Bolinas: The Hipster Haven of the Beat Bohemians

Written By Mike Marino, Photo by Mike Harrison
San Francisco…the grand dame of the Pacific Coast. She is as elegant and sophisticated as Ingrid Bergman was in her love scenes in Casablanca with Humphrey Bogart. Like Ingrid, San Francisco is a class act, bridging the gap from sophisticated urban life to the laid back eclectic nature of Marin County to the north of the city. The key to getting to Marin is the Golden Gate Bridge. As a bridge, she is a magnificent, heavy metal highway to the pot of rustic and artistic gold at the end of her bright sunset orange rainbow.

The Marin Headlands greet you with sweeping scenery of the ocean, all that lies in the Bay, and of course, a panoramic display of San Francisco spread out before you. A brilliant painting of the urbane and the urban. As you exit that world and enter the world of Marin you have effectively stepped through the looking glass to a culture all it’s own, and damn it..they like it that way. Bolinas is a hidden enclave of mythic proportions in the region.
Marin is all class and culture, some of that culture being counter, as it should be. There is also a rustic edge to it that allows a person to enjoy the best of the outdoors that the Bay Area has to offer from kayaking on the same oceanic highways where Grey Whales migrate and sea lions bark defiantly on the shores. It’s also a landscape seascape painting of redwoods, majestic Mt. Tam and the Pt. Reyes National Seashore.

Then too there is Sausalito. Home to a massive annual arts festival, it registers on the Richter Scale of sophistication with a 10! A houseboat community of temperamental artists mix delightfully with the “land-lubbers” who go about their daily lives, some as commuters to the city across the bridge to earn a living, but all in all, you can tell Sausalito Pride! In Marin County, if Sausalito is sassy, then Bolinas is the Hipster Haven of the Beat Boheme!

Bolinas. The most eclectic enclave for those missing in action from the Sixties, the Bolinians jealousy guard their privacy. It’s as though you’ve stumbled onto a secret society of Knights Templar whose task it is to guard the secrets of the Holy Grail. The community is an outgrowth of Sixties counter culture and the reclusive residents relish their privacy and their environment. So much so, that this whimsical group of environmentalists, writers, poets and surfing artists have this habit of removing the sign that points the way to Bolinas and posting it elsewhere.

When I first went on my holy quest to locate this “lost city” of bohemian gold, I saw the sign pointing the way to the town off of Highway One near Stinson Beach. I turned left as directed and ended up at a dead end that was also the backyard of a local resident, far removed from Bolinas. He happened to be outside and came over to the car. I mentioned I was looking for Bolinas and followed the sign posted on the Highway. He looked at me, smiled and said, “They did it again!” I found out about the floating directional sign.

I eventually did find the town, had a couple of brews at Smiley’s Schooner Pub and bought the Smiley’s T-Shirt that I wear with pride today. It’s like winning an Olympic Medal. You find Bolinas, venture in, and damn it, your part of an exclusive club. Like getting to wear a Super Bowl Ring! Not all is verboten in Bolinas. It is home to the Marin-Bolinas Botanical Gardens, which is a wonderland of succulents encompassing over 14 acres and it is open on weekends. There are over 2,000 species included including the Children’s Garden, and numerous greenhouses.

The town also boasts a fine arts museum that is the envy of the area, and shades of Haight Ashbury in the Sixties, there is also a free store where free clothing is distributed from a building decorated gaily with bright rainbows. In the Sixties I volunteered time at the Free Store in the Haight as well as at Glide Memorial where “runaways” were given assistance and help in getting settled. Islands? Islands?

You want Islands? San Francisco Bay has three of them. Angel Island is by far the largest of them and is just off the coast of the Tiburon Peninsula in Marin County. (The other two islands are Alcatraz and Yerba Buena. By the way, Yerba Buena was the first name of San Francisco and means “good herb” as though even centuries ago, they could envision Haight Ashbury!) Angel Island was known in the past as the favorite locales for duels where two gents had perceived they had been wronged, perhaps rightfully, but none the less, ten paces, turn and fire! Today the island is a wildlife refuge and retreat from city life with ample opportunities for sea kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, backpacking and camping. One of the kayak tours includes a catered lunch, which is very Marin-ish!

Pt. Reyes National Seashore has more plants, animals and marine life than a three ring circus, and is a bird watchers paradise to watch our fine feathered friends. It’s rich Miwok Indian history is well preserved and rumor has it Sir Francis Drake landed here in the late 1500’s. Bear in mind the exact location of his landing is unknown and there are so many areas that make that boast that Drake sightings are more prevalent than Elvis sightings.

The Pt. Reyes lighthouse was built in 1870 and retired from active service by the Coast Guard in 1975 when like so many lighthouses in the country, automation took over and the era of romance of the light-keeper was finito! Tours are available and well worth the trip. Tripping and trekking are two favorite pastimes along the seashore and you would be remiss if you did not take to the Pt. Reyes Hiking Trail. You can obtain information at the Bear Valley Visitor Center. The region is a backcountry camping paradise for the rugged individualist who enjoys the ruggedness of the Northern California coast with it’s crashing waves, thick as soup fog banks and rejuvenating winds.

Some of the wildlife you’ll run into in the area, not including those at Smiley’s Schooner Saloon include elk, deer and seals. There are ample stretches of Pacific coast to explore and hike along for the son of a beach in all of us, along with bicycle paths to two wheel it or saddle up and giddy up for a coastal horseback riding experience.
Bolinas and the Marin Peninsula, a flashback to the Sixties? Youbetcha! Get aboard the magic bus…it’s a trip you’ll not soon forget!

Emerald contributor since March 2012


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