Bolinas

Two miles off the main road and a world away
Photos by Tim Porter

Bolinas residents, famous in the 1960s for tearing down the road sign that pointed the way to their community, haven’t changed much. They still value the privacy of their West Marin peninsula, shy away from tourists and, as far as we’ve noticed, still haven’t put back the sign that Caltrans long ago gave up trying to repost.

They are aware, of course, that with modern inventions such as GPS and travel websites, their charming town of just over 1,200 residents (as well as its beaches and national and state parks) is easier to find than ever. Still, if somebody misses the unmarked turn off of Highway 1 just past Stinson Beach, nobody there seems to lose much sleep.

“It’s not 1964 anymore, but still people pass us by and end up in Point Reyes,” says Drew Reinstein, an owner of 2 Mile Surf Shop, whose moniker pays homage to the infamous sign and the navigation challenges posed by its absence. “When they phone, I tell them, ‘Enjoy Point Reyes, because you are already there.’”

Indeed, the Petaluma resident had to give up a corporate marine biologist position to find his way to Bolinas. He took early retirement from his job at Chevron in 2008 and bought the High Tide (later renamed Sonoma Coast) Surf Shop in Petaluma; a year later he also co-purchased 2 Mile, located just 522 steps from the beach. “I couldn’t have worked another day,” he says of the life change. “And this is way more rewarding, although not always that easy.”

Reinstein says 2 Mile is a different kind of shop than the one in Petaluma, geared more toward surfing than surf fashion. “We have water dripping off of wet suits and sand on the floor; it’s a real surf shop,” he says. “This is a real good spot for beginners. People come from all over the world to take lessons and learn to surf here.”

Just down Bolinas’ other main street, Wharf Road, stands the Bolinas Museum. Located in a beautiful 1900 historic corner building complex that has seen many uses in the past, it’s now a surprisingly metropolitan museum that houses five galleries showcasing local and contemporary art; West Marin history exhibits; and fine art photography, as well as a courtyard where occasional live music draws locals and curious travelers alike.

“My job is very quiet and very involving,” says museum executive director and longtime Bolinas resident Lucy Van Sands Seeburg, known affectionately as Vandy. “I love it here in Bolinas, and with my job, I really have my finger on the pulse of the community.”

Although Bolinas is an unincorporated area of Marin County and has no mayor, one man, Don Deane, probably comes closest to fitting that bill. Deane is at once a hotel and saloon owner who doesn’t drink, a foster parent to at-risk youth, and a former publisher of the recently closed Coastal Post newspaper.

“I was marked, very suspect,” Deane says of his arrival in Bolinas in 1971 as a new resident and county probation officer. “You’re not an old-timer until you’ve been here forever; you don’t have any standing as the new guy.

“Then, just when they thought they had me figured out,” he adds, “I bought the bar.” Smiley’s Schooner Saloon is housed in a Bolinas landmark, built by Captain Isaac Morgan in 1851, that contains eight hotel rooms, the bar area, and Deane’s upstairs office (from which he once published the left-leaning newspaper) with a window overlooking just about all of downtown. The California Historical Society lists it as one of only 14 bars in the state that’s been in continuous existence more than 100 years.

Deane says he loves Bolinas for the beautiful views, the peace and quiet and the community. “Some people have lived here 30, 40 or 50 years,” he notes. “We all are growing old together; that’s a unique thing.”

But a new crop of people are finding their way to Bolinas and into the limited housing market. “There has been an influx of families with children,” says Terry Donohue, a Bolinas real estate agent, mother and longtime resident. “They want their children to grow up closer to nature and in a good community.”

For those interested in the coastal small-town lifestyle, six homes are currently on the market, not including a $30,000 corner lot that can’t be built on (Bolinas is under a freshwater moratorium preventing new hookups), ranging in price from $749,000 to around $1.5 million. Last year, eight homes sold for a low of $415,000 and a high of just over $2.2 million.

But Bolinas home-seekers should be patient — because, as Donohue says, “people don’t like to sell their places here unless they really have to.” And if you’re one of the lucky ones, just be sure to give your friends good directions to the housewarming; the road sign for this well-hidden enclave isn’t likely to return anytime soon.

Categories: Environment, Neighborhoods