Small-town life in a tourists' mecca
Photo by Tim Porter
Twisting through the winding road off Highway 101 as it climbs and falls through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, you begin to wonder if the roller coaster ride will ever end. Just when you think it won’t, you begin to glimpse beautiful ocean views and smell the salty breeze and before long you are on a high bluff overlooking a picturesque town and a long open beach and you know you have arrived.
In a sense, coming down the hill on Highway 1, also known as Shoreline Highway, and rolling into town is kind of like going back in time, an effect that locals wouldn’t have any other way.
“I like coming over the hill; I love the bookstore, the post office, the market where I can actually keep an account,” says Frank Howard Allen real estate agent Judy LeMarr, who has lived in town with her husband since 1981. “It’s like Cheers, where everybody knows your name.”
Stinson Beach is a true beach community LeMarr says. “You can go into town and leave your dog outside; you can take your dog with you everywhere,” she adds. “It totally relaxes me; my shoulders do not feel attached to my ears. I just let it all go.” LeMarr, who works in Mill Valley and makes the trip every day with ease because she “doesn’t get carsick,” says the trick is to leave early enough to “not get stuck and not want to leave.” But coming home is her favorite part. “My husband is already at the [Bolinas] lagoon and has a picnic bag out and the grill going,” says LeMarr, who keeps a packed picnic bag at the ready. “We watch the seals and have dinner and a cocktail.”
Longtime resident Annie Rand also likes the slow pace and natural beauty of Stinson but doesn’t have to commute nearly as far. “It’s not a bad life,” she says about Stinson Beach Books, which she has owned and operated in town for 33 years. “I just walk down the hill to get to work.”
Rand moved to town full-time in 1972 after her husband, Kendrick Rand, purchased the historic Sand Dollar restaurant—a location that began life as three barges made in Tiburon in 1921. She says all you need to know about the town you can learn by understanding what happened when her husband retired as fire chief and sold the Sand Dollar in 2000.
“The town kept it a secret,” Rand says about the New Year’s Eve party the 800 or so residents planned for Kendrick Rand Day. “They had 23 floats, closed down part of Highway 1 and offered free lunch.” The list of what Stinson Beach residents can accomplish goes on and on, according to Rand. She points to the going-away party for longtime doctor Kimberly Young that happened last month, renovation of the village greens and construction of a beautiful new library as just a few examples. “If you want to get something done around here you can make it happen,” she says.
Local gallery owner, resident and West Marin Citizen columnist Claudia Chapline couldn’t agree more. “The environment is so fabulous, you couldn’t ask for more,” she says. “It is quiet; you have the time and energy to be creative.” Chapline has run Claudia Chapline Contemporary Art since 1987 and has featured more than 1,000 Bay Area artists during that time. She says her involvement was part time until “the weekends got longer and longer and it got harder and harder to leave.” She quit her regular job, moved to town and opened the gallery full time in 1989; it is now a hot spot for local artists and collectors.
According to LeMarr, those who want to move beyond the vacation house rental market and become full-timers like Chapline can expect to pay about $6.5 million on the very high end and as low as $375,000 for a condo on the low end of the scale. She adds that, in the last calendar year, 18 homes have sold from the 49 that were listed in this one-of-a-kind market.
But if peace and quiet is your goal—except on Sundays when the motorcycle enthusiasts invade town—then Stinson Beach is well worth a few twists and turns.