film awards placed on a shelf in the living room and put 2 and 2 together.
What also makes Bolinas exclusive is their location. It’s not the easiest drive nor convenient to find. GPS is spotty because reception is practically non- existent.
If you want to get away, this place is the very definition of it. No one will be able to guess where you are. We’ve had family members who live in the Bay Area all of their lives and never heard of Bolinas!
There are no major hotels in Bolinas, intentionally so by its Board of Directors. There’s just a couple of small BNB type places. The best way to rent in Bolinas is to rent a home.
I stumbled upon Bolinas when I was looking for homes to rent on the internet. I saw this cottage featured on a side AirBnb pop up ad and clicked on it. I was planning a getaway for our 8th year anniversary back in October’18. We wanted a private place to not be bothered. Somehow searching for places in Napa Valley and wine country also populated Bolinas in the search. When I saw the house on the bluff for rent, it was love at first site. I’ve always wondered what it would be like.
When I requested our dates on AirBnb, the caretaker of the house David asked a few questions about the intentions of our visit and a little bit about us. I did not mind because I figured the owner has the right to know who’s staying at their home.
The drive to Bolinas was very beautiful as you drive along the San Andreas Fault. Dramatic ocean fronts and immense redwoods were a work of art as we drove through the winding elevations. We paid close attention to David’s directions to the place, as the GPS can be kind of wonky in this area. You know you’re close when you hit the cute town of Mill Valley.
We found the cottage off a private road. It has its own parking place and entryway. Behind the gate, you’re welcomed with a gorgeous garden.
The gardens on the cottage property was amazing. It was of course well groomed with pretty flowers and fruit trees. We were greeted by some of the flowers, apples and lemons picked from the garden. The gifted local bread and spread were great to enjoy as a snack and for breakfast.
The cottage was everything we hoped it would be. We were blown away by the incredible views. The place was super clean and well appointed. It was as if we stepped into a Pottery Barn magazine.
The 2 bedroom 2 bath cottage is actually the guest house that Sid and Nancy Ganis owns. They live right next door in the main house and David, the Grounds Keeper, takes care of their properties as they travel often.
The kitchen was fabulous and had everything you would need. We enjoyed making meals and having breakfast with its views.
We spent a lot time in the half acre gardens of the cottage. We were welcome to have any of the fruits we’d like. The hammock was so relaxing. We felt like we were in our very pwn secret garden.
We’ve only rented from AirBnB a few times but by far, this was the finest AirBnB we ever rented with top notch amenities. Completely private, but if you needed help it was a phone call away. David, the groundskeeper was great at making recommendations for the area. We did not want to leave this place. 4 Nights is was not enough and we did not get to see enough within that period of time. This incredible place was offered through AirBNB for $650 a night, cleaning fee $250, service fee $215, and occupancy tax $285.
Now that we found the cottage, what is there to do in the area? Bolinas itself is less than 6 miles large. It’s only an hour to San Francisco and located right in between Point Reyes Station and Stinson Beach.
The first thing we did was scope out the town which did not take long. Since it is so well preserved from the 1800’s, it was like a blast from the past. The Bolinas Museum, Coast Cafe, and Smileys Saloon and Hotel are the major sites in town.
Point Reyes Station
Just 30 minutes north of Bolinas is Point Reyes Station, a popular little town. It’s known for its outdoor lifestyle and food & wine. We enjoyed ourselves exploring the town and its food!
If you like watching college athletics, Stanford is an hour and a half away from Bolinas. While in the area, we heard our super star soccer niece was going to play against Stanford. Her and her family are from Colorado. We joined our large family to watch her play. It was a brutal game with Stanford dominating until the end.
We stayed for 4 nights and wish we would’ve stayed longer. There’s so much more to do and see than we thought. If you’re a nature lover, enjoy hikes, and a foodie- this place has it all in the most serene and private setting of all.
We were really bummed we did not see Alamere Falls, a rare tidefall in Point Reyes. A tidefall is a waterfall that flows directly into the ocean. They are extremely rare in the world. Only a few exist on each continent and there’s only 2 in all of U.S. and both are in Northern California. McWay Falls is in Big Sur. We got to Palomarin Trailhead and realized it was about an 8 mile hike roundtrip. We arrived too late in the day to be able to finish before dark.
There are tons of amazing hikes in the area, but this one is the most unique. We will be much more prepared next time.
If you love food like we do, Bolinas and its surrounding areas are a foodie’s dream. It’s surrounded by all kinds of organic farms from produce to meats to dairies. The local restaurants use these ingredients and its so delicious, healthy too! We also ate at Michelin restaurant, Quince, in San Francisco and they mentioned getting ingredients and herbs from Bolinas.
Here are some places to eat when you’re in the area.
Coast Cafe, Bolinas (Casual)
Get their watermelon salad, it’s the best I ever had. So good, I forgot to take my own pic. But here’s one courtesy of the restaurant.
Station House Cafe, Point Reyes (Casual)
Great for lunch. They have yummy milkshakes, oysters, and salads.
Osteria Stellina (Smart Casual)
This place is for foodies. They use a lot of buffalo dairy ingredients here. Try the buffalo cheese crostini. Their pizza and fish were awesome. The fish was so fresh and caught same day right off the nearby coast.
Quince, San Francisco (Fine Dine)
We celebrated our 8th year anniversary at this Michelin restaurant. We enjoyed the tasting menu that used all the local ingredients from the towns we were staying in. It was fabulous.
- Bolinas doesn’t have a grocery store only a convenient store. The closest town is Mill Valley about 20 mins away where they have a Whole Foods. Get groceries on the way to Bolinas.
- The best accommodations in the area is to rent a house. We rented “Bolinas Blue” by Nancy and Sid from AirBNB ($650/night)
- Book early as places in Bolinas book out way in advance.
- Get specific directions from whomever you’re renting from. GPS will be very spotty. Poor reception is to be expected in all of the area.
- Tons of long day hiking trails to do. See Alamere Falls, a rare tidefall in Point Reyes.
- These small towns can have odd business hours, plan ahead if you want to visit a site.
- These areas have strict preservation rules. Hefty fines for any littering and vandalism.
- 1 hour South to San Francisco
- 1 hour Northeast to Sonoma
- 30 mins to Point Reyes Station
- 30 mins to Stinson Beach