From Muir Beach, CA 1 continues along the top of the Oceanside bluffs. The hillsides are steep and grass covered, and moving along at 20 mph makes sense for safety as well as sightseeing. One section of road was under repair, and several others showed signs of recent work reinforcing the hill, or removing the effects of small slides.
Pretty quickly, you reach the southern turnoff for Slide Ranch, a former dairy farm reincarnated nearly 40 years ago as a teaching center to connect urban kids with the land and (and saved from development). The grounds are open to visitors, but we kept heading north.
The next turnoff was locked, and looked to have a keypad on the gate. A little research from home showed that we’d probably passed the turnoff to the Steep Ravine Cabins and Campsites, a part of Mt. Tamalpais State Park. These sound quite rustic, but you can’t beat the setting—perched on stilts above the ocean, this site was a long-time favorite of photojournalist Dorothea Lange.
In another mile, the Panoramic Highway enters from the east, having completed its own low-speed, ridge top journey. We’d heard on the news that a section was under construction, another reason for skipping Muir Woods and following CA 1 the whole way. By the time you reach this stop sign, you’re back at sea level, and just entering Stinson Beach. This town grew up behind a long arc of sand that dwarfs that of Muir Beach, and appears to be the quintessential Marin hippie town. We stopped at the Stinson Beach Market for picnic supplies, a great little store right on the east side of the road, and kept heading northwest with our lunch of salami, provolone, and a sourdough loaf.
CA1 doesn’t enter the heart of Stinson Beach, and grows more distant as it heads NW and the beach arcs further to the south. Soon the highway runs along the eastern side of Bolinas Lagoon, a beautiful long triangle of water separated from the Pacific by the thin peninsula of the beach. We watched seals cavorting in the water (and watching us), stopping along the roadside to try and capture a picture before they ducked under and swam away.
The lagoon is nearly three miles long, and at its end is the intersection with the Olema-Bolinas Road to the west and the Fairfax-Bolinas Road to the east (if you get carsick on CA1, don’t even think about turning right to Fairfax). Nearly every guidebook mentioned that Bolinas is the last refuge of those who retreated to Marin in the ‘60s and ‘70s (‘obstinant hippies’, George Lindholt calls them at his Muir Beach website), and each book warned that the sign for Bolinas might be missing at the intersection. Sure enough, it was. Not wanting to waste our time on those who didn’t want to see us, we continued on CA 1.
But without the ocean. From here through Olema and north to Point Reyes Station, CA 1 continues its NW path, but the land—Point Reyes itself—now juts westward into the Pacific. You’re actually driving right on top of the San Andreas Fault, in the Olema Valley—a pastoral, farming area that supplied much of San Francisco’s butter and other dairy needs (which sailed into the city on schooners in those pre-bridge days). Patches of forest remain, especially along the hillside that quickly climbs away from Bolinas Lagoon. The highway is pretty straight now, here along the Olema Valley, and despite its pleasant, rural character (and 55 mph speeds) we missed the coastline, and its bluffs and slow-motion S-curves. To the east is the last, northern most stretch of the Golden Gate Recreation Area. To the west is the first patch of Point Reyes National Seashore (which actually starts just north of Bolinas), and the sign indicates that in a few miles we’ll reach our destination—out to the beaches, cliffs, and lighthouse of Point Reyes.