Bolinas: A Recluse Kind of Town… Pt. Reyes National Seashore

Mural of early Bolinas, California. Photo taken by Curtis Mekemson.

A mural depicting how Bolinas would have looked in the 50s. Not much has changed. The artist added a touch of humor with the blue surfboard the man in the brown sports coat is carrying.

Marin County had a problem. Its highway department would put up a sign on Highway 1 pointing west toward the town of Bolinas and the residents of the small coastal community would tear it down. Again and again. Located 30 miles north of San Francisco and just south of Pt. Reyes National Seashore, the town didn’t want anyone to know where it was; the town was a recluse.

Finally, out of frustration, Marin County held a vote: Did or did not the townspeople want the signs? They voted no. Today, nothing points toward the community. But a map or GPS will get you there.

I first made my way to Bolinas in the early 70s. Surfers, hippies, commune members, artists, writers and other alternative types called it home. I was running an environmental center in Sacramento at the time. Being ex-Berkeley and ex-Peace Corps, I more or less fit in. “I could live here,” I thought to myself.

The town was also known for its nude beach. I won’t incriminate myself other than to note that there are some places on the body it’s best not to get sunburned.

Ken, Leslie, Peggy and I made our way to Bolinas after we left Pierce Ranch. Other than a new park in the middle of town, I was happy to find that the community had changed little. The park, I was proudly informed by a shop owner, had been donated by one of the town’s billionaires. Big money had found its way to this small community, which is pretty much the story of Marin County. Extreme wealth and a laid back lifestyle go hand in hand. In Bolinas, VW Vans and BMW’s seemed to happily co-exist.

We wandered through town poking our heads in various shops and looking for a bookstore. It’s become a tradition whenever we travel. We love books and we like to support local bookstores. We found one on the edge of town next to the post office. It was quite unique; the owner was elsewhere and shoppers were invited to price their own selections. Seven suggested categories ranged from “unbelievably really great” for $20 to “ordinary” for a buck. It was possible (though not likely) that Peggy’s really great might be my ordinary. A small, metal box with a slot on top was set up for payment. A statue of the Virgin Mary fronted the box. I wasn’t sure whether she was there to say thank you or to haunt our conscience if we paid five bucks for a book we believed was worth ten.

Bolinas, California unique book pricing recommendations. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A sign with suggested prices for books in Bolinas, California that depended on your assessment of the book.

Bolinas Book Store photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Ken deposits $5 for a “great book” in the Virgin Mary box while Peggy, reflected in a mirror, looks on.

Bolinas, California  book store photo by  Curtis Mekemson.

I assume this was the missing owner’s office. I believe he painted the pictures.

Leslie, Ken and Peggy stand in front of the Bolinas Bookstore named Books.

Leslie, Ken and Peggy stand in front of the Bolinas Bookstore named Books.

Our visit also included stopping off at a stuffed-to-the-ceiling antique store, admiring quaint houses that had been around since day one, taking photos of murals and visiting a small shop featuring incense, eastern music, and a Humpty-Dumpty Buddha.

Photo of Bolinas California taken by Curtis Mekemson.

Bolinas today, which I did in black and white to give it a 70’s feeling. Take away the cars and the billboard building and you’ll find the Bolinas featured in the mural at the top of the post.

The Grand Hotel Shop and Gallery in Bolinas, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

The Grand Hotel Shop and Gallery was stuffed top to bottom with antiques.

Mannequin in Bolinas, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I was intrigued with this aging mannequin I found looking out the window of the shop.

A home in the town of Bolinas, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

The old homes in town have aged well.

Back in a hot-flash sign in Bolinas, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Incense, Eastern music, and this sign pulled us into a shop.

Eclectic Bolinas, California shop. Photo be Curtis Mekemson.

The laughing Buddha face on the upper left shelf made me think of Humpty Dumpty. The items in the shop were, um, eclectic…

Inside of shop in Bolinas California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Very eclectic.

Bolinas Shrine. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

We found a shrine next door that the community had put up after 9/11.

Surf shop ad in Bolinas, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A Bolinas surf shop advertised using broken surf boards featuring Native American/First Nation art.

Halloween pumpkin in Bolinas California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

This pumpkin reminded me that Halloween had just passed…

2013 gas prices in Bolinas, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

And this sign reminded me that we would be buying our gas elsewhere. This station matched what I was paying in the Yukon territory this summer.

NEXT POST: Peggy and I heading off to Mexico for three weeks. To fill in, I’ve decided to put up photos that Peggy and I have taken in America’s National Parks. We’ve made a point of visiting close to all of them. I’ll close out my Pt. Reyes’ series with a Bolinas mural that I think reflects the area: ocean, wilderness, and a touch of magic.

Mural of mountain lion and mermaid in Bolinas, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

17 thoughts on “Bolinas: A Recluse Kind of Town… Pt. Reyes National Seashore

  1. It sounds like my kind of place – except they’d stop me at the city line for fear that I’d go to the beach and get *nekkid*.
    Maybe someday I’ll be a wealthy published author and buy a little cottage there. Or maybe I’ll just write about being rich and living there!
    If you two have ever been to Half Moon Bay I hope you’ll post the photos. I saw a snippet about it once and felt terribly homesick, despite never having heard of the place.

    • There was a couple in a Galveston Bay marina years ago that had a hailing port of Half-Moon Bay on the stern of their sailboat. They’d brought it through the Canal, which was pretty darned interesting. Most people go the other way. 😉

      • Our son Tony had dreams of sailing down through the Panama Canal from San Diego after he left the Marines and before he joined the Coast Guard. Time and circumstances influenced his plans but he did by a sail boat and sail to Puerto Vallarta.

    • Yeah… it was the getting rich part that may have kept me from buying a small million dollar cottage, although things would have been much more reasonable in the 70s. And yes Peggy and I have been to Half Moon Bay several times and it is a delightful town. Don’t remember taking photos. –Curt

  2. I couldn’t help noting the correspondence between Bolinas and Crystal Bridges – big money, nestled up against “just folks”. Granted, it Bolinas the “just folks” would seem pretty exotic to the “just folks” at the museum, but still…

    I love the broken surfboard signs, and the book pricing. But most of all I love the City-that-Would-Not-Be-Found. My kind of place. (And I still know how to use a map.)

    • Yeah, Linda, I often identify with the town’s illusiveness. 🙂 As for the Just Folks, they might seem strange anywhere although they could probably blend into our area in Southern Oregon. –Curt

  3. I love that you scope out bookstores. There are some real gems around the country. We visited one in Columbus, Ohio (in the German Town district) that was amazing. So big, it seemed to go on forever, but it was in an old building which gave it a nostalgic air. I had no idea it was there, and I live only a couple hours away from it.

    • Artists like beautiful little towns in great locations. Guess rich people do as well, sigh. Peggy and I were ever so lucky to find a beautiful, inexpensive place to live. Yeah, I was tickled about the sign as well. –Curt

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