West Marin County Loop Ride

West Marin County offers a surf and turf special when it comes to riding. The coastline provides an ocean delicacy known as Route 1, and if you have a craving for beef, the inland cow pastures will offer plenty of it. One moment you're snapping off whip-like turns with seagulls for an audience, and the next you're curdling Bessie's milk with a throaty exhaust note. It's like touring both Maine and Nebraska without ever leaving California.

We begin our travels at the Station House Cafe in Point Reyes Station. A clean, crisp, country-styled interior creates a warm and rustic ambiance without resorting to the all-too-typical antique farm implement and decapitated moose head clichés. There are a wide variety of seating options aside from the main dining area, including a 7-seat marble-top lunch counter and a handsome bar for evening visitors, as well as a small, more formal, dining room in back. A delightful outdoor patio features gazebo-style trellis work with faux Chinese lanterns hanging above the tables, while a flowing fountain and flowering shrubbery complete the Garden of Eden-like atmosphere. Not exactly Hooters, but it'll have to do.          

The Station House Cafe has served more Harley riders than a Daytona Beach EMT.
After you've satisfied your stomach, it's time to satisfy your other senses on these great roads.
The service was simply outstanding. My waitress, Kimberly, was singularly friendly and attentive. For instance, she recommended that I try a glass of their fresh squeezed orange juice that was particularly good that morning. When I demurred in favor of coffee, she maternally insisted that I enjoy a glass of OJ on the house. In fact, she was right, it was fantastic and not to be missed. Thanks Mom, errr... Kimberly.

For breakfast, I enjoyed a large Belgian-style waffle with toasted walnuts baked into the batter that cost $7. A large scoop of butter laced with sugar and cinnamon garnished the center and soon melted once spread. It had been years since I tasted pure maple syrup ($1.50 extra but worth it). Wow, what a difference! None of the thick, corn syrup consistency or artificial sweetness of that stuff I buy at home with the blue and white stripes around the middle.

I accompanied the waffle with a pair of eggs, scrambled, which came out fluffy, omelette-style. The coffee was delicious too and Kimberly went above and beyond once again by returning unasked with a cup of freshly made, organic whipped cream to substitute for milk. Not only was the whipped cream brilliant in the coffee, but it was even better on the waffle. What a sublime breakfast, and dang, what a waitress! I got more TLC from Kimberly in one hour than I got from my ex-wife in five years. Which, of course, would have served as a far more valuable insight five years ago.          

The Station House Café also serves lunch and dinner, and I would consider the prices to be very reasonable for a seafood-oriented menu. In addition to quality sandwich and salad fare, dinner entrés such as Niman lamb shank in red wine sauce ($15.75) and a tarragon cream based oyster stew ($12.75) are just a few samples from an extensive menu.

Although you probably won't want to leave the café continue north on Route 1. Be aware that as Route 1 meets Pt. Reyes-

Petaluma Rd., there is a sinister decreasing radius sweeper that is easy to misjudge. It would be a really impressive optical illusion except that it's not an illusion. Another mile brings you to the shoreline and the rider's delight of the pristine, serpentine, two-lane road that parallels Tomales Bay. Best of all, there is nary a straight section to be found as you hug the contours of the waterline, and it would be easy to forget that you have more than three gears after awhile.

 The Sunday Morning Ride By Gabe Ets-Hokin
Caltrans is losing the battle to keep the road open, an inch at a time.

That's some scenery in this story, huh? Although I've been riding on these roads for the better part of 15 years, I'm just starting to notice it. Riding a sportbike quickly on these roads gives you tunnel-vision, causing you to miss the great views.

The San Francisco Bay Area has a long and rich motorcycle and motorsports tradition, and this should come as no surprise to anybody who has traveled the countryside surrounding the City. Traveling 20 minutes north, south or west of the City puts you right onto some of the greatest two-lane roads in the world.          

Just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, in tony Marin County, lies one of the most fantastic roads in California, or maybe even the world. It's 30 miles of two-lane pavement, representing almost any kind of corner and turn you can think of- from bumpy, 15 mph, off-cambered, decreasing radius hairpins to triple-digit increasing radius sweepers. It is topped off with unbelievable scenery and many restaurants featuring fresh oysters and other goodies. Best of all, the narrow, two-lane roads and sparse populations of the coastal towns keeps Johnny Law's presence to a minimum.

It's miles and miles of this, so bring fresh knee sliders. You might have guessed that putting such a wonderful combination of good roads, vittles and scanty law enforcement so close to a major metropolitan area would result in swarms of motorcyclists on weekends, and you'd be right. They usually ride in small groups at various times of the day on Saturday and Sunday, but if you want to avoid being hung up behind phalanxes of tourists, RV's and church-going locals, you have to get up pretty early.

Since 1956, a dedicated group of sport-riding enthusiasts has been meeting at a gas station in Mill Valley at 7:30 a.m. They kick tires and top their bikes up with gas, before they head north for breakfast in Point Reyes Station, 25 miles up the coast. On a sunny spring or summer morning as many as 90 motorcyclists appear, mostly on sportbikes but with a large showing of dual-sport or super motard bikes as well. You'll see plenty of Harleys, and a rolling museum of machinery from the last 3 decades. The Ride is rain or shine: when it is really pouring rain in the winter, somewhere between 3 and 10 of the die-hard guys will show up to have fun in the wet.          

Over the years, personalities and heroes have come and gone, and many of the old-timers from the 60's and 70's still show up regularly. They all have stories of being pulled over for doubling or tripling the speed limit, and then flabbergasting the cop when they pull off their helmets to reveal a wrinkled old man with white hair instead of the expected tattooed-and-pierced young hooligan.

Doing the Ride on the back wheel greatly saves on tire costs. This has not reduced the police presence on weekends, however, and the CHP and local law enforcement has specifically targeted the Sunday Morning Ride. Such a ride, which regularly breaks the law as it rolls through a part of the world inhabited by wealthy folks who have paid a pretty penny to obtain a slice of peaceful paradise, is easy pickings as an observer could set a watch by its noisy and colorful passing every week. Because of this, the CHP will often send several cruisers and motorcycle officers to escort the Ride at 35 mph all the way to breakfast. Whoopee.

But when all is well on the Ride, when the squids are safely in bed and Johnny Law is having his doughnut elsewhere, the friendly camaraderie and mentorship that is the attraction of the Ride makes for a fun, safe and welcoming event to all riders. The Ride has spawned generations of racers, writers and passionate, life-long enthusiasts, and I know it will outlast whatever trends of local citizen outrage that arise to shut it down. Every Bay Area Motorcyclist should experience it at least once, and it's worth making the trip out to coast for.

I just hope you like oysters!

While a few blind curves will keep you on your toes, most corners allow for generous sight lines and while the lack of a shoulder trims the margin for error, the excellent surface conditions encourage you to explore your tires' limits. In my informed opinion, the greatest reward can be found by modifying your tack periodically between aggressive riding and passive cruising, in order to appreciate all of the treasures that this road has to offer. Attacking the swooping curves will be rewarded with a rhythmic, flowing groove of lefts and rights. Slowing to a leisurely pace you will find yourself admiring the serenity of the untroubled waters and forested hills across the shore.            

Tame your need for speed as you pass through the town of Marshall. Best to show the local folk some respect, as well as the canopied stand of thick tall trees that line the borders of the twisting asphalt, and in my case, a nearby trio of grazing deer. Twelve miles into your journey, the road bends inland, leaving the bay in your rear view mirror as it bobs and weaves, following a ravine between green hills towards the town of Tomales.

Marshall is quaint, charming and a bad place to live if you're an oyster.Here, you'll turn east onto Tomales-Petaluma Road. While this is a predominantly straight two-lane country road, cow pastures and small homesteads offer a dramatic change of scenery from the coastal route. If you've been riding a sportbike, relax, it's finally safe to get out of your tuck for awhile, straighten up and stretch a few limbs. If you've been touring two-up on a cruiser, now is the time to put `er into 5th gear, lean back, and whisper some sweet nothings into your sweetheart's ear.

Five miles ahead you'll reach the turnoff for Chilleno Valley Road and head south as you meander through a region that might easily be mistaken for Montana (at least by someone like me who's never actually been to Montana). Despite the fact that I rode this route on a Saturday, traffic wasn't a concern, and the two-laner offers occasional passing zones, a cherished commodity to any biker. Mild bends with 45 mph speed limits can be taken much faster if you prefer to zip through this section to the next twisty bits, as blind curves are few and far between and stray cattle are easily spotted from a distance.   These winding roads through green meadows remind many riders of England.        

After 10 miles you'll T-bone with Wilson Hill Road and head south. This short road offers gentle left-right bends up and over the valley hills with lovely elevated views of the tranquil pastures below. It's hard to imagine in the midst of this cruiser's valley paradise that just a few miles back, you were snaking through a sport bike rider's coastal fantasyland. If you're tempted to stop, be aware that the dirt shoulders were soft from rain and not as friendly as they looked.

Descending towards the edge of the open pastures where forested hills frame the valley, you'll come to a turnoff at Hicks Valley Rd. where you take a left and continue south along this two-laner. A sign warning of twisty roads fails to deliver on the usual thrills it denotes. You would have to destroy the local speed limits to add a fear factor to this stretch. Nonetheless, the road winds along at a 3rd gear pace, and climbs in elevation, offering a sense of drama as you reach the hill's peak and a well-placed turnoff to allow for scenery appreciation.

Have fun, but be careful: there are working farms-and working cops- out here! Three miles later, you'll reach a T-bone with Pt. Reyes-Petaluma Road, where you'll turn west towards the coast to complete your loop. This is a main road that offers smooth gliding passages through forested hills. Surface conditions could have been better, but a ribbon-like canyon pass can be taken at a brisk pace, and offers a moment of pure touring satisfaction as you emerge to a view of the Nicasio Reservoir and surrounding valley. It gets better though, as you cross over a bridge that spans the reservoir and plunges you into a series of consistent-radius 45 mph sweepers that allow for an aggressive lean-angle if you're feeling your oats.          

Two miles past the bridge, be sure to turn right at the intersection to remain on Pt. Reyes -Petaluma Rd heading west. You can feel the air temperature cooling as mild curves and sweepers guide you through a tree-lined valley back towards the bay and a T-bone at Route 1. Turn left, heading south towards Point Reyes, and follow it about a mile back to the Station House Cafe. This route took me a little over two hours, so if your timing is just right, your appetite will be returning just in time for a cup of that oyster stew and a roast beef sandwich. The perfect ending to your surf and turf cruise through West Marin County.

Station House Cafe
11180 State Route One
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
Sun-Th 8:00am - 9:00pm
Fri-Sat 8:00am - 10:00pm
Credit cards accepted
Private dining room available for large groups with reservation
Live entertainment Fri-Sun evenings
Distance: 50 miles
Time: 2 hours plus meal

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